How to excel at content operations
Use ContentOps to build better customer journeys and stay on top of your game.
In an increasingly fragmentary digital world, producing content for omnichannel and headless delivery is taking its toll on content creators. Enter content operations (ContentOps), a principled method between strategy and delivery that integrates people, process, and technology—all in order to produce quality content more efficiently.
Now, how can you become a leading expert on content operations? How can you use ContentOps to get your business ahead on the market?
Be sure to choose the right CMS while you’re at it:
Top 3 tips of ContentOps
In order to get straight to the essentials, we asked Angus Edwardson of GatherContent for his top three tips on how to excel at ContentOps:
1. Start with people
Angus didn’t hesitate on what his primary tip would be: “Start with people. But of course.” He believes it all comes down to people and culture. Without that, the processes you come up with won’t stick, and the technology will be worthless.
But how do you “start with people?” First, gather your key teammates, present the principles of ContentOps, make sure they understand, and get buy-in from higher up. Change the culture, give people time to get used to the new concepts, let them try out small experiments, let the principles sink in. Be patient.
See also: How to lead a successful digital team »
2. Understand needs
The second tip from Angus also revolves around people: “Don't commit to technology until you have a deep understanding of the needs of your organisation and its audience.”
Just as you shouldn’t set up shop without a thorough analysis of markets, customers, and competition—you shouldn’t adopt technology just for the sake of adopting it. Exactly what goals do you need to reach, and what actions do you need to perform to obtain those goals?
Remember, technology is only there to do the heavy lifting for you. Just like an excavator can lift the equivalent of several scores of manual labourers, a piece of tech should make a certain task easier for you—not complicating it or putting on superficial make-up.
An obvious example is a word processing tool. It can speed up the creative writer process and make the road from idea to finished copy shorter than a physical pen and notebook (but those can certainly be useful as well).
3. Simple operational principles
The third tip is about setting up ground rules and processes for your people. As Angus says: “Come up with simple operational principles for content production and publishing, and repeat them daily (well, maybe not on weekends).”
Don’t make things overly complicated. Use operational processes that you know work well within your organisation and for your teammates. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—only because you’re adopting a new set of principles for how to create content, you don’t have to change every aspect of your established routines.
If you have a fully functional content calendar—keep it. If you have an efficient communications tool, like e.g. Slack—keep it. If you have weekly productive content brainstorming meetings—keep them.
Remember, ContentOps is a new method to help you augment your existing operations, not replace it. The point of ContentOps is to help you organise the people, technology, and processes behind your content in a more meaningful, long term, and holistic way.
Work structured and long term
Angus’ and GatherContent’s tips on excelling at content operations amount to changing people’s mindset, understanding needs to inform technological investments, and implementing simple operational principles to ensure the smooth running and maintenance of your ContentOps.
All of these topics entail a principle we always emphasise: to work structured and for the long term—with a clear purpose of what you are going to achieve, why, and how.
So, sit down, involve your chief stakeholders, and align your content production with—not just the content strategy—but the overall strategy and purpose of your organisation. Get leadership buy-in. Get them to understand what content can do and how it fulfills KPIs, brand protection, and ambassadorship.
Put your efforts and plans into structure. Establish an editorial process, assign people to clearly defined roles, make an editorial calendar, arrange content workshops. Keep on going, review your results, and make necessary adjustments. Then rinse and repeat.
Get the right team
We believe Angus is profoundly right in his assessment of the role people play in, not just ContentOps, but in organisations and creativity as a whole. Therefore, having the right people for the right tasks is imperative.
As always, be sure to align team roles with your digital strategy. What tasks need to be fulfilled? Can one person fulfill two or more tasks? Is a task so demanding that it’s necessary to divide it on several heads?
Learn more: 5 key components of a digital team »
Having the right people with the right skill set is one thing, but organising their workday and collaboration is another. Agile principles have gained traction in recent years, and not without reason. The ability to periodically define tasks to solve, working methodically to solve them in the next couple of weeks, and reviewing your progress will make your team that much better.
While our mind and body are the preeminent tools in solving challenges, we simply can’t tighten that flat head screw as well as a dedicated screwdriver. We can’t follow-up thousands of leads as efficiently as a marketing automation software. And we can’t do ContentOps without the right tools.
But what are the right tools in this regard? Content creation tools like word processors, graphics editors, and video editor programs are obvious choices, but whether you’d like open source programs, smooth web based ones, or proprietary powerhouses with muscles like a tank, is entirely up to your team and your specific needs and budget.
But you also need a whole suite of other tools, including analytics, optimisation, marketing automation, customer data platform, process, and collaboration. These tools influence the way you make content, one way or another. They can make the creation more efficient, and e.g. customer data can lead you to make content about other topics than you first envisioned (due to popular demand) or in a slightly different manner (again due to popular demand).
And the very most important tool for working with content on digital experiences is of course your content management system. There are many factors to consider when you’re going to choose a new CMS, but in regard to ContentOps you should pay particular attention to how easy it is to cooperate, how flexible the content types are, how easy it is to integrate with a design system, and how user-friendly the system is overall.
Remember: Content first
Exceling at ContentOps is more than understanding the fundamentals of the principle, the needs of your organisation, and the tools. What lies at the heart of ContentOps is, of course, content. In this regard, it is useful to be aware of another principle: content first.
The content first approach is gaining ground simultaneously with ContentOps in the industry. This, in turn, fits into the wider headless CMS narrative, where content and presentation have been separated.
All serious CMS vendors are now modelling content for reuse, thinking "content first" and presentation later. In order to really excel at ContentOps, therefore make sure that your digital platform is content first, making it possible for you to produce content for any required channel as friction-free as possible.
First published 12 February 2020, updated 3 February 2021.