Content can never achieve greatness if it doesn’t see the light of day.
But most of the work involved in publishing content happens in a little illuminated behind-the-scenes process.
Someone with operations responsibilities, including oversight of the production process, is essential to a content marketing team. They shepherd the completed content down the field and over the goal line – getting it published (online or in print) for audiences to consume.
To do it well, they create systems and processes that help them easily track and repeat their work without forgetting key steps. They typically take the lead with the software tools that help organize everything, whether those are project management systems like Trello and Asana or a simple shared spreadsheet.Publishing processes help you move #content down the field and over the goal line, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
If you’re just starting to organize your production process (or looking for ways to improve it), the task can seem daunting.
To help, I asked Lisa Dougherty, CMI’s blog operations and community director, to explain how she organizes the editorial operations that make it possible for CMI to publish and promote fresh content every weekday on our primary website (www.contentmarketinginstitute.com).
The process Lisa honed over the past seven years helps us keep track of content from various authors through multiple stages of editing and production. It also serves as the connecting point for CMI team members who promote the content through email and social media.
Here’s how she does it:
Get organized to track content progress
The team member responsible for this operation must know the status of each content asset being created. At the same time, they also must create and maintain the post-production publication schedule. These two things can be closely tied to your editorial planning.
In CMI’s case, the team uses separate sheets (tabs) within one shared master spreadsheet we call the tracker. One sheet in the tracker details the content status and one serves as the weekday publication calendar. Both sheets in the tracker are managed by Lisa.A master spreadsheet lets @BrandLoveLLC know the status of each #content asset being prepped for publishing on the @CMIContent website. She shares her publishing secrets via @AnnGynn. Click To Tweet
Content development status tracker
The content development tracker shows the status of every editorial article we’re working on. We list each asset topic, the person responsible for creating the asset, due date, status (creating, editing, ready for production), along with any related notes such as reminders of links to include, special calls to action, etc.
Once a task in the content creation process is complete, the team member who is responsible for completing that task updates the status column.
Some tools trigger notifications to relevant team members when an asset’s status changes. At CMI, the tracker is such an ingrained part of the workflow that we rarely add comments notifying the publishing manager. We’re all looking at the tracker at least once a day.
Other content marketing teams might handle this with project management software, where changing the status automatically triggers notification and moves the asset to the next step on the dashboard.
Publication production tracker and calendar
The second worksheet acts as the publication production calendar. It shows each day’s content (CMI publishes five days a week) along with key information needed to publish the asset.
Your production tracker might look different depending on publication frequency, formats, channels, etc. CMI’s version includes these columns:
- Publication date
- Production status (two options: loaded in WordPress or proofed in WordPress)
- Notes (Lisa lists the date she requested the cover image, any not-yet-complete elements like video embeds or graphics, and the date she sends a preview to the author or featured sources)
- Preview copy (what appears in daily email)
- Excerpt copy (what appears daily email)
- Call to action
TIP: Don’t rely on the default URL your content management platform creates. Change the default to include appropriate keywords (use hyphens to separate words) and stay within 50 to 80 characters.
On this tracker, the article’s editor adds the headline, preview copy, and excerpt copy. The operations director completes the remaining actions, adding the CTA and URL while also checking what the editor included. The proofreader updates the production status as the final step.
Manage content from multiple sources
Content operations managers often coordinate content as it comes in from internal and external sources.
Submissions, drafts, revisions, and updates from guest content submissions, internal subject matter experts, and members of the content marketing team add up to a lot of files to manage. You can make this process more efficient with these tips:
First, save the content in a centralized location accessible by everyone involved in the creation, review, and publishing process. CMI currently uses Box, though we’ve used Dropbox in the past. Other teams might use Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, or other cloud-based platforms.
Second, set up a standardized process for organizing files and set up naming conventions. This helps with version control (even if you use software that assists in this.) You never want to publish an outdated version of the content. And you don’t want to have to ask three people to figure out what is the correct version to use.Submissions, drafts, and revisions from guest writers and team members add up to a whole lotta #content files. @AnnGynn and @BrandLoveLLC offer tips for organizing and managing them via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Here’s how CMI organizes the content on its server:
- A master folder called “CMI Submissions” includes internal and external content drafts
- Under the master folder, a separate folder houses each article, following a standard naming convention:
- “First Name Last Name – Topic”
- Example: Jodi Harris – Customer Retention
- Each article folder includes:
- Drafts folder, which contains all non-final versions, including the original, an edited version, and a tracked-changes version
- Images folder
- Final article file labeled “LAST NAME – Topic – editor initials edits clean content manager initials Date”
- Example: HARRIS – Customer Retention – ag edits clean ld 10-12-21 FINAL
- “First Name Last Name – Topic”
Once an article is published, Lisa moves its folder to the Articles Published folder. (Note: She intentionally named the folder with an “a” word so it’s easy to find when the folders are in alphabetical order.)
Some content teams set up their folders with the date of publication. Lisa prefers not to – publication dates may change but the author and topic do not.
Finalizing the content for publication
With systems set up for tracking the content’s progress, the publication calendar, and the content production status, the operations person is set to do the more detailed work – readying the content to go live.
Standardize and document this process so another team member can step in and execute it if the person who handles publishing operations is sick or on vacation. CMI uses a checklist to ensure that each step happens (even if Lisa’s not available to do it herself).
Before an article goes live, the content operations manager:
- Conducts a post-editing review to ensure basic readability and understanding
- Checks all names of people, companies, and tools mentioned in the content
- Identifies internal linking opportunities. adding them to relevant words and phrases or creating standalone handpicked related content boxes
- Finds or creates and inserts all images into the document
- Adds embed code for videos, GIFs, etc.
- Creates tweets for click-to-tweet feature
- Reviews and updates draft headline and call to action as necessary
- Runs document through Grammarly Pro
- Imports Word document and adds visual elements into WordPress
- Schedules for publication
TIP: Internal links and handpicked related content features come from the top-performing content on the site. Traditionally, CMI uses older popular posts for internal links and newer popular posts, which include the full title of the article, in the handpicked related content boxes.
After the content is loaded into WordPress, a proofreader gives it one last review, while ensuring all the links point to the right source and open in the correct window (CMI links open in the same window, while outside links open in a new window).
With everything ready to go and scheduled for publication, it’s time to communicate to all relevant stakeholders, from the creators and sources to the social media and email production team. This can be done automatically through your software or by email or another system your team agrees on.
TIP: Lisa sends a standard email to all authors and sources for whom she has contact information. She attaches the Word document so they can review (approval is not required to publish), includes the URL where they can view the article once it’s live, and notes how they can help promote and share their work on social.
It takes a lot of work to get your content to bask in the publication sun. Take time now to operationalize your content with project management software or shared spreadsheets. It will save time in the long run. Even better, it will minimize frustrations, mistakes, and omissions.
Only then will you see if your content truly shines.
Please note: All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute