By Marcia Riefer Johnston published April 20, 2017

30 Habits of Highly Productive Content Teams [Infographic]

habits-highly-productive-content-teams

If I could hand you a key to productivity, a key that would magically give you some nights and weekends back, what would you expect it to look like? I’m guessing that you wouldn’t picture a workflow.

Yet your workflow may be robbing you of nights and weekends, according to Heather Hurst, director of corporate marketing at Workfront, and Matt Heinz, president and founder of Heinz Marketing, who presented this topic during a ContentTECH session this year.

The content marketing workflow

The stages of a content marketing workflow look something like this:

  • Develop content ideas
  • Prioritize content development
  • Create
  • Organize and store
  • Publish and promote

As content teams move through these stages, information often moves from spreadsheet to email to a Word document and back again. Inefficiencies abound, and team members find themselves feeling frustrated, overworked, underappreciated, and unproductive.

By adopting the 30 habits described by Heather and Matt, you can improve your workflow to reap results like these:

  • Fewer nights and weekends spent on work
  • More successful budget requests
  • Coordination of efforts across silos
  • Increased visibility and appreciation for your team
  • Simplified approval processes

1. Look everywhere for content ideas

Encourage everyone in the organization – including those who don’t create content – to submit ideas.

“We hear a lot of people wondering where to get more ideas,” Matt says. “You’ll find inspiration for content everywhere if you’re grounded in who your target audience is. Your brain will filter for the right information.”

Here are some places Heather and Matt suggest looking for inspiration:

  • Customer feedback
  • Everything you read
  • People you disagree with
  • Customer-facing teams (sales, customer service)
  • Trade press
  • Conferences, panels, webinars
  • Twitter hashtags
  • LinkedIn answers
  • The news
  • Things you find dumb

That last one is my favorite. Are your potential customers getting dumb advice? That’s a content idea crying out to you.

Look everywhere for #content ideas – including things you find dumb. @heinzmarketing & @hehurst Click To Tweet

2. Establish a process for requesting content

Create a process for people to request content (or to share a content idea). For example, you might use a dedicated email address, web form, or work-management tool. Document your process, make sure everyone understands it, and require everyone to follow it.

3. Select a process owner

Designate one person to manage the process of requested content. This, in itself, may turn an inefficient and complex process into an easy one. “The process owner doesn’t necessarily have to do a lot of work,” Matt says. The owner sorts and organizes ideas as they come in, simplifying the editorial team’s review task.

4. Include a creative brief with each request

Require that every content request include a creative brief that gives the content team the background information needed to create impactful content. A creative brief is a short document recently described by Katie Del Angel as follows:

“This is typically one page that helps the team – copywriters, designers, client stakeholders, and anyone else involved – understand what the high-level goals are for each (piece of content).

“The content brief ensures alignment about the information to convey, offers suggestions for how to present that information (large copy block or embedded video, for example), provides guidance for content creation, and supports an informed wireframe and design process.”

Provide a template for a content brief that works for all types of content. Fine-tune the template to include everything your team needs but no more. “You have to balance keeping the creative brief simple with getting enough information to make good business decisions,” Heather says.

For an example of what a creative brief looks like, see Katie’s article, A Content Strategy Starter Kit for Marketers.

5. Identify business goals for each request

Ask requesters to connect each content idea to a business goal. (Joe Pulizzi suggests that you look at these four goals for content marketing.) Will the content drive revenue? If not, how will that content be useful? What effect could it have, and how can that effect be measured?

For example, you might expect a good blog post to get people to read your blog more often. Maybe one piece of content generates leads or enables the sales team to more efficiently communicate a point to make people more likely to buy.

Matt suggests asking requesters to clarify the desired results for each content request they submit so that the people who create and use the content understand its intended purpose and business value. Heather agrees, adding, “It’s not all about revenue. It’s about aligning to whatever goal you have in place.”

6. Get the context for each request

Every piece of content needs to do more than give your audience something that’s worth paying attention to. As Heather puts it, “Content requests all need to roll up to the bigger corporate strategy or marketing strategy.”

#Content requests all need to roll up to the bigger corporate or marketing strategy, says @hehurst. Click To Tweet

Ask requesters questions like these: How should this content be targeted? In what context would this content have an impact? How does it fit with existing content? How does it support our strategy? Ask what you need to ask to get the big picture.

