By Jesse Noyes published November 3, 2014

5 Steps to Reduce Frustration and Create Effective Content Workflows

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“What’s more important in content marketing, quantity or quality?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question. The debate wages eternally. But my answer is always the same: “Consistency.”

At Kapost, we publish a lot of content – more than 200 assets per quarter. But quantity doesn’t mean much without consistency. Whether you’re publishing one blog post per week or every day, what matters most is that you deliver good content within an established cadence. Your audience should know what to expect and when to expect it.

Many organizations fail on the consistency front. They get jazzed about producing content until their enthusiasm peters out. That’s why SiriusDecisions says 70% of B2B content goes unused and why even Fortune 500 companies abandon their blogs, according to research from the University of Massachusetts.

Write down the formula

Organizations don’t publish content consistently because each effort is like reinventing the wheel. Coming up with ideas, finding an author, crafting the content, getting it approved, and reviewing the results … all of it feels like a Herculean task. Combating frustration and getting stuff done requires instituting visible, repeatable workflows.

Repeatable workflows save time and protect you from frustration. But they also provide visibility and accountability across your organization, as key stakeholders know their responsibilities, their deadlines, and how their efforts contribute to larger organizational priorities. So something as unsexy as a workflow can make or break your strategy.

Put simply, a workflow is like a checklist with the required steps needed to get content out the door. It outlines the tasks, the owners of those tasks, deadlines, approval structures, distribution processes, and the editorial schedule associated with an asset or campaign. For a workflow to be repeatable, it needs to be rigid enough to contain the most common requirements, but flexible enough to work across a variety of topics and content types.

Some of the most common steps found in content marketing workflows include:

  • Identifying the topic or theme of the content
  • Identifying the target buyer persona and/or sales stage
  • Assigning an author or project manager
  • Assigning an editor
  • Identifying distribution channels
  • Setting up approvals from legal and/or communications departments
  • Designing the asset or associated assets
  • Optimizing the content for SEO and social
  • Determining deadlines for drafting, designing, approving, and distributing content
  • Promoting the asset

You might look at that list and say, “Yeah, that’s a laundry list, I could totally create this tomorrow.”

Make it repeatable

Not so fast. Sure, you can easily create a workflow for an individual project or campaign. But for it to be repeatable, there are several steps you need to take.

1. Gather your stakeholders

My colleague, Liz O’Neill Dennison, likes to say that workflows aren’t just about managing tasks, but managing people. You need to understand who is involved in your content strategy, not just what is.

Fittingly, gathering internal stakeholders is crucial. These are the people who will make your content, distribute it, optimize it, analyze it, or approve it. Write down the roles and colleagues who will need to participate in getting a campaign created and launched. Then, consider putting together a content board.

A content (or editorial) board can help you not only streamline production, but ensure your efforts serve larger organizational goals. Our own board features members of sales, marketing, product, and customer support – and I always invite a mixture of executive and junior staff so we get both high- and ground-level views of our needs.

Even if you don’t form a content board, make sure you do your homework. Have a list of tasks and the people checking those boxes. And make sure they know they’re on the hook.

2. Document your distribution points

People first. But you also need to research the various channels and technological endpoints touched by your content. This isn’t a thought experiment. These distribution points need to be documented.

This practice can get muddled. Distribution points can mean channels, parts of your technology stack, groups of people, or a mixture of all three. For instance, you’ll want to promote the content through your social media channels, and you’ll likely have an outbound email in the works. What about your sales team? Is sharing the content with them part of your content distribution strategy? It should be.

Workflows should include inbound, outbound, and internal distribution. For help getting started, here’s a list of the kinds of places your content may need to go:

  • Owned digital publishing channels (i.e., blogs, website)
  • External social media accounts (i.e., LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare)
  • Software investments and automation products (i.e., CRM, email marketing)
  • Internal collaboration systems (i.e., Jive, Yammer, SharePoint)
  • Inside departments that interact with customers (i.e., field sales, customer support)

3. Align process and people

You’ve got a list of stakeholders and a list of distribution points. Now merge them. Aligning process and people is easier said than done. The goal is to marry the roles with the tasks that need to be completed. This is intended to increase expediency while ensuring quality.

Needless to say, your workflows may change as new elements are introduced. New colleagues may come on board, roles may shift, or new channels added. The goal isn’t to set your workflow in stone, but to create a process where these changes lead to small refinements in your workflow rather than a complete upheaval of your process.

Make sure the stakeholders agree with, and can provide feedback on, the tasks and roles you assign. If it seems dictated versus collaborative, they’re less likely to be excited about their part in the content operation.

4. Refine your deadlines

Deadlines are a necessity. Your workflows should include deadlines for everything, whether a bigger strategic task or a small check-the-box task. Deadlines breed accountability. As collaborators stay aware and meet deadlines, or don’t, the better your process can become.

