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Higher education content operations

Higher education content operations

8 minute read

Higher education content operations

8 minute read

Higher education content operations

Robert Mills

Head of Content, GatherContent

Higher education institutions and universities have to create, manage, publish and govern high-volume and high-stakes content. This can be cyclical requirements like a prospectus or viewbook, annual events like new academic years or clearing, or on-going website content and departmental redesigns. Plus all of the other marketing content, social media and campaign content that has to be delivered across multiple channels.

Higher ed content is intrinsically linked to business goals around recruitment, retention, support and funding. Students also have high expectations when it comes to user experience and content quality, so without dedicated people, clear processes and the best tools and technology for the job, challenges arise (and confidence dips) around productivity, quality and compliance.

The organisations that thrive and succeed in creating truly useful content are those with robust and constantly optimised processes for content creation, publishing workflow, and end-to-end content governance.

In this article I'll cover:

  • our definition of content operations
  • the old way versus the new way for content services
  • the impact of poor content operations
  • how content operations can help organisations (and their content)
  • outcomes of effective content operations

Defining content operations

Our working definition of content operations is:

Content operations is the combination of people, process and technology that are required to produce, distribute and maintain content in an organisation.

The stages of production, distribution and maintenance represent the ongoing lifecycle of high-volume content. There is always content to be delivered.

Content operations is an organisation-wide discipline that requires senior buy-in in order to truly succeed. The focus is on operationalising all of the tasks around content.

The old way: chaotic content operations

Most organisations will have some form of content operations as they currently publish content, but that's not to say they are deliberate or the most productive way of doing things.

Even if people know the current way probably isn't the most efficient way, it can still be the path of least resistance because the people involved are familiar with the processes and technology. So whilst they may say, 'it's the way we have always done it' through gritted teeth, convincing them to invest in a new way of doing things is challenging (hence the need for senior leadership buy-in).

From speaking to our customers in higher education, common scenarios for content services at universities (before using GatherContent) include a mix of Word Docs, spreadsheets, emails, disorganised folders, no clear versioning and too much information locked away in people's heads, who themselves are in silos.

Less effective content operations relies heavily on the content producer and the quality of training they receive. This isn't scalable and is potentially fraught with human error.

Having processes designed around content requirements and services, having the right roles in place and using the best tools for the job is what's needed for successful content operations.

Wasting time and delivering poor quality content

With chaotic content operations, the chance of time being wasted increases because there's a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities, confusing processes and technology that isn't fit for purpose.

A clock visually representing how time can be wasted on content with the example reasons listed below the image.

Some of the ways time can be wasted includes:

  • trying to find the most up to date version of content
  • emailing word docs to stakeholders to review
  • manually updating statuses in a spreadsheet
  • reminding contributors what they need to do
  • reformatting content to the right length and structure
  • chasing for feedback
  • copying and pasting into the CMS

Decentralised teams and dispersed silos

There's the additional challenge of silos. Universities are large places both in terms of the number of people involved in content and geographically. Often people aren't in the same office, building or campus. That means there is an increased chance each silo has its own way of working and their own tools and processes.

However, people across multiple silos could all be working towards the same content goal, such as the annual course catalogue (prospectus or viewbook).

Three symptoms of chaotic content operations

Here are three circumstances as a result of chaotic content operations:

  • team efficiency sinks
  • content quality suffers
  • regulatory risks open up

The impact and implications of those scenarios are huge. One university I spoke to in the UK have been actively investing in their content operations and part of the decision to do so was when they identified:

  • overuse of the same phrases in marketing content
  • inconsistent ways of stating terms and language relating to the admissions process
  • differences in grammar and punctuation

They also struggled to ensure content was consistently high quality because the people creating the content had no defined standards to refer to.

They added that the poor and confusing experience for their audience also impacted negatively on the university's brand. That's even more of a concern in a world where the higher education sector has been seriously affected by COVID-19 which has created additional challenges around student recruitment and retention.

Higher education content operations survey

We surveyed our higher education audience and the results support the previous points about quality, reputation and silos.