7. Establish a content-distribution strategy

Figure out early how each piece of content will be distributed. “Don’t make assumptions about how that content is going to get into the field,” Matt says. Make sure whoever is responsible for distributing each piece – maybe the sales team or some other customer-facing team – knows why they’re doing it.

“We’ve all seen content get introduced at a sales meeting and distributed in email,” Matt says. “And then everyone forgets it.”

“It just goes out into the ether,” Heather adds.

Before you set out to develop any piece of content, think through the costs and resources associated with distributing it successfully. Make sure your distribution strategy fits your budget and your people.

8. Identify all the content types and formats you need

Think through all the formats and all the types of content you’re going to need to support your content goals. For example, Heather says, “If you roll out a new brochure or a new slide deck in your sales kickoff, you may need a few things to back you up. Maybe you need signage around the sales department, or maybe you need follow-up emails or additional training for your enablement team.”

Will you need social media images? Blog posts? Infographics? Landing pages? Videos? Identify all the formats and types of content you need to succeed.

9. Prioritize all content requests

Don’t treat all content requests as equals. “Just because someone put an exclamation point in an email doesn’t mean that the idea is important,” Matt says. “You can’t get everything done right away. You can’t get everything done, period.”

Establish a system for prioritizing, especially when you’ve got a small team and limited resources. Examine your priority list regularly. Don’t do a project just because it happens to be in front of you or because someone has screamed for it. Consider the impact each piece of content might have and the degree to which timing could affect that impact.

10. Plan for reuse

Before you create a piece of content, envision opportunities to reuse it. For example, you might create a set of independent pieces (say blog posts) that you later feed into a big piece (like a book) for its own distribution. Or you might go the other direction and create a big piece (say a research report) and later break it into parts (like infographics) to use separately.

11. Know how much work you can commit to

Identify the parts of the business that you support. Choose your focus. Decide who your internal customers are and who they’re not.

Then ask yourself how you’ll allocate your time across those parts of the business. Do you support demand gen half the time and sales efforts half the time? Do you divide your time between demand gen, customer marketing, awareness, and recruitment? “You won’t necessarily split your time evenly,” Matt says. “It’s a nuanced game.”

Let everyone know how you’re allocating your time. “That clarity adds a whole lot of efficiency to the process,” Matt says.

12. Handle ad-hoc requests consistently

Allow for the unexpected. “Ad-hoc requests will come at you,” Heather notes. “Some content teams spend most of their time working on emergency projects and hardly ever get to their prioritized work.”

Consider setting up rules for how to handle ad-hoc requests (aka fire drills). Some Agile content teams, for example, allow only one ad-hoc request to be in process at any time.

“You may not always have the luxury of saying, ‘Sorry. We’re already working on one. We can’t take another one,’” Heather says. Still, you need a process. Decide how many ad-hoc requests your team will take at a time and how you’ll reprioritize when needed.

Then let everyone know what you’ve decided. You’ll reduce the number of ad-hoc requests, keeping your strategy on track and helping your content teams avoid burnout.

13. Document your request-prioritizing method

Document the way your team prioritizes requests, and share your documented method with all concerned. “Make a little bit of a penalty for those who come to you with fire drills,” Heather suggests. Matt agrees:

When I was working in a PR agency doing projects for Microsoft, there was a set amount of time allowed for the Microsoft reviews, including legal review and everyone else. If you needed the reviews completed in two days or in one day, you paid for rushing things. There was literally a cost that came out of your marketing budget.

14. Respond consistently to requesters

Keep your requesters informed. After people submit a content request to you, don’t let that request disappear into a black hole (from the requester’s point of view) where, eventually, a miracle occurs and a piece of content pops out.

“People want ongoing updates,” Heather says,” They want to know what’s going on. They want to know where their content idea ended up in the request queue.”

Establish a process for communicating with your requesters. Let them know when you have rejected their ideas, when you have accepted their ideas, and when you need more information. Communicate the production timeline.

Consider creating templates for your standard communication through all stages of content development and production.

“We live in a state of constant interruption,” Heather says. “The last thing you need is 10 requesters a day IM’ing you, sending you emails, coming to your desk, asking what’s going on with the things they submitted to you.”

15. Say no when you need to

Practice saying no. “Like me, you probably want to make people happy,” Matt says. “In fact, you can’t do everything people ask of you if you want to do right by the business.”

