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Want More Method and Less Madness? Check Your Content Operations

People, process, and product. That’s the essential trilogy at the heart of a successful business – as fans of the CNBC reality show The Profit know (yes, I’m one of them).

In that show, serial CEO Marcus Lemonis works to get those factors right when he invests in a struggling business.

Every successful content marketing program relies on a similar magic trilogy, which goes by the name content operations (or content ops, if you prefer).

What goes into content operations?

The term “content operations” describes the people, processes, and technology that go into creating, managing, measuring, and optimizing content. It’s the machine that turns a content marketing strategy into the product of content marketing.

Many people go into the content profession because they enjoy the creative aspects – coming up with ideas, writing, editing, recording. Not surprisingly, they usually pay the most attention to the content creation part of content marketing.

But making that content count – making its creation, distribution, and optimization efficient and effective – takes a whole operation.

Here’s a basic blueprint for setting up a new content operations infrastructure or fine-tuning the one you’re already working with (whether you call it that or not).

Assemble the right team

People are the lifeblood of content operations. But most content marketing teams contain relatively few people. CMI’s annual research consistently shows over 80% of B2B and B2C content marketing teams have five or fewer full-time members.

Every position contributes a lot to content operations. So every decision about hiring and promoting (including contracting with service providers such as freelancers and agencies) matters a lot.

Knowing (and documenting) the responsibilities assigned to each team member lets you address all the elements of your content operations. Sometimes, that may require one person to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. And given all that, it’s essential to work to keep good employees on your team.

Cover these roles and responsibilities

Even if your team is small, it still needs to address the core elements required for content marketing programs. CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose outlined the seven essential roles on a content marketing team:

  • Chief content officer (aka director of content marketing or program director), who sets the overall content marketing strategy and mission statement and acts as a bridge to other departments. This leader ensures content is on point for the audience by making sure guidelines and processes are in place.
  • Content strategy director (aka business, governance, structure director), who takes responsibility for user experience as well as content management systems and This role also handles back-end duties such as functional flow of content, taxonomies, metadata strategies, and governance.
  • Content traffic, project, and planning manager (aka managing editor), who focuses on day-to-day operations of the editorial platform. Sometimes, the ME is responsible for developing and managing production flow and monitoring and updating processes as needed.
  • Content production director (aka creative director, format specialist), who manages how things look and may lead a team of creative specialists (e.g., writers, designers, video specialists, photographers).
  • Audience development manager, who develops subscription assets (direct mail lists, email lists, social media) and handles paid and earned promotional efforts for the content.
  • Influencer wrangler (aka subject matter expert manager, influencer outreach), who maintains and manages relationships with external sources and promotional teams involved in content marketing.
  • Technical content manager, who facilitates the team’s processes with technology, such as a content management system, editorial calendar tool, web analytics, digital asset management, and so on.

Even if you can’t hire a person for each role, you can make sure all of these responsibilities are addressed. For example, chief content officer duties could be combined with managing editor responsibilities. Or the content strategy person also could handle the technical content manager obligations. You might need to get creative, but you can find a way to cover all these responsibilities.

Document and hire for needed skills

What makes a good content marketing team member? The skillset can seem endless – but you can’t hire for everything. Neil Patel offers what he considers the four essential skills for a great content marketer:

This advice works well for a content creator or a content marketing leader. But you also should think about the skillsets needed for non-creation positions. For example, someone whose responsibilities include analytics should know how to analyze and extrapolate meaning from data.

TIP: Identify the three to five must-have skills for each content marketing team position. Use this information to expedite the hiring process or adjust your team roles based on their current skillsets.

Retain your talent

Most U.S. workers don’t like their jobs. As Michael Brenner points out, a Gallup survey found the number of dissatisfied employees hovers around 70%, which hurts customer satisfaction by 10% and profitability by more than 20%.

If your company makes a deliberate effort to encourage, engage, and reward employees, they’ll likely be happier and stay longer on your content marketing team.

Among Michael’s recommendations:

  • Help your employees develop their expertise: Provide the resources, tools, and leeway to grow their skills. Put them at the forefront of any developments in the industry by helping them develop connections and a way to show their skills beyond their everyday role.
  • Give your employees a voice: Everybody wants their leaders to listen to their opinions, ideas, recommendations, etc. Cultivate an environment where that’s not only possible but encouraged. Host monthly idea meetings, create a two-way feedback system, and so on.
  • Let your employees shine: Give your employees a face and a voice. Let them take the mic and camera. Encourage them to conduct internal training, speak at industry events, connect with your external audiences on social media, and so on.
  • Perk them up: Reward them, recognize milestones, celebrate professional as well as personal achievements. Give them perks above and beyond industry standards.