67% of respondents agreed that poor quality content and inconsistent content undermines university brand and reputation.

This is important because brand and reputation are intrinsically linked to strategic goals such as student recruitment and research funding.

73% of respondents stated university content is created and managed in silos, with varying (and conflicting) agendas and priorities.

This can have a significant impact on a university's confidence that the content they create is high-quality and consistent.

Purposeful content operations

Purposeful and successful content operations remove the risks already mentioned in this article by embedding content requirements and standards into the production process. This enables organisations to rapidly increase their content production and onboard new content producers.

It's worth noting here that content operations don't replace content strategy. It's the ongoing, day-to-day work that needs to get done around content. Universities still need to understand what content to produce, for which audiences, in appropriate formats, on relevant channels, at the best time.

The annual course catalogue

A prime example is the annual university prospectus or viewbook. This is a vast amount of high-stakes content that requires varying levels of input from multiple stakeholders. Many universities I speak to say that once they have finished the latest viewbook or prospectus they quickly move onto the version for the following year. For some, it is a continuous cycle.

This document could be printed and in digital formats. Content operations can help streamline those production workflows. A structured template for the printed version could be used for the digital version too. We previously wrote about how one university connected two processes to go digital-first for efficient content operations. (If you want to be sent all our latest higher ed articles and resources, subscribe to our weekly higher education content newsletter).

With purposeful and effective content operations, when the unexpected happens like a global pandemic, the right processes and technology are already in place to create content quickly and with confidence. This includes certain elements of content operations such as workflow, clear roles, structured templates and a style guide.

Content operations for all content

Content operations concern all of the content a university creates, whether one-off, campaign-based, or on a more regular cycle.

Here are some examples of the types of content a university will create:

  • course information
  • admissions content
  • recruitment content
  • website content
  • alumni content
  • documentation
  • marketing campaigns
  • social media content
  • student-generated content

With website projects, they are launched and then often it's onto the next (rightly or wrongly!). In the context of content operations in higher education, website projects such as departmental redesigns happen often and with so many departments it can be an on-going cycle of redesigns. That in itself isn't true content operations. Those website redesigns along with course content, staff bios, recruitment, alumni, student support, event content etc are all part of a university's content operations.

There is never a time when there's no content to deliver.

Benefits of purposeful content operations

Here are four areas content operations can help with:

  1. bringing together people, process and technology
  2. spending the right amount of time on the right things
  3. managing high-volume and high-stakes content
  4. efficient collaboration with lots of people

Alignment and connected teams

Investing in content operations and the right people, processes and technology can start to bring people together around a shared understanding, goals and vocabulary.

Content operations can help:

  • less time being wasted chasing or spent on the wrong content
  • avoid overlaps, gaps and bottlenecks
  • with keeping content moving

People then start to see content as an asset for the university with clear business goals and audience needs being met.

Three value themes for content operations

The positive outcomes of purposeful content operations link to three value themes:

  1. Productivity - aligning people, process and technology to reduce operational stress
  2. Quality - helping university teams create consistent, high-quality content that supports and strengthens their brand
  3. Compliance - facilitating accountable processes that ensure content has been through appropriate approvals to meet regulatory requirements

The result of this is content that is:

  • consistent
  • accurate
  • impactful

How GatherContent supports successful content operations

GatherContent is a Content Operations Platform that helps over 160 universities pull all of their content together into a single platform.

Unlike a lot of headless CMS technology, we focus on collaboration and workflow across a whole organisation. With no training required. We also have a powerful API and lots of open-source integrations, allowing organisations to deliver content to multiple channels with ease.

GatherContent has all the functionality that content producers are familiar with from the tools they use every day:

All content in GatherContent is structured using templates and repeatable components. If you're interested in using GatherContent to modernise your content operations, sign up for a free trial.

Higher education institutions and universities have to create, manage, publish and govern high-volume and high-stakes content. This can be cyclical requirements like a prospectus or viewbook, annual events like new academic years or clearing, or on-going website content and departmental redesigns. Plus all of the other marketing content, social media and campaign content that has to be delivered across multiple channels.

Higher ed content is intrinsically linked to business goals around recruitment, retention, support and funding. Students also have high expectations when it comes to user experience and content quality, so without dedicated people, clear processes and the best tools and technology for the job, challenges arise (and confidence dips) around productivity, quality and compliance.

The organisations that thrive and succeed in creating truly useful content are those with robust and constantly optimised processes for content creation, publishing workflow, and end-to-end content governance.

In this article I'll cover:

  • our definition of content operations
  • the old way versus the new way for content services
  • the impact of poor content operations
  • how content operations can help organisations (and their content)
  • outcomes of effective content operations

Defining content operations

Our working definition of content operations is:

Content operations is the combination of people, process and technology that are required to produce, distribute and maintain content in an organisation.

The stages of production, distribution and maintenance represent the ongoing lifecycle of high-volume content. There is always content to be delivered.

Content operations is an organisation-wide discipline that requires senior buy-in in order to truly succeed. The focus is on operationalising all of the tasks around content.

The old way: chaotic content operations

Most organisations will have some form of content operations as they currently publish content, but that's not to say they are deliberate or the most productive way of doing things.

Even if people know the current way probably isn't the most efficient way, it can still be the path of least resistance because the people involved are familiar with the processes and technology. So whilst they may say, 'it's the way we have always done it' through gritted teeth, convincing them to invest in a new way of doing things is challenging (hence the need for senior leadership buy-in).

From speaking to our customers in higher education, common scenarios for content services at universities (before using GatherContent) include a mix of Word Docs, spreadsheets, emails, disorganised folders, no clear versioning and too much information locked away in people's heads, who themselves are in silos.

Less effective content operations relies heavily on the content producer and the quality of training they receive. This isn't scalable and is potentially fraught with human error.

Having processes designed around content requirements and services, having the right roles in place and using the best tools for the job is what's needed for successful content operations.

Wasting time and delivering poor quality content

With chaotic content operations, the chance of time being wasted increases because there's a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities, confusing processes and technology that isn't fit for purpose.

A clock visually representing how time can be wasted on content with the example reasons listed below the image.

Some of the ways time can be wasted includes:

  • trying to find the most up to date version of content
  • emailing word docs to stakeholders to review
  • manually updating statuses in a spreadsheet
  • reminding contributors what they need to do
  • reformatting content to the right length and structure
  • chasing for feedback
  • copying and pasting into the CMS

Decentralised teams and dispersed silos

There's the additional challenge of silos. Universities are large places both in terms of the number of people involved in content and geographically. Often people aren't in the same office, building or campus. That means there is an increased chance each silo has its own way of working and their own tools and processes.

However, people across multiple silos could all be working towards the same content goal, such as the annual course catalogue (prospectus or viewbook).

Three symptoms of chaotic content operations

Here are three circumstances as a result of chaotic content operations:

  • team efficiency sinks
  • content quality suffers
  • regulatory risks open up

The impact and implications of those scenarios are huge. One university I spoke to in the UK have been actively investing in their content operations and part of the decision to do so was when they identified:

  • overuse of the same phrases in marketing content
  • inconsistent ways of stating terms and language relating to the admissions process
  • differences in grammar and punctuation

They also struggled to ensure content was consistently high quality because the people creating the content had no defined standards to refer to.

They added that the poor and confusing experience for their audience also impacted negatively on the university's brand. That's even more of a concern in a world where the higher education sector has been seriously affected by COVID-19 which has created additional challenges around student recruitment and retention.

Higher education content operations survey

We surveyed our higher education audience and the results support the previous points about quality, reputation and silos.

67% of respondents agreed that poor quality content and inconsistent content undermines university brand and reputation.

This is important because brand and reputation are intrinsically linked to strategic goals such as student recruitment and research funding.

73% of respondents stated university content is created and managed in silos, with varying (and conflicting) agendas and priorities.

This can have a significant impact on a university's confidence that the content they create is high-quality and consistent.

Purposeful content operations

Purposeful and successful content operations remove the risks already mentioned in this article by embedding content requirements and standards into the production process. This enables organisations to rapidly increase their content production and onboard new content producers.

