Content Marketing Operations: 6 Tips for a Smooth Sailing Process

November 11, 2021

Glenn Bona

Content marketing is one of the best ways a business can acquire new leads and forge a long-lasting relationship with its customers. 

However, many content marketing teams are so devoted to creating content that drives MQLs and sales that they neglect the framework that should control their content production processes.

The most successful marketers know that tasking your content team to produce as much content as humanly possible will not yield great results over time. Instead, the best way to maximize the value of content is to have a functioning content operations framework in place.

In this article, I’ll be sharing some tips and tools that can help you improve your content operations and streamline your content creation processes.

What is content marketing operations?

Content marketing operations (or ‘content operations’) is the combination of processes, human resources and technologies that allows a business to efficiently plan, create, manage and analyze content to meet business objectives.

Source: GatherContent 

Content operations is the task of:

  • Aligning content and business goals
  • Providing visibility and coordination across teams 
  • Creating and contextualizing content at scale 
  • Generating leads and getting users to engage with CTAs
  • Discovering which assets are most effective for converting clients

Unlike content marketing, content operations does not only focus on how to use content to further marketing goals. It recognizes that, in today’s world, not all content is geared towards marketing. It also recognizes that one piece of content can serve a number of functions, from generating brand awareness and enhancing customer experience to building an SEO presence and improving internal communications. 

Every social media post or blog post you create is part of an ecosystem of goals, needs, audiences and stakeholders that can benefit your business in many ways. Content operations helps you manage each aspect of content production, allowing you to create impactful content easily. 

Why is content marketing operations important?

A study by Forrester revealed that up to 70% of B2B content created by businesses goes unused. That’s like setting 70% of your content budget on fire each year. 

There are many reasons these assets are not used. A major one is that content marketing processes are haphazard. 

People don’t know: 

  • What content type will help the business grow 
  • Who’s working on what piece of content
  • Where to find up-to-date reports, infographics and documents to reference
  • Which content is ready to be published 
  • Who’s in charge of content distribution
  • The deadlines for each task

It’s no surprise that some content teams are confused about their content production processes. 

A lot goes into content creation. Content marketers have to write, do research, conduct interviews, edit, optimize, publish, and distribute each piece of content. Not to mention that all created content has to be aligned with the brand and produce measurable results. 

Often, content marketers feel like there’s not enough time to do all this.

Content operations solves this because it clearly defines: 

  • The specific roles involved in creating, distributing and managing content
  • The tasks that need to be accomplished 
  • The tools needed to ensure that the team creates effective content

A quality content operations framework transforms disorganized content teams into a well-oiled content machine. Team members will no longer be overwhelmed or have to publish mediocre content just because they’re running out of time. Instead, writers, strategists, brand experts, designers, and SMEs can focus on the tasks they’re great at, and produce higher volumes of better content that drives business growth.

Who is in charge of content operations?

The title given to the person in charge of content operations varies across businesses. Sometimes, it’s Head of Content. Or Content Marketing Manager. Or simply Head of Content Operations. 

Whatever the assigned title is, the person who handles content operations will: 

  • Set up, maintain and scale workflows for social media, schedule management, content ideation, content creation and content distribution (posting on social media channels, sending follow-up email sequences to subscribers, etc.)
  • Evaluate new processes and implement any improvements
  • Create reports on content marketing performance, effectiveness and efficiency in relation to the goals the marketing department wants to achieve.  
  • Improve content strategy by analyzing acquisition, behavior and conversion data.

While they might also write content, the person in charge of content operations is more likely to ask questions like: 

  • What is the goal of our blog?
  • How do we measure the success of our content? 
  • What assets or guides can we create to make content production easier for our content writers? 
  • What pieces of content do we find difficult to create? How can we improve this process?
  • In what ways does our content help our company and target audience? 
  • What technology can we implement to enhance our content process?
  • How can we incorporate an SME’s opinion when they don’t have enough time to focus on content? 

