Are you suffering from the heartache of a frustrating content production process that causes constant delays?

Time to work on creating a better content workflow.

A workflow is more than a checklist; it’s a well-defined and refined process that all content team members follow in order to create amazing content, while minimizing turnaround time and keeping everyone on the same page.

Having a proper workflow in place is key when you are dealing with social media management, content writing, web development – any creative process that requires team collaboration.

Is Your Content Workflow Broken?

Symptoms of a broken content production process at an agency include:

  • Getting buried in back-and-forth emails
  • Relying on spreadsheets and documents for collaboration
  • Team members getting angry at regular delays
  • Unclear delegation of responsibility
  • Too many people involved in the same stage of production
  • Playing “the blame game” when something goes wrong
  • Missed deadlines
  • Disengaged or (even worse) angry clients

These symptoms are only compounded with large content production teams, which are very common. When Brandpoint surveyed their clients, they found that 20 percent said 10 or more people were involved in every piece of content. For social media, our own data shows that 35 percent of social media content teams have five or more people involved.

broken workflow messy angry client Heyorca

With such large teams, it’s imperative that your workflow is streamlined and well-defined.

Benefits of having a clearly defined content workflow:

  • Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities
  • Less back-and-forth communication
  • Breaks down silos between team members
  • Easily understood timelines
  • No missed deadlines
  • No sense of urgency
  • More client confidence

If you’re thinking, “Yes, my team DEFINITELY needs to reevaluate our processes,” then read on to learn how to properly assess your current processes and create a streamlined content production process that works for your agency.

Audit Your Content Workflow

Every agency content team has some sort of content production workflow, which often can seem deceptively simple. Here’s one example:

  1. Brainstorming topics
  2. Creating an outline
  3. Writing a draft
  4. Editing
  5. Designing images
  6. Getting client approval
  7. Publishing to web

Yet with the number of people involved and the amount of back and forth, this process can easily get buried in admin and feedback loops.

Here is just one example of a typical lifecycle for a standard blog post – we won’t blame you if you end up skimming it:

  1. Strategist assigns post topic to copywriter (email)
  2. Copywriter produces outline, sends to strategist (email)
  3. Strategist approves outline (email)
  4. Copywriter produces draft (Word doc)
  5. Copywriter informs the editor that the draft is ready (email)
  6. Editor produces edits in document (Word doc)
  7. Editor seeks clarification from the copywriter (email)
  8. Copywriter responds (email)
  9. Editor makes changes in doc (Word doc)
  10. Editor sends to strategist for review (email)
  11. Strategist sends post and image requests to designer (email)
  12. Designer reviews, asks strategist, copywriter and editor for clarification on intent (email)
  13. Team discusses to nail down intent and translate to visuals (email)
  14. Designer sends image suggestions to strategist (email)
  15. Strategist and designer email back and forth to finalize ideas (email)
  16. Designer creates images, sends to strategist (email)
  17. Strategist requests changes (email)
  18. Designer makes changes, sends completed images and blog to account coordinator (email)
  19. Coordinator sends post with images to client for review (email)
  20. Client requests changes in copy (Word doc)
  21. Editor makes required changes, sends to client (email)
  22. Client gives final approval (email)
  23. Coordinator sends post to blog manager to publish (email)
  24. Blog manager realizes the copy team forgot to include metadata, pings team (email)
  25. Strategist and editor both independently send their own meta description (email)
  26. Blog manager assesses which one to use, updates post and schedules (website backend)

When you incorporate other roles such as legal assessment and SEO optimization, it gets even more complicated.

Slightly overwhelming, right?

Sad sleepy koala

Don’t worry, there is hope!

All the emails and small team meetings in the above example eat up a lot of time, and email chains from people with vague directions lead to confusion.

If your processes feel as agonizing as the example above, it’s time to get to work identifying bottlenecks so you can make positive changes to your workflow.

Identify the Bottlenecks

Before you can create a better workflow, you need to determine how well your current content marketing engine is running, and where the biggest bottlenecks are. The aim of a content workflow is to not only get content produced faster, but ensure everyone in the process is on the same page and knows exactly what their responsibilities are.

To begin to discover ways to streamline your workflow, start by looking at the processes like the one defined above and identify ways to remove any redundancies and reduce the time taken for each step.

Answer the following questions about your own workflow:

  • Are the content production stages and timelines clearly defined?
  • Are the content production responsibilities for each team member clearly defined?
  • Are all of my team members able to keep up with their workload?
  • Are all messages related to content production getting read in a timely manner?
  • Are team members able to easily communicate project status with each other?
  • Are all team members consistently referring to the most current version of content?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, even if it’s just an occasional “no,” it’s time to step back and find out why. These answers will help you form the basis for smoother teamwork and content management.

Creating a Better Workflow

Define Team Roles in Detail

As a part of your content production process, do you ever end up playing the game of “but I thought (s)he was responsible for that?”

Here comes the good stuff!

Teamwork definition dictionary

The first and most important thing you can do when modifying your content workflow is to properly define team roles. It may seem obvious which roles each of your team members are expected to play in the workflow process, but if expectations are documented very specifically, it will help remove ambiguity as to who is responsible for what.

List out all of the basic steps required in the creation of content, from ideation to publication, and break it down further into smaller stages.