The more you communicate your priorities and the outcomes you’re working toward, the easier saying no becomes.

If you don’t have enough resources to fulfill every content request, saying no does, in many cases, help people see where your boundaries are. When you say no, you often make it easier for management to understand that you need more resources.

How do you know when to say no? Understand how long it takes to create a piece of content. Document the steps for creating and producing content. Look at the data to figure out how long each step typically takes, not just to do the work but to wait for reviews, wait for approvals, and wait for a publication spot to open up.

“Think of something that seems simple, like a blog post,” Heather says. “It takes a lot more than just writing some words, finding a picture, and publishing.”

16. Create content templates

Templates help authors create content efficiently and consistently. Make a template for each type of content you create: press release, e-book, brochure, and so on. If you lay out the structure of each type, the amount of time it takes, and the stages you go through to create it, your team sees what they’re signing up for.

17. Design a system of reminders

Design a system of reminders that helps you stay on track through all your content milestones. They don’t need to be emails or automated alerts that pop up incessantly. As Matt explains:

I have a to-do list that I look at every morning. When I travel, I carry a laminated version. It reminds me of a number of content creation and curation tasks I need to do every day.

Reminders can keep your work consistent, save you time, and help you get more done. You spend less time thinking about the things you need to remember and more time executing, more time being creative, more time being productive.

Design system of reminders that helps you stay on track through all #content milestones, says @heinzmarketing. Click To Tweet

18. Identify reviewers and approvers

Decide who needs to review and approve your content for each stage of your process. When expectations aren’t clear, these points in the workflow often become bottlenecks.

“When you think about reviews and approvals,” Matt says, “you may have this sad feeling that you’re going to have to stalk people and risk having legal action taken against you.”

Figure out which stakeholders need to be involved, when, and with what content. If you send drafts to people who don’t need to see them, you waste their time and yours.

Determine which stakeholders must review – legal, your CMO, the author on a ghostwritten bylined article – and which ones you hope will review but don’t need to wait for.

19. Create an environment of accountability

Establishing a review process doesn’t mean people will follow it. People are busy. They procrastinate. They review half-heartedly and then, at the last minute, call you and ask to have another look.

With each reviewer, make clear what you expect and when you expect it. State the consequences to the project if you don’t get what you’re asking for. Ask each reviewer to commit to delivering what’s needed on time. Have a system in place for accountability when commitments are not kept.

20. Communicate

“We often forget the importance of ongoing communication,” Heather says. “It’s key to keep all your content moving.” Requesters need to know where a piece of content stands in the process. Stakeholders need to know what’s coming up this week and next. Everyone needs to know who’s going on vacation during the production period.

Choose your methods of communication to suit the nature of each type of conversation. For example, Matt says, “Status meetings are mostly a waste of time. They’re rarely more effective than an email, SharePoint, or Workfront summary that gives people what they need to know in a few minutes.”

21. Keep the feedback coming

Your workflow is never final. Capture feedback at every stage so you can learn where your processes are on track and where they could improve. Review feedback and make improvements at least monthly. Doing so reduces friction in your teams and enables them to get more done faster.

22. Know – and share – what “done” looks like

“How many times have you seen something marked ‘Final Version 32’ or ‘Final Version 68’?” Heather asks. To keep content moving forward smoothly, reach consensus on the criteria for when a piece of content is done – and then keep that content off the table.

23. Decide where to store your files

When your content is done, where do you put the electronic files? How do others know where to find the files? “Remember the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Matt says. “This poor guy is stashing the Ark of the Covenant in a government storage facility where no one would ever find it. The place goes on forever. That’s what content storage looks like for most organizations.”

Store your content files in a place that’s accessible to everybody who needs them.

24. Capture info about your files

Your content teams need to know more than where content files live. They may need answers to questions like these: Is this file still OK to use, or has it expired? Does an updated version exist? What type of asset is this? What audience does it appeal to? Who requested it? When was it published and where?

Don’t rely on tribal knowledge about your stored content. Establish a protocol for capturing the information your teams may need about each file.

25. Create consistent file names

Establish file-naming conventions. Consider not only the elements you want each name to contain but the order you want those elements appear in. When files are named in a consistent way, you can sort on whatever comes first in the name. For example, you might start each file name with a project name or client name or you might start with year-month-date. Whatever your content teams are most likely to want to sort on, put that at the beginning. Then, when people sort those files by name, they can quickly find the files that start with that first thing – the project name, client name, date, etc. – because those files will appear together in the list.

