Early in my career, I referred to content operations as a supply chain. Let me explain. In business, supply chains consist of all the steps required to get a product from raw materials into a final product. The term usually refers to the manufacturing sector, but it can also encompass other industries, such as agriculture or mining.
The supply chain begins with the extraction of raw materials from the earth. These materials are then transported to factories and processed into finished products. The finished products are then shipped to retailers and sold to consumers.
Each step in the supply chain requires careful planning and coordination. For example, raw materials must be sourced from suppliers who can provide them quickly and cost-effectively. Manufacturers must have the necessary equipment and skilled labor to turn these raw materials into finished products. And retailers must have a distribution network to get these products to their stores.
An efficient supply chain is essential for businesses to operate successfully. By carefully managing the flow of materials and products, companies can minimize costs and maximize profits. Furthermore, an efficient supply chain can help businesses respond quickly to changes in demand, ensuring that customers always have access to the products they need.
Managing the content operations is the same.
The evolution of the content creation process
The content creation process refers to the development and distribution of digital content. This can include text, images, videos, podcasts, and other forms of digital media. Traditionally, this process typically involves four key stages: planning, creating, publishing, and promoting. Many internal content and marketing teams often refer to this as simply content management. That certainly does describe the process at a high level, and it almost takes away from the complexities of the entire content lifecycle.
Before drilling down into content operations, we’ll talk about this process and why it’s a dependency for building a successful content strategy.
The first stage of the process is planning. This is where you determine what kind of content you want to create and have clearly defined goals and expected outcomes. It would be best to consider who your target audience is and what they’re looking for. Once you have a clear idea of your goals and audience, you can build your narrative and key message pillars.
The next stage is creating the content. This is where you’ll need to put your creativity to work and is also one of the most critical elements of the content lifecycle. If you have internal creative or content teams, they can own this process with your direction. If you’re working with outside partners, they will be responsible for producing content according to your specifications. Once the content is created, stakeholders should review and approve it. Usually, the content is stored within an editorial calendar or content management platform.
There are a variety of ways to publish your content. For example, you can publish it on your company blog or newsroom if it’s long-form. Or you can tap into other sites like Medium or Substack since they already have built-in audiences. If it’s visual, you can leverage Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok. And if it’s audio, you can use podcasts, TwitterSpaces, or Clubhouse.
The final stage of the process is promoting your content using paid media. There are several ways to amplify quality content by using paid social, search, content syndication, or partnering with influencers.
Many companies today still use this traditional approach for creating content to fuel and plan their content marketing programs. However, effective content needs to involve a more strategic view through the lens of people, processes, and technology. This is why content operations need to be considered.
What is content operations?
Content operations (also known as content ops) is the set of people, processes, and technology needed to ideate, plan, create, manage, approve, publish and analyze branded content across all the digital channels. It’s the content supply chain.
Content operations isn’t the most exciting function of a marketing team, but it could be argued that it’s the most critical. So let’s break down each piece of the content creation process.
Content Ideation is the Spark
Content ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. These ideas can fuel creative brand campaigns, PR strategies, blog posts, social media, and customer experience programs.
Coming up with new and creative ideas is challenging. However, by following a few simple steps, it is possible to generate many fresh and exciting ideas. The first step is to use data.
Depending on your business model and what you have access to, you can use data from several sources to fuel your marketing programs. For example, data can come from audience research, website data, primary research, or media insights.
The next step is to brainstorm potential themes, topics, and narratives. A mind map can be a helpful tool for this stage, as it allows for the free-flowing association between concepts, ideas, and audiences. Once a list of potential topics has been generated, it is essential to evaluate each one in terms of feasibility and impact. Which ideas are most likely to resonate with the target audience? Which ones are most likely to lead to conversions? By taking the time to answer these questions, it is possible to develop a clear direction on where you want to go and the stories you want to tell across the digital ecosystem. It’s a best practice to use pressure test these ideas across audience data.
While I breezed through this portion of content operations, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the narrative. The data-driven, well-positioned narrative, message, and unique story is the one factor that will differentiate you from your competitors.
Content planning helps determine the asset
Once you have the idea, you have to think about the delivery and what assets you’ll need when producing content. You’ll have to think about the script, length, clips, and on-screen talent if it’s a video. You’ll also have to think through your YouTube strategy and how you want to publish videos natively on social media platforms.
If it’s long-form content like an article or blog post, you’ll have to determine the word count, what level of detail to go into, the headline, and tone of voice. You’ll also want to ensure that it’s optimized for SEO and includes internal linking, the meta tags (H1 tags, Alt tags, etc.), and the social content that you will use to promote the article.
