Every content marketing manager knows this job can get chaotic quickly.
Your to-do list is at constant risk of overflowing, between managing writers, corralling designs, and keeping up with edits—which can result in hitting deadlines by the skin of your teeth and skipping over distribution because “social doesn’t convert”.
Then, you're left holding the bag to prove content marketing's return on investment to leadership.
The solution? Taking a step back to assess your content operations.
Investing in ContentOps as you scale your content marketing is like reinvesting your high-performing dividend stocks and continuing your bull run.
We asked around to see how content marketers in various contexts approach content operations—from workflows to team structures to tool stacks. The result is this resource to help you get better content out the door, distributed widely, with wisely allocated resources.
Content marketing, as you know, is the strategy you use to plan, create, and distribute high-quality content to your target audience and achieve business objectives.
Content management, on the other hand, refers to the tools and systems you use to gather, manage, and publish content. A content management system (CMS) is where your content lives. Popular options include WordPress, Ghost, and Squarespace.
Content operations (or ContentOps) is what ties your strategy and management together, so your team can produce and leverage more effective content, more efficiently and get the most out of your content marketing investment.
In a nutshell: Content operations is the necessary foundation of people, processes, and technology used to create, manage, publish, distribute, and govern content as you scale.
There are many moving parts to a well-thought-out digital content operations system, but they fall into three buckets: People, Process, and Tech.
Set them up to work together and content marketing runs like a well-oiled machine.
While artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to take over the content space, the truth is the technology is a long way off. Real people have real experiences and emotions—both of which matter for making content that resonates.
According to Angus Edwardson, co-founder of content operations platform GatherContent:
The most important thing for good ContentOps to actually sustain in any organization—as cliché as it is to say—is people.
“Specifically, I see loads of companies, or people, with such great intentions, but if they don’t have buy-in from the rest of their team, or their leadership, then it will fall apart after a few months, or just progress really slowly,” Edwardson continues. “Having the people to be able to support your plans is the most essential thing.”
It’s why content teams are growing. Some 31% of B2B companies surveyed by Content Marketing Institute said their team size increased in 2021. Almost half rely on outsourced help from external contributors (like freelancers or agencies) to produce credible and great content at scale.
Hailey Ho, Content Marketing Lead at Shopify Plus saw her team grow from a 4-person to a 16-person operation and says documentation is critical, "Documenting ensures our learnings over the years don't get lost as new members join. It can be a big upfront investment but has paid off for us in terms of how quickly a new teammate can onboard and figure things out on their own, within the framework or roadmap we follow.
Regardless of your team structure, clear job descriptions and minimal role overlap ensure smooth content operations. Each team member must know the who, what, when, where, and why of your content process.
Content marketing requires consistent output to produce results, and consistent output requires repeatable processes built with speed and scale in mind.
Your processes define each task within a larger project, including the person responsible, their dependencies, and the next person in the workflow. Strategically planning these elements is key to success.
“I didn’t start on this because I thought 'they' handled it” is a sentence you never want to hear from your content team. High-quality content comes out of your marketing team’s harmonious efforts. Without collaboration, you’ll hit bottlenecks.
To build a sustainable content process, answer questions like:
But don’t stop there.
Create easy-to-access guides, documents, and templates that other team members can follow. Store them all in a content team repository alongside:
Ensure your content team is using these resources. Make them living documents that you update and reference often. Nothing is worse than documents for document’s sake. We’re creating a content process, not busy work.
Back to Hailey: “One thing I like to do is have a "master" doc with quick links to all the other side documents that inevitably are created throughout the course of a project."
"Staying organized is incredibly important — you don't want to end up with 20 different Slack groups or folders for one project; things get lost."
- Hailey Ho, Content Marketing Lead at Shopify Plus
With the right people and processes in place, you can empower execution with a carefully curated stack of tools to bring about efficiencies throughout the content lifecycle.
There are hundreds of tools, apps, and platforms to help you build out your content operations. So many that Dennis Shirshikov, a Content Strategist at Awning, expects “content teams to look more like technology teams over time.”
Content operations require a "central hub"—a project management dashboard to manage workflow—for the tech-enabled content teams of the future.
Many dev and product teams are using project management tools already. Tap into their expertise and run your maturing content operations process on an intelligent platform.
But, choose wisely.
Pick one big ops tool and go all in. There are significant switching costs to trying a workflow management tool and moving on. You lose your team's trust, and you don't make progress in the interim periods where you're switching.
- Nikhil Venkatesa, Content Marketing Lead, Convictional
There are dozens of project management tools you can set up as your central hub. What works best for you will depend on your team size, the scale of operation, your technology stack, budget, and preferences.
Here are some of the tools that are crowd-favorites among content marketers.
If you’re using Gmail, you have access to Google Workspace, a free and flexible solution for early content operations.
Freelance SEO strategist Jake Sheridan uses checkboxes in a Google Sheet to track the production of new content. Notice how each stage of the process links to a standard operating procedure (SOP) doc so collaborators, whether ongoing or new, always know the specs and expectations.
