With effective Content Operations, or 'ContentOps', your organisation will have a faster, and repeatable process for creating high-quality content.
Doing a huge website redesign project every few years used to be seen as a solution to the way we managed content and reached our audiences. However, after realising the limitations of these one-off initiatives, the focus has moved to the importance of daily operations.
It is now clear that the organisations that 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.
This ensures content is doing what we want it to do; meeting audience needs, and working as a business asset.
ContentOps is the combination of people, process and technology that are required to produce, distribute and maintain content in an organisation.
In its essence, ContentOps is really quite fundamental: Almost every organisation on the planet has some form of people, using some kind of process and technology to produce some type of content.
Some organisations are good at this, others ... less so.
Content Operations is often described as the implementation of Content Strategy. If your Content Strategy is the plan which outlines where you are trying to go, Content Operations is the vehicle you rely on to get you there (and back again!).
You can have the most incredible plan possible, but nothing changes in the world until you actually deliver something.
In this case: content.
So, every organisation that publishes content has some form of Content Operations. However, this 'operational model' is often not well defined or documented; it's not actually operationalised.
It's common for there to be no clear owner, and for it to involve a patchwork of different tools and technologies that people complain just "get in the way". We are often stuck using outdated technology, or systems which restrict us. Content eventually emerges at the end, but not as it was planned.
For many of us, we still rely on Word documents, email chains and spreadsheets. Content is copy and pasted around disparate databases, incompatible applications, and clunky content management systems... it is often far from effective.
These poorly set-up Content Operations are often the culprit when an organisation is struggling to achieve its goals, or simply unable to deliver useful content on time.
While these challenges are most prominent in the context of marketing and communications, it also has a big impact on IT and affects many other parts of an organisation. ContentOps is very much an organisation-wide discipline that requires senior buy-in in order to truly succeed.
Due to these often convoluted processes, along with the complexity of systems which "get in the way", content that is created often takes much longer than it needs to. Poor ContentOps wastes time.
A lack of requirements, goals, or writing standards for content will result in low quality and inconsistent content across multiple channels. Less effective ContentOps relies heavily on the content producer, and the quality of the training they receive (ToV, brand, legal, writing etc..). Relying on individuals and training isn't scalable, and is fraught with human error. Effective ContentOps seeks to remove these risks by embedding content requirements and standards into the production process, enabling organisations to rapidly increase their content production and onboard new content producers in minutes, not days of training and workshops.
Poor ContentOps directly impacts content quality and in the worst scenarios, they can open up an organisation to a growing number of legal content regulations and risks, which if breached can have serious consequences.
In the words of Content Strategy expert, Rahel Bailie:
The idea behind having an operational model, no matter what the profession, hinges on a few common principles: reducing friction through automation, repeatable processes, system reliability, and monitoring results to gather insights.
So, if we want to meet the needs of our customers and our audiences, it is essential that we invest in this operational model, and mature our Content Operations.
Among ContentOps professionals, there seems to be a very clear consensus around the three pillars of Content Operations: People, process, and technology.
Let's start with what is often the hardest thing to pin down: the people.
When the web became widespread, and people began to use it as their primary source of information consumption, there was an argument that 'everyone is a librarian now'.
Suddenly we were all individually responsible for managing and organising vast quantities of content from our own homes (and now, from our phones).
In the same respect, with content production and publishing now being an unavoidable requirement in the vast majority of businesses and organisations, it seems fair to say that 'everyone is a publisher now'.
This is not only the case for professional content teams and trained experts, but it is also a requirement for non-specialists. Government departments that are digitising services, healthcare providers managing huge online directories, and subject matter experts in universities... these people are all required to produce and maintain vast quantities of content every day.
As Acrolinx point out in their article on content governance:
"With so many different people working on content across so many disconnected silos, content ends up being off-strategy, off-brand, undiscoverable, poorly written, and out of date".
There are now a huge volume of people - that are very much not specialists in the web content production - who have a requirement to be involved in ContentOps.
Sadly, the technology we use often alienates these people from the process (complex content management systems that require training create barriers to entry), and so most people revert to using their own tools (Word documents, emails and spreadsheets) which then prevent us from maturing operations.
In the same way that we have standard frameworks for building software, or manufacturing cars - ContentOps calls for the same level of structure to be applied to the production, delivery and maintenance of content.
Some typical processes in a mature ContentOps set-up include:
Structured content types and taxonomy: Defining the types of content your organisation produces, and the rules and structures they need to adhere to is essential if you want things to scale. It can also be useful as a means to educate people on the purpose of content, and who it is intended for. This is a profession in itself, but content modelling is a good starting point.
Clearly defined roles: It’s essential for everyone to be clear on their roles and responsibilities, and how they fit into the production workflow. Sometimes, in order to really make progress, new roles will need to be created, or existing roles changed. The hiring of Content Designers, or senior ContentOps managers is a common method used to instigate a cultural change.
Production workflows: Content production workflows can be as simple as a series of steps a content type has to go through in order to be produced. Depending on the nature of the content you are managing, a workflow may include multiple compliance reviews or rounds of edits and testing. Workflows can also be used to manage the ongoing review of content throughout its lifecycle, such as a yearly review of policies, for example.
Style guidelines and accessibility requirements: In order to be capable of publishing consistent content across multiple channels while maintaining a tone of voice, a style guide is essential. For both style rules, accessibility requirements and QA, it is very effective if these are embedded in the authoring experience. The alternative approach tends to involve sending people on a one-off training course, and expecting them to remember everything.
A governance model: Content governance is the system, or set of guidelines, that determines how an organisation’s content gets created and maintained. Mature organisations acknowledge the cost of ownership of a piece of content, in terms of the work required to keep it up to date and accurate. The cost of ownership is often far greater than the cost of creation, and the impact of out of date or inaccurate content can be very serious.
Audits and tools for ongoing measurement: Without well-defined goals, or tools for measuring the impact of content, it’s impossible to know whether it is having an impact. In many ways, this is the end of the feedback loop, which feeds directly back into the strategy. This can also include content quality assurance (QA), including looking for broken links, or other standards being breached.
Training and administration: A fairly loose one, but most organisations have some kind of recurring training for different tools or ways of working. Alongside this, there will likely be some processes that aid the administration of services or technology.
There are of course many other specific processes you may need to consider, from translation and localisation, to managing structured content and meta-data at scale. However, the above list should keep most of us busy for a while.
Selecting the tools and technologies you want to use for your ContentOps implementation can be daunting, purely because the market is so active and there are so many options.
There are plenty of niche-specific vendors and specialist platforms, as well as some fundamentally opposing schools of thought. The pace of change in content technology is also extremely fast, and new approaches are constantly emerging, succeeding or fading away.
Thankfully, there are a lot of resources online to help with this selection. Deane Barker's book, "Things You Should Know: 25 Lessons I've Learned About Buying Content Technology and Services" is a great (and truly objective) starting point.
Regardless of whether you're buying a single platform, or taking a more decoupled "stack" approach, you will want to consider a few components and think about what your organisation's requirements really are.
Some things that most organisations require:
As mentioned above, there are many products out there that offer to cover a few of these bases. Regardless: start with your own requirements, and don't get distracted by those shiny apples!
GatherContent is a game changer. Our content processes used to involve an ineffective mix of spreadsheets, documents, and a slew of file storage solutions. Version control was a nightmare and proofing was always an afterthought. With GatherContent we've solved all of these process problems and more, and we can now start the content process earlier. To top if off, our clients love it too.