Why content governance is important and how to make it happen

Why content governance is important and how to make it happen

4 minute read

Why content governance is important and how to make it happen

4 minute read

Why content governance is important and how to make it happen

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant

Governance - you know you need it, but what does it look like in real life, and how do you create it?

At first glance, content governance is straightforward - it’s how you manage content in your organisation. But dig beyond that simple definition and it gets complicated, even intimidating.

Defining a model for content governance means drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘this is how we do things around here’. It means taking ownership and putting in the work to define a system that delivers repeatable, scalable, consistent content. In short, it’s getting your stuff together. 

In this post I’ll explore what good content governance looks like, and share four questions that can help you create your own model. There’s also a checklist you can download to help you work through the process.

What content governance looks (and feels) like

At its most basic level, a good content governance model should look something like this:

  1. Structure - a simple explanation of how content is structured in the organisation.
  2. Roles and responsibilities - a clear idea of the roles around content and the responsibilities that come with them.
  3. Process and workflow - a detailed process and timeline covering every stage of your content lifecycle.
  4. Standards and policy - a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines your content should adhere to.

Having your governance all worked out (along with the rest of your content operations model) reduces friction and increases efficiency. It’s what makes you feel like you’re part of a well-oiled machine rather than flying by the seat of your pants. 

Four questions to shape your content governance model

So how do you go about creating your governance model? Again, this can seem intimidating - a monolithic task of making big decisions and working out intricate details.

But like any big task, you can break it down into bite-sized chunks. One way to do so is to start by trying to answer these four questions, which correspond to the parts of content governance I listed above:

  1. What’s the shape?
  2. Who does what?
  3. What happens when?
  4. How do we do it?

Let’s study those four questions and parts of your governance model in more detail.

1. What’s the shape? (Structure) 

What’s the shape of content in your organisation? How are content teams structured and connected across all the different departments, product verticals and/or international markets?

If you’re not sure what your structure is, three of the most common approaches are:

  • Centralised: A central team ‘owns’ and controls content for the whole organisation. There might be some low-key support or localisation from different departments, verticals or markets.
  • Decentralised: Different departments, verticals, markets take responsibility for their own content, with little direction from the centre.
  • Distributed: A central content team provides leadership, support and some content. Departments, verticals, markets have autonomy, but everyone shares content and best practice.


Diagram shows centralised, decentralised and distributed content models

Whether you fit into one of these three approaches or not, try to map and describe how content is structured in your organisation, showing where the ownership lies and the different directions that ideas, information and data flow in.

2. Who does what? (Roles and responsibilities)

What are the roles required to deliver your content? What are the responsibilities associated with each role? How much time do you need from the people involved?

If you don’t have this already, you need to think about defining:

  • Leadership: who leads content in your organisation? Do you have a head of content, content strategist, chief content officer, an editor, etc.? 
  • Senior support: who will sponsor content or give you a mandate at the highest level of your organisation?
  • Roles: how would you describe the roles that play a part in delivering, maintaining and measuring content? This will often be different to your org charts and job titles, because it’s about content-specific roles that might be a small part of someone’s overall role.
  • Responsibilities: what are the responsibilities associated with each of those roles? Again, this probably won’t match job descriptions.
  • Time: how much time do you need people to give to deliver on those responsibilities?

3. What happens when? (Process and workflow) 

What’s the detailed process and timeline covering every stage of your content life-cycle? Who does what in what order?

This is an in-depth piece of work, but the broad steps you’ll want to consider and add detail to are:

  • Research and insight: how and when will you conduct user research, market insight, competitor analysis etc.? How will you share this insight with the people who need to see it?
  • Business strategy alignment: how and when will you check-in with the overall business strategy and performance so you can align your content strategy?
  • Strategy: how often will you update or refresh your overall content strategy and objectives? How will you communicate the strategy and changes to it?
  • Planning: how do you plan content? How do you align content plans from different parts of the business? How and when do you share plans with markets?
  • Briefing and production: how far in advance do you brief content? Who needs to have input and/or sign-off the brief? How many drafts of content will you do? Who gets to see each draft?
  • Sign-off: who needs to sign off what content and how long does it take?
  • Measurement and optimisation: how often do you measure and optimise content? How do you feed the insight you get from this back into research and planning?
Diagram shows a workflow with input, planning, production, publication and analysis

You also need to think about your cadence - do you work in months or quarters? Is your planning horizon two years or six months?

The workflow chart above gives you an idea of what a very simple version of this might be like.

4. How do we do it? (Standards and policy)

What are the rules and guidelines your content should adhere to, both from a content perspective and also from a legal, compliance, etc. perspective?

This can differ depending on the organisation you work for and what sector you’re in, but some elements you might want to include are:

  • Style guide
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Accessibility guidelines
  • Brand book or brand guidelines
  • Channel guidelines
  • Message hierarchy
  • Any legal or compliance guidelines
  • Taxonomy
  • Content model
  • Page tables or content templates

Build your governance model

If you want to make a start but you’re still a bit daunted, remember that this isn’t a task you do in a day or a week. You can (and should) work though it gradually. You’re also bound to have some elements already. 

Use the questions above as a simple entry point  - it’ll help you work out what parts of your model you’ve already defined, and which parts you need to develop. Try to enlist some help too - you need to consult with colleagues on many parts of your governance model, so why not set up a working group to help you?

I’ve made a checklist you can download and use to help you track your progress as you build your model.

Governance - you know you need it, but what does it look like in real life, and how do you create it?

