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How the Right Tech Can Improve Your Content Marketing Workflow

workflow images-cloud-computer-magnifying glassIf your company produces content at scale, you already know this well: Successful content marketing depends on effective collaboration during the editorial workflow process. And like it or not, content creators and editors want to work in the tools built specifically for their jobs. Writers use Microsoft Word, designers lean towards the Adobe Creative Suite, video producers use Adobe Premiere, Avid, or Final Cut, and so on. No matter what any tech vendor tells you, your team isn’t going to write or edit online in a rich text editor (RTE). Sure they’ll copy/paste into the RTE, but the work will get done in Word (or any number of composite content applications available in the marketplace).

That begs the question: If your content team wants to edit a blog post before it goes out or review each tweet for the day, is Microsoft Word the right tool to pass that string of text around a work group? Is email the right sharing mechanism? Surely your blog post or tweet is part of a much larger portfolio of interrelated pieces of content, managed in real time and released in a coordinated manner.

Select a workflow management system

If it’s true your content creators need to collaborate with others to edit and approve content — including creating associations with a variety of other content types such as images, video, social links, etc. — then your team needs a platform that supports and facilitates editorial workflow across a number of diverse stakeholders.

Content marketing technology that manages editorial workflow (i.e., production) must offer a way for content creators to collaborate effectively — minimizing wait times between editorial stages and maximizing opportunities for parallel processing of content components. This workflow must also be integrated directly with the very desktop tools that each content creator already uses, as opposed to forcing the creator to jump out of the application he or she is using to log workflow tasks in some web interface. What’s more, the outcome of this workflow needs to be a version of a piece of content that is stored in a media-neutral format so that it may be output in any digital channel (as well as print, where appropriate) dictated by your marketing campaign.

Newspaper editors, broadcast news producers and magazine publishers all have had decades of experience with workflow platforms so that their staff can collaborate in parallel over great distances and in short time frames. It is precisely this kind of technology and expertise that today’s modern brands need in-house to wage successful and nimble content marketing campaigns.

While vertical markets like broadcast or news media have their own software vendors to help manage workflows for various content types, content marketers require even more — an editorial workflow platform that works with all content types and channels. As you interview content marketing vendors and evaluate their editorial workflow capabilities, you must ask vendors to present their solutions for workflow within different contexts — such as video, image management, and textual workflow (both article form and tweet length.) And you must be sure vendors demonstrate how their solutions work with the very tools that your content producers already use at the desktop. 

Choose a content repository

The content repository — alternatively called a content management system or content warehouse — is where your content is stored in a media-neutral format for reuse and repackaging (i.e., taking pieces of content like videos, slideshows, articles, or even social links and associating them to a given publication or campaign). If your organization were a manufacturing firm, think of the repository as the warehouse where you store all of your intellectual property, neatly organized for quick retrieval. Your manufacturing floor is your workflow management system, which may be creating just-in-time content, or your organization may create content well in advance, to be stored for reuse in the future.

This content repository has several important characteristics:

  • Supports your organization’s taxonomy: The content repository must allow organizations to define properties and assign them to stored content. These properties can include information about digital rights, as well as the content’s physical attributes (e.g., file type, size, frame rate). The content repository should be customizable to allow an organization to define sets of categorical terms — called controlled vocabularies — within your brand’s taxonomy. 

CCOs need to understand the importance of semantically enriching content, either against a predetermined schema or ontology, or even just to capture an emerging trend on the web. Most brands today have spent considerable time defining key phrases to appeal to customers and to index properly on the major search engines. A content marketing platform must allow an organization to define a set of controlled vocabularies that can be used to tag content of all types. That metadata must remain with the content throughout the workflow process. Once it’s filed in the content warehouse, it’s ready to be published.

  • Offers digital asset management functionality: Even if your organization manages just a small library of assets, money and effort went into creating them and those assets need to be protected. Assets need to be backed up for reuse (this is less a technology consideration as it is a digital asset management [DAM] governance policy). And your DAM systems should work in tandem with governance policies to ensure that your digital intellectual property is quickly findable, reusable, and secure. 

DAM is an underlying technology that lets organizations manage digital files, including images, photos, logos, designs, videos, and interactive objects for content marketing. This DAM functionality either should be a part of the content repository or, more commonly, integrated between a DAM and a content repository.

Finally, DAM systems help organizations store media assets in a media-neutral format. By doing so, organizations can call upon the DAM technology to render the asset in whatever format a media channel dictates. These DAM solutions typically work with technologies that can convert assets from their raw format to the format needed for a particular output.

  • Offers multichannel delivery: Another crucial part of the content marketing platform is its ability to deliver content to multiple channels. 

Multichannel content delivery is less about a single technology than a collection of black-box technologies used to deliver content to the respective channels associated with a marketing tactic. For instance, marketers can use technologies from Adobe such as InDesign Server or Digital Publishing Suite to deliver content to print and tablet, respectively. Other targeted delivery technologies are available in the marketplace for newsletter, social, video, and website publishing. If your content marketing platform vendor does not manufacture such multichannel technologies, they likely have integrated their content repository with other commercially available multichannel products.

Workflow solutions

  • Choose content technologies that allow content creators to use tools with which they are most comfortable in that stage of the editorial process; CCOs must refrain from using proprietary tools that lock content into formats that are not reusable.
  • Ensure you are semantically enriching your content, either against a predetermined schema or ontology, or even just to capture an emerging trend on the web.
  • Prepare and store media (e.g., text, images, video, interactive objects) for omnimedia use. This is one the great obstacles most marketing organizations face. While CCOs don’t necessarily have the technical expertise to understand all dimensions of the issue, you must work in partnership with IT so that content is properly stored for reuse across channels. 

Tie all your content together

With content types stored in media-neutral formats for reuse, you must now create associations among your content types, or “package” the content in accordance with the dictates of a campaign.

For instance, if an organization wants to come out with a special issue magazine; an associated website and tablet app; a Facebook page; and associated feeds to Twitter or Instagram, these different pieces of content (articles, images, galleries for the site, video or other rich media, associated site and social text, links, etc.) would be stored within a central repository.

Think of the workflow system as a place where editors and producers work to create the individual pieces of content, the content repository (with integrated digital asset management capabilities) as the general storage place for publication-ready visual assets, and the multichannel content repository as the place where all the elements of a marketing tactic are tied together for rendering to appropriate formats on a specific publication schedule.

Beware the silver bullet

In recent years vendor-driven terms like customer-experience management have surfaced to describe pre-integrated content marketing platforms. And these platforms purport to encompass workflow management, content management (with digital asset management), multichannel publishing, and analytics. A few vendors additionally say they have traditional marketing automation and marketing operations management functionality included in the platform. While some of these vendor stacks are very promising, I urge you to look for a solution that can integrate deeply with the software tools that your various content contributors use to get their jobs done.

Also, if you happen to have in-house technology that already offers functionality described in this article, you may not need to replace those pieces. Some companies are doing quite well by integrating the best-of-breed technologies themselves or with trusted implementation partners.

The key, as always, is to document your solution requirements before looking at software. That way, you can be sure to map your needs to what is available in the software marketplace, then make decisions about what technologies you currently have that can continue to be used, what needs to be built, and what can be purchased.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly magazine.