How to build a scalable and repeatable process for producing effective content

Imagine spending loads of time developing a content strategy for your organization or client and then chaotic operations result in inconsistent and poor quality content that isn’t effective for the audience or the business. Despite all that effort upfront.

How to build a scalable and repeatable process for producing effective content
How to build a scalable and repeatable process for producing effective content. Photo by Amel Majanovic

Even with all the best and strategic intentions in the world, content can be derailed by a lack of process, the wrong people being involved, and technology that doesn’t do what’s needed.

Table of contents

A bias towards delivery
Efficient content operations for effective content
Defining ContentOps
The increasing need for investing in ContentOps
The three pillars of ContentOps
Strategy, operations, and delivery
Principles of ContentOps
Elements of ContentOps
The business benefits of efficient ContentOps
Taking your ContentOps to the next level

Content operations, or ContentOps, shines a light on the people, processes, and technology an organization has in place for the day-to-day planning, production, and delivery of content. Whether content-led digital transformation, content marketing campaigns, website redesign projects, and all other content initiatives, content operations allow for repeatable and scalable processes and systems to deliver effective content consistently.

According to Content Science Review, 53% of organizations don’t know their annual content budget. If the content they are producing isn’t effective and is of poor quality, they might be wasting lots of money on content that isn’t even working for them. But they don’t know what they’re spending, so can’t know what they’re wasting.

Annual content budget: 53% of organisations don’t know their annual budget for content. – Content Science Review: Content Operations Benchmark Study

To the customer, they aren’t interested in how that content gets published, who is responsible and what effort was required. They simply expect it to be there.

The customer isn’t interested in how content gets published, who is responsible and what effort was required. They simply expect it to be there.

For the organization, so much has to happen behind the scenes to deliver effective content, on-brand, across multiple channels, and consistently. This requires a culture of giving the content the attention it deserves, and an investment in content operations, or ContentOps.

This article outlines what ContentOps is, why organizations need to invest in it now, how you can get started, and provides evidence as to the benefits yielded by businesses that have already started to meet the needs of their audience by putting content first, and the operations needed to plan, produce and deliver it.

A bias towards delivery

There’s a huge bias towards the delivery of content within organizations and it’s this bias on delivery that puts pressure on the production of content.

Audiences expect content: 84% of people expect brands to create content. – Havas Group’s 2017 Meaningful Brands study

High expectations aren’t new. Remember when the need to have a responsive website or mobile app went from desirable to essential? And now voice, artificial intelligence, and multi-channel content are making new demands and setting even more expectations. There will always be a promised land to chase and not every organization needs to get there at the same time, or by the same methods.

But there is one constant across all of these needs.

Content.

Content isn’t a supply chain, it’s a lifecycle. But with this pressure to produce and publish, it’s common for organizations to publish and move on to the next marketing campaign, website redesign, or social post. Then repeat.

In her book Content Design, Sarah Richards says Not more content, smarter content.

For content to be smarter and more effective for an organization (and its audience) there are a lot of operational challenges that need to be solved.

Consuming content: The average person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. – Forrester

Efficient content operations for effective content

Organizations need to have certain internal capabilities if they want to create effective content that serves a purpose and is of value to your organization and the people that interact with it.

A lot of this comes down to how organizations work internally, including:

  • Defining clear roles and responsibilities for those involved with content
  • Ensuring workflows are in place
  • Coming up with new approaches to technology for structured content
  • Being able to scale content activities and initiatives
  • Implementing governance models for content

There’s a lot to be juggled behind the scenes. This is why investing in ContentOps is needed now, not next quarter or in the next financial year when it’s too late.

Defining ContentOps

Before we look at ContentOps in more detail, including how it can transform businesses, we’ll start with some definitions to set the scene.

At GatherContent, we define ContentOps as ContentOps is the combination of people, process, and technology that are required to produce effective content at scale. ContentOps provides a systematized way to produce and deliver content. – GatherContent

Here are other definitions from experts across the content and CMS industry:

Content operations is concerned with everything between content strategy and content management, and therefore is the “glue” between the (1) plan for content, and (2) the content management system in which it’s managed and delivered. – Deane Barker, Chief Strategy Officer, Blend Interactive

ContentOps is a set of principles that results in methodologies intended to optimise production of content, and allow organizations to scale their operations, whilst ensuring high quality in a continuous delivery pipeline, to allow for the leveraging of content as business assets to meet intended goals. – Rahel Bailie, Chief Knowledge Office, Scroll

Content operations is the behind-the-scenes work for managing content activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. Today, content operations often require a mix of elements related to people, process, and technology. – Colleen Jones, Author of The Content Advantage

The increasing need for investing in ContentOps

ContentOps is concerned with how organizations create and maintain effective content daily. One-off redesign projects or digital transformation initiatives are valuable but it’s the ongoing operations concerned with content that need to be deliberate.

In a world where so much content is published online, and audiences are adept at finding what they need quickly, where and when they want, organizations are faced with:

Lots of change. Quickly!

Organizations are having to adapt to digital technology at a very fast pace. This requires them to educate themselves rapidly, change their processes and tools, and fill in skills gaps by hiring or creating new roles.

An explosion of channels

Audiences are sourcing the information they need from a huge variety of different channels, platforms, and sources. They also expect information to be available in mediums that are convenient and easily accessible for consumption.

A need to create quality content

A clearly defined workflow and quality assurance process is essential to ensure quality is maintained throughout the content lifecycle.

Faster content creation

The need to reactively create content based on an unforeseen event is ever more common. Audiences expect your services to respond quickly, digitally. Meet expectations by creating and delivering content without human or technical delays.

Demand for a greater volume of content

Audiences expect content to exist for all of your products and services, across multiple channels. A governance process to create, deliver, and maintain this growing volume of information is essential.

More regulations faced by organizations

It’s critical to make sure content adheres to evolving laws, regulations, and standards being imposed on businesses. From GDPR to CMA, and many acronyms in-between.

Everyone is now a content contributor

To get effective content for your audience, everyone in your organization needs to be able to communicate and distribute content to where it’s needed. This could be a researcher in your university, a doctor in the field, or a subject matter expert on feline behavior.

The three pillars of ContentOps

u If an organization publishes content they will have a person (or people), a process, and use some sort of technology. These are the three pillars of ContentOps:

Three pillars of ContentOps
Three pillars of ContentOps

In her recent webinar, take your content operations to the next level, Colleen Jones listed these sample ContentOps considerations for each pillar:

PeopleProcessTechnology
Content rolesContent supply chainContent management
Content responsibilitiesContent workflowContent automation
Content cultureContent localizationContent intelligence
Content leadershipContent governanceArtificial intelligence
Content TrainingContent templatesContent translation
ContentOps Sample

Colleen stated that ‘on the people side there is the need for leadership around content, and having that leadership advocate for content operations in particular.’

There also are a lot of opportunities where processes can help make operations smooth. For example, mapping out a process and approach to working with others in a particular market or region makes life much easier when you need to localize content to meet a certain need. GatherContent

Strategy, operations, and delivery

Let’s be clear, you still need a strategy. You still need to know what you are communicating, how, when, where, and who to. You will also need a way of delivering content, a tool to publish it to your website, across your social channels and even to print. Everything between the strategy and delivery is the operations.

Everything between the strategy and delivery is the operations.
Everything between the strategy and delivery is the operations.

A headless CMS won’t make content consistent in style and format. A workflow won’t ensure content is structured correctly to map to a CMS. A governance plan won’t guarantee John in finance stops becoming a bottleneck!

With the three pillars of ContentOps, they individually help to gain efficiencies in ensuring operations are deliberate, but when considered together, that allows organizations to have the greatest ability to have an impact through their content.

Principles of ContentOps

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ContentOps. You cannot prescribe a cookie-cutter process, or insist on the same people being involved, or expect every organization to use the same technology. Businesses should understand the principles of ContentOps and apply and adapt them for their own situation and context.

Whilst the people, processes and technology will vary as needed, the principles of ContentOps are the same for all. The organization that invests in ContentOps will find itself in the enviable position with:

  • Repeatable processes
  • Scalable outputs
  • Confidence in measuring results
  • Reduction of inefficiencies
  • Achieving quality at scale
  • Improving effectiveness

In her recent webinar, the coming of age of ContentOps, Rahel Bailie summarised these principles of ContentOps by stating ‘ it’s about reducing inefficiencies. It’s about developing repeatable processes and automating them whenever we can. It’s about scaling up our outputs, monitoring the results of those outputs, and then using those results to create insights.’

Rahel added: ContentOps really is about freeing up capacity to do higher-value work. People working on content should be working smartly, not doing the heavy lifting. Computers and the content management system should do all of the tedious work.

To achieve this, there are different elements of ContentOps that can be invested in.

Elements of ContentOps

There are different elements to ContentOps that will allow an organization to move towards efficiency and scalable practices. Individually, they help to climb the maturity ladder, but when an organization invests in them as a whole, that’s when ContentOps can be leveraged for maximum results. Elements of ContentOps include:

  • Production workflows
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Structured content types
  • A useful and usable Content Style Guide
  • A content governance plan
  • Appropriate measurement tools

Let’s look at each element in more detail.

Production workflows

Content production workflows can be as simple as a series of steps a single piece of content has to go through to be produced. You would likely tie steps to roles or teams, and have certain rules for them.

At GOV.UK, one department had a 27-step approval process for content.

Clearly defined roles

Everyone needs to be clear on their roles. Identify gaps, as well as overlaps, and make sure everyone involved has clear responsibilities.

