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What is content management? Advice for managing content strategically

What is content management? Advice for managing content strategically

9 minute read

What is content management? Advice for managing content strategically

9 minute read

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

What is content management? Advice for managing content strategically

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

Managing content is not easy. You’ve got to think about people, processes and technology, as well as handling different types of content (internal content, website content, social media content, offline content), where ownership, creation and distribution is often dispersed across the organisation - especially in large organisations.

This article is for anyone who is new to a content management role, anyone who needs to formalise and strategise their content management practices, anyone doing a website redesign project, or anyone who feels confused by content management and all its related concepts.

Content definitions and differences

There are many terms related to an organisation’s content that can seem similar at times, and hard to distinguish. And content management is just one of them. I’m going to define content management along with content strategy, content governance and content operations.

There is some overlap and several, varying, often conflicting, definitions for each out there (plus, it all depends on your context anyway) but I have tried to summarise and break it down:

Content strategy

A widely-used definition of content strategy is “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content” by Kristina Halvorson over at Brain Traffic. So it actually includes governance, and arguably some aspects of management. In short, content strategy is about planning, and focuses on tying content back to audience needs and business goals. Broadly speaking, it’s about the ”‘Why’” of content. The purpose of content. As in, why create content at all? What do you want to achieve?

Content governance

Governance is about the governing, controlling and maintenance of content. It’s about following overarching guidelines and frameworks (which help with consistency of content at best, and make sure you don’t get embarrassed or sued at worst). It’s to do with inventories, ownership, style guides, policies, regulations, risk management, updating content, and accessibility. Content governance is the “What” of content. As in, what do you need to pay attention to? What does good content include? Governance is “doing the right thing.”

Content management

In contrast to governance, content management is the “How?” and “Who?” of content, and “doing things right.” It’s about the way things are done and people involved. It focuses on the day-to-day content production process and handling of content, from creation to archiving and updating. It's about allocating the resources (people, processes and technology) for content strategy and governance to take effect. This includes roles and responsibilities, workflow and accountability, storage, editing and approvals, and publishing.

Content Operations

Your content operations (ContentOps) is all of the above, and more. It’s concerned with everything that happens between content strategy and content delivery. ContentOps encompasses the people, processes and technology needed to systematise, automate and scale content. All organisations that produce content will have some form of ContentOps. But having 'good' ContentOps is about improving and investing in your content. It's about assessing “Where” your organisation is in terms of content operations maturity.

Managing content strategically  

Day-to-day content management needs to be strategic – i.e. aligned with content strategy – to be successful. According to Content Marketing Institute’s content management and strategy survey, organisations already doing this cite these top five benefits as a result:

  • Extended reach of content (57%)
  • Ability to provide the right content to the right person at the right time (50%)
  • Easier to repurpose and reuse content (48%)
  • Enhanced experiences due to improved interactions (45%)

All of that said, a whopping 72% of respondents said their organisation is challenged with managing their content strategically.

Content has the potential to be an organisation’s best asset, and management processes can, and should, do it justice. They should improve efficiency and allow you to focus on what’s important: creating content to meet user needs.

Five methods of managing content strategically

Here are five tips to help you manage your content strategically:

1. Categorise and organise content

Organising and categorising is a key part of managing content. But staying on top of it is tough, given the sheer volume, velocity and variety of internal and external content that organisations manage - particularly large organisations.  Worldwide, humans collectively create around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day.

But for content managers, managing content about more than just staying on top of it and keeping it organised. It’s about getting the most out of it and managing it strategically. Taking the time to make sure you uphold a clean content house will pay off in the future when it comes to SEO optimising, targeting and personalising content. Here are some ways to categorise and organise your content strategically:

  • Audit and inventory. Running a content audit and creating an up-to-date, detailed inventory of every single piece of content in your organisation may sound scary, but it's the best way to ensure you manage content effectively. Use our audit template to help you make sure you've covered all the relevant information in your inventory.

  • Metadata, categories and tags in your content management system (CMS). Getting this right, and consistent, is important. Why? Because it means you, your readers and the search engine can find your content easily. Make sure you stick to one category per post (but you can add multiple tags for context). Also make sure you follow standardised naming conventions to avoid confusion.

  • Map your content to personas stages in buyer journey. Rather than just creating content randomly, you should always tie each piece back to a user need/goal. The best way to do this is to create (the more modern version of) buyer personas, and then map each piece of content to a different stage in their journey. Broadly speaking, these stages are 'awareness', 'consideration' and 'decision.' Try our user journey map to help with this process. Doing this will allow you to then strategically link an online piece of content to another that's in the next stage of the journey, using calls-to-action and landing pages to guide people through your website and turn visitors into leads.

