March 16, 2020
How to Build a Rocking Content Operations Team
How to Build a Content Operations Team

You're producing content across the company, but there is little to no coordination between content teams, from content strategy to development and publishing. It's creating an inconsistent experience for your customers, and it's time to get things under control. It's time to establish a center of content operations.

The first thing you need to do is bring together the right team to build and manage your content operations. In this post, we'll look at the roles you need and how the team will work together.

According to Cathy McKnight, VP Strategy at the Content Advisory, most companies have a defined content strategy, and content operations is the execution of that strategy. They don't always call it content operations, but they have it.

We interviewed McKnight for the Content Matters podcast, and she told us this about content operations:

"It's not about breaking down silos, it's about making it permeable, giving a line of sight into what other people do and the content and data they have so that others can leverage it from their own perspective. Different roles in a company see things differently."

Content operations is sometimes looked at as a role marketing performs. And yes, marketing is integral to it because it creates so much content. However, other groups across the company, including Sales, Service, and Support, also must be involved in its ongoing success.

Scott Abel, an expert on content strategy, agreed in our February podcast:

"I don't think that the business driver for an entire organization should be what the marketing department thinks. Now, if the marketing department is leading the way and generating revenue, they should have a big, strong voice in it. But we have to make sure that the decisions that are made by marketing don't somehow negatively impact the people prior to the marketing department's involvement, and after the marketing department's involvement in the creation of content. So, we're after a system that works for everyone that optimizes every department, so that everyone is used to the best of their capability and that the machines that are there, empower them to do better and work faster than the competition."

When you are ready to build a center of content operations, there are several key roles to bring onboard. Let’s take a closer look at these important roles.

The Project Manager

McKnight explains that you need strong leadership that can work across the organization. It could be a centralized digital team, but she has seen the management of content operations work well under the office of the PMO (project management office). If you don't have a PMO, then assign a project manager who doesn't work out of a specific department, but will operate separately, managing the content operations as a distinct unit.

Content operations is about unifying silos across the organization, so you need someone running it who can work with all teams and doesn't lean to one group or another.

The project manager's role is to ensure that all groups are involved in defining the content strategy and have provided all the information necessary from their groups to help define the best content operations approach. This person manages the end-to-end operations daily.

The Content Strategist

You will have one or more content strategists on your content operations team, and there are two basic types of content strategists (sometimes one strategist plays both roles).

  • Front-end Content strategist: A front-end content strategist works on the business side. They help define personas and create journey maps, map out SEO strategies, and document style guides. The front-end content strategist maps out the content to create for each persona and stage of the journey, identifying what to create, who needs to review and approve, and more.
  • Back-end content strategist: A back-end content strategist focuses on the structure and management of content. They look at content requirements and identify areas for reuse and map out how to structure the content for reuse. They define intelligent content models, taxonomies, and metadata. You may hear the term "information architect" used for the back-end content strategist.

Both roles are critical to successful content operations but require very different skillsets. Both roles need to look across groups or departments and define content requirements for the entire company. If your company is large, you may employ several of each type of strategist that works together to define the complete content requirements picture.

The Content Writers, Editors & Designers

All content teams have at least one content writer and editor – many have multiple of each. These are the people who create the content and review it for adherence to brand voice and style guidelines.

Content designers are graphic designers who make the content align with the brand style, including the website, ebooks, whitepapers, videos, and other formats.

In addition to writers and editors, you need to identify subject matter experts across the company who provide the expertise and information required to create content. Sometimes a writer is also an SME, but more often, you have SMEs distributed throughout the company with the knowledge but not the writing skills or the time to write.

The Content Operations Technology Experts

According to Cruce Saunders, founder of [A] and a content intelligence expert, companies are building entirely new ecosystems for content technology, setting up a combination of technologies that enable all customer/author experience interactions.

Content is stored in one or more content management systems, or content repositories, such as CRM and DAM. It is the role of the CMS architect/developer to design a CMS environment that stores content for reuse. The CMS developer would also create integrations with other content repositories to pull in content that can then be shared across the company.

Other technologies including authoring and design tools, translations tools, and content intelligence tools, are required to ensure content is created and managed consistently across the company.

Finally, content is delivered to many channels. You'll need experts in content delivery tools (like your CMS) that can set up publishing targets and implement analytics technology that tracks the usage of your content so you can measure its performance.

Saunders sees the CMS market heading towards content ecosystems that enable the transit of content, schemas, and semantics between systems of record so that content can play well with others.

“No one system owns the content; the enterprise owns the content, and the systems of record can provide unique value in the management, enrichment, workflows, user experience and publishing infrastructure around the content. Platform vendors need to start stitching together ways to enable this."

Building Your Content Operations Team

The title of this blog is "building a rocking content operations team." So, what does that look like?

A rocking team is one that sees the importance of all roles in content operations from subject matter experts, to writers, to content strategists, to the the people who make sure the content management and delivery technology work. It also has a leader that brings everyone across the company together to build the best content strategy.

Something to keep in mind, though, is that you don't have to wait for the perfect set up – a centralized content operations model – to build your content operations. You can start in one department, like marketing and build out from there. Good marketing teams work across Sales and sometimes even service and support to develop content that supports the entire customer experience. So, if you had to start somewhere, marketing would be a good place.

Posted by David Hillis