At first glance, content governance is straightforward - it’s how you manage content in your organisation. But dig beyond that simple definition and it gets complicated, even intimidating.

Defining a model for content governance means drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘this is how we do things around here’. It means taking ownership and putting in the work to define a system that delivers repeatable, scalable, consistent content. In short, it’s getting your stuff together. 

In this post I’ll explore what good content governance looks like, and share four questions that can help you create your own model. There’s also a checklist you can download to help you work through the process.

What content governance looks (and feels) like

At its most basic level, a good content governance model should look something like this:

  1. Structure - a simple explanation of how content is structured in the organisation.
  2. Roles and responsibilities - a clear idea of the roles around content and the responsibilities that come with them.
  3. Process and workflow - a detailed process and timeline covering every stage of your content lifecycle.
  4. Standards and policy - a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines your content should adhere to.

Having your governance all worked out (along with the rest of your content operations model) reduces friction and increases efficiency. It’s what makes you feel like you’re part of a well-oiled machine rather than flying by the seat of your pants. 

Four questions to shape your content governance model

So how do you go about creating your governance model? Again, this can seem intimidating - a monolithic task of making big decisions and working out intricate details.

But like any big task, you can break it down into bite-sized chunks. One way to do so is to start by trying to answer these four questions, which correspond to the parts of content governance I listed above:

  1. What’s the shape?
  2. Who does what?
  3. What happens when?
  4. How do we do it?

Let’s study those four questions and parts of your governance model in more detail.

1. What’s the shape? (Structure) 

What’s the shape of content in your organisation? How are content teams structured and connected across all the different departments, product verticals and/or international markets?

If you’re not sure what your structure is, three of the most common approaches are:

  • Centralised: A central team ‘owns’ and controls content for the whole organisation. There might be some low-key support or localisation from different departments, verticals or markets.
  • Decentralised: Different departments, verticals, markets take responsibility for their own content, with little direction from the centre.
  • Distributed: A central content team provides leadership, support and some content. Departments, verticals, markets have autonomy, but everyone shares content and best practice.


Diagram shows centralised, decentralised and distributed content models

Whether you fit into one of these three approaches or not, try to map and describe how content is structured in your organisation, showing where the ownership lies and the different directions that ideas, information and data flow in.

2. Who does what? (Roles and responsibilities)

What are the roles required to deliver your content? What are the responsibilities associated with each role? How much time do you need from the people involved?

If you don’t have this already, you need to think about defining:

  • Leadership: who leads content in your organisation? Do you have a head of content, content strategist, chief content officer, an editor, etc.? 
  • Senior support: who will sponsor content or give you a mandate at the highest level of your organisation?
  • Roles: how would you describe the roles that play a part in delivering, maintaining and measuring content? This will often be different to your org charts and job titles, because it’s about content-specific roles that might be a small part of someone’s overall role.
  • Responsibilities: what are the responsibilities associated with each of those roles? Again, this probably won’t match job descriptions.
  • Time: how much time do you need people to give to deliver on those responsibilities?

3. What happens when? (Process and workflow) 

What’s the detailed process and timeline covering every stage of your content life-cycle? Who does what in what order?

This is an in-depth piece of work, but the broad steps you’ll want to consider and add detail to are:

  • Research and insight: how and when will you conduct user research, market insight, competitor analysis etc.? How will you share this insight with the people who need to see it?
  • Business strategy alignment: how and when will you check-in with the overall business strategy and performance so you can align your content strategy?
  • Strategy: how often will you update or refresh your overall content strategy and objectives? How will you communicate the strategy and changes to it?
  • Planning: how do you plan content? How do you align content plans from different parts of the business? How and when do you share plans with markets?
  • Briefing and production: how far in advance do you brief content? Who needs to have input and/or sign-off the brief? How many drafts of content will you do? Who gets to see each draft?
  • Sign-off: who needs to sign off what content and how long does it take?
  • Measurement and optimisation: how often do you measure and optimise content? How do you feed the insight you get from this back into research and planning?
Diagram shows a workflow with input, planning, production, publication and analysis

You also need to think about your cadence - do you work in months or quarters? Is your planning horizon two years or six months?

The workflow chart above gives you an idea of what a very simple version of this might be like.

4. How do we do it? (Standards and policy)

What are the rules and guidelines your content should adhere to, both from a content perspective and also from a legal, compliance, etc. perspective?

This can differ depending on the organisation you work for and what sector you’re in, but some elements you might want to include are:

  • Style guide
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Accessibility guidelines
  • Brand book or brand guidelines
  • Channel guidelines
  • Message hierarchy
  • Any legal or compliance guidelines
  • Taxonomy
  • Content model
  • Page tables or content templates

Build your governance model

If you want to make a start but you’re still a bit daunted, remember that this isn’t a task you do in a day or a week. You can (and should) work though it gradually. You’re also bound to have some elements already. 

Use the questions above as a simple entry point  - it’ll help you work out what parts of your model you’ve already defined, and which parts you need to develop. Try to enlist some help too - you need to consult with colleagues on many parts of your governance model, so why not set up a working group to help you?

I’ve made a checklist you can download and use to help you track your progress as you build your model.

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About the author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a freelance content strategy and digital transformation consultant, working with organisations that make the world a better, fairer, more beautiful place.

Lauren has been working in content and digital since way back in 2007 and since then has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including adidas, American Express, Microsoft and Tetra Pak.  

She lives in Brighton, and loves the Downs, the sea, dystopian fiction and bold lipstick.


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