There are several ways to package and create content, so the natural next step is to start creating it.
Building your content ops with workflows
Content approval workflows can vary depending on the size and needs of your organization. Still, there are some essential elements that all effective workflows should include within the content operations framework.
First, you need to clearly understand who is responsible for approving each piece of content. This may be a single individual or a team of people. This step requires some upfront thinking and identifying the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved. If you work in a regulated industry like finance or healthcare, this process can become highly complicated.
Next, you must establish clear guidelines for what content types need to be approved and how far in advance approvals must be submitted. This step should also consider ad hoc contact requests, especially when dealing with crisis management issues.
Lastly, you need to set up a system for tracking and managing approvals so that nothing falls through the cracks and mistakes aren’t made. Successful content operations ensure that this won’t happen.
Developing a content operations measurement framework
In any business, understanding what metrics to track and how to track them is critical to success. The same is true when it comes to content. Creating a measurement framework for your content will help you understand what’s working and what isn’t and make better decisions about where to focus your efforts.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when building your framework. First, you need to identify the most important KPIs of your business. For example, what goals are you trying to achieve with your content? Once you have a good understanding of your goals, you can identify which metrics will help you measure progress towards those goals.
Another vital thing to consider is how you will collect the data you need. Several different tools and platforms can help you track engagement with your content, so it’s essential to choose the ones that will work best for you. Once you have your data, it’s time to start analyzing it. Look for patterns and trends, and use your findings to inform future content strategy decisions.
Building a content operations measurement framework may seem like a lot of work, but it’s essential to make sure your content is as effective as possible. By taking the time to track the right metrics, you can make sure your content aligns with your business goals and drives accurate results.
Content operations are vital to any digital marketing strategy. By understanding the needs of your business and establishing clear guidelines and measurement tools, you can ensure that your content is helping you achieve your goals by delivering a stellar customer experience.
Altimeter’s Digital Content Operations Report
We’ve already talked about content operations and how critical it is to digital marketing. Let’s transition to the 2021 State of Digital Content from Altimeter Group. Their research reports spend a great deal of time on content governance and the overall content operations of an organization.
When survey respondents were asked, “Who is primarily responsible for your digital content strategy?” the answers were diverse:
- 15% said that an editorial committee made up of senior leaders are responsible
- 29% said that a dedicated content team is responsible but gets input and feedback from other teams
- 31% say that a single department like a digital marketing team is responsible
- 5% do not have a clear content strategy owner
Other than the 5% who don’t have a clear content strategy owner, the other examples make sense. But, again, it depends on how sophisticated the digital content operations of the company are and how much they believe in data-driven storytelling.
And the 5% is mind-boggling. Considering that we’re halfway through 2021, I’m blown away that there are companies that have yet to understand the importance of digital content operations, brand storytelling, and digital content in general.
For large organizations, content production and management could get very complicated. The Altimeter study focuses one of its questions on organizational structure. When survey respondents were asked, “Which model most closely describes how your company manages the content production across multiple departments or geographies?” the answers varied:
- 4% outsourced the entire digital content operation
- 10% have a decentralized model
- 15% have what is called a holistic model
- 22% have the traditional hub and spoke model
- 50% have a centralized model
The breakdown of organizational structures makes sense. It goes back to my comments about sophistication and priorities for content marketing and strategy. There is no one specific organizational structure that is better than the other. It depends upon the company’s size and how the larger marketing communications and product marketing groups are structured.
I am noticing that many brands are adopting a decentralized model. This means that people are responsible for content sit within different product organizations, business units, and brands. Product organizations and brands are pretty much synonymous.
Think of companies like Adobe and all the products they have like Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and the Experience Cloud. I don’t know personally how they are organized internally. Still, I would suspect that a company of that size and the number of resources would have somewhat decentralized content operations.
Even though the products like Photoshop and Illustrator might have similar audiences, they are still different products as part of the more extensive creative suite, which means product marketing may have other strategic objectives and content marketing strategies. Having content strategists close to the product is critical to ensure that social media storytelling and audience intelligence are front and center during the social media content creation process.
I would bet that content strategists report into product marketing but dotted line report into a centralized content team, editorial team, or center of excellence. This would ensure that more significant initiatives and the Adobe narrative are woven through the content, best practices are shared, and KPIs for content marketing is consistent across the larger organization.
While digital content operations may seem tedious or unimportant, they cannot be overlooked. Without having a strategic plan internally, a brand risks inconsistent messages and customer confusion when telling brand stories to new audiences.