  • Pillar pages and content clusters. Again, this is about the way that you organise your content online. 'Pillar pages' are detailed, often long, pieces of content covering all aspects of a certain topic. Then, around these, you create 'content clusters' for different related topics. You can then internally link from your pillar page to these topics. This is a great way to help both search engine bots and people logically navigate through your site, making it a winner for user experience and SEO.

At GatherContent, we recently redesigned and migrated our blog, and although it was a slog, some of the key reasons for doing this was to get better categorisation, consistency for our readers and for SEO, and better ways to discover related content. Well, it certainly paid off! We can now do all the great content on our blog justice through the way we manage it.

2. Use a content editorial calendar

It’s so important to keep track of everything in one place when you’re creating and managing content. An editorial calendar will help you document what content you’re going to produce and publish, and spot opportunities and gaps quickly. It will also help you manage the frequency you publish certain types of content, and ensure you’re publishing high-quality content consistently.

Make sure you include the format, authors, owners, the date it will be published, goals, and the user journey stage/user need the content ties back to. You should also be able to track the status of content easily. You can make this what it needs to be for your organisation, the main thing is just to keep it updated and keep the content flowing. Download our free editorial calendar template to help, which includes a horizon planning tab to give you an overview of what’s coming up.

3. Maintain accountability

When you’re managing the content production lifecycle, accountability helps you avoid massive hidden problems appearing too far down the line, and allows you to ‘clean as you cook’ so to speak, and spot opportunities along the way. So, establishing accountability in content teams is important. But what does it look like day-to-day?

  • Content all in one place
  • A clear workflow
  • Defined and assigned roles/responsibilities for each task
  • Version control and tracking changes
  • Checklists and templates for standardisation
  • Visible deadlines and progress trackers
  • Style guides (and making sure these actually get used)
  • A way of estimating the cost of content
  • Tracking the success and ROI of content
  • A review cycle for updating and managing content  

When organisations lack accountability, it’s not usually that people don’t care about responsibilities and standards. Maintaining accountability is difficult when you’re creating lots of content, with lots of people creating that content, often across siloed departments. You need to create a positive culture through your processes and technology for accountability to stick.

4. Foster a culture of collaboration

Related to creating a culture of accountability, is also creating a culture of collaboration. As Liz Moorehead says in her article, tips for first-time content managers: “when you're a content manager, you're also an internal relationship manager.”

Content managers will often encounter friction when trying to manage content that is produced across different silos, by different people, with conflicting priorities. A lack of collaboration can also mean work is duplicated, and the review processes takes longer than it should.

Successful content management is about using tools and processes to help people create and deliver content with a common goal in mind. This will lead to content that provides a great user experience. A few relationships to consider, and tips on managing these in the content creation process are:

  • Subject matter experts and writers. Often, subject matter experts (SMEs) and writers come at a project from very different mindsets, and speak totally different languages. This can make the editing and approval process tricky. A simple, but sure-fire way to help this is to think about pair writing. This literally means, instead of sending drafts back and forth with red pen, sitting down together and creating content together.
  • Designers and writers.  A common challenge for organisations is keeping content production in line with design. We’re big advocates of going content-first when designing content for the web (using 'proto-content' early on in the process, rather than lorem impsum). This is because it helps both teams spot problems and opportunities when they arise, and work on these together.
  • Clients and your team. If you’re an agency, do you struggle with client relationships in the content production lifecycle? Is wrangling content often a challenge? Having strong content creation processes in place, and using the right tech can help you build client relationships. It's a good idea to use sign-off checklists with specific review criteria, to ensure clients aren't just skimming over work when reviewing it. Once you're confident in your tools and processes, you can start to sell your content strategy as a billable service. We have a great book on this.

Truly successful, user-centered content will always be the result of proper collaboration throughout the production lifecycle. It's about teams coming together early on in the creation process, asking the right questions, then trying to figure out the answers together. Only then will content become an asset to your organisation.

5. Choose the right tech for your organisation  

A huge part of building a culture of collaboration, and enabling high-quality content to shine through, comes down to the tech that you use. Your people are only as good as the tech you give them, so it's important to choose tech that works for your organisation.

Yet many organisations lack the right technology to manage content effectively. According to the 2018 CMI survey we mentioned before:

  • 51% say they haven’t acquired the right technology to manage content
  • 35% say they have the tech, but are not using it to its potential
  • 64% have a content management system
  • 21% have content promotion and distribution software
  • 54% are using a content collaboration/workflow software

A good content management system (CMS) is integral to managing and publishing content to your website. It's also important to  think about distributing and promoting content on social media channels through content calendar tools and automated publishing.