At GOV.UK they created a Guidance Manager tole to improve their ContentOps.

Structured content types

A small effort around defining the types of content your organization produces and the rules and structures they need to adhere to can save you a tonne of pain down the line.

Content style guides

Creating a content style guide for your authors will ensure content is consistent and authentic. It’s important your content is created with the appropriate voice and tone and follows any styles and formatting rules for your brand or organization.

Governance models

Content governance is the system, a set of guidelines, that determines how an organization’s content gets created and published.

Audits and measurement tools

Without well-defined goals or tools for measuring the impact of your work, it’s impossible to know whether your content is having an impact.

The business benefits of efficient ContentOps

Efficient ContentOps aim to reduce your content debt. This is the same way development teams seek to reduce their technical debt. Content delivery costs a lot of money, especially when an organization’s ContentOps are inefficient.

Colleen Jones, the author of The Content Advantage, recently conducted a study that found a pretty clear (and not hugely surprising correlation):

The more mature Content Operations are, the more likely [organizations] are to report success.

ContentOps means working smarter which also frees up the capacity to do higher-value work. The value to the business extends beyond there though:

Saving time and money

ContentOps is about the long game – scalable and repeatable processes that allow teams to do more, with less.

Having a team in dedicated roles with specific tasks focused around content, along with clear processes and the technology to support these ways of working, will make your ContentOps efficient. The benefits of this will vary but can be plentiful. Including:

  • Save time by reducing back and forth between content drafts and approval
  • Save money by launching projects on time by putting content first
  • Save time by mapping out processes for specific requirements such as localization of content
  • Save time by having content delivered in the right format
  • Save time and money by reducing/removing bottlenecks

Any increase in efficiency can see time and cost-saving benefits so even if it requires more effort and financial investment upfront to get the people, processes, and technology in place, it will yield savings in the long term.

Avoid unnecessary or duplicate content

When it isn’t clear who is doing what, how, and by when time can be wasted by duplicate and unnecessary content being worked on and created. The other side of this is not having content you do need because nobody knows who is responsible for it and the buck gets passed from team to team, or person to person

Inefficient ContentOps is common in organizations where silos are prevalent. When those responsible for managing and creating content work independently of other teams there is no shared understanding of what content is needed

Time can be wasted producing something that isn’t needed or creating content that already exists.

Making planning and strategy easier

Any planning and delivery of the strategy are easier when you know the people, process, and technology needed and available. You’re able to plan around your resource.

Here are some examples of how your ContentOps can help:

  • Knowing what is feasible with resources in terms of content production and delivery allows you to be realistic with project scope
  • Understanding how you will get something done means you can plan for this long term if there are repeatable processes to adhere to
  • ContentOps can connect silos such as different departments so you can start talking about technology like the CMS early on

Whilst investing in ContentOps can make future content project initiatives easier to plan, and strategies easier to deliver, it is still important to bear in mind that there will always be challenges and changes needed, but getting the basics right and the fundamentals in place is a good place to be.

Produce quality content faster

Elements of ContentOps such as style guides, structured content types and templates, and a clearly defined workflow can combine to help teams produce effective content faster.

These elements can also offer templates, benchmarks, and blueprints for ‘how to do content’ across an organization, coming back to the scalable and repeatable processes that ensure content is given the attention it deserves.

ContentOps can reduce common issues such as:

  • Inconsistent content undermining the brand. Content standards and guidelines not being adhered to
  • Poor quality content due to varying writing styles from subject matter experts

Producing content faster is possible when there is a clear workflow with defined roles at each stage. It is agreed who is doing what, when, and in what order. When there is the same process for future content too, naturally it will be produced more quickly, rather than starting from scratch each time or having to redefine the workflow.

A content-first company culture

With a clear way of producing content, definite roles and tasks throughout the process, and the right technology to facilitate everything, teams will be operating in a content-first environment. There is a shared understanding around the content that is needed, why it is needed and how it will be delivered and maintained.

The overall outcome of an improvement in ContentOps is a reduction in the technical and human friction that can hold back your organization from producing effective content.

Taking your ContentOps to the next level

ContentOps is calling for the same respect that has been given to software development and other disciplines, where an investment in repeatable and scalable processes has resulted in an operational change that’s had a huge impact on the pace at which organizations can deliver value to customers, and innovate.

With ContentOps it’s about delivering more value through more effective content. With all of the demands and challenges outlined in this paper, ContentOps isn’t a luxury but a necessity.

The focus must now shift from delivery and instead be concerned with the internal workings of organizations – to establish operational processes, roles, and technology required to achieve efficient ContentOps.

Published by Tommy Droste

, Windows Insider MVP, MCP, MCITP EA and SA, has almost six years technical writing experience. He is now the author of Pupuweb Blog. Before working as a writer, He was a technical support helping people to solve their computer problems. He enjoys providing solutions to computer problems and loves exploring new technologies.