And don’t forget to provide a way for them to progress up the content marketing career ladder. Communicate this path at the start. Talk to team members to understand their goals. Then, regularly check in with them to chat about their future. Robert offers this chart that can help inform your company’s content marketing career framework:

Processes keep everything circulating

Processes standardize the activities that go into content marketing. They keep everyone moving toward the desired outcome. They take the guesswork out of what needs to get done and where to find the tools and resources people need to do it.

Standardized processes are essential for scaling your content marketing program (and helping your team members retain their sanity.)

In a content marketing team’s case, a couple of grounding documents must be in place for any content production process to be successful – the content marketing strategy and the brand guidelines.

The content marketing strategy should detail:

The brand guidelines can include:

  • Brand logos, colors, and usage guidelines
  • Typography and imagery parameters
  • Voice and tone
  • Style guide for written content
  • Keywords

These two document categories must be available for all on the team for your content operations to have any chance at going smoothly.

Now, you’re ready to get into the content production process and the tools that will help you implement it.

Content production process

Outline the production process for each content type identified in the strategy: blog posts, infographics videos, webinars, podcasts, social media, etc.

The outline should start with the idea creation, continue through publication, then incorporate promotion and evaluation. Robert Mills explains how to craft a content production workflow that follows a logical, repeatable order with clear milestones and deadlines. (Note: While it may appear linear, its execution likely is not.)

You might find it helpful to divide the process into three stages: pre-production, production, and post-production. Here’s how it might look (you’ll flesh out the details based on your internal structure and content marketing needs):

Pre-production stage

  • Develop and detail idea
  • Identify governance requirements
  • Identify sources necessary to execute the idea (subject matter experts, external resources, etc.)
  • Get approval to execute the idea
  • Detail the roles in production and post-production stages
  • Detail a creative brief that outlines the content asset’s goal, target audience, topic angle, keywords, length, evaluation metrics, etc.

Production stage

  • Create content (blog post, article, video, or other formats) based on the creative brief
  • Coordinate with creation team
  • Receive approval to publish

Post-production stage

  • Publish content, including metadata
  • Promote content according to your distribution plan
  • Follow the analytics process
  • Share that data with stakeholders to inform potential adjustments or future content plans

To make this production process repeatable, add expected turnaround times for each task.

TIP: Create a content production process for each type of content you produce.

With this process detailed, you only need to add dates and assignment names for each new piece of content produced.

Given how many components are involved in the content production process, you need a project manager for each assignment. You could designate the same person for all projects or a specific person for each piece of content. The project manager role must monitor and address issues as they arise to keep everything moving along in the process.

Analytics process

You’re not done yet. Your content is published and promoted, but you don’t know how well it performed nor if it met your content marketing goals. The content performance review is often ignored or given short shrift. A dedicated process should help change that.

Here’s an example of how to develop one:

  • Create a standard report format that contains the content’s details (topic, headline, keywords, format, distribution platform) and include a column or two for metrics.

NOTE: Your metrics should be the same as the ones detailed in your strategy so they connect to your content marketing goals.

  • Download those metrics at the appointed time. (Every metric-related goal should have a timeframe.)
  • Compare the results to the goals.
  • Share that analytics report with all stakeholders.
  • Identify which content achieved its goals and which did not.
  • Use that information to determine what topics, formats, subject lines, etc. should be repeated, repurposed, or promoted further (and which should be avoided).
  • Compare analytics reports from quarter to quarter and year over year to identify trends and troubleshoot ongoing issues.

Make it all work with the right tools

Now that you have detailed all the components to make your content marketing machine run, you’re ready to pick tools that will help keep the machine running smoothly.

The most critical one to have is a project management tool. You can go simple (like a Google Sheet) or choose a project management tool. The key is to find something that works for your team and your content operations process.

The most helpful tools let you execute all the tasks involved in project management – make assignments, update progress, make notations, and have access to the most recent file.

Some people track using a Google Sheet, while others have their favorite software tools. To make your content project timelines visually appealing, consider a tool like Trello or Airtable. A tool like Process Street uses a more traditional, text-based approach.

Shane Barker advises content marketers to incorporate a time tracker tool into their operations. That allows team members to easily track their time based on activity, content project, or client. You can analyze that data after each project is complete to understand how well your content production process timeline estimates are working.

Don’t forget to implement a communication tool so your team can easily interact without filling up their inboxes. Tools like Slack, Discord, and Microsoft Teams are some of the possibilities. Shane notes that some time-tracking tools have communication features built-in.

Pay attention to people, processes, and tools

Quality content is a must for content marketing success. But when you add people, processes, and the right tech to the mix, you’re likely to reap more profits from your content marketing program.

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.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute