What Is a Content Workflow?
A content workflow is a series of steps you take to plan, develop, and manage your team and all the content they create. By creating a pattern and process for your team — via a strong content workflow — you help empower your creatives and marketers to take ownership. Here’s a simple content marketing flowchart that shows the basic workflow for an article.
Content management is different than but an essential part of content marketing. Content marketing takes a strategic approach to creating and distributing relevant content — web pages, white papers, blog posts — to your audience. Content management is the way you organize, publish, store, and review each asset. Think of it like this: Content management is the way to structure your content; content marketing evaluates the performance of that content.
Get a complete guide to content management systems and the key steps in creating a content management strategy by reading “Content Management 101: Discover the Best Approaches and Techniques.” Develop your content marketing strategy, complete with templates to guide you, by reading “Free Content Strategy Templates and How to Use Them to Create a Successful Plan.”
Why Do You Need to Define Your Content Workflow?
Every content marketing team uses workflows, but not every team has taken the time to clearly identify or update the list of tasks. A defined content workflow tells everyone on the project what the process is, when their turn comes in that process, what they must do to deliver the project needs, and when they have to be delivered. A content workflow can improve your work and your working life in the following ways:
- Organizes your team
- Breaks down silos and streamline collaboration
- Increases productivity, efficiency, and quantity
- Improves results by getting the best quality
- Reduces stress
- Saves time by avoiding duplication and endless revisions
- Budgets the team’s (and each team member’s) time
- Keeps projects on track and on schedule, helping you meet deadlines
- Helps managers identify bottlenecks
It starts with your process. “It’s extremely useful to create templates or standard processes and just duplicate them so you’re not having to reinvent the wheel every time,” says Kayla Pendleton, owner and founder of Make Her Mark, a co-working space and community for women entrepreneurs.
Content workflows help editors and anyone responsible for planning and managing content, such as social media managers. They also help the people who produce and review content, including writers, designers, and proofreaders. Get a complete guide to the role of workflows in project management by reading “Save Time by Taking the Time: Creating Workflows.”
How to Develop a Content Marketing Workflow
Content marketing workflows may not appeal to your team in the same way that coming up with creative content ideas does, but content marketing can’t succeed without a strong workflow. To define any marketing workflow, identify all the tasks and how long each one takes. Then list all the team member roles and responsibilities. The final step is to put the people and tasks in a logical order. The goal is to develop a sustainable process to create, publish, and distribute new content.
“It all starts with breaking down everything into projects, checklists, and related tasks,” Pendleton says. “The important thing is to not use something that ends up being a giant to-do list. That is a guaranteed way to get overwhelmed.” One of the biggest mistakes you can make, she warns, is writing down what you need to do without thinking about the big picture and the result you want.
“I have literally sometimes just started by drawing it out on paper, or thinking about my projects like I had them in a file cabinet. If you’re making to-do lists, it’s like you open up that drawer, and if it's all just a bunch of papers and it's not organized, then you're going to be totally overwhelmed,” she says. “Where if, instead, you have it all organized, by project, date, topic, or client, it’s like you’ve got your contained binder with tabs, notes, indexes, etc.”
For a step-by-step look at marketing workflows, read “The Complete Guide to Marketing Workflows.”
Choose Your Workflow Approach
Once you’ve gathered all your tasks, timelines, and team members, it’s time to arrange the workflow in a way that works for your organization. There are three approaches:
- Status-based: Organize your workflow based on the status of a piece of content.
- Task-based: Organize your workflow based on the task needed for a piece of content.
- Swim lane: Organize tasks across roles and over time.
In this approach, each piece of content is assigned a status, which indicates where the content is and where it goes next in the process. Project managers and editors are heavily involved in the individual steps of the workflow.
You’ll face some challenges if you don’t design the workflow carefully — it might be difficult to get a complete picture of the overall status of the project. Team members who don’t use the system might get confused because they are not familiar with the system. Avoid this by getting buy-in early from your team. Here are some best practices in using a status-based workflow:
- Clearly define each status for everyone on the team.
- Make it easy for team members to remember what each term means.
- Train team members to update the workflow at each stage with the correct status to avoid excessive manager oversight.
- Create a flexible system that can handle exceptions to the workflow.
You may find that it makes more sense to define your workflow by function rather than by status or in chronological order. A task-based workflow works like a to-do list. Team members assign tasks to one another as the content moves through the workflow, and editors are aware of who is working on each task, but they can spend less time micromanaging the status of each task in the project.
One challenge with this approach is that a team member may know they have been assigned to a task, but they may not have access to all the information they need to do the work. Task-based workflows can also fail to provide the strategic goals for the content, leaving writers and designers to create content that meets the deadline, but requires time-consuming revision to meet the campaign’s objectives. Here are some best practices in using a task-based workflow:
- Write the task in clear language.
- Make sure team members know what is expected of them, and provide specifics of the task and a set deadline.
- Provide a clear visual so the team can see the progress of various tasks, including the tasks that remain.
- Create triggers that alert team members when a task has been delegated to them.
- Create a flexible system that can handle changes.
Swim Lane Approach
Swim lanes organize projects that include different departments or roles. The diagrams typically display the roles in the vertical columns and the tasks in the horizontal rows. This helps you see what team members are doing, so you avoid duplicating tasks and can identify bottlenecks quickly. You can also see a team’s capacity for handling additional tasks.
Best Practices and Tips from Experts
The most effective content marketing workflows combine status-based workflows with task-based checklists. As you start to define your workflows, be sure you include every step in the content marketing process. This checklist can help you make sure you’ve covered all the bases.
Download Content Marketing Workflow Checklist
Armed with all the details of your content marketing workflows, you can now follow these tips and best practices:
- Set Up an End-to-End Process: Shakun Bansal, head of marketing at Mercer | Mettl, uses these steps. First, define the goal or purpose of the content, such as product awareness or thought leadership. Get internal data about your audience to support your content. “Number-backed information would work better than content without it, hands down,” he says. Then define the structure, systems, and processes for the workflow and create your content calendar — complete with deadlines. Communication among departments is critical. “Set up collaboration meetings between marketing and product managers and designers, and have metrics defined that spell success or failure,” he says. This data is critical to guide future efforts.
- Be Visual: Gantt charts, Kanban cards, or business process model and notation (BPMN) diagrams give your team a visual display of the workflow and your progress.
- Be Flexible: No workflow should be carved in stone. With each project, be willing to adapt your workflow to accommodate new circumstances. Make sure the tools you use to track your workflow can handle changes during the content marketing process.
- Use the Right Workflow Tools: Allison Hott, a content marketer at Nameboy, stresses the importance of this step. “Marketing workflow tools will help you create detailed marketing workflows and allow you to see all of your team members' tasks and progress in real time. There are also marketing workflow tools for specific areas of marketing, like Hootsuite for social media marketing workflows.”
How to Find Your Best Work Schedule
A workflow doesn’t simply list the order and time for each task — it also includes the handoff among team members and each person’s workload. The sequence of steps should take into account the other projects on people’s plates. Here are some tactics to help you build your workflow timeline:
- Be Realistic about the Time for Each Task: For instance, a writer may say it takes four hours to write the content. Know whether that’s one four-hour block or four hours across several days, or whether other projects keep this one from getting started. Have a good formula for estimating the amount of time for each task in the workflow.
- Start with Your Deadline and Work Backward: If you front-load the schedule with ample research and writing time, you may not have time for reviews and revisions. You’ll either miss deadlines because you have to spend time editing, or you’ll publish substandard work. You know the publishing date, and you know how long each task takes. If you start your schedule with the final due date, you can adjust the time for each task in reverse order and still meet your deadline. This also helps you leave room at the end of the project for any final revisions, rather than publishing content that’s not quite ready.
- Know When Tasks Are Done: Your workflow should make it clear that a task is completed and is ready for the next step in the process. Consider how you will send those alerts so that everyone knows their workload and deadline.
- Keep Everyone in the Loop: Communicate with all the departments involved in your workflow, as you need to know their bandwidth to handle incoming projects. And you need to map out all the dependencies among departments so the whole team can see the interrelated deadlines.
What Are the Steps in Content Marketing Project Management?
Content marketing produces all kinds of content. But the biggest challenge isn’t generating the content — it’s establishing workflows to manage the people and deadlines who create the deliverables. You can rely on a traditional project management approach that’s tailored to content marketing:
- Step One: Idea
- Step Two: Plan and Assign
- Step Three: Create
- Step Four: Review and Approve
- Step Five: Publish and Promote
- Step Six: Measure and Archive
Use this content marketing workflow template to manage your own content marketing. It includes the steps in the process, with space for you to define your specific workflow tasks, how long each task will take, who is responsible for each task (by role or name), and who will review and approve each task.
Download Content Marketing Workflow Template
Why You Should Document Your Content Marketing Workflow
You can’t know if your workflow helps you produce content if it’s not documented. Start by creating workflows for each content format and sharing them with all the team members. Then track each step so everyone can see the work you do — you’ll gain transparency and accountability with your team, your organization, and your clients. You’ll also get these benefits from documenting your workflow:
- Standardize Your Workflow: Everyone will work in the same order, with the same guidelines, every time.
- Improve Your Process: See where you are making or missing deadlines, and identify any roadblocks. You’ll be able to see where to make revisions to streamline your process.
- Create a Knowledge Base: No team member is the sole keeper of knowledge, the person you depend on for telling you how things work. Now you have a standard process that is no longer vulnerable if a team member leaves.
- Make Onboarding Easy: If your onboarding relies on one person telling another person how things work, you create variation in what you do. Standard workflows ensure new team members get all the information they need to meet your deadlines and your standards.
Automate Your Content Marketing Creation Process
As you define and document your content marketing creation process, you will uncover mundane, repetitive tasks that take up your team’s valuable time. Automating those tasks eliminates the chaos of content creation, simplifies your process, cuts down on mistakes, and streamlines hand-offs.
Brian Koenig, senior digital marketing specialist at Smile Marketing, warns against using software that isn’t user-friendly. “This could lead team members to revert to email and other traditional forms of communication. In turn, key components of a project could get lost in the shuffle of other projects and tasks.”
Automated workflows for your content marketing creation give you flexibility without chaos. For example, consider using a template for your content marketing requests. The form will let the person making the request choose from standard themes, topics, and content types. The person who reviews the form can add relevant keyword research so the writer has a starting point. The manager can add key dates for the content calendar, and the digital team that posts the content knows what’s on the way.
Explore more ways to use automation by reading “How Workflow Automation Can Make Your Organization More Efficient.”
Content Marketing Management Tools to Simplify Your Workflow
A range of tools and software can help you produce high-quality content that fits in your workflow and meets your deadlines.
- Content Management: A content management system (CMS) makes it easy to write, edit, and publish content. You can also consider specialized tools like digital asset management (DAM) systems. Options include WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix.
- Dashboards: Content marketing dashboards give you an at-a-glance summary of how your campaigns are doing. They gather key performance indicators (KPI) and other data from a range of sources and display it in a central location, using visuals and text. Here are some dashboard tools to consider: Cyfe, GoodData, Qlik, Sisense, ClearStory Data, Databox, and Segment. Learn more about defining KPIs and creating dashboards in this guide.
- Editorial Calendars: Calendars keep everyone on track with your publishing schedule. Many content and project management systems, such as WordPress, DivvyHQ, and Kapost, have a calendar function. Smartsheet has a collection of editorial calendars, including a content marketing calendar.
- Project and Workflow Management: It takes a lot of organization to coordinate tasks and deadlines. Software helps you streamline and digitize your processes, as well as collaborate and coordinate.
- Social Media: Strong social media tools help you plan, optimize, and share more content across channels. You can focus on creating content and let the tools handle the technical aspects.
Stuart Leung, vice president of marketing at Breazy, says, “Hootsuite is a great tool for those who want to increase their social media engagement. It can be managed by several members of your team and allow you to delegate tasks to each one. You can also manage multiple social media platforms at once and schedule posts in advance. When you come up with new strategies, you're able to view your analytics and utilize the reporting features if you want a professional document on your social media progress.” Consider Yoast and Ahrefs for writing SEO-focused content and keyword research. Buffer helps you schedule posts across platforms. In addition to an online software platform, Mailchimp integrates with e-commerce stores and plug-ins.
- Editing and Proofreading: Rahul Khosla, director of Point & Quack Web Design, says it starts with the writing. “A key part of our success is having copywriters on hand for separate industries. Over the past few years, we've carefully built a large array of writers who we know are credible to write for, within the respective industries. We've noticed that really goes a long way, not only for our clients to see, but also their Google rankings — as the information is relevant.”
One other tip for finding writers: “If you see an article online and love the way it's written, make a connection with that author on either Twitter or LinkedIn. Moreover, that writer is already established, which can go a long way.” While nothing can replace another set of eyes on your content, some tools can help with some of the work. Khosla recommends Grammarly, an automated tool to check and fix most grammar problems, and Copyscape to double-check against plagiarism. Hemingway scores your writing, so you know what grade level your article will reach. Writers can upload their content on Boom Essays, where it can be edited by another writer.
- Visuals: Your content competes with millions of images and videos every day. You need a smart, flexible strategy to reach your audience and tools that help you execute that strategy quickly. Use Microsoft’s Visio, part of the Office suite, for diagrams and vector graphics. Canva and Skitch are easy-to-use tools to create designs for web content and social media images. Animoto uses a drag-and-drop tool to help you make professional-looking videos quickly and easily.
- Influencer Systems and Software: Influencer marketing, sometimes called advocate marketing, uses people with a big audience of followers to promote products and content. Celebrities, social media gurus, YouTubers, and others have taken the place of traditional word-of-mouth marketing in the digital age. Some platforms and software that deliver content to a variety of sources include GaggleAMP, dlvr.it, and Triberr.
Improve Content Workflows with Smartsheet for Marketing
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When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.