For example, let’s look at the internal drafting and editing stages of a social media post at an agency:

  1. Strategist assigns topic with hashtags
    • Prepare detailed direction for team
    • Perform hashtag research
    • Ensure campaign messaging alignment
  2. Writer produces copy
    • Check for adherence to client brand standards
    • Differentiated copy for Facebook and Twitter
    • Add any additional notes for designer
  3. Designer creates a draft of an image
    • Adhere to client brand standards
    • Rough sketch
    • Propose color palettes
  4. Strategist reviews, requests copy edit and minor graphic changes (back to step 2)

By breaking down the tasks into checklists, you can easily see the scope of an entire piece of content, and ensure there are no missing steps.

Once that’s done, you can then start documenting the workflow for your team.

For a great example of this, look to this sample from workflow documentation diagramming solution, Gliffy. For each step of the content production pipeline, the process is defined down to the minutiae:

Gliffy Workflow Content Role Documented

Note that in this example, very specific instructions are given to the copyeditor around the process they are expected to follow for every piece of content before it moves on to the revision stage.

Documentation like the one above will not only keep your team on track, but is a great onboarding resource for any newcomers to learn what is expected of them and where they fit into the workflow. To simplify things further, you could choose to format each stage as a checklist with a set of actionable items.

During this documentation process, you might also discover that one person has taken on so many responsibilities, they can’t keep up with their workflow. At that point, you can redelegate to help make the process run more smoothly.

Removing Overlapping Responsibilities

Too often there is confusion about who is responsible for one stage of content production. If two or more people think they are responsible for editing a piece of content at the same time, for example, then there will be confusion and unnecessary collaboration that wastes time.

When you clearly begin to articulate what each team member is responsible for, it may become more obvious where overlapping responsibilities exist.

You need to be as specific with your team responsibilities as you can. For example, editing can include: grammar and spelling, tone and voice, brand messaging, accuracy, legal, SEO, etc. Don’t just assign “editing” as part of a role; make sure each team member knows what aspect of editing they are responsible for.

This diagram by illustrates this concept perfectly:

Overlapping responsibilities in a workflow

Make sure that each stage of content production is clearly delegated to one person, and then have a process in place so when they’re finished, they know who should be the next set of eyes. Also be sure that if a team member has questions about what they’re working on, they know exactly whom to get in touch with so there are no unnecessary messages to other people.

If you currently have stages in your workflow that use a lot of eyes, but you’re finding that this level of scrutiny isn’t critical and is really holding back the process, consider cutting down your team size. If it’s a matter of making a case for this to happen, just tell your boss that scientific research conducted at Harvard in the ’70s pegged the ideal group size for optimal communication and decision-making at around five members.

Science doesn’t lie!

Document and Visualize Your Workflow

With your team roles defined, it’s now time to define your workflow in a way that is easy to understand for the entire team to keep everyone accountable. This should also take into account workflow feedback loops, where a piece of content may need to go back to a previous stage for a second or third revision.

One great way to do this is to visualize the stages in a swimlane diagram so it’s easy to see how the content flows and how many times each member comes into the process. Then you can break down the stages as in the Gliffy example above with specific instructions to complete each stage.

Here are a couple of examples of workflow visualizations for content production. The first one is from Content Marketing Institute:

CMI workflow for content production swimlane

The second is from Cherie Whipple who developed it while redoing content for the University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery website:

Cherie Whipple swimlane workflow for content production

Note how in both swimlane workflow diagrams it is very clear which team member is responsible for which task. Whipple’s diagram even shows the feedback loops with arrows that leads the viewer back to the appropriate stage should it need revisiting.

Using Your Content Workflow to Stay on Track

It never helps to be vague with timelines, which is why a well-defined workflow is so crucial.

Once you have a process in place with defined stages, it’s then easy to assign realistic timeframes for each stage of the process so you can work backwards from a final deadline. Remember, some people in your workflow such as subject matter experts may not be able to get back to you quickly, so you need to take that into account in your planning.

If a high-priority blog post needs to go from concept to publication in three weeks, make sure you plan backwards from the deadline to budget enough time for each stage, including the possibility of multiple revisions.

With a well-defined workflow in place, you now simply need to figure out how to cut down on the administrative tasks that can slow the process down to a crawl.

Research Content Workflow Tools

It’s no exaggeration to say that the right tool can completely revolutionize a process.

Marshall McLuhan tools quote
No matter how well-oiled your content production workflow is, If you’re spending hours a week on back-and-forth emails and working with spreadsheets or documents, it’s time to start looking for a content workflow management tool.

Choosing the right tool for your organization will save you plenty of hours, and eliminate a lot of the disorganization inherent in an email-based workflow.

A great workflow tool will allow you to do all your production, editing and publishing within a single platform, eliminating the pain of emails and documents. You’ll also have the relief of knowing everyone is working on the most current version of content, and can easily invite the next person in the workflow to step in when you’re done, including clients or external stakeholders.

There are plenty of platforms out there for all different types of content management. For social media, look to tools such as our own HeyOrca solution, which allows you to perform the entire social media management lifecycle from planning to publishing, and easily give your clients access to review.

Whatever platforms you decide to try, make sure you’ve done lots of research to ensure that they’re a strong fit for the composition of your team.

A Framework For Success

If you don’t currently have a defined content production workflow in place, try the exercises above and see the difference they make.

Though it may feel like workflows can stifle creativity, that’s definitely not the case. Having a content workflow means that, rather than trying a “too many cooks” approach to each stage of the process, each team member gets to fully explore their own ideas without interruption or second-guessing.

Of course, there’s always room for collaboration to enter the process when necessary. You don’t want to be too rigid. Regardless, with a strong workflow in place, everyone on the team knows exactly what is expected of them and can perform their tasks with confidence.