Let processes guide you to great content governance
Blaine Kyllo • 5 minutes
For the last four years, I’ve been helping content teams articulate the processes that they are using to create and manage content. Then, I facilitate workshops to help in-house teams design new content processes that can help them be more efficient at doing the work of content.
I’ve discovered that at a high level, all content work follows the same process, regardless of topic or type or format. Even the industry or sector of the organisation is largely irrelevant.
The many types of work
Here’s the thing about work: it needs to get done.
It doesn’t matter what kind of work. It could be something I do regularly, like making dinner. Sometimes I’m surprised by things, like when I discover the kids have suddenly grown out of their sneakers. And there are always things we’ve committed to doing, like me writing this article. If the work is necessary, I find a way to do it.
In the same way, content teams have regular tasks, such as maintaining core web pages, that need to get done. There’s content work that comes out of nowhere, like a change in the business regulatory environment that drives policy change or an executive personnel shift requiring a web update. And content teams will always have new work to do, developing UX text for new products or content to support the latest campaign, for instance.
Doing this work doesn’t have to induce anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. Under the right conditions, we can get more work done, faster. We can be more efficient at how we do the work of content.
Process leads to efficiency
Our efficiency at getting work done depends on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the work, the number of people involved, how many other tasks we’ve got to do, and so on. Governance is how we manage work and the people who do it, and one way we govern is through processes.
In simple terms, processes are simply the actions we take to do something.
A process consists of:
A triggering event or events that cause the process to begin
A series of actions and decision points which make up the process itself
An outcome or outcomes, the final results of the process
Whether they are systematic or chaotic, habitual or ad-hoc, processes always exist, even if we’re not aware of them.
Content teams use processes, too. They benefit from processes that are systematic, not chaotic, and while people prefer getting advance notice of content projects, they will always have to flex to surprise requests.
One reason it’s helpful to articulate the content processes being used in your organisation is because it ensures that everyone who needs content knows how to make their request, and everyone involved in doing the work of that content follows the essential steps, even if they are on distributed teams.
Processes lead to content that is more:
Consistent in structure, tone, and voice
Aligned with your content strategy and business goals
The content lifecycle framework
Here’s a content lifecycle we often work with, which explains the different phases of content creation and management:
Strategise & ideate: Coming up with an understanding of what content is required to drive business goals over a period of time. Also includes defining audiences and success measures. Results in a prioritised roadmap of content opportunities.
Plan: Determining the content requirements in terms of format, channels, specific success metrics, resourcing, timelines, and roles and responsibilities. The priority of content items is subject to review and the content roadmap adjusted as needed.
Design & create: Creating the content based on the plan. Includes rounds of revision and approvals as necessary.
Publish & distribute: Making the final content available to the intended audiences through the appropriate channels.
Evaluate & maintain: Assessing content and content practices against defined success measures to determine effectiveness. Ensuring content remains relevant, accurate, and up-to-date by revising, archiving, or deleting content as needed.
Corresponding to each of these phases is a different content process.
Naming content processes
Because processes often run into each other and they are often part of bigger, more complicated parts of a business’s operation, it’s important to be able to tell when and where a process begins and where it ends. One way we do this is by naming processes using active verbs paired with singular nouns that correspond to the action that is being taken in the process.
So, while the lifecycle phase may be “plan,” the corresponding content process is “create content brief” or “create editorial calendar” because those are the specific actions that are being taken to plan content.
Best practice content processes
My experience working with content and content teams includes traditional book and magazine publishing as well as digital environments, both as a team lead and editor and a content creator.
As a consultant, I’ve worked with content teams that are centralised and those that are distributed. I’ve explored contexts where organisations are sophisticated in their content practices as well as those that are less mature where content happens on an ad-hoc basis.
From the many use cases I’ve explored, across these varied contexts and situations, there are high-level processes that can be used globally.
Define content strategy: Corresponding to the “strategise & ideate” phase of the lifecycle, this process brings together cross-functional representatives to establish the overall content direction.
Create content brief: A common alternative for the “plan” content phase of the lifecycle is “create editorial calendar”. The two processes are similar in the actions that are taken, but differ in the outcome.
Design and create content item: There are two slight variations of this process depending on whether the content being created is foundational/core or timely/discrete, which requires a step in the process in which content is distributed.
Evaluate content item.
What these processes look like in your organisation may be slightly different, but probably not until you start drilling down into the detail.
In the “design and create content item” process, for example, every content team has a cycle of reviews and approvals. Where organisations may differ is in the number of reviews required, and the roles that are conducting those reviews. With some content, such as social media content, those review cycles may be abbreviated or eliminated entirely.
Putting processes into practice
These best practice processes are helpful in three ways:
You can start using them immediately with your teams to find some easy efficiencies in your content work.
You can use them as a starting point to discover the processes already in use by your teams.
You can use them as a starting point to design, with cross-functional collaboration, new customised content processes.
Whether the content you’re working on is part of regular operations, an ad-hoc request, or a planned project, defining and using processes will keep your governance streamlined, resulting in consistent content that has an impact on your business.
Let processes guide you to great content governance.
Anyone who struggles with content consistency and efficiency—and who doesn't?—will greatly benefit from this course. If you want to get smarter about content planning, creation and delivery, start here.
Blaine is a senior content strategist at Content Strategy Inc, where he focuses on enterprise content governance. His clients have included BC Hydro, Investors Group, and Pearson. He’s also structured content teams for other contexts and has become a master at streamlining complex content processes.
Before content strategy, Blaine worked as managing editor for a leading independent book publisher, as well as with a national telecommunications company and a nonprofit initiative.
He’s also an audio and print journalist; consumer technology is Blaine’s beat.