Content with Your Content?
What is content? It’s one of many bandied-about tech buzzwords, like thought leadership, pillar page, influencer, robust, granular, et al. Content is simply what fills out a web page — and until humans (or robots) concoct something else, it’s always going to consist of some combination of words, images and sound — be it podcasts, music, memes, gifs, headers, blogs or webinars. It’s simply information that carries varied messages and tones. It’s always said that, ‘Content is King.’ It should be — particularly brilliant content — but this is only possible through sound content strategy and wise content governance.
Governing content is really about governing people. Obviously, countries are still trying to figure this out, but at least with corporations you’re dealing will less people (slightly). There are still effective ways to put the right resources and processes in place — keep reading this content so you can strategize accordingly.
Most organizations have such an issue with content strategy because they can’t agree on one. No one can explain or get a buy-in on a strategy if it doesn’t exist. Effective, impactful content doesn’t just materialize out of the ether. Governance materializes it. Think of governance as the coolest person at the content strategy party (you’ve never been to one?) — everyone acknowledges them yet everyone’s too gripped with fear to approach. They know governance is important, but it’s unfamiliar.
Effective content governance will take more than one kind of employee — the diverse talents of your digital team have to be acknowledged and maximized. Those from a marketing background are custom-made for the creative planning part of content strategy, whereas a project manager would be more adept at handling the the people and processes. The frightening part of content governance is that it potentially presents a change that may challenge your organizational hierarchy, i.e., it’s going to shake things up. But you’re going to need the shake-up — imagine content strategy without governance as the most dope kids’ toy in the world, except when you give it to your child it needs batteries, and you don’t have those batteries.
A Template for Sound Content Governance
You should always chew your food, just as you should always break down abstract, intimidating-sounding concepts like ‘content governance’ into smaller parts.
- Redefine ownership and roles surrounding content.
- Have new design workflows in place.
- Provide documentation so that there is an agreed-upon protocol regarding content governance.
- Train staff on your new content governance methodologies.
A closer look at each.
1. Redefine Ownership and Roles
You need your content strategy shaped up and actionable — a workable content governance model supports the operation of a sound content strategy. In all organizations, accountability for certain business areas are always clearly defined, e.g., HR, Marketing, Management.
How about content?
It’s more nebulous — yes, a core web team may have CMS editing rights and set the agenda for what, when and where content gets published. But content is part of a sprawling ecosystem and lifecycle that everyone has a stake in. From creation to planning, maintenance to publication, there can be a cacophony of voices — and that’s when people aren’t heard.
Proper governance of that persnickety content lifecycle requires several layers of accountability. How many layers you have depends on the breadth and culture of your organization, but there are three paramount layers of responsibility that all workplaces need:
Layers of Content
Staff that makes ultimate decisions on new content projects and navigates the direction of the organization’s content strategy.
- Defines and communicates content, content marketing and editorial strategies.
- Green-lights fresh content projects and initiatives.
- Provides oversight and is accountable for the organization’s content lifecycle.
Runs day-to-day operations — implements strategy and seamless running of the content lifecycle.
- Manages and runs editorial calendars and content planning groups.
- Deals with content briefs and daily requests for site content changes and social media updates.
- Acts as content quality controller.
Contributes specialist insights that improve the content and content strategy efforts of the organization.
- SEO Specialists: Increase how content is found through search engine traffic (search engines/searchers are always changing though — another blog on that soon).
- Developers/Designers: Upgrade the content structure and design.
- Senior Management and Strategy: Contribute oversight of content projects.
- Subject Matter Experts: Critique and review content topics.
2. Design Content Processes
Content moves through an organization according to a universal set of steps that everyone agrees upon. Rather than content being a dumpster fire, make it that cozy, yuletide log — everyone involved in content should share a common set of expectations over how content is produced and governed — including how their own roles fit into the process.
Good content is hard work. Creating content workflows and processes acknowledges this often unaddressed reality. You will need to take time and formalize a workflow for how all aspects of your content lifecycle are approached in a consistently effective manner. There are sub-processes inside sub-processes for each content lifecycle, and you want this all to metamorphosize into a beautiful butterfly — not a lame, one-winged moth.
There will already be more order by identifying specific content roles and ownership accountabilities. Now, suggest to the same stakeholders that the processes through which content moves through the organization also needs looking at. Or, if it feels important enough to require third party support and expertise, bring in a specialist as well.
3. Produce Supporting Documents and Tools
Your organization needs to be outfitted with the requisite supporting materials that will uphold a consistent, autonomous approach to governance and agreed-upon rules for content done right — which means less arguing!
Content still floats in ‘international waters’ in many organizations, with a variety of approaches and standards that lead to disarray and disharmony over the right way to do content. There’s no one ‘right way’ to create or strategize content, so being consistently relevant and quality is nearly impossible. Nearly.
These three main types of supporting documentation are normally required to formalize content governance — additionally, some specific tools to operationalize governance.
Guidelines are always useful, particularly when there’s an onus to create uniformed consistency where there are multiple contributors … like content. Content guidelines include messaging and tone — they’re principles designed to incentivize content that matches with the organization’s brand, business goals and user needs.
A standard is an expectation over what is and what is not acceptable. Whereas guidelines aspire towards consistency, standards go further in specifying right and wrong ways of doing things according to the organization.
Policy defines compliance-critical rules. Whereas standards are expectations over quality, policies are non-negotiable rules whose non-adherence pose a serious risk or threat to the organization in some way.
A tool is anything designed to implement something or carry out a certain function — technology at its core is merely a collection of tools. Regarding digital content, tools are what allow us to implement and manage our content strategy.
- CMS: manage content on a specific platform
- Editorial Calendars: schedule content production and publishing.
- Content Requirement Checklist: quality-control of content.
- Content Brief Form: document correspondence between content authors, managers and stakeholders.
Any tool is a means to an end, not the end itself — and in an unskilled hand, it is not much of anything. Or, as the maxim goes, ‘Give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day; teach them how to code, and they’ll design an app where fish will be delivered to their door everyday.’ For instance, brining in a shiny new CMS won’t guarantee a better site — just the possibility of one. An editorial calendar won’t in and of itself improve how content is planned and scheduled — it still has to be used properly. A tool is only as good as the person wielding it.
Ultimately, content strategy comes back to people — and content governance lives (or dies) by the people involved.
A Quick Review:
- Identify and formalize appropriate content roles and responsibilities.
- Analyze existing content processes and devise new workflows that will get content moving more efficiently.
- Audit existing content guidelines, standards, policies and tools.
Now you need to identify who needs to know what. And that’s going to take (gasp) — talking face to face.
Queries to consider:
- Do subject matter experts or new starters need training on writing for the web?
- Who needs to be trained up or refreshed on the CMS?
- Do the trainers need to be trained?
- Who needs to be briefed on new or changed content guidelines?
Here’s a meta-snapshot of content governance vis-à-vis this very blog:
Ab (CEO/Strategic Authority) originated the idea — Lisette (Digital Strategist/Implementation Accountability) made it look good — and I (Digital Strategist/Specialist Input) wrote the thing.
There are enough headaches in life; content governance doesn’t have to be one of them. It’s more than a buzzword, it’s a necessity for any digital entity trying to push forward and connect with clients and audiences. In the end, the purpose of any content is to further human connection and communication — let WDG further yours. Drop us a line about your content needs at email@example.com!