I sat down to edit a file created by someone else in a folder created by my client.
I knew the topic and the approximate date of creation. And I knew the file was in this folder. It should have been easy to find, right? Well, if you’ve taken on a similar challenge, you know the answer is a big fat no.
We spend too much time searching before finding the files we need to edit, post, design, etc. Then, we move on to the next thing.
And a few days later, we go through the same frustrating “process” all over again.
But what if we redirected the energy spent on those irritating tasks into creating a better content production process?
These nine fixes will help content teams address those pesky problems you never seem to carve out time to solve. Though software and automation are great ways to improve your overall workflow, I’m focusing on remedies you can apply today – some in only a few minutes.
1. Use standard naming conventions
Given this article’s introduction, it makes sense to start here.
When creating file and folder names, people often forget their audience (in this case, co-workers, agency partners, and other collaborators). They write file names from their point of view – so they know what they mean and how to find the files again. But few others will.
Take a moment to develop a standard naming convention for all your content marketing files. The few minutes spent to set and document the naming requirements and notify the team will save everyone time and frustration.
To come up with a naming convention that works, think about what information collaborators needed in the names to find the right document. Do the needs differ for internal and external audiences? Is there a way to develop a single system that works for both? Or will you require two systems – internal and external?
For CMI’s blog production process, we use a standard naming convention. All folders are labeled by author name. If the author writes frequently, we include a few words on the topic to differentiate each folder. Each file name includes the author’s name, topic, status in the review process, such as: “SMITH – Design Storytelling – ag edits clean.”
Documenting and sharing the naming convention is as important as creating it in the first place. Make sure everybody knows the rules – and understands how they help speed up everyone’s work. It only takes one person using a slightly different system to bring back the frustrating havoc that comes from willy-nilly naming.
2. Document all the steps (and don’t tie them to a person)
This fix isn’t innovative or surprising. However, it’s often ignored, so it bears repeating: Write down everything that happens in your content marketing program – from topic selection to publication to promotion.
Then map out the steps in each process, refine as necessary, and stick to the final versions. Save all the processes to a central repository where everyone can access it so they can read, understand, and follow.
As Georges Petrequin, founder of Contentbulb, explains: “Every piece of content you create can then move through the same step-by-step workflow … The process will be simple and predictable for you and your team.”
TIP: Don’t include any person’s name in the process documentation. Use their role instead. After all, if Pat, the videographer, leaves the company or even gets a new job inside your company, no one will know what “Pat” means in the documented workflow. But they will understand if it says “videographer.”
3. Make it visual
Content strategist Rhea Henry manages the content process from creation to publication at Rank-It.ca, which means “a lot of spinning plates to keep track of,” Rhea says. As a visual person, she relies on a dynamic calendar that shows what needs to be prioritized and released.
Yogesh Jain, digital marketing consultant and author, offers another visual workflow option: “Gantt charts lay down the tasks in the order of priority for each piece of content, giving each stakeholder a holistic view of timelines and the impact of them not fulfilling them.”
He shared this Gantt chart for a Black Friday campaign. The chart highlights dependencies with lines on the right and reflects milestones with red diamonds on the timeline:
[email protected] says Gantt charts help teams understand timelines – and impact of not meeting them. Do you use Gantt charts to help with your #contentmarketing workflow? Via @CMIContent Click To Tweet
4. Record what each person does
Visual workflows are great if you know what to do at each step. But that can’t happen unless you’ve documented what each role does. Ask each person on your team to create a “when-I-win-the-lottery” file – a step-by-step, how-to guide for the tasks they do. (I like the positive imagery of winning the lottery to explain an employee’s potential unexpected departure from your team.)
For example, ask the WordPress editor to document how they publish a blog post, from where they access the content to how they write the alt text to how they access the site’s backend. Ask them to include screenshots of each step.
TIP: Create a video of the how-to process. For certain tasks, seeing a person do it is more helpful than reading words. Use the screen-share feature in the video recording. Just make sure the person also talks about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it so the viewer can learn better.
5. Develop an idea dump file
In a field like content marketing, processes can feel to some like creative handcuffs. After all, ideas and inspiration usually don’t have a logical flow.