Whatever the kind of business you run, the person in charge of your content operations should understand that running a content marketing team is more than just writing and hitting the ‘publish’ or ‘post’ button. It’s also creative problem solving and providing knowledge area of project management as well.

Tips to improve your content operations

Optimizing your content operations is becoming more crucial for digital marketing teams trying to make their content production processes smoother.

Here are some key things you can do to set up a new content operations framework or improve the one you already have.

1. Document your content strategy 

The success of content marketing depends on a well-documented content strategy. However, many marketers don’t have a documented strategy to guide their content marketing processes. A report by Content Marketing Institute shows that only 40% of B2B marketers have some sort of documented strategy in place.

Without a documented strategy in place, you can’t do much for your content. A content strategy is the spine that supports your content delivery and distribution. It’s the ‘why’ behind your content. Mistakes are more likely to happen when stakeholders don’t have a solid strategy to guide their marketing efforts. 

Source: Talkwalker

Even if the head of content operations knows the strategy off-hand, writing it down reduces miscommunication by making sure that stakeholders and contributors are on the same page about the duties required of them. 

Your documented content marketing strategy should include: 

  • Your business challenges and goals 
  • The purpose of each piece of content (brand awareness, search engine visibility, conversions, etc.) 
  • The target audience/personas for that time period 
  • Content topics and formats (blog posts, whitepapers, infographics, eBooks, videos, etc.)
  • Your content distribution channels of choice
  • The KPIs for individual content pieces and overall content (traffic, sales, signups, MQLs, etc.)
  • The tools you’ll use to aid content creation

2. Define clear roles for your content team members 

The life force of content operations are the people. 

Content marketing requires certain roles. Read ‘roles’, not ‘people’. A role does not necessarily mean a team member. Depending on the size and structure of your business, and the people you hire or outsource, one person can fill multiple roles (as long as they know what they are supposed to do). 

Setting the foundations by documenting the responsibilities assigned to each team member allows you to focus on all the elements of your content marketing. So each decision you make about hiring and contracting people and/or agencies matters a lot. 

The essential roles on a content marketing team

Even if you have a small team, it still needs to cover the core elements required to run a content marketing program smoothly. 

Below are some roles that will help you structure the ideal content operations team. 

  • Chief Content Officer (aka Content Marketing Strategist or Director of Content Marketing). This person is responsible for setting the overall content marketing strategy and developing the buyer journey. They also ensure consistency across all departments and put guidelines in place to make the content valuable for the audience.
  • Editorial Manager. This person is responsible for developing, managing and updating the processes and workflows to execute the vision of the marketing strategist. They direct the execution of projects and ensure that everyone works in sync to create great content.
  • Content Creators (aka Content Producers). These can be in-house employees or freelancers. They are the people with specialty expertise–such as writers, designers, videographers, photographers etc. who write content, create visuals, make videos and take photos for your target audience and distribution channels. They can also be subject matter experts (SMEs) who play different roles in the organization and contribute their expertise to the content marketing aspect. Increasingly, these positions are being outsourced to overseas employees (usually through an employer of record service) as a cheaper alternative to hiring temporary freelancers on home turf. For example, in the world of SEO copywriting, India is renowned for its huge pool of skilled and affordable professionals.

The Content Production Director would manage this team of creative specialists. 

  • Content Editor. These people review content to make sure that it has no errors and is of the highest quality attainable. Not only do they correct spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, they also ensure that content has the correct style and tone that matches the needs of the target audience.  

If there are multiple editors, then a Managing Editor/Head Editor would manage them.

  • Content Distributor (aka Content Promoter). This person is in charge of the marketing aspect of ‘content marketing’. They distribute the right content through the right channels to the right audience at the right time. They monitor how buyers and customers interact with your content and determine the kind of content that’s most effective at holding your audience’s attention.
  • Technical Content Manager. This person eases the content marketing processes with technology, such as a digital asset management tool, content management system, editorial calendar, web analytics, etc. 

