A Model to Measure Your Content Operations Maturity Level

A Model to Measure Your Content Operations Maturity Level

4 minute read

A Model to Measure Your Content Operations Maturity Level

4 minute read

A Model to Measure Your Content Operations Maturity Level

Colleen Jones

Founder, Content Science

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You have a content vision and strategy — perhaps even more than one content strategy.

You know what kind of effective and influential content you want to offer.

You’re committed to establishing a system of content intelligence to inform ongoing content decisions.

Now, you need to execute on all of these things.

Unfortunately, there is no content fairy ready to wave its magic wand. But there is a growing discipline that I call content operations — and it will help you sustain and even scale your implementation.

What is content operations?

Today, content operations often require a mix of elements related to people, process, and technology.

Table 10.1 shows a sample:

A table of sample elements in content operations. Includes people, process and technology such as content roles, content supply chain and content management.
A table of sample elements in content operations. Includes people, process and technology such as content roles, content supply chain and content management.

If this sampling already seems like more operations than you bargained for, you are not alone.

Many companies I come across think of content operations as 'scrambling once each month to get a blog post together' — if they think about content operations at all.

It is time to think differently about your company’s content work.

Why you should care about content operations

Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics, as the saying goes.

If you are new to content, your instinct will be to underestimate the effort it takes to sustain and scale effective content. The demand for content that meets high customer expectations has never been greater. So in a way, we are all new to content and at risk of underestimating what it takes to succeed.

💡 Read our Insight Summary on how organizations with mature content operations tackle challenges at scale

More specifically, considering content operations will help you gain efficiencies and make the most of your content assets by:

  • Putting the right people in the right roles
  • Creating or streamlining processes
  • Distinguishing between maintenance and ongoing innovation
  • Choosing the technologies and tools with the right features to support your operations

To help companies plan for content operations, the Content Science team and I developed a simple maturity model.

A maturity model for content operations

Statistician George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

In that spirit, we developed the following maturity model to help companies “get real” about their content operations. The model can help your company identify your current level of content operations and then decide whether that level will support your content vision and strategy. If it doesn’t, then the model can help you plan to get to the next level of content operations.

We based this model on:

  • Our experience with in-depth consulting for dozens of companies and training for thousands of content professionals
  • Content leadership and operations studies conducted by Content Science, with nearly 400 content professionals participating

So although this model might not be 'perfectly' right, it’s informed by enough data and feedback to be useful.

The model consists of five levels, as you can see in the below chart.

In our 2021 study of content operations, 46% of participants reported that their companies were at levels 1 and 2, whilst only 4%of participants reported being at level 5.

Content Operations Maturity Levels
The Content Operations Maturity Model consists of the five levels displayed above.

Let’s briefly walk through each level of content operations maturity:

LEVEL 1 — CHAOTIC: Ad-hoc approaches

At this level, content for most people is an afterthought. The key characteristics of this level are summarised in Table 10.3.

A table showing chaotic characteristics such as no content leadership, no content processes and incorrect implementation of the technology.
This table shows chaotic characteristics such as no content leadership, no content processes and incorrect implementation of the technology.

LEVEL 2 — PILOTING: Bringing some order to the chaos

At this level, the chaos continues in most areas, but enough people have felt the pain of content chaos or seen the potential of great content that they want to make a change (Table 10.4).

A table showing piloting stage characteristics including some informal content leadership, a project plan for the pilot exists and few content considerations are used for technology decisions.
This table shows piloting stage characteristics including some informal content leadership, a project plan for the pilot exists and few content considerations are used for technology decisions.

LEVEL 3 — SCALING: Trying to repeat the success

With the scaling level, a company has experienced at least some success from piloting content operations and wants to expand the content operations (Table 10.5).

A table showing scaling stage characteristics including formal content leadership, a project plan for new content efforts and technology decisions in being implemented and used in content.
This table shows scaling stage characteristics including formal content leadership, a project plan for new content efforts and technology decisions in being implemented and used in content.

