Principles of Content Governance

6 minute read

If you’ve got your sights set on triumphantly publishing a flood of glorious content across every emerging channel, you’re going to need some help. And you’ll need a plan. Content Governance may sound as dry as burnt toast, but when done correctly, it can make sure you both delight your readers and drive business growth.Content Governance is the system, a set of guidelines, that determines how an organization’s content gets created and published. At its most basic level, it can help you avoid getting sued or embarrassed, or both. But a when a content governance program lives up to its true potential, it can open the content creation process to create more opportunities for your organization to share its value anywhere and everywhere your customers look for information, entertainment, or opportunity.

Content Governance systems range from the exhaustingly detailed to bare bones. What’s right for your organization will depend on your goals and your resources. For reasons I’ll get into below, I’m not going to hand over a turnkey content governance system. Instead, I’m going to share some ideas that can help you build your own.

Democratize Content Creation

Odds are you have more subject matter experts at your organization than professional writers. A good content governance system helps you unlock that knowledge so it can be packaged up and shared. When building your process, your goal should be to level the playing field in a way that empowers more people in your organization to be able to create, approve, and/or own content. The best way to do this is to remove subjectivity from the process - you goal should be to ensure that virtually anyone at your organization should be able to create, or at least approve, content.

Build (Or Steal) What You Need

If you’re a small or medium-sized business, or if you’re at an agency working with a client making their first foray into content creation, you probably won’t need the same governance model a global bank uses. The more complex the governance process, the longer and more expensive it is to create. My advice: build like a startup and think of your governance plan in terms of Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Instead of trying to account for every possible contingency, start by asking yourself what the smallest content governance system you need to accomplish your goals would look like.

Another note on building a content governance process - for heaven’s sake don’t start from scratch! A quick Google search will turn up loads of documents, diagrams, and worksheets on governance. Take what you need, adapt as you see fit.

Before Creating Content

Successful Content Governance starts before a single word has been written or pixel pushed. When I talked about opening up the process to more people, the first step is creating a set of expectations and goals that everyone involved with your content creation and publishing understands at the outset. That means getting a few things down on paper.

1. Assign Ownership

Review by committee is as bad for creative as it is for quality control. Your content governance process should be built to assign one person the responsibility of approving content. That person doesn’t have to be an editor or a subject matter expert. Instead, the Content Owner’s job is to work with creators, editors, and SMEs to ensure the final product meets your organization’s standards and goals. By creating a simple checklist, you can empower people throughout your organization to own content.And remember, content ownership isn’t just about burdening someone with responsibility. It’s about giving them stake in the final product.

2. Orient Content Creators

You, or anyone creating content, should always be able to answer one question: why am I making this? This not only ensures you’re not contradicting other content being produced, it creates opportunity to cross-pollinate and draw from the full breadth of expertise across your company.If you’re creating content, and especially if you’re asking others to create it for you, everyone involved should have a clear understanding of how a particular piece of content fits into your organization’s content ecosystem. Start by creating a map of all the channels and content types your organization uses. This helps ensure content across all your channels is pulling in the same direction.

Next, it’s important to document your expectations for each channel. If you’re looking to open up the content creation process, it’s your job to equip content creators with everything they need to translate their expertise into a particular channel or piece of content.

3. Define Success

The Content Owner and the Content Creator (even if that is the same person occupying both roles) should start with a shared definition of success for the content. This will vary from organization to organization and from channel to channel, but there needs to be consensus on what the content should achieve for the audience and for the brand. Broadly speaking, content can serve three functions for an audience: to inform, to entertain, or to provide an opportunity. A single piece of content can do more than one of these, but in order to do them well, it must do so intentionally.Now that you’ve got the audience’s needs accounted for, it’s time to turn to the business’/brand’s needs. Success in this capacity usually takes the form of metrics - KPIs and PPIs. It’s important to remember that it’s not realistic to expect every piece of content to generate KPIs - a tweet rarely leads directly to a sale. However, every channel has its own specific metrics (PPI) that those tweeting for your brand should aim for - RT, replies, follows.

After Creating Content

Good news! If you put in the work in the steps above, all you have to do now is give your Content Owners a way to make sure all the things got done before content is published.I prefer a tiered approach in which content passes through a series of checks. Only by passing the first check can the content proceed to the next. This reduced the burden on Content Owners by having them focus on one aspect of the content at a time. It’s also helpful in case your Content Owner has to get buy-in from multiple people on different aspects of a piece of content (e.g., pricing vs. brand).

Check 1: Accuracy

Since this is the place where there is the most potential for harm to occur, make sure no piece of content advances to the next stage until it has been checked for factual correctness. “Factual correctness” can mean a lot of things, so you’ll need to tailor this step to fit the kind of content and information you’re sharing. For example, the accuracy check might mean making sure pricing is current and correct or if you’re putting together an infographic, confirming the data is up to date.If there is information in the piece of content that is inaccurate for any reason, the Content Owner marks it up and sends it back to the creator for correction. If it’s good to go, it can move onto Check 2.

Check 2: Brand/Voice

You wouldn’t be creating content without clearly defined brand guidelines, would you? Just kidding! While comprehensive brand standards are helpful, for some companies this is out of reach or just plain premature. However, for your content to provide value to your audience it should reflect a distinct point of view. For content to have value to your business it should help you move toward your desired position in the market. To keep your Content Owners from pulling their hair out (and to keep things subjective), you’ll need to provide them with something.

One place to start standardizing brand and voice in your content is to come up with a set of relatable, human behaviors or motivations (e.g, We are driven to help small business owners buy socks with complete confidence; or We want to convince the world there is no better music than that from a bagpipe). In this way, the brand check can simply be a matter of answering “yes” or “not” to the question: is this something our brand would do?If the content isn’t in line with the brand behaviors you’ve defined, the Content Owner must communication to the content creator why specifically it isn’t and provide guidance on how to correct it. Once a piece of content passes both the Accuracy and Brand Checks, it can be published. Content Creators and Owners alike can share in the satisfaction of a job well done!

Evolve and Conquer

Once you and your team get some publishing under your belt you’ll encounter scenarios you hadn’t initially planned for. It’s equally likely you’ll find some of the parts you included in the first iteration of your governance program aren’t working.Build, add, revise, set the bar higher. Your goal should be to have a content governance system that can respond to your needs as they change or expand. The important thing is to make sure you document and share these updates - think of it like a new software release.The final thing that should drive the evolution of your content governance system are the success metrics you defined. You started off with some initial projections or benchmarks. After you’ve been publishing for a while, revisit these. For channels that are performing well, challenge yourself to make them perform better. If there are channels where you aren’t hitting your mark, you have two options: rethink your strategy or cut your losses and focus your resources on channels and forms of content where you are seeing the big wins.


Content Governance Model

A checklist that will help you pull together a simple content governance model.

About the author

Edward Baldwin

During Edward’s years in the agency world, he never could quite make up his mind between strategy and creative. As Content Strategist at Punch in Richmond, Virginia he found a way that he’d never have to. Today, Edward channels his strategic and creative experience into helping brands become better at sharing the things that make them awesome. You can connect to Edward on LinkedIn or chat with him on Twitter.

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