That said, content management is about more than just these publishing systems. Many organisations’ content problems can be traced back to a lack of the right tools for the pre-CMS phase of content management. The CMS isn’t an ideal editing environment, or a place for feedback, workflows and status updates. But then again, neither is Microsoft Word, and relentless email chains.

It's important for organisations to have the right technology for content creation too. After all, you can't manage content effectively if it's not created in the right environment.

How GatherContent can help with content management

GatherContent is a Content Operations Platform that helps you plan, create, and manage content before it gets to the CMS. It helps with strategic content management, whether that’s for a website build, redesign project, or day-to-day, through:

  • A unified collaboration environment. All content is stored in one place for a single source of truth. Rather than long email chains and multiple documents, it gives you version control, and makes communication easy through real-time, in-line comments and notifications.

  • CMS integration. GatherContent plays well with lots of existing tools, including your CMS. Rather than spending precious time copying and pasting content, content can be created in the correct structure to map easily to your CMS.

  • Built in workflow, style guides and templates. Many organisations have clear roles, policies and guidelines in place, but struggle to ensure these are followed by everyone creating content. GatherContent allows you to embed good content governance and management practices into your editing environment.

  • A simple user interface. Today, everyone has the potential to be a content creator in their organisation. GatherContent empowers people working on content, with a simple user interface, search functions, and accessibility options. If tools are easy to use and give employees a great user experience, they're more likely to be engaged and productive at work.

  • Training. GatherContent has a dedicated training portal to get your team and your clients up and running. This included detailed videos to guide people through every aspect of the content production process.  

To find out more about how GatherContent can help your organisation manage content better, for productivity quality and compliance, try out our free demo or free 30-day trial.

Unlock the value of your content through management best practices

Well-managed content ultimately means that content fulfils content strategy and governance through everyday processes and technology.

If you can keep an organised content house, keep track of the status and progress of content, ensure everyone follows a clear workflow, increase collaboration and break down silos in your organisation, then you can also speed up the process and ensure only high-quality content that meets user needs is being published.

This all means that content can be created and managed in a way that focuses on how it ties back to organisational goals, innovation, and how it proves ROI (rather than the focus being on the content creation process itself).

Managing content is not easy. You’ve got to think about people, processes and technology, as well as handling different types of content (internal content, website content, social media content, offline content), where ownership, creation and distribution is often dispersed across the organisation - especially in large organisations.

This article is for anyone who is new to a content management role, anyone who needs to formalise and strategise their content management practices, anyone doing a website redesign project, or anyone who feels confused by content management and all its related concepts.

Content definitions and differences

There are many terms related to an organisation’s content that can seem similar at times, and hard to distinguish. And content management is just one of them. I’m going to define content management along with content strategy, content governance and content operations.

There is some overlap and several, varying, often conflicting, definitions for each out there (plus, it all depends on your context anyway) but I have tried to summarise and break it down:

Content strategy

A widely-used definition of content strategy is “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content” by Kristina Halvorson over at Brain Traffic. So it actually includes governance, and arguably some aspects of management. In short, content strategy is about planning, and focuses on tying content back to audience needs and business goals. Broadly speaking, it’s about the ”‘Why’” of content. The purpose of content. As in, why create content at all? What do you want to achieve?

Content governance

Governance is about the governing, controlling and maintenance of content. It’s about following overarching guidelines and frameworks (which help with consistency of content at best, and make sure you don’t get embarrassed or sued at worst). It’s to do with inventories, ownership, style guides, policies, regulations, risk management, updating content, and accessibility. Content governance is the “What” of content. As in, what do you need to pay attention to? What does good content include? Governance is “doing the right thing.”

Content management

In contrast to governance, content management is the “How?” and “Who?” of content, and “doing things right.” It’s about the way things are done and people involved. It focuses on the day-to-day content production process and handling of content, from creation to archiving and updating. It's about allocating the resources (people, processes and technology) for content strategy and governance to take effect. This includes roles and responsibilities, workflow and accountability, storage, editing and approvals, and publishing.

Content Operations

Your content operations (ContentOps) is all of the above, and more. It’s concerned with everything that happens between content strategy and content delivery. ContentOps encompasses the people, processes and technology needed to systematise, automate and scale content. All organisations that produce content will have some form of ContentOps. But having 'good' ContentOps is about improving and investing in your content. It's about assessing “Where” your organisation is in terms of content operations maturity.

Managing content strategically  

Day-to-day content management needs to be strategic – i.e. aligned with content strategy – to be successful. According to Content Marketing Institute’s content management and strategy survey, organisations already doing this cite these top five benefits as a result:

  • Extended reach of content (57%)
  • Ability to provide the right content to the right person at the right time (50%)
  • Easier to repurpose and reuse content (48%)
  • Enhanced experiences due to improved interactions (45%)

All of that said, a whopping 72% of respondents said their organisation is challenged with managing their content strategically.

Content has the potential to be an organisation’s best asset, and management processes can, and should, do it justice. They should improve efficiency and allow you to focus on what’s important: creating content to meet user needs.

Five methods of managing content strategically

Here are five tips to help you manage your content strategically:

1. Categorise and organise content

Organising and categorising is a key part of managing content. But staying on top of it is tough, given the sheer volume, velocity and variety of internal and external content that organisations manage - particularly large organisations.  Worldwide, humans collectively create around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day.

But for content managers, managing content about more than just staying on top of it and keeping it organised. It’s about getting the most out of it and managing it strategically. Taking the time to make sure you uphold a clean content house will pay off in the future when it comes to SEO optimising, targeting and personalising content. Here are some ways to categorise and organise your content strategically:

  • Audit and inventory. Running a content audit and creating an up-to-date, detailed inventory of every single piece of content in your organisation may sound scary, but it's the best way to ensure you manage content effectively. Use our audit template to help you make sure you've covered all the relevant information in your inventory.

  • Metadata, categories and tags in your content management system (CMS). Getting this right, and consistent, is important. Why? Because it means you, your readers and the search engine can find your content easily. Make sure you stick to one category per post (but you can add multiple tags for context). Also make sure you follow standardised naming conventions to avoid confusion.

  • Map your content to personas stages in buyer journey. Rather than just creating content randomly, you should always tie each piece back to a user need/goal. The best way to do this is to create (the more modern version of) buyer personas, and then map each piece of content to a different stage in their journey. Broadly speaking, these stages are 'awareness', 'consideration' and 'decision.' Try our user journey map to help with this process. Doing this will allow you to then strategically link an online piece of content to another that's in the next stage of the journey, using calls-to-action and landing pages to guide people through your website and turn visitors into leads.

  • Pillar pages and content clusters. Again, this is about the way that you organise your content online. 'Pillar pages' are detailed, often long, pieces of content covering all aspects of a certain topic. Then, around these, you create 'content clusters' for different related topics. You can then internally link from your pillar page to these topics. This is a great way to help both search engine bots and people logically navigate through your site, making it a winner for user experience and SEO.

At GatherContent, we recently redesigned and migrated our blog, and although it was a slog, some of the key reasons for doing this was to get better categorisation, consistency for our readers and for SEO, and better ways to discover related content. Well, it certainly paid off! We can now do all the great content on our blog justice through the way we manage it.

2. Use a content editorial calendar

It’s so important to keep track of everything in one place when you’re creating and managing content. An editorial calendar will help you document what content you’re going to produce and publish, and spot opportunities and gaps quickly. It will also help you manage the frequency you publish certain types of content, and ensure you’re publishing high-quality content consistently.

Make sure you include the format, authors, owners, the date it will be published, goals, and the user journey stage/user need the content ties back to. You should also be able to track the status of content easily. You can make this what it needs to be for your organisation, the main thing is just to keep it updated and keep the content flowing. Download our free editorial calendar template to help, which includes a horizon planning tab to give you an overview of what’s coming up.

3. Maintain accountability

When you’re managing the content production lifecycle, accountability helps you avoid massive hidden problems appearing too far down the line, and allows you to ‘clean as you cook’ so to speak, and spot opportunities along the way. So, establishing accountability in content teams is important. But what does it look like day-to-day?

  • Content all in one place
  • A clear workflow
  • Defined and assigned roles/responsibilities for each task
  • Version control and tracking changes
  • Checklists and templates for standardisation
  • Visible deadlines and progress trackers
  • Style guides (and making sure these actually get used)
  • A way of estimating the cost of content
  • Tracking the success and ROI of content
  • A review cycle for updating and managing content  

When organisations lack accountability, it’s not usually that people don’t care about responsibilities and standards. Maintaining accountability is difficult when you’re creating lots of content, with lots of people creating that content, often across siloed departments. You need to create a positive culture through your processes and technology for accountability to stick.