You can even use Google Calendar to manage your content calendar with naming conventions on like:
At a glance, you'll know how each piece is progressing, who’s responsible, and their due dates. (TIP: Use all-day events for each piece of content to drag and drop at will)
Google wasn’t purposely built for project management, though.
The following project management tools cost between $5-$25 per user per month, and give you access to out-of-the-box features like file storage, automations, and templates for a more powerful content operations engine. However, they all have free plans so try them on, see which wardrobe fits your style.
Asana is a popular project management tool that lets you create projects (e.g. Blog, Video, Social) and assign individual team members to those projects with kanban, calendar, timeline and other views.
Customizable task templates make it easy to create repeatable processes—just set the title, assignee, due date, and pre-populated subtasks (like "Edit draft" and "Design blog header") that rely on specific team members.
Asana is recommended for operations that involve many moving parts and multiple dependencies, making it a popular choice for scale-ups and larger enterprises.
Trello is an agile project management tool that helps you visualize your work and manage capacity. You can get a kanban board and calendar overview of what’s on your to-do list, what’s in progress, and recently completed tasks.
The workflow is displayed visually where columns represent an activity (e.g. ideas, assigned, written, edited, and published). One cool feature you can set up is work-in-progress limits. So, whenever one column gets overloaded, you can't add any more until cards are moved out of the column (i.e. the tasks are completed).
Notion is an all-in-one workspace tool that's gained popularity due to its flexibility. Unlike most project management tools, you can truly make it your own by mixing and matching tables, databases, spreadsheets, documents, calendars and more to support your ideal workflow.
Notion doesn't just allow you to manage a content calendar, but your entire workflow: setting deadlines for each stage of the process, centralizing content guidelines and research, and even writing blog posts from customizable templates.
Here's one last piece of advice to help you decide which platform is best for you and your team.
The most important thing to consider when implementing a content management tool is how to set it up as a source of truth.
—Diana Kolesarova, Content Marketing Manager at Superside
Diana recommends asking all the questions: "What do you need to track? The current status of your content? What about after publishing—do you need to know where the content has been promoted? Set it up to answer these questions to create more alignment between content and the rest of your org."
A project management tool is essential for producing high-quality content that is consistently on schedule. But, if you're only creating text-centric articles and landing pages, you're limiting the reach and impact of your content.
Content operations that include design operations (or DesignOps) are in a better position to compete for attention and distribute content through more channels and formats.
To do so, you can secure an internal designer's time, outsource to a freelancer, or set up DIY design tools, like Canva for Instagram Stories and Adobe Spark for simple motion graphics.
However, if, much like your design team, you’re already at capacity, consider a subscription DesignOps solution like Superside.
Superside is a fully-managed partner in design that gives your entire organization access to the type of design they need when they need it. Get started with a dedicated team made of the top 1% of global design talent— for less than the cost of a full-time junior designer.
Your central project management hub likely won't be the only tool you employ.
You'll need specialized software to execute your strategy. When picking tools, consider how they: work together, empower your team, contribute to your strategy, and scale over time.
Avoid redundancy and adding tools without a purpose. When in doubt, remember Gall’s law:
Any complex system that works evolved from a simple system that works.
At the very least, a solid content operations stack should cover the following use cases:
Every organization will have its own content team structure with different roles and KPIs. But your main priority is to find subject matter experts within your budget who can empathize with your audience. Then, start to fill gaps where capacity meets constraints.
Depending on the size of your company, budget, and skills on the team, here are some examples of how you can set up your content team for;
Bootstrapped start-ups often have a “lean” budget, limited resources, and fewer internal team members to execute all the ideas with scale and quality.
To keep your content strategy on point, make sure you (or your content manager) focus on managing briefs, deadlines, and publication. Outsource time-consuming tasks like writing and editing. Use an outsourced design service like Superside to substitute or augment in-house design.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content creation is the most commonly outsourced task for B2B content marketers.
Outsourcing keeps your budget lean and flexible and allows you to scale up (or down) when needed.
Here's an example of what this type of content team might look like at a tech startup:
Often, a mix of in-house and outsourced production gets you the best of both worlds. For example, if you’re a mid-sized company, you can have a core internal content team with external freelancers acting as an extension.
Your in-house team should be in charge of decision-making and strategy-based tasks. An external team executes on them.
A popular option is to hire an in-house content strategist, content manager, and lead designer.
Your internal team acts as gatekeepers. It’s their job to approve, review, and share feedback without getting into the trenches themselves. Parts of your content development—like writing and graphic design—can be outsourced to external contributors.
For graphic design, be aware of your designer’s capacity. If they’re getting pulled into other projects to support growth marketing or product design, look for a solution where they can own content design at arm’s length.
Managing your content operations like this gives you one key advantage: The ability to scale up and increase your production without putting a burden on your team members.
“Outsourcing the development of the content is the best path. By working with the right content studio, your studio partner can leverage more experts in a particular niche and scale the content production team to facilitate the deadlines.”
—Chris Reid, CEO at Stretch Creative.
Companies with hundreds or thousands of employees will likely have a more defined content team and may follow a more traditional structure likened to a newspaper (depending on their business goals).
