A Key to Successful Content Strategy

From your blog to your social media channels, and even your brand partners, you create a steady flow of content. Handling all of those channels and individual pieces of content can get challenging since every piece you put out there represents your brand and makes an impression on your prospects. If you don’t have control of your content or fail to set guidelines, your content simply won’t perform as well as it should.

The content consistency challenge grows even greater in the higher education setting; you need to balance your content needs with the academic freedom and preferences for a diverse group of faculty members. If multiple authors are contributing to your blog, site and platforms, your content could lack consistency and cohesion. Some posts could even undermine the brand image you’ve worked so hard to create.

After working on dozens of projects, one of the most common concerns that gets raised is:

How can we get started with content governance? This seems like a daunting task.

Many content-governance initiatives fail because of perceived lack of time, lack of sponsorship, or because people aren’t sure what is the best starting point.

Two things that can help get a content team started, which can both build buy-in as well as provide a starting point include:

  • Conducting a content audit, either on the whole site, or on top-priority and representative content if there is not time to review the entire site. Identifying pain points and opportunities with the content can both help the organization begin to see a) the urgency of issues and potential opportunities and b) begin to consider solutions to these issues and how to communicate these solutions internally to provide a rationale.To help create clarity and urgency within the organization, findings from a content audit can be packaged into a report or presentation that can be pitched to managers or stakeholders, ideally with a set of closing recommendations and action items. Including an analysis of selected competitors can also create a sense of urgency.
  • Including content planning in the resource planning for the website owners (in many cases, this will be the marketing team). Marketing teams are typically familiar with and used to planning for content marketing, but the “project management of content” less often makes it into the budget as a line item. Once content-governance requirements are identified, content efforts need to be included in the relevant departments’ resource planning. Any planning should include workbacks, clear deliverables and ideally, named resources.

With a case for the urgency of content planning, and a detailed resourcing plan in place, the content team is well positioned to begin implementing change within the organization itself, helping other units buy in and adopt the content-governance model.

What is Content Governance?

Content Governance is basically the rules you and your creators follow to create content that reflects the values and image of your institution — and includes the guidelines and best practices that determine not only how your organization’s content is created, but how it is published. Content governance can unify your content so it is instantly identifiable as yours. It can also ensure that content inconsistent with your school or brand image doesn’t get presented to your prospects. Every organization takes a slightly different approach to content governance; taking the time to clearly outline your procedures and preferences for content makes it easy to prepare documents and other pieces for publication and allows you to publish with confidence.

The Content Creation Process
When a piece is created for your blog, site or other location, it goes through several key steps:

Planning: What will the piece be about, who will create it and where will the final piece go?

Creation: An author within your organization will create the piece based on the plan.

Revision: An editor will review the piece for grammar and spelling, as well as tone and voice consistency.

Approval: The planning editor or other authority will approve the piece.

Testing: Does the piece comply with editorial, content and other stated guidelines? If it does, the piece is ready to publish. If it does not, it needs to return for revisions until it can meet all guidelines outlined by your organization.

Publishing: The piece can be published and shared on its intended platform.

Having clear content governance guidelines to follow at every point of the content creation process ensures that, from start to finish, each piece represents your organization in the best possible light.

Why Content Governance Matters

While having a consistent presence and strategy across all channels is a big help for your school or organization’s branding, content governance can also help mitigate risk. Once content is live, your organization is responsible for it, even if it was written by one individual with a strong opinion. If someone posts a piece that is inflammatory or simply an incorrect piece of information, your organization could be blamed and could even risk a lawsuit or other sanctions.

In 2012, clothing brand Kenneth Cole found out the importance of a content governance policy the hard way. Amid reports of terror and unrest in Egypt, Kenneth Cole tweeted:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” @KennethCole

This attempted newsjacking didn’t go over well with Twitter, and the brand was relentlessly mocked and bombarded with complaints. Kenneth Cole took the tweet down a few hours later, but the damage was done.

A content governance policy would have saved this brand a lot of trouble; guidelines about newsjacking could have prevented the tweet from being written and shared. Even one staffer in charge of testing tweets, status updates and blog posts against stated guidelines could also have prevented this tweet from being shared since someone would have had a chance to take a look and ensure it met company guidelines.

If your organization lacks a clear content governance plan, you risk not only embarrassment, but inconsistent and inefficient posting as well. In higher education, a content governance policy can help strike the right balance between academic freedom and the need to speak to specific audiences. At the planning stage, a content governance policy can ensure you have a steady stream of appealing content for teens and parents. Editing can polish each piece of content and ensure it has the right tone while a final testing against your established policies ensures that the content truly reflects your brand’s values and unique selling proposition.

Most publications, including trade publications, magazines and newspapers have clearly defined writer's guidelines that make it easy for freelancers to create content that fits. These guidelines also make it easier for editors to test and then post content on the appropriate channel. Having clear guidelines also gives editorial staff a good way to standardize content and ensure that every piece that gets posted is truly reflective of the brand's image.

A CMS Is Not a Content Governance Model
Your Content Management System is a valuable tool, but it is not a content governance model. You can add your preferences and your rules to some CMS systems, but they are not a replacement for a human editor who can read the piece and determine if it reflects the brand's values. Content can still go through your CMS, but this automated helper is not a replacement for a live human editor. Use your CMS for creation and strategy, but not for governance, for best results.

Many of the organizations we work with are using a CMS and have some form of a governance plan, but one of the most common questions is:

Our marketing team may be planning for content, but how can I get buy-in for content governance from our other stakeholders? We’ve created editorial workflow in our CMS before but it didn’t get used or adopted effectively.

Setting up editorial workflow in a CMS like Drupal is a relatively trivial undertaking and probably isn’t the best place to start for most organizations contemplating a content-governance initiative.

Setting up the organization to succeed with content governance is a non-trivial task - frequently, it is about people and process, rather than technology. Content governance requires careful planning, including:

  • Having a core content team that “owns” the content process and meets regularly to plan, review and prioritize content changes.
  • Getting stakeholders on board with a model that works for everyone, even users who typically don’t think about content: it can be helpful to hold one or more workshops for stakeholders to collectively discuss and generate solutions.
  • Mapping out the process and documenting it clearly so everyone understands it.
  • Creating a style guide to ensure content has consistent voice, tone and language usage.
  • Having an editorial calendar or other planning tools to schedule, track and delegate content updates and changes.
  • Having adequate training (and proper CMS setup) for content editors that they can do their job without breaking their page or section.
  • Ensuring the process is lightweight enough so that it will actually be used.
  • Being realistic about where the organization is at: if the team itself is not communicating effectively overall, or departments are frequently misaligned, it may be necessary to work on these issues first, as a content governance model will not necessarily address underlying business-process issues.
Content Governance Best Practices

What kind of content do you publish or create? Because you have a diverse group of potential authors and creators in a higher education setting, identifying the kind of content you want can help provide some direction. For a large organization, a steering committee that consists of editors, creators and C-suite executives can help break down the overall needs and goals for your content. Smaller organizations may have one or two editors in charge of not only creating cohesive content policies, but testing content against the stated guidelines.

Someone needs to be in charge: Your content governance hierarchy is different from your workplace hierarchy. The person you put in charge of testing content needs to make sure it adheres to your stated editorial guidelines — and needs to have the final say on what fits your posting rules. The person in charge of your content does not need to be high up in your organization, but needs to have the time and the ability to accept or reject content altogether. Depending on the amount of content you have, this could be a full-time position.

Your CMO is in charge of the overall marketing, but the team member in charge of ensuring that content meets the acceptable guidelines should still be able to kick content back for revisions or changes before publishing. In an academic setting, professors may be experts in their own field, but your editorial staff needs to be able to revise a submitted piece so that it reflects your branding before it posts. By removing the editorial process from the workplace hierarchy, you can ensure that all content you publish represents your brand.

Planning content: Who decides what to write about? A defined process for planning and topic selection can help you and your potential authors save time and effort. By planning first, you’ll know what pieces are in the works and where those pieces will eventually live online. Planning can be as simple as choosing titles and slotting them into a calendar or as difficult as plotting out your next few weeks of pieces to ensure you've included all topics you need to cover.

Determining guidelines: What does your content look like? How many images are needed per piece, and what kind of captions should they have. How do you like your commas — serial or Oxford? What about numbers — should your authors spell them out, use actual digits or a combination of the two? You’ll need to clearly outline your preferences for both your content creators and your reviewers.

Authorship: Your content begins with experts, so having a third-year student write an article about campus life is more authentic than having a marketing professional write it. The student has actually lived on your campus — making them an expert on that particular subject. Need a piece on a particular subject? You’re surrounded by topic experts: Your faculty members have not only a deep understanding of their own field, but of your organization as well. Put your expert authors to work for you and you’ll end up with authentic and readable content your prospects won’t be able to resist. However, not everyone wants to write. Your technical writers and content writers can interview the experts you’ve identified if needed.

Content review: Every piece that is published needs to be reviewed to make sure it adheres to your guidelines, doesn’t make illegal claims and follows your brand imaging.

Scheduling: Once a piece has been reviewed and edited, it’s ready to publish. Add it to your blog or your social media channels to post on a specific date.

Taking the time to make a comprehensive set of rules and preferences for your content gives your team members some structure to work with and ensures they have a good idea of what you want. Choosing one or more employees to work as content reviewers can help ensure that the pieces you’re publishing comply with your guidelines and helps you present a consistent brand image for your school or organization.
A clear plan for content governance can help.

Main photo credit: Richard Tilney-Bassett on Unsplash