4. Foster a culture of collaboration

Related to creating a culture of accountability, is also creating a culture of collaboration. As Liz Moorehead says in her article, tips for first-time content managers: “when you're a content manager, you're also an internal relationship manager.”

Content managers will often encounter friction when trying to manage content that is produced across different silos, by different people, with conflicting priorities. A lack of collaboration can also mean work is duplicated, and the review processes takes longer than it should.

Successful content management is about using tools and processes to help people create and deliver content with a common goal in mind. This will lead to content that provides a great user experience. A few relationships to consider, and tips on managing these in the content creation process are:

  • Subject matter experts and writers. Often, subject matter experts (SMEs) and writers come at a project from very different mindsets, and speak totally different languages. This can make the editing and approval process tricky. A simple, but sure-fire way to help this is to think about pair writing. This literally means, instead of sending drafts back and forth with red pen, sitting down together and creating content together.
  • Designers and writers.  A common challenge for organisations is keeping content production in line with design. We’re big advocates of going content-first when designing content for the web (using 'proto-content' early on in the process, rather than lorem impsum). This is because it helps both teams spot problems and opportunities when they arise, and work on these together.
  • Clients and your team. If you’re an agency, do you struggle with client relationships in the content production lifecycle? Is wrangling content often a challenge? Having strong content creation processes in place, and using the right tech can help you build client relationships. It's a good idea to use sign-off checklists with specific review criteria, to ensure clients aren't just skimming over work when reviewing it. Once you're confident in your tools and processes, you can start to sell your content strategy as a billable service. We have a great book on this.

Truly successful, user-centered content will always be the result of proper collaboration throughout the production lifecycle. It's about teams coming together early on in the creation process, asking the right questions, then trying to figure out the answers together. Only then will content become an asset to your organisation.

5. Choose the right tech for your organisation  

A huge part of building a culture of collaboration, and enabling high-quality content to shine through, comes down to the tech that you use. Your people are only as good as the tech you give them, so it's important to choose tech that works for your organisation.

Yet many organisations lack the right technology to manage content effectively. According to the 2018 CMI survey we mentioned before:

  • 51% say they haven’t acquired the right technology to manage content
  • 35% say they have the tech, but are not using it to its potential
  • 64% have a content management system
  • 21% have content promotion and distribution software
  • 54% are using a content collaboration/workflow software

A good content management system (CMS) is integral to managing and publishing content to your website. It's also important to  think about distributing and promoting content on social media channels through content calendar tools and automated publishing.

That said, content management is about more than just these publishing systems. Many organisations’ content problems can be traced back to a lack of the right tools for the pre-CMS phase of content management. The CMS isn’t an ideal editing environment, or a place for feedback, workflows and status updates. But then again, neither is Microsoft Word, and relentless email chains.

It's important for organisations to have the right technology for content creation too. After all, you can't manage content effectively if it's not created in the right environment.

How GatherContent can help with content management

GatherContent is a Content Operations Platform that helps you plan, create, and manage content before it gets to the CMS. It helps with strategic content management, whether that’s for a website build, redesign project, or day-to-day, through:

  • A unified collaboration environment. All content is stored in one place for a single source of truth. Rather than long email chains and multiple documents, it gives you version control, and makes communication easy through real-time, in-line comments and notifications.

  • CMS integration. GatherContent plays well with lots of existing tools, including your CMS. Rather than spending precious time copying and pasting content, content can be created in the correct structure to map easily to your CMS.

  • Built in workflow, style guides and templates. Many organisations have clear roles, policies and guidelines in place, but struggle to ensure these are followed by everyone creating content. GatherContent allows you to embed good content governance and management practices into your editing environment.

  • A simple user interface. Today, everyone has the potential to be a content creator in their organisation. GatherContent empowers people working on content, with a simple user interface, search functions, and accessibility options. If tools are easy to use and give employees a great user experience, they're more likely to be engaged and productive at work.

  • Training. GatherContent has a dedicated training portal to get your team and your clients up and running. This included detailed videos to guide people through every aspect of the content production process.  

To find out more about how GatherContent can help your organisation manage content better, for productivity quality and compliance, try out our free demo or free 30-day trial.

Unlock the value of your content through management best practices

Well-managed content ultimately means that content fulfils content strategy and governance through everyday processes and technology.

If you can keep an organised content house, keep track of the status and progress of content, ensure everyone follows a clear workflow, increase collaboration and break down silos in your organisation, then you can also speed up the process and ensure only high-quality content that meets user needs is being published.

This all means that content can be created and managed in a way that focuses on how it ties back to organisational goals, innovation, and how it proves ROI (rather than the focus being on the content creation process itself).

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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