That’s not to say deadlines should loom like a stubborn monster. As you go through a workflow, you’ll improve it. The time it takes to complete a task or get approval will become clearer, especially if you use tools like production analytics to track the cycles for content production. Deadlines should remain but be able to shift to reflect your organization’s reality. After all, it’s not about wishful thinking but consistently getting things done.

5. Make a visible template

If you go through all the steps above and fail to create workflow templates that your team can access, the work will be in vain. Workflows are a visual representation of your process. If your workflows are buried or hidden, so is your process.

You may need to establish a series of workflows for different content types. The tasks for a webinar will deviate from the workflow for an eBook.

Having workflow templates for all your content types, and making them easy to access across your team or organization, means all your stakeholders understand their roles and how they fit into the larger process. Without access to these templates, the process gets lost, and you end up starting from scratch every time you want to create something new. And as you are overwhelmed with that Herculean task, that is how your content ends up going unused or your blog ceases operations.

Conclusion

Of course, the workflow process will bend and change as your content marketing operation improves and grows. Revisiting workflows should be done yearly, if not quarterly. But most importantly, if you want to avoid the kind of frustration that leads to stalled efforts and broken processes, take the time to establish repeatable workflows first.

Want more instruction on how to manage today’s content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, Gratisography via pixabay.com

Author: Jesse Noyes

Jesse is the Senior Director of Content Marketing for Kapost. He oversees the team responsible for driving communications, awareness and conversions all throughout the buying process through the use of informative content. Jesse is the former Managing Editor at Eloqua (now owned by Oracle), where he ran the company’s award-winning blog. Jesse regularly blogs of the Content Marketeer. You can follow him on Twitter at @noyesjesse

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  • http://gotchseo.com Justin MacDonald

    Really enjoyed the part about having a template. This gives people a chance to see roughly how the end product will look. Having the end of the process in mind when you start is very important.

    Great article!

    • Jesse Noyes

      Thanks, Justin. Totally agree. We actually put together a series of workflows for the most common content types here: http://bit.ly/1tvm2Jk

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Rocket

    Very helpful overview and the emphasis on people in the process is spot on. Promoting the asset has its own content creation workflow–writing and designing the landing page, the email, the social media, etc. Then curating it in other forms for other channels (video, slide deck, info graphic, etc). A repeatable system of workflows like this resembles a content plant.

    • Jesse Noyes

      Thanks! We think of it like a content factory.

  • http://www.concentricdots.co.uk/training.php Stephen Bateman DipM MCIM

    Great post @Jesse. Love your opening Q&A, which I’ve just embedded into my next workshop presentation http://bit.ly/content-workshops! Do you guys use a Style guide for content governance, or perhaps simple project management sofware like Trello to support the workflow?

    • Jesse Noyes

      Thanks, Stephen. That link didn’t work, but I’d love to see the presentation. I don’t want to sound too promotional here, but we actually use our own product: Kapost. We include our style guides inside the platform. More importantly, once we create our workflow templates, we can set them and they’ll automatically upload with every new asset we create. When we do multi-asset campaigns, we have automated templates for those, too, which pulls in workflows for all the supporting assets automatically, triggers notifications to task owners, tracks deadlines and on-time delivery rates. Also, we can tag each asset and campaign to our buyer personas and sales stages so we know how much content we have to support our organizational efforts. Hope that helps.

      • http://www.concentricdots.co.uk/training.php Stephen Bateman DipM MCIM

        Hi @jessenoyes:disqus , I know your auditing tool, which I recommend frequently. Bloody punctuation. That link is now clean. Best

  • Anna Stevens

    Brilliant! Shared :-)

  • http://tekshouts.com L.T. Tek Team

    Consistency is key. If you post on a regular basis, every day, or even once a week at the same time, people will be able to rely on your content (and more importantly, company). Here is a blog that I found which discusses this concept in depth. bit.ly/1whiJHY

    Again, thank you for the brilliant article:)

  • bobscheier

    In keeping with the theme of a “content factory” here are four common production bottlenecks I run into, with suggestions for eliminating them. They include poor raw material, unclear objectives and delayed reviews…
    http://scheierassociates.com/2014/09/worst-content-bottlenecks

  • Patty Wittnebert Tomsky

    I really like this post–it’s a good refresher for my missing links in my propagation chain. I especially like the step to target the sales stage or the target persona. Too much content is out there just to see “what sticks.” It’s worth every effort to do your research. The who is as important as the “where.” Thanks!

  • Laura Landoll

    I’ve shared this post with my colleagues and we’re putting together a workflow plan using this as a guide. Thank you very much! You’ve been a huge help.