3. Create a content style guide for your brand 

A content style guide is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and designing of content pieces for an organization, website, or publication. 

Source: Prototypr.io

The purpose of a content style guide is to improve communication and guarantee consistency across all content. 

As your content marketing grows, you’re likely to hire more people to create content for your blog or website. When working with multiple content creators, you want to make sure that the content they create aligns perfectly with your brand style, from the writing itself to the design. 

Because people have varying styles, a style guide can set standards for things like tone, voice, punctuation, language, citation, capitalization, etc. Having a content style guide also allows you to create templates for certain types of content, like blog posts, social media messages, and newsletters. This way, your content creators will be able to create content quickly and efficiently. Additionally, you can use tools like Wepik to generate images from text, ensuring the visuals match your content style. 

A content style guide is vital for your content ops because it: 

  • Makes it easier to hire and onboard new writers.
  • Clearly defines what you expect for every piece of content, including quality of writing, formatting, and more. 
  • Simplifies the editing process for the drafts you receive. 

What you should include in your style guide

While your style guide should be as comprehensive as possible, it should also be simple and straight to the point. 

Here are some writing directions you can include in your style guide: 

  • Voice (active or passive)
  • Point of view (first, second, or third-person viewpoint)
  • Tense (past, present or future)
  • Conversational language instead of a terse, overly formal tone
  • Brand-specific terms (e.g. it’s “InView”, never “Inview”)
  • Formatting (headers, subheaders, capitalization, bullet points, hyperlinking, typography, etc.)
  • Word count 
  • Image requirements

4. Outline your content production workflows on a content calendar

You can have the best content creators on the face of the earth, but if your content isn’t regularly released to your audience, you won’t get the results you need. 

That’s why you need to outline your workflows on a content calendar.

Source: Backlinko

Whether your team is publishing content for your blog or social media channels, a content calendar will help you track the creation of content and monitor your publishing schedule.  

You can use an Excel spreadsheet, a printed calendar, or a specialized tool for this. What you use doesn’t really matter as long as it allows you to create a visual of your publishing processes for your content team, is readily available, and can be easily tweaked as new ideas come up. 

Ideally, a content calendar should help you: 

  • Visualize all the elements of content creation. Who’s working on what? What needs to be done to achieve our goals? What kind of content would we create in the coming weeks/months?
  • Track the progress of ongoing campaigns. Your content calendar does not just show you deadlines and publish dates. It also shows the milestones you need to hit to ensure that a project is successful.
  • Plan different kinds of content for different channels. Your content calendar should show you how different channels, such as social media and email, complement your blog content. 

Your content calendar should be the focal point for all content-related activities. This way, your team can stay on course by working on projects that move the needle toward business growth. Using a daily planner app will further boost your organizational efforts.

5. Build repeatable content workflows  

A content workflow is a set of tasks that a content team needs to complete to create a type of content.

Source: Content Marketing Institute

The purpose of content workflows is to eliminate common content production mistakes and make it easier for teams to create different types of content repeatedly. No matter how huge a project is–from writing and posting a simple tweet to running a multi-channel ad campaign–a defined content workflow can help the process run smoothly.

Without a content workflow that shows who’s in charge of which task, content cannot be moved from one team member to another seamlessly. For instance, if your content writer doesn’t know who to send their draft to next, the draft will be stuck and may not be completed before the publish date.

Content workflows help content teams ensure that: 

  • Accurate content is published consistently
  • Deadlines and desired content outcomes are achievable 
  • Common content pitfalls are rectified e.g. grammatical errors and bottlenecks, etc.
  • Your team is able to see where they fit in the grand scheme of content production and distribution
  • Your team is accountable for their marketing responsibilities

Since your team has to create different kinds of content repeatedly, you can create a standard workflow for these processes, with steps to follow for the best results. This can help them perform repeatable tasks more efficiently, as they now have an easy guide to follow. 

