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Building effective and scalable Content Ops

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher September 4, 2019
Building effective and scalable content operations is the key - yep, ContentOps is here.


In part one of my look at Content Ops, I looked at the people, process, and technology elements with Cathy McKnight, VP of Strategy and Consulting with The Content Advisory. Next up are the steps you need to take to set up your own content operations. And the interesting thing, according to McKnight, is that you don’t start with content; you get alongside the business first. She says: 

It's about getting aligned, not necessarily just around your content, strategy, and goals, but it's about getting aligned with business priorities. What's the organization trying to do?

Whether you’re a large company or a small business, you should be focused on the customer experience. Understand how you see that experience, how your customers see it and what role content plays in that experience.

When you take the time to look at your overall business goals and understand the customer experience, you will have a better start to creating a content operations program that works towards those goals.

How important is content to your business?

If content operations are cross-organizational, then you need to understand the importance of content to all aspects of your business, says McKnight: 

One of the first things they should do is look at who impacts content. So look at the big picture, even if they're not going to tackle it from a big-picture perspective. Understand the breadth of content and how it impacts the entire business, whether it's somebody creating content, using content, influencing content, inputting content, so something like an SME, or leveraging the data from the content, like an R&D team - how does that interact? What does that ecosystem look like?

The key, McKnight advises, is to include everyone, so you get the full picture. This approach will also help greatly with buy-in down the road.

A requirements gathering initiative for McKnight involves talking to everyone to understand what content means to them, what customer experience is, and how they see themselves contributing to it. The goal is to get that wider view of content and how it impacts the organization.

From there you need to understand what technologies are impacted, what processes you need to consider, what are the roles and responsibilities you need to put in place and what’s missing in terms of your team.

McKnight reckons it can take six to eight weeks to get a plan or overview completed, which isn’t that long a time:

I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination, it's an easy thing to do, or achieve or really get implemented. But it's about picking a street and start.

If you are missing key skills for your team, McKnight recommends bringing in outside help. She recommends this because too often the responsibility becomes another task on an existing employee’s already overflowing list. Which means it’s unlikely to take precedence. This person may only come in as an advisor or to do a certain set of tasks and then turn the execution over to the company.

You can start small, with one or two elements of content operations, or you can do the whole thing at once. Important roles include your team leads and project manager. And one key point is that this isn’t going to happen overnight; your leader must be all in, likely for at least one year until operations are running smoothly.

Building a content center of excellence

What evolves from content operations is a content center of excellence or CCE. It’s the centralization of your content operations and how it looks can vary by company.

McKnight says there are two ways you can create your CCE. She’s working with two large international companies, each taking a different approach. One is taking baby steps, focusing on a small subset of their markets. Some of their lower level, less self-sufficient markets are getting a lot of content hands offs because they aren’t the primary focus of the business - not because they aren’t valued, but because they aren’t the ones generating revenue. With this client, they are working out the bugs with this subset of markets and then will roll it out to the bigger markets.

The other company is going “big bang,” ripping off the band-aid. McKnight has worked with them to define the roles and responsibilities and define the job descriptions. The technology is in place for the most part, and they are working on the process now.

There is no one way, no right way, only getting started says McKnight:.

Even if you start as an individual team, a marketing team or a content team, and you get stuff sorted out within yourselves, and then start bringing in your internal partners, the other silos that cross, and build it out and build it out. Kind of like a tree grows, you just get bigger and bigger and bigger.

In GatherContent’s Content Operations Guide (registration required), it’s noted that people, processes, and technology will vary, but the principles remain the same:

Organisation[‘s] that invest in ContentOps will find themselves in the enviable position with:

  • Repeatable processes
  • Scalable outputs
  • Confidence in measuring results
  • Reduction of inefficiencies
  • Achieving quality at scale
  • Improving effectiveness”

You need all three things, however, to ensure your content operations will be successful. Can you do content operations without technology? Maybe, but it will be hard. And you can’t do it without the right people and the right processes.

My take

Getting past the siloed development of content in an organization is hard. Each department has its schedule and set of initiatives, most of which will require some form of content. Priorities will differ, content creators will have their own approach to creating and managing content, some even flying by the seat of their pants.

Change, even for the better, is hard. A Content Center of Excellence is a great approach to centralizing content development for the entire organization. I like this slide from Colleen Jones, The founder of Content Science, shared in a webinar she did with GatherContent called Take Your Content Operations to the Next Level:


content ops

I think it perfectly shows the benefits of content operations and the complexity that can take place to make it happen.

McKnight argues that you don’t have to do it all at once. I like the suggestion to centralize part of the process at a time - like the content production, building operations as you smooth out the wrinkles in each core component. But regardless of how you do it, or what you call it, if you want to provide a consistent experience across channels, then you need to put the right operations around your content strategy.

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