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Getting content operations right - demystifying the roles of people, process, and technology

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 27, 2019
For enterprises, producing effective content is just the beginning. Then there is the problem of scale. Yes, it's time for ContentOps. In the first of a two part series, Barb Mosher Zinck lays out the framework.


Companies finally realize they need a better approach to managing the content they create. Why? Because customers are demanding and more information from many departments across a company (marketing, sales, service, support) and that content should be useful, high quality, consistent and on-brand.

It starts with a well-defined content strategy, and it ends with the execution of that strategy. The execution part is what we’re now calling “content operations.” Cathy McKnight, VP of Strategy and Consulting with The Content Advisory , filled me in on what’s involved in setting up scalable content operations:

Many of the organizations I work with have a content strategy, or they are they're starting to. And content operations is the execution of the content strategy. They may not be using content ops as a succinct term, but they are trying to figure out how and what their content strategy is, and then how they're going to implement it.

Content operations are not new; it’s just a new way to define the people, processes, and technology a company must put in place to effectively create and manage content.

But it's not only about tying those pieces together; it's about tying them together such that they can actually scale them.

Defining and applying content operations helps you get the basics of your content strategy in place and working well, allowing you to create the content your customers and audiences need.

There are so many organizations that I work with that are talking about and looking so far forward in their content capabilities that they're missing that first step, which is being able to effectively just manage your content. Being able to create, edit, post, take off, sunset, archive, access, revive; all of those basic things. They're all caught up in the bright and shiny that we hear from vendors.

From strategy to operation

Before we go further, let’s define content strategy. McKnight said it’s defining the goals for your content. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve? How are you using content marketing? Social? Who’s your target audience? Have you created personas and developed journey maps?

That’s just the start. If your content strategy is to work across your company, then you have to understand your content goals for each department. Or instead, focus on the full customer lifecycle and how content flows through it - then you get a clear view of the content you need and how to use it.

Content operations involve people, processes, and technology. And guess what? Everyone wants to first jump to technology. There are plenty of vendors out there claiming to help you solve your operational challenges, but there is no one technology that can fully support content operations.

Let’s back up and talk about people.

The people element of content operations

Content operations are run by employees with defined roles and responsibilities. Not job titles necessarily, McKnight said, but roles and responsibilities that can shift to other employees when the current employee is on vacation, is sick, leaves or moves to another position in the company.

When thinking about people, we talk about who creates, edits, reviews, and approves content. Who are the subject matter experts that write or contribute to content? Who is responsible for ensuring processes are followed? That governance policies are consistently applied?

The people process or the people part of Content Ops is about defining roles and responsibilities across the organization because it's not a marketing thing, not a content teams thing. True content operations is an across the board thing. And you really need to make sure that there's a strong leader who has the purview and the authority, and quite frankly, the political pull, to be able to get it done.

It can be challenging because much of the content you create comes from subject matter experts spread across the company. You need access to them in a timely manner and without a strong influence, getting them when you need them is hard. You also need strong relationships with departments like R&D, so you know what’s coming down the pipe, support and CX teams, McKnight said.

One of the first things you should do is a skills assessment, McKnight said. Find out what employees know and can do that may not necessarily fit into their current job responsibilities.

McKnight said that content operations often start in marketing, but it’s not purely a marketing function. Sometimes you’ll see it run by a digital team, other times by the PMO (project management office).

I've seen it sit with the PMO, which I like, because they're organized, and they know how to work across an organization. They're not myopically focused on one thing. From a PMO perspective, the head of a PMO, if they are a good one, is one of the people in the organization who understands the organization best.

If you are trying to set up content operations in an organization that is siloed - which is very often the case - you have to deal with each department having their own people who create and manage content. There’s often overlap in the content that is created across silos, or content that isn’t consistent in what’s said or how it’s said.

Content operations unify those silos and bring together all the people who have a role in content development. Then there are the processes.

The process element of content operations

Defining processes to create and manage content is also challenging, particularly from a change management perspective. People like to do things the way they do things, and they don’t like change. There is often a fair amount of push back McKnight said.

Processes include a range of things including:

  • workflows for content development and approval
  • governance (voice, style guides, messaging, accessibility)
  • supply chain (who are the SMEs, writers, reviewers)
  • translation and localization of content (if required)
  • content storage and how to store it to ensure its use in different channels and contexts (think structured content, taxonomy, metadata)

Roles and responsibilities you can sort of evolve softly, and start sharing things and moving things over and whatnot. And there's somebody there who knows how to do it typically because you know, you're just you're rejigging. But process, you want to make sure that it gets out of the gate correctly, it may not be optimized, most often it isn't. But that takes time. Sometimes you have to start from scratch. And you have to take things away from people.

“For those people who are aren't interacting with the content often, maybe it's an improver, maybe it's an SME, how do you integrate them as seamlessly as possible into the process, so that they buy into it?”

One set of processes that everyone across the company needs to follow. No exceptions. That’s hard. McKnight said you can make changes slowly or you can “rip off the bandaid.” She’s seen it done both ways successfully.

Now we get to talk about technology.

The technology element of content operations

Technology is important; it’s a facilitator and can ease the pain of implementing content operations greatly. There is no one platform or solution. There are plenty of solutions where you manage content - your CMS, CRM, DAM, and collect information like a CDP. But you need a way to tie all these systems together logically to apply analytics against them.

I'm seeing a lot of organizations put workflow management or resource management tools on top of these things so that they're, uber-connected, and linked, and it smooths out the process.

Content operations technology includes solutions such as authoring, design, content and digital asset management, content intelligence tools, AI tools, translation, and automation. And then there are tools that help you pull data from your content management and delivery tiers together to allow you to analyze content and measure its impact and success.

Using technology, a company can transform itself. It can take all of those ad hoc efforts and pull them into a streamlined strategic workflow that can be measured, analyzed, and that can be optimized.

Next time we’ll talk about the steps to setting up your content operations and creating a Content Center of Excellence.

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