LEVEL 4 — SUSTAINING: Creating more order than chaos

Companies at this level of content operations are not only establishing content operations for each business function but also aligning them to create a core content capacity (Table 10.6).

A table showing sustaining characteristics such as an executive is defined as a content leader, new content efforts get a project plan and existing tools are optimised for content work.
This table shows sustaining characteristics such as an executive is defined as a content leader, new content efforts get a project plan and existing tools are optimised for content work.

LEVEL 5 — THRIVING: Maintaining order and systematising innovation

Companies with thriving content operations are doing everything at level 4, and they have enough resources to fund, ironically, returning to chaos in a controlled way — innovation.

These companies devote some operational resources to explore where and how to innovate, and then pilot select innovations and eventually adopt them in core operations (Table 10.7).

A table showing thriving characteristics such as a chief content officer oversees all content efforts and a process for ongoing content innovation and strategy is established.
This table shows thriving characteristics such as a chief content officer oversees all content efforts and a process for ongoing content innovation and strategy is established.

Large companies might have multiple maturity levels

If you’re a large company or enterprise, you might find that different areas of your company are at different levels of content operations maturity.

That’s ok. You can use areas of your company that are more mature as models or sources of ideas for less mature areas. You might even be able to share technology and tools so that you can bring maturity to your company in efficient and cost-effective ways.

For example, I once worked with a large telecommunications client that had very different levels of content maturity operations in its business-to-consumer (B2C) functions compared to its business-to-business (B2B) functions.

The B2C content teams operated at a solid level 3, and were making progress toward level 4.

The teams were in the process of implementing a more sophisticated content management system; automating their workflow, and exploring how to use machine learning to optimise offers. Additionally, B2C teams were even hiring content engineers.

Good to Know: Get a taste of how features like workflows, real-time collaboration, and templates can be used to vastly improve the way your organisation produces content in our free webinar, Content Operations In Practice.

However, B2B content teams were composed mostly of writers and editors, and operated at level 2. There was no content management system (really!), low visibility with content stakeholders, and there were frequent disagreements and miscommunications; both within their team, and with stakeholders.

As the company realised the disparity, I worked with them to facilitate adapting what was working for the B2C teams to the B2B teams — as well as to explore the use of the content management system and workflow tools across teams.

The conglomerate has continued to make progress in maturing their content operations ever since.

Small businesses can mature content operations quickly

With operations, small businesses can have a big advantage.

Often, small businesses can get to level 3 or 4 much more quickly than medium or enterprise businesses because they have less bureaucracy to overcome, and more control over the entire customer experience.

Smart small businesses can also try to optimise their solutions faster than larger ones.

For example, the Rack Athletic Performance Center has solved the problem of sourcing content in several creative ways, such as:

  • Forming a reward system where the Rack coaches earn the opportunity to contribute articles to a Knowledge Center. The articles are useful to customers and show the coaches’ expertise. Content is something coaches get to do, not something they have to do
  • Profiling the Rack customers as they achieve goals and overcome challenges
  • Integrating into their daily routines the taking and posting of photos and videos that demonstrate exercises, show clients using equipment, and more
  • Encouraging customers to take photos and videos of themselves in action and post them to social media, where the Rack can repost them
  • Automating a set of emails for new customers that orient them to the Rack and connect them to more useful content

The Rack implemented and optimised these approaches over the course of a few months. A large company would take at least a year to do something comparable.

What’s your level of content operations maturity?

Want to assess your company’s level of content operations maturity? Is your company chaotic, piloting, scaling, sustaining, or thriving?

Take the updated Content Operations Assessment online to get a quick report and a free copy of the latest content operations study.

This article includes an excerpt from The Content Advantage by Colleen Jones.

You have a content vision and strategy — perhaps even more than one content strategy.

You know what kind of effective and influential content you want to offer.

You’re committed to establishing a system of content intelligence to inform ongoing content decisions.

Now, you need to execute on all of these things.