Some brands prefer to keep content in-house instead of outsourcing different elements at this stage. It gives you subject-matter expertise with loads of collaboration opportunities for new media.
John Collins, Senior Content Architect and Content Engineer at Atlassian, in his piece The Maturing Content Discipline, sees four prominent content roles:
Collins says that not all content roles are “writing” anymore. In large enterprises, Content begins to involve many disciplines and skillsets. That means streamlined content workflows become even more critical. Everyone needs to know which part of the process they own.
With processes, tools, and people in place, your content operation looks perfect—on paper.
The reality is that well-thought-out content operations can still struggle if you don't protect your time and focus. Here's how.
Every repetitive task you automate, however small, is time you reclaim for your team and high-impact activities.
To determine what you can automate, Alex Birkett, Senior Manager at Experimentation, advises to “Document what you're doing and what you're repeating and then ask, 'Am I the best person to do [this job]?' If not, determine first if you can automate it.”
Automation means you can eliminate deadweight processes and focus on what matters: research creating 10x content, and promoting it.
Alex says his biggest challenge is to enforce quality standards, processes, and automation without crushing the creativity of talented writers.
For this reason, Alex likes to stick with a good production cadence, use checklists for publishing and promoting, and create explicit content brief templates (and potentially a style guide). “But then I like to get out of the way and let the writer do their thing,” he adds.
A tightly integrated tech stack (and solutions like Zapier, Automate.io, or IFTTT) make automation easy so your team can avoid context switching between platforms and 43 open browser tabs. For example, you could use automation to:
Outsourcing content writing as part of your overall workflow comes with a unique set of challenges.
Almost 70% of B2B content managers say their biggest struggle is finding subject matter expertise. The third greatest challenge (only after the typical budget dilemmas) is finding partners who can empathize with their audience, aligning with the need for subject matter experts.
In a word: It's hard to find people who "get" your audience and can create content that actually resonates.
Herbert Lui, Editorial Director at WonderShuttle, avoids this sizeable problem with deep research, conducting pre-interviews until finally recording and transcribing long-form interviews with experts.
"With or without a clear topic, there’s usually relevant material (speeches, decks, docs, etc.) that sparked the idea to write. Do your best to absorb all of this, before conducting a 15-minute pre-interview with the expert (I like a conversation to explore unknown unknowns), though usually asynchronously over Slack or email."
I like a conversation to explore unknown unknowns.
—Herbert Lui, Editorial Director at WonderShuttle
Lui adds, "Ideally the content marketer, editor, or writer should review the material at least for an hour before the interview, and compile a list of questions through an existing template as well as what they learn from the relevant material."
For the big interview, Lui recommends using podcast software. He uses Zencastr for recording, GarageBand for editing, and Rev.com for transcription. If you're you're tight on time or budget, check out automated transcription tools like Descript or Otter.ai. Lui will then use the transcription to enrich the story he tells. His best advice on saving time: "Don't lose the recording! "
Regardless of whether your subject matter experts are in-house, freelancers, or credible third parties, get them involved throughout the process.
It’s harder to stay on task without defined objectives and key results (OKRs).
If your objectives include growing organic traffic: you’re measuring organic sessions, keyword position, and performance of individual content pieces. The business leader sets those metrics, and you should be able to prove your worth at the end of the quarter.
But, if your sales team steps in asking for assets to handle objections, or your growth team wants more gated eBooks because paid content is performing so well, you can easily find yourself astray of your objectives.
“While it might be difficult for anyone to decline requests for their team's expertise, overbooking a creative team is a surefire way to kill inspiration and quality while falling short of deadlines.”
—Edward Mellett, founder of Wikijob.uk.
“Effective prioritization requires striking a balance between saying no and collaborating with requesters to refine their marketing ideas into outstanding content, [while] keeping the content team focused on their objectives,” Edward summarizes.
Do your best to explain the reason behind your boundary-setting process and OKRs to leadership. They can back you up when the inevitable requests come in. Let your requester plead with leadership for changes to your OKRs or additional capacity requirements (you can help by providing insight into what you’d need to accomplish the demand).
Now you’ve got an idea of how to set up content operations in your business, it’s time to evaluate your current systems.
When you reflect on your current setup, take time to think about what’s currently working for your business, what needs improvement, and what's missing altogether.
✅ Click the checkboxes as you go through the list. Once you finish, share it with your team and leadership to spark a conversation about budgeting for ContentOps.
A robust content operations system can boost the output, ROI, and quality of your content marketing. It's the difference between a content team that improvises and scrambles and a content team that executes and achieves.
There will always be room for improvement, but juggling multiple pieces, deadlines, platforms, and team members are all much less chaotic with the proper ContentOps in place.
Sofie is a Senior SEO & Content expert who specializes in Operational Management. From being a journalist at your daily news television broadcast, to producing videos and writing travel blogs; she has ended up at the more technical side of content and has a nose for sniffing out the creative pieces that will make your competitors look like digital noobs.
When not answering all SEO questions with ‘that depends…’, she is happily cooking up a storm, tasting wine and cheese samples or searching for the best flight tickets to her next travel destination. She is happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.
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