Well designed workflows can help you “automate” your content production. With clear roles, responsibilities, processes and deadlines, everyone should be able to do what he has to do, when he has to do it, without the manager having to intervene.
Hitting publishing deadlines and pushing out content consistently is key to creating a strong, loyal audience. What would happen if your favorite magazine started publishing articles randomly? As a reader, you’d surely find this frustrating and turn to another publication. The same happens with your readers, if you’re unable to stick to a timeline.
Content production usually involves different players performing different functions, and establishing clear workflows helps you ensure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and content is delivered on time.
Workflows setup is not just about defining what steps need to be taken to produce content. Workflows are a combination of:
- designing a process
- defining what each phase is about and what outcome you expect from it
- assigning functions and responsibilities for each person involved at each step
- establishing clear deadlines.
Ideally you would need to push out a few email reminders and notifications and at times, roadblocks will come up, but this framework will help you keep them at a minimum and solve them quickly when they do occur.
Defining Steps, Goals and Deadlines
It goes without saying that different content types will require different production workflows.
A blog post, for instance, will require writing + editing + approving, while a webinar will call for something more complex, such as writing the script + creating slides + recording + editing.
This piece will use blog posts creation as reference, but the principles and frameworks you’ll find here can be adapted and used for any kind of content.
First of all, write down all the steps of the workflow. We use Lucidchart for drafting and then put everything into Contentools workflows to automate notifications, reminders and track progress .
These steps may seem intuitive, but lack of clarity / transparency can make or brake any organization.
Then, describe what you expect at the end of each step.
Writing a blog post, for example, involves much more than writing two thousand words on a blank page. There are many elements that compose a great piece of content, including storyline, structure, title, subtitles, format, style, links and calls to action. You need to identify these elements and specify at which stage you want them to be taken care of.
Establishing clear deadlines for each step of the process is also important. This lets your content team know exactly what is due and when, and they can work accordingly. Let your team know if you have flexible deadlines, so they can also suggest new ideas and angles.
Here’s how we structured our blog post workflow:
1) Brainstorming: the first step is finding an idea that fits the overall storyline. It needs to be coherent with the topics discussed in previous pieces of content.
These are two tips that will ensure you never lack new ideas:
a) Plan the topics that will be part of your core content production in advance ( beginning of the month – or quarter) and leave room for the spontaneous suggestion of additional ideas.
b) Compile a list of ideas (50/100), share it with your team and ask them to pitch what they want to write about (Thanks for the tip, Elliott).
2) First draft: once the idea is approved and the brief is ready (we’ll talk more about the brief later), the next step is writing the first draft. Rather than focusing on style, at this stage the writer should concentrate on:
- Content: the right information, ideas, data and resources. All the elements mentioned in the brief must be tackled and the story should be told from the editorial standpoint. There should also be links to the resources used. Writers can suggest images too but bear in mind that this adds another layer of complexity in terms of specifications.
- Storyline and structure: the content piece should follow a clear path and all the concepts must be connected to one another. The editor will later smooth any rough edges and craft a story that flows from the first to the last paragraph.
By the end of this step you should have a complete, organized document that discusses everything you specified in the brief (with the level of detail you asked for).
This is a good time to have the first feedback session to make sure that everything is on track (we’ll discuss the importance of feedback and how to give great feedback later).
3) Editing: this is the stage where all the rough edges are smoothed out. The goal is to end up with a document that is ready to be published. The main activities that should be performed are:
- Copyediting: any issue with style, grammar and idiomatic expressions is fixed; titles can be added or improved; and the clutter is removed. The goal is improving the way concepts and information are delivered to make the text clearer and pleasant to read.
- Format, SEO, links: the editor needs to make sure that all the links are properly embedded and functioning. The content needs to be optimized based on the keywords selected and the text should be properly formatted to improve its readability. [note: on-page SEO is just part of the work, check out this beginner’s guide to SEO best practices to learn more about it]
- Message and coherence: the text should fit your content strategy, present your brand’s message and shouldn’t contradict previous pieces of content (or, if it does, the contradiction needs to be properly explained).
Keep in mind that each of the activities carried out by the editor will require extra work: proofreading is just a fraction of the entire job. It involves knowing the brand inside out, from its content strategy to its messages and goals. Make sure you agree in advance which activities the editor will perform and, when working with freelancers, determine the pricing accordingly.
Distribution is key: no matter how good your content is, you need to attract visitors to it. If you want to learn more about how and where to distribute your content, check out this article: it contains great advice on how to promote your blog effectively.
Download The Content Strategy Template Here
Briefs and Feedback
Regardless the type of content you produce, there are two things you must do: write a precise brief and hold feedback sessions.
The brief: once you have a clear idea or a topic you want to write about, you need to put it down in writing.