Unfortunately, there is no content fairy ready to wave its magic wand. But there is a growing discipline that I call content operations — and it will help you sustain and even scale your implementation.

What is content operations?

Today, content operations often require a mix of elements related to people, process, and technology.

Table 10.1 shows a sample:

A table of sample elements in content operations. Includes people, process and technology such as content roles, content supply chain and content management.
A table of sample elements in content operations. Includes people, process and technology such as content roles, content supply chain and content management.

If this sampling already seems like more operations than you bargained for, you are not alone.

Many companies I come across think of content operations as 'scrambling once each month to get a blog post together' — if they think about content operations at all.

It is time to think differently about your company’s content work.

Why you should care about content operations

Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics, as the saying goes.

If you are new to content, your instinct will be to underestimate the effort it takes to sustain and scale effective content. The demand for content that meets high customer expectations has never been greater. So in a way, we are all new to content and at risk of underestimating what it takes to succeed.

💡 Read our Insight Summary on how organizations with mature content operations tackle challenges at scale

More specifically, considering content operations will help you gain efficiencies and make the most of your content assets by:

  • Putting the right people in the right roles
  • Creating or streamlining processes
  • Distinguishing between maintenance and ongoing innovation
  • Choosing the technologies and tools with the right features to support your operations

To help companies plan for content operations, the Content Science team and I developed a simple maturity model.

A maturity model for content operations

Statistician George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

In that spirit, we developed the following maturity model to help companies “get real” about their content operations. The model can help your company identify your current level of content operations and then decide whether that level will support your content vision and strategy. If it doesn’t, then the model can help you plan to get to the next level of content operations.

We based this model on:

  • Our experience with in-depth consulting for dozens of companies and training for thousands of content professionals
  • Content leadership and operations studies conducted by Content Science, with nearly 400 content professionals participating

So although this model might not be 'perfectly' right, it’s informed by enough data and feedback to be useful.

The model consists of five levels, as you can see in the below chart.

In our 2021 study of content operations, 46% of participants reported that their companies were at levels 1 and 2, whilst only 4%of participants reported being at level 5.

Content Operations Maturity Levels
The Content Operations Maturity Model consists of the five levels displayed above.

Let’s briefly walk through each level of content operations maturity:

LEVEL 1 — CHAOTIC: Ad-hoc approaches

At this level, content for most people is an afterthought. The key characteristics of this level are summarised in Table 10.3.

A table showing chaotic characteristics such as no content leadership, no content processes and incorrect implementation of the technology.
This table shows chaotic characteristics such as no content leadership, no content processes and incorrect implementation of the technology.

LEVEL 2 — PILOTING: Bringing some order to the chaos

At this level, the chaos continues in most areas, but enough people have felt the pain of content chaos or seen the potential of great content that they want to make a change (Table 10.4).

A table showing piloting stage characteristics including some informal content leadership, a project plan for the pilot exists and few content considerations are used for technology decisions.
This table shows piloting stage characteristics including some informal content leadership, a project plan for the pilot exists and few content considerations are used for technology decisions.

LEVEL 3 — SCALING: Trying to repeat the success

With the scaling level, a company has experienced at least some success from piloting content operations and wants to expand the content operations (Table 10.5).

A table showing scaling stage characteristics including formal content leadership, a project plan for new content efforts and technology decisions in being implemented and used in content.
This table shows scaling stage characteristics including formal content leadership, a project plan for new content efforts and technology decisions in being implemented and used in content.

LEVEL 4 — SUSTAINING: Creating more order than chaos

Companies at this level of content operations are not only establishing content operations for each business function but also aligning them to create a core content capacity (Table 10.6).

A table showing sustaining characteristics such as an executive is defined as a content leader, new content efforts get a project plan and existing tools are optimised for content work.
This table shows sustaining characteristics such as an executive is defined as a content leader, new content efforts get a project plan and existing tools are optimised for content work.

LEVEL 5 — THRIVING: Maintaining order and systematising innovation

Companies with thriving content operations are doing everything at level 4, and they have enough resources to fund, ironically, returning to chaos in a controlled way — innovation.