How to create a content workflow for your team

Each type of content you create–blog posts, emails, landing pages, videos, social media campaigns, etc.–has a sequence of steps you follow every time you create it. To make the creation process easier, you can turn these steps into templates or checklists.

Depending on your business, you might want to have a separate template for every content type or distribution channel. But whatever route you take, your content workflow should include the following: 

Information about the goals of the piece

Clearly state the goal metrics and channel for each piece of content at the top of your template/checklist. 

You should include: 

  • The goal of the content type and channel
  • How the content type and channel fits into the business’ content strategy
  • Milestones for each content piece
  • Examples or formats of high-performing content from this channel

In this section, you should explain what a team member needs to know about the piece before they start working on it. This guides them and ensures that the resulting content serves the purpose for which it was created. 

You should include:

  • The criteria the content needs to meet 
  • How the content fits into the business’ content strategy
  • The purpose of that specific piece of content

In this section, you should define the tasks that need to be completed to create the piece. 

You should: 

  • Break down the project into small tasks. 
  • Define the role/person responsible for each task. 
  • Specify how long it will take to complete each task. 
  • List the tools team members should use to make their tasks easier.

In this section, include every detail related to publishing, including reviews, edits, etc. 

You should include: 

  • The person in charge of reviewing and editing
  • The tools involved in publishing 
  • Specific steps to take before or during publishing

In this section, you should include: 

  • The channels used to promote this specific content type 
  • The roles involved in the promotion process 
  • Tools and steps to take during promotion ()

In this section of your template, include everything your team should know about measuring the success of the content and where to report it. 

You should include: 

  • How frequently content should be analyzed 
  • The tools your team should use to analyze performance 
  • Actions to take when milestones are (or aren’t) hit
  • Where to report or store results

Your business’ content workflow might not be the same as another’s. The contents of your workflow depend on the content types you create, the members of your team, and other facets of your business processes. 

6. Choose the right technology to aid content production

Choosing the right tools for content production plays a crucial part in its success. This is especially difficult because there are so many different content tools a business can use to make content processes easier. 

Some companies might want to use a single content tool to streamline processes, while others prefer to have a stack of tools, each best for a certain task. 

To guarantee that your content operations tool(s) of choice works as a strategic resource for your business, they should allow you to plan, schedule, collaborate, create, publish, promote and analyze each piece of content you create. 

Tools that help content marketing operations run smoothly

  • Research and optimization: Ahrefs, SEMRush, BuzzSumo, Keywords Everywhere, MarketMuse, Clearscope
  • Writing: Jarvis, CoSchedule Headline Analyzer, Google Suite
  • Images: Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay
  • Editing: Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, Paraphraser, Copyscape
  • Design tools (to make graphics): Adobe Suite, Canva
  • Content management system (to publish content): WordPress
  • Email marketing tools: MailChimp, HubSpot, MailerLite
  • Marketing automation (to publish content across several channels): EngageBay, HubSpot, Marketo
  • Project and Saas management (to assign tasks, communicate with team members and track SaaS usage): Asana, ClickUp, Trello, Blissfully
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) tool: MediaValet, Widen, Air
  • Content calendar (to keep track of past, present and future projects): Airtable, or some Airtable alternatives, Kapost, Google Calendar
  • Content analysis: Google Analytics, Databox 

Assess your content operations framework

If content marketing was a machine and content strategy is the engine, then content marketing operations is the oil that makes sure all your processes work effectively and efficiently.

Great content ops should be a priority for any business because it helps you organize content production and distribution.

The most vital aspect of content ops is that everyone on the team can actually see the framework and is able to follow the processes. 

If you set the right foundations and motivate your team to document everything they do, your content operations will run much smoother.

Glenn Bona
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Glenn Bona

Glenn Bona is a Manager at Omniscient.