Think through your naming convention as thoroughly as you can before disseminating it. After you have a server full of files, it’s impractical to go back and rename them.

Coming up with the naming convention is the easy part; the proof is in the doing. Make sure that everyone involved knows and follows the convention.

Establish a file-naming convention, & make sure everyone follows it. @heinzmarketing & @hehurst Click To Tweet

26. Publish when the time is right

Matt and Heather quote CMI’s chief strategy adviser Robert Rose as saying, “Just because something is done doesn’t mean it’s time to publish it.” Don’t let the order in which content is completed determine the order in which you publish it. Do your publication and promotion scheduling strategically.

Just because the #content is done doesn’t mean it’s time to publish it, says @robert_rose. Click To Tweet

27. Keep your promotion teams in the loop

Whoever promotes your content – your sales team, your demand-gen team, your blog team, your social media team – keep those people in the loop so they can have resources and plans ready when the content is ready. Communicate the purpose, audience, and intended use of upcoming content and whatever else the promotion team needs to know to prepare effective emails, ads, and other assets.

28. Develop best practices for promotion

Come up with content-promoting practices that work for your organization. You may want to use certain hashtags in your social media posts. You may want to give new life to your best old blog posts. You may want to elevate your brand by building relationships with influencers in your industry. Whatever promotion practices work well, document them, and do them regularly.

Whatever promotion practices work well, document them, & do them regularly. @heinzmarketing & @hehurst Click To Tweet

29. Get the sales team to use your content

Getting salespeople to use your content is not always easy. The content may be just fine, but people may not know where to find it or they don’t know how a given piece of content would help them make money.

While sales teams often see direct value in product content they may not understand how content that establishes a need or a commitment to change could impact sales. Help sales reps understand how non-product-related content contributes to customer loyalty and, ultimately, profitability. Make sure that your reps know how to find the content they would find most relevant. Seek the early adopters, and promote their successes to other salespeople.

30. Measure your results

Check in frequently, based on whatever relevant measurements you can get, to find out which content is performing best and how often your content is achieving the business goals you had set for it. Explore ways to determine which topics people find most interesting, which content your sales team used a lot, and which content drove an unexpected level of demand. Keep reviewing results. Adjust your plans accordingly.

Conclusion

The better you and everyone you work with understand your content workflow, the more productive your content teams can be.

How about your workflow? Have you documented and communicated all aspects of it for everyone who needs to know? Have you gained back some nights and weekends? Share your own high-productivity habits in a comment.

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Catch Matt Heinz presenting at Content Marketing World this September. Register today for early-bird rates and use BLOG100 to save an additional $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Editor’s note: Thanks to all our ContentTECH sponsors: Act-On, Highspot, ion interactive, Marketo, ON24, SnapApp, Uberflip, Vidyard, and Workfront. You can access all sessions for free until May 22, 2017.

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

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  • Pawel Piejko

    Good read, Marcia! Was wondering, any particular reason why you call items on this to-do list “habits”? I thought a habit would be like eating muesli each morning, while “design a system of reminders” is obviously a one off ‘to-do’.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Pawel, You raise a thoughtful point. Some of these 30 things fits the word “habit” more solidly than others. One way to look at those things is that habits need to form around them. For example, if you “design a system of reminders,” it has no value unless the team makes a habit of using that system. I appreciate your insight. Thank you.

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  • Scott Margenau

    This is good, but if we had 30 steps for each piece we would have to charge 10x more. It would be nice to see a more simple methodolgy from pieces of this.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Scott, I can see how 30 steps per piece would seem onerous. It strikes me that some of these “habits” apply across projects, for example, “Know – and share – what ‘done’ looks like.” I would be curious myself how Heather and Matt might respond since the 30 items comes from their experience. Thanks for asking!

    • http://www.heinzmarketing.com Matt Heinz

      Great point, and another reason why it’s far better to think in terms of campaigns vs. “random acts of content” to ensure greater precision, consistency and efficiency throughout the process.

  • https://www.payrankseo.com/ Don White

    Honestly I can read this again as as a bed time story … But will I be able to use all this to write my blogs is hard to tell … forgot points 1-10 when I was on 21st point

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