It's worth noting here that content operations don't replace content strategy. It's the ongoing, day-to-day work that needs to get done around content. Universities still need to understand what content to produce, for which audiences, in appropriate formats, on relevant channels, at the best time.

The annual course catalogue

A prime example is the annual university prospectus or viewbook. This is a vast amount of high-stakes content that requires varying levels of input from multiple stakeholders. Many universities I speak to say that once they have finished the latest viewbook or prospectus they quickly move onto the version for the following year. For some, it is a continuous cycle.

This document could be printed and in digital formats. Content operations can help streamline those production workflows. A structured template for the printed version could be used for the digital version too. We previously wrote about how one university connected two processes to go digital-first for efficient content operations. (If you want to be sent all our latest higher ed articles and resources, subscribe to our weekly higher education content newsletter).

With purposeful and effective content operations, when the unexpected happens like a global pandemic, the right processes and technology are already in place to create content quickly and with confidence. This includes certain elements of content operations such as workflow, clear roles, structured templates and a style guide.

Content operations for all content

Content operations concern all of the content a university creates, whether one-off, campaign-based, or on a more regular cycle.

Here are some examples of the types of content a university will create:

  • course information
  • admissions content
  • recruitment content
  • website content
  • alumni content
  • documentation
  • marketing campaigns
  • social media content
  • student-generated content

With website projects, they are launched and then often it's onto the next (rightly or wrongly!). In the context of content operations in higher education, website projects such as departmental redesigns happen often and with so many departments it can be an on-going cycle of redesigns. That in itself isn't true content operations. Those website redesigns along with course content, staff bios, recruitment, alumni, student support, event content etc are all part of a university's content operations.

There is never a time when there's no content to deliver.

Benefits of purposeful content operations

Here are four areas content operations can help with:

  1. bringing together people, process and technology
  2. spending the right amount of time on the right things
  3. managing high-volume and high-stakes content
  4. efficient collaboration with lots of people

Alignment and connected teams

Investing in content operations and the right people, processes and technology can start to bring people together around a shared understanding, goals and vocabulary.

Content operations can help:

  • less time being wasted chasing or spent on the wrong content
  • avoid overlaps, gaps and bottlenecks
  • with keeping content moving

People then start to see content as an asset for the university with clear business goals and audience needs being met.

Three value themes for content operations

The positive outcomes of purposeful content operations link to three value themes:

  1. Productivity - aligning people, process and technology to reduce operational stress
  2. Quality - helping university teams create consistent, high-quality content that supports and strengthens their brand
  3. Compliance - facilitating accountable processes that ensure content has been through appropriate approvals to meet regulatory requirements

The result of this is content that is:

  • consistent
  • accurate
  • impactful

How GatherContent supports successful content operations

GatherContent is a Content Operations Platform that helps over 160 universities pull all of their content together into a single platform.

Unlike a lot of headless CMS technology, we focus on collaboration and workflow across a whole organisation. With no training required. We also have a powerful API and lots of open-source integrations, allowing organisations to deliver content to multiple channels with ease.

GatherContent has all the functionality that content producers are familiar with from the tools they use every day:

All content in GatherContent is structured using templates and repeatable components. If you're interested in using GatherContent to modernise your content operations, sign up for a free trial.

Masterclass

Content Operations Masterclass

Watch this on-demand masterclass to uncover the things that are keeping your organisation from being more efficient and effective with your content. Learn new ways to look at the connection that people and processes have with technology and content.

July 23, 2020

4:00 pm

Register now

Masterclass

Content Operations Masterclass

Watch this on-demand masterclass to uncover the things that are keeping your organisation from being more efficient and effective with your content. Learn new ways to look at the connection that people and processes have with technology and content.

July 23, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is responsible for managing all of the organisation's content output and for their content operations. Rob also works on audience research projects and strategic initiatives to ensure their content meets both business goals and user needs.

He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and has written for industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, UX Matters, UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and content operations at leading industry events or on podcasts.

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