These companies devote some operational resources to explore where and how to innovate, and then pilot select innovations and eventually adopt them in core operations (Table 10.7).

A table showing thriving characteristics such as a chief content officer oversees all content efforts and a process for ongoing content innovation and strategy is established.
This table shows thriving characteristics such as a chief content officer oversees all content efforts and a process for ongoing content innovation and strategy is established.

Large companies might have multiple maturity levels

If you’re a large company or enterprise, you might find that different areas of your company are at different levels of content operations maturity.

That’s ok. You can use areas of your company that are more mature as models or sources of ideas for less mature areas. You might even be able to share technology and tools so that you can bring maturity to your company in efficient and cost-effective ways.

For example, I once worked with a large telecommunications client that had very different levels of content maturity operations in its business-to-consumer (B2C) functions compared to its business-to-business (B2B) functions.

The B2C content teams operated at a solid level 3, and were making progress toward level 4.

The teams were in the process of implementing a more sophisticated content management system; automating their workflow, and exploring how to use machine learning to optimise offers. Additionally, B2C teams were even hiring content engineers.

Good to Know: Get a taste of how features like workflows, real-time collaboration, and templates can be used to vastly improve the way your organisation produces content in our free webinar, Content Operations In Practice.

However, B2B content teams were composed mostly of writers and editors, and operated at level 2. There was no content management system (really!), low visibility with content stakeholders, and there were frequent disagreements and miscommunications; both within their team, and with stakeholders.

As the company realised the disparity, I worked with them to facilitate adapting what was working for the B2C teams to the B2B teams — as well as to explore the use of the content management system and workflow tools across teams.

The conglomerate has continued to make progress in maturing their content operations ever since.

Small businesses can mature content operations quickly

With operations, small businesses can have a big advantage.

Often, small businesses can get to level 3 or 4 much more quickly than medium or enterprise businesses because they have less bureaucracy to overcome, and more control over the entire customer experience.

Smart small businesses can also try to optimise their solutions faster than larger ones.

For example, the Rack Athletic Performance Center has solved the problem of sourcing content in several creative ways, such as:

  • Forming a reward system where the Rack coaches earn the opportunity to contribute articles to a Knowledge Center. The articles are useful to customers and show the coaches’ expertise. Content is something coaches get to do, not something they have to do
  • Profiling the Rack customers as they achieve goals and overcome challenges
  • Integrating into their daily routines the taking and posting of photos and videos that demonstrate exercises, show clients using equipment, and more
  • Encouraging customers to take photos and videos of themselves in action and post them to social media, where the Rack can repost them
  • Automating a set of emails for new customers that orient them to the Rack and connect them to more useful content

The Rack implemented and optimised these approaches over the course of a few months. A large company would take at least a year to do something comparable.

What’s your level of content operations maturity?

Want to assess your company’s level of content operations maturity? Is your company chaotic, piloting, scaling, sustaining, or thriving?

Take the updated Content Operations Assessment online to get a quick report and a free copy of the latest content operations study.

This article includes an excerpt from The Content Advantage by Colleen Jones.

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About the author

Colleen Jones

With nearly 20 years of experience, Colleen (@leenjones) has led strategic initiatives for Fortune 50 companies, government agencies, and boutique brands. She regularly consults with executives to improve their strategy and processes for content. Colleen also cofounded our content evaluation platform, ContentWRX. Over the course of her career, Colleen has held leadership roles at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and Cingular Wireless (now AT&T). At Cingular Wireless, she won several executive awards for leading an interdisciplinary team to improve the customer experience across channels including web, IVR, mobile, and point-of-sale applications. With an M.A. in technical communication from James Madison University, Colleen is an active member of American MENSA, American Marketing Association, International Association of Business Communicators, and the Association of Computing Machinery. She also founded Atlanta Content Strategy and is a past chair of the executive board for the Atlanta chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery SIG on computer-human interaction

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