You’ve probably heard this word thrown around: workflow. It has its roots in the industrial revolution as a means of creating systems that made production more efficient.
But for the world of content, what’s the big deal? How hard is it to write and publish content? Everyone knows what their jobs are, right? Just do your job.
Creating an automated workflow system in your content operation is vital to its success. Analysts like SiriusDecisions have been talking about service-level agreements (SLAs) as indispensable elements of a content operation. This is what a workflow template is: an agreement within or among departments to generate shareable assets in a set period of time.
The workflow is the backbone of your content operation. Any inefficiencies and bottlenecks—the hiccups that make a content department more of a cost center—may be remedied by carefully examining your workflow.
Not Just a To-Do List
Let’s start with a very broad understanding of what we mean when we use the term workflow. In a previous blog post, we defined a workflow as the following:
A sequence of processes that governs the tactical elements of your campaign.
Never a fan of jargon, I set out to break down what that definition really means.
Sequence of Processes
First of all, a “sequence of processes” is just a posh way to say your tasks and their associated deadlines. Tasks should be strategically chosen to keep production, well, flowing. This means you do not include every substep of a task. A simple rule of thumb might be to create a new task when someone new becomes responsible for the piece of content.
For example, when creating a blog post, a simple workflow might look like this:
- Add Graphics
- Write Social Copy
- Push Social to Channels
Notice in the first step, I didn’t break down the task of “submit” into all the steps involved in that task: research, outline, draft, re-draft, and then submit. Those are all completed by the same person. That person is responsible for their own process to accomplish the task. But those substeps don’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—reflected in the shared workflow for the blog post, otherwise the team can get lost in the weeds and colleagues don’t know which of dozens of tasks require action from them. When creating your own workflows, create tasks that represent a change of hands or significantly different tasks.
Just as essential to the logistics of workflow is how they affect the content creators and managers. An overly detailed workflow can stifle the creative process, making a writer or editor feel like a cog in the assembly line instead of a vital part of the work needed to relate to a constantly changing audience and business demands.
The idea of a sequence denotes a blend of both hard and flexible dates by which a task should be completed. Tasks such as publish or launch should be hard deadlines that help give urgency to all other deadlines. It’s these hard deadlines that become the agreement within the production team of when to complete an assigned task.
If you plan your content far enough in advance, you should be able to make deadlines for review and approval more flexible. Flexible deadlines are often necessary, especially when you have to rely on outside sources to contribute.
Keep in mind, you should allow deadlines to reflect the fact that your workforce will have to address ad hoc and unplanned work in addition to this carefully managed project.
However flexible you make a deadline, ultimately you have to make sure it does get done. Sometimes certain tasks are lowered on an assignee’s priorities list, which brings us to…
Proper governance of a workflow encompasses both the people and project management of a campaign. Each will take a different kind of consideration.
Managing the people who do the work to produce content involves communication, accountability, the creative process, and management of those within the organization and outside of it. This is the main crux of where a workflow template is an SLA. There are often a wide variety of people involved in creating a piece of content, from creatives to executives, from in-office to freelancers. A visible, agreed-upon workflow keeps everyone in the loop of what needs to be done when and who might be blocking progress.
At Kapost, we have the pleasure of using our own product, so the templated workflow of each asset is readily available in Studio. If you’re not using Kapost, you can use tools like Trello to coordinate a workflow shared by a variety of team members.
Even without a program that displays your workflow, the project leader managing the production of a piece of content can ensure the smooth transition from task to task by maintaining open lines of communication. Stay in contact and allow team members to contact other task owners so that they can alert those who may be blocking them from accomplishing their own assignments. Agile strategies like a regular cadence of stand-ups are another way to ensure that piece of content stays efficient.
Allow that sometimes unplanned work or other outside factors may influence how efficiently a project is accomplished. A nice rule of thumb is factoring in 20% of your team’s time to be spent on unplanned work. Planning your roadmap of content well in advance can allow for this wiggle room.
But this flexibility should be carefully balanced with instilling a sense of accountability. When properly structured, a workflow will show where bottlenecks may occur.
For example, perhaps you need a key stakeholder to review the messaging in a product release, but they are swamped with so many meetings that they often do not get to their review task. You should notice a pattern over time and adjust your workflow so that review task can be accomplished in a timeline that works for both the project and the people involved.
Project management will rely on a strategically planned editorial calendar, production timelines, and alignment with business priorities. We’ve written many blogs on the ways to strategically plan the workflow of a piece of content, including planning the timeline of an asset, so be sure to read through our Marketeer.
Tactical Elements and Campaign
Now for tactical elements—each piece of content that you include in a campaign and all of the touch points in all the channels that will help to bring in well-educated and enthusiastic prospects.
Your tactical elements might include the email launch, the drip campaign, the pillar asset itself, the associated social content, and any follow-up or bonus material you might want to create as derivative assets. Each element will have its own workflow for creating that type of content, but there will also be a workflow associated with the campaign as a whole: the cadence of when each piece of content is released.
While a campaign/initiative/plan/project might be familiar in your marketing strategy, it’s important to understand what this term means in the context of a workflow. The campaign is what the workflow—both within individual assets and for the timeline of the initiative—ultimately serves. The campaign should be strategically aligned with your business priorities.
For a successful content operation, you must always keep the bigger picture in mind. As you create your workflow, frequently reference the campaign and why it’s included in your marketing strategy for the quarter. Know when you have a launch or publish date and plan the steps in reverse to be able to accomplish that deadline and serve the ultimate goals of your company.
When creating a workflow, it’s important to keep a clear distinction between what your strategy is and what your tactics are to achieve that strategy. Your marketing strategy is the big picture that guides your content production, but alone, your strategy is not enough to get the job done. Strategic planning is an integral step in creating an effective workflow.
Creating a workflow involves understanding production demands. What needs to get done to produce a piece of content and ensure that it remains on brand and on message? A workflow acts as an outline of what needs to be done and who needs to do each step.
But even more than that, a workflow template stands as an agreed-upon timeline to deliver on a promise.
A workflow can function as a means to track how long it takes to achieve each task and complete the project overall. Open lines of communication between all the stakeholders in a piece of content ensure that the asset will be delivered in its best form. Without the guidance of a visible workflow, other tasks might creep in and keep you from producing that pivotal asset when you need it.
Creating a workflow isn’t just about putting the right steps in the right order with the right people involved. A key to making an effective workflow is maintaining visibility into the process. When everyone in the workflow can see what everyone else has to do and when they have their deadlines, the process often takes care of itself. As blockers crop up, those further down the workflow will be able to communicate to those who may be impeding their tasks.
A workflow is so much more than a to-do list. It’s the means of creating communication and accountability so that all stakeholders deliver the content that will build your brand and bring in enthusiastic customers.
One might even say that creating a well-maintained workflow is what a content operation is all about: bringing alignment to your entire department from people to processes to produce stellar content that educates and inspires your prospects and customers.