“A creative brief is a roadmap for your project. It tells your team about your vision for the project and your goals, describes the people you want the project to reach (your audience), and outlines your brand’s guidelines. Depending on the type of creative team you’re working with – an in-house team, agency, or independent freelancers – the brief might also include details about deliverables, like how many drafts you expect from each team member, and when each draft will be due.” – Visually
Remember: your creative team is not in your head and to ensure there’s alignment between your ideas and the content produced, you need to create a very precise brief. What are the elements of a great brief, you ask?
a. Write down a couple of lines about the project: main topic, why it’s important to your reader, what the core message is and the secondary messages you want to communicate. Be very descriptive; make sure you pass on all the information that illustrates your point of view. Link it to other pieces of content in your library to make sure your content is always connected and part of the overall story.
b. Specify who the content is for: persona / buyer stage. As mentioned in the strategy post, personas and buyer’s stages are key elements in an effective content strategy. Keep this information centralized and easily accessible so that you don’t need to include it in every brief.
c. Insert sources your writers can use for further research. References can provide a clearer idea of what a great final result would look like.
d. Include links to your strategic documents about brand and style guidelines, workflows, launch and due dates, and information on which team members are responsible at each stage (we’ll talk about roles, responsibilities and the RASCI framework below).
When we need to write content that requires specific knowledge from someone in your organization who doesn’t have the time or skills to play the writer role, we use a braindumping document instead of a brief.
Consider the braindumping document as an extended version of the brief, where you write everything (everything!) you know about the topic, give the content a clear structure and storyline, provide links to the resources you used, explain your thoughts and logic, add screenshots of the tools you use, complement with actual results and so on. Forget about grammar, spelling and styling: this document will later go through a thorough rewriting and final editing.
2) Feedback Sessions: feedback sessions are crucial to maintain the project on the right track. It’s best to hold these sessions upon completion of the first draft and the edited version.
Here a few rules to help you hold effective feedback sessions:
a. Clear goals: make sure everyone is aligned to avoid going off topic. You’ll need to cover different elements depending on the stage the content is at, for instance, when reviewing a first draft you’ll want to focus on structure, storyline and ideas; when reviewing an edited version, you’ll want to focus on style, tone, fluency and so on.
b. Be actionable: make sure you deliver actionable feedback, i.e. clear and on point. Explain what you think doesn’t work and why you think so. Comments like “I don’t like the style” or “the storyline is confusing” are worthless, they just leave your writers with more doubts.
c. Include relevant parties: make sure that everyone who’ll have power of veto down the road takes part in the feedback session. One of the most frustrating things for creatives (and a massive waste of time for your organization) is having to move back to a previous step of the process. For instance, sending an ebook back to the writer (right after it’s been edited) most likely means throwing out the window all the work done by the editor.
d. Write things down: at the end of the meeting, write down a summary of comments, feedback and ideas. Specify which feedback will be actioned and which won’t, and briefly explain why (you don’t want the same feedback to come up again down the road). Having clear records of the decision taken at each step will make everything more transparent and help everyone do a better job.
You have your goals, workflows and deadlines in place. Now you need to determine who’s going to take care of what.
- To begin with, you need to define the skill-sets you need, and this will depend on the type of content you’re producing.
- Secondly, identify people in the organization who have those skills and look for freelancers to fill any gaps.
- Finally, you’ll need to associate skills and roles with the right tasks and functions.
For instance, some people are naturally good at writing: they have great style, vocabulary and attention to detail, but may not have the patience to sit down, research and verify every single piece of information. Others may be extremely passionate about researching but lack precision and flair in their writing. In this case, the former would make a great editor, while the latter could be an awesome writer.
When hiring freelancers, you also need to take care to assigning the right task to each person.
For instance, you can’t ask your editor to provide resources to support the writer’s statements (the writer should provide them). Each content professional has specific skills and expects to perform specific functions, and you have to make sure to allocate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. (Of course, nothing is written in stone, a great relationship with your writers and editors will work wonders. Just make sure you agree on exceptions to the rule and that extra efforts are adequately compensated.)
To match skills to roles and functions, the RASCI framework comes in particularly handy.
The RASCI is a responsibility assignment matrix used to describe the participation by various roles in completing tasks or deliverables for a project or business process.
RASCI is an acronym for:
- R = responsible: the person who owns the process
- A = to whom R is accountable, has to sign off (approve) on work before it’s effective
- S = supportive: someone who can play a supporting role in implementation
- C = to be consulted: someone who has information and/ or capabilities necessary to complete the work
- I = to be informed: must be notified of results, but need not be consulted.
Building a RASCI chart allows you to implement all the above elements in a simple and visual way.
The steps in the process are:
- Identifying all of the processes / activities and listing them down the left hand side of the chart
- Identifying all the roles and listing them along the top of the chart
- Completing the cells of the chart: identifying who has the RASCI for each process / step
As a general rule, each process / step should have only one R. A gap occurs when a process or step exists with no R (no role is responsible) and an overlap happens when multiple roles exist that have an R for a given process (step of the process).
Going back to our example of a blog post, this would be the result:
Sure, this sounds like a lot of work, but setting up the right process is crucial to building an efficient and scalable content machine. No need to stress out tho: start simple, see what works best for your organization and keep building from there.
One last question remains: what frameworks, tools, best practices, do you use to keep your content machine running? Let us know in the comments!