House Method Executive Editor and Chief Strategy Officer David Cusick has a great solution – create a home for idea dumps: “Have a dedicated place for ideas, especially for those that come out of the blue. Create an online file that everyone can access easily. Or create a dedicated channel, thread, or board on a digital workplace app for these ideas.”
6. Connect the numbers
Numbers and text are often tracked separately. Then, someone creates a report to connect the two. But busy content creators rarely make time to make sense of a number-focused report. Could that be why not everyone on the team knows what works or where changes need to be made? Probably.
Marry your analytics and your content calendars in a single document.
For example, content ideas could be tracked on the same spreadsheet as your keyword research analytics. Stacy Caprio, who handles marketing at Renuw Skincare, advocates this approach. Among the metrics that accompany her team’s content ideas are keyword volume, keyword difficulty, and relevance.
You also can use this single-sheet system for published content. For example, on your editorial calendar, make sure to include columns or fields for your most relevant evaluation metrics (e.g., views, shares, or CTA clicks) within a predetermined time. While the metrics won’t present every evaluation scenario, they can offer a valuable glimpse of performance to content creation members. They’ll never need to ask or read an analytics report to know how the audience is receiving their content.
7. Make the repeatable easier
No matter your content marketing team role, you likely have things you do over and over again. These tricks help you get them done more quickly.
Colton De Vos, marketing specialist at Resolute Technology Solutions, suggests creating a standardized document for subject matter expert outreach. It could include boilerplate questions and email introductions and closings that you can copy and paste when you reach out for quotes or interviews.
That tip makes sense for any emails you send over and over to different recipients, whether it’s a request to promote a newly published blog article or an invitation to participate in a crowdsourced video.
At CMI, we use a standard template for blog post creation. The Word document containing the blog post copy includes space for the email preview language, the newsletter excerpt, the meta description, and social media headlines. By including all the content elements in the same place, we’re less likely to forget to create them. It also streamlines the loading process for the WordPress editor.
8. Plan for the future now
Don’t wait to schedule updates or follow-ups to your timely content. Do it in the planning stage.
That’s great advice from Anne Szustek Talbot, vice president of content at BX3. “Identify any content that might need follow-up or refreshing,” she says. “Chances are that there were developments in the product or in the news surrounding that given topic. Adding a paragraph or two, fixing and adding some backlinks can be a great way to boost your SEO and give your readers the quality content that will keep them drawn to your brand.”
I realize you can’t schedule updates for every piece of content. But if you do nothing else, make sure to do it when planning any timely content – anything with a date, a possibility, etc.
For example, let’s say you create a blog post about a proposed tax law change. At that time, you should do a couple of things:Add progress check-ins to the planning calendar. Even if you discover nothing has changed, you can update the blog post with that news – and date it. (That’s particularly helpful for readers who arrive at the content from search.) Develop related ideas if the proposed change is likely to occur. It makes sense to talk about related ideas simultaneously since you’re talking about the subject. That way, you don’t have to start the ideation process all over again when a triggering event occurs. (It’s also essential to publishing relevant content as early as possible when the change happens.)
9. Make a process for requests
OK, you say, I can develop all the processes I need, but that won’t stop the ad hoc requests and random emails requesting something from the content marketing team. And they interrupt or slow down our workflow all the time.
The answer is this critical process: work requests.
Liam Clouds, project manager at Mitrade, says an effective structured work-request process uses a single platform (e.g., email, website form), accessed by a designated content marketing team member.
The work-request designee then compiles those requests in a central document. This person also can be the one who replies to each request through the same platform. Note: This person likely is not the decision maker. They would coordinate the review and reply process with the designated decider.
This process is helpful to all content marketing team members. If someone asks them to create something, they can refer them to the request process. They don’t have to stop what they’re doing to ask if they should do it, or worse, to handle the request without input from the content marketing team leader.
Erin Balsa, head of content marketing at The Predictive Index, says you should go one step further – educate requesters about the process. She suggests building the request process map into your content strategy presentations. It should answer questions like:How should stakeholders submit content requests? Who conducts a needs analysis to determine if this is the right content to create? How many days before publication must the work be assigned?
I would add to this list: How long will it take for the requester to be notified of the decision/next steps?
“When everyone’s clear on the process, there are fewer miscommunications and delays. More importantly, it ensures you’re creating the right content, at the right volume, at the right time,” Erin says.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute