Is Your Content Creation Process a Science? It Should Be.
When you buy a car today, not having built-in Bluetooth is a major reason to walk away. But back in 1908, Henry Ford’s Model T turned an entire industry on its head for much less glamorous reasons: It was produced quickly and at scale.
Until the Model T came along, automobiles were often individually handcrafted. This meant longer production times and more expensive products. But Ford’s innovation ushered in the age of American modernization. His moving assembly line sped up production from more than 12 hours per car to a little over 90 minutes. This meant larger supplies, lower costs, and far greater efficiency.
Content marketers have a lot on their plates. In a typical content production line, the various stages (planning, execution, review, and maintenance) can each take anywhere from weeks or months to complete. Does that seem like a lot? Or too little? You won’t know unless you define your own processes.
Have content gaps? Read more about fractional content marketing.
To define or not to define
If nobody claims that freshly baked fudge brownie on the kitchen counter, it’s bound to get eaten. To avoid the heartbreak of losing out on the gooey goodness, you’ve got to have the important conversation: Whose brownie is it? Will it be shared? How much will each person get?
Content marketing workflows are less delicious than brownies, but far more complex. Not defining the disparate workflows of the content life cycle can lead to avoidable hiccups. From a project management standpoint, it can make it difficult to track how different tasks progress. And from a people standpoint, team members can get stuck or be ill prepared to face challenges and changes that inevitably come up.
What’s a content workflow?
It’s the secret sauce that allows your organization to:
- Break down the entire content production process into smaller, more manageable tasks
- Identify every stage of development
- Identify every step that requires approval
- Identify who is responsible for each step
Breaking down the content workflow gives everybody a clear picture of what’s expected and what the responsibilities look like. And when process bottlenecks rear their heads, your project managers will know how to fix them.
The seven major components
Content marketing takes on different shapes across different channels. But for the most part, we can break things down to simplify the process. There are seven major components every content marketing team must define.
First, define business goals. For many organizations, the onus is on traffic and engagement—and that’s always a good starting point. But dig deeper. Your industry and niche may require more granular thinking. For example, if your business goal is to generate leads, then planning content creation and content distribution to simply drive brand awareness will be inadequate.
Second, define audience needs. While content strategy is a bigger conversation, it’s important to know how your content ultimately serves the needs of your audience. Are you making them problem-aware? Are you making them product-aware? Do they even know how to articulate their problem? For your content to resonate, you’re gonna need pain points to directly respond to.
Third, define every task. Not just the high-level stuff. We’re talking every single task. The meta title needs to have under 60 characters for SEO. The images have to be set up with alt tags. Headlines have to be revised. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Mapping out every task in the production chain will make it clearer to see what buckets they fall into, where steps overlap, and what bottlenecks could potentially occur.
Fourth, define every role. Again, not just the high-level stuff. Make sure every task you mapped out earlier has somebody responsible for it. Who’s responsible for providing the brief? Who’s the subject matter expert to consult for this specific writing topic? Make sure every task has one person responsible for it. That way, everybody involved with content production knows where the rest of the team is relying on them.
Fifth, define the stages of production. Once you know the tasks and roles, you can think about the buckets everything falls into. During the planning stage, two large tasks (with subtasks underneath) might include preparing a content brief and researching the topic. During the execution stage, tasks might include writing and designing. During the review and approval stage, you may want to revise for grammar and loop in your legal team. Your organization’s context will be unique—just make sure to consider the different steps required for your content engine.
Sixth, define time lines and due dates. Some tasks take longer to complete than others, and you need to account for that. Not only do deadlines give content teams transparency into production windows, they also give project managers a way to assess how to optimize the legs of the process. Does this stage need an extra day to complete? Does a consistent Friday due date not work for this stakeholder’s calendar obligations? By turning the entire content and creative process into a science, it’s easier to iterate when conditions require that flexibility.
Seventh, define where content and assets live. In most cases, this could just be your content management system. But as technology advances and “headless CMS” becomes a larger part of modern marketing, it’s important to simplify and future-proof asset storage. Make sure your team knows where content and supporting assets live—sometimes in multiple locations. This may require defining file and folder naming conventions, and it’s this kind of granular thinking that’ll help make your production engine scalable over different marketing seasons.
And then the new year hits, fresh with a pandemic ravaging the globe and social unrest challenging all of us to reevaluate our priorities. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that even the most rock-solid content and creative processes need to be truly flexible.
It’s important to define all the tasks that would go into a typical content production workflow, but it’s equally essential to be flexible enough to tackle other kinds of content when needs arise. There are three major kinds of long-form content your organization may be responsible for publishing:
Real-time content. This might require the least pull of resources. If there’s a time-sensitive industry update or market alert, you probably don’t have the weeks (or months) your typical content production process would give you. You may have hours. Maybe minutes. Even in a time crunch, you need to have a process and workflows in place to make sure content gets out to the right places at the right times.
Thought leadership content. This might require the greatest pull of resources. Typically, executive thought leadership articles take longer to produce because of all the moving parts—and the lack of bandwidth executives and subject matter experts typically have to work with. Build out workflows that’ll keep stakeholders synced with content creators so tasks don’t fall off the radar. Things quickly can.
Evergreen content. The Goldilocks of long-form content, this is probably where most of your content will sit. Build out predictable workflows to make evergreen content creation efficient, scalable, and effective.
Where to start
Breaking down the sum of your content production into all its parts helps make creative workflows that much more effective. There’s a science to content creation that makes things stick for an audience in ways that make them crave more of it. And when they want more? You’ll be ready.
If the content production workflow feels complex, you’re not alone. Start by defining the various steps and stages of content production. From planning to creation to review to maintenance, mapping things out to subatomic levels helps content teams do better work more often. And from there, you’ll be ready to take on the world.