Fostering an environment of trust, efficiency and high standards is a challenge that those in content teams need to embrace and find solutions to. From leadership to team members, agencies to in-house, there are several fundamentals that you should look to consider.
In this post, I’ve taken a look at what these are, why they’re important and offered my own perspective on how to interpret each of these to your benefit!
1. Get Different Departments Involved
When you’re holding your initial ideation sessions, it would be prudent to at least occasionally involve different departments in the creative process. The design team, for example, may think about a subject very differently to PRs or content writers.
Another point well worth making here is that development can also play an important role here too. If you’re looking to create a landing page with deeper interactivity, or a more complex asset to sit within your piece, you need to know how long it’s going to take them to produce. Without this knowledge, you could get part way down the creation journey but then have to stop due to exceeding budgets.
2. Encourage Left-Field Ideas
When you’re coming up with ideas between the team, it’s imperative that you encourage an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. If the space is too negative, you’ll find people hold back on ideas that they may feel could be received badly.
In my experience, this can see some of the best ideas fall by the wayside in favour of people opting for seemingly ‘safer’ options. Yet these pieces might not shake things up in the same way as something a bit more daring. The same is boring and different is good!
3. Be Ruthless
Ideas sessions are a great part of the content process. They spark thoughtful discussions and provide inspiration for some of the best ideas you come up with as a team. It’s important, though, to ensure you get something meaningful and actionable from any sessions.
This does mean that you have to be ruthless with ideas and ensure you’re thoroughly critiquing the front runners. If you want to build synergy in your team, it’s equally important to remember you can shelve an idea and be constructive about why without needing to tear people to shreds too.
Following any sessions, make sure to make a note of any of the stronger ideas you didn’t take forward, since there may be the opportunity to progress those at a later date.
4. Define Clear Processes – On the Right Things
Processes can be both the maker and breaker of effective content creation. When used well, they can improve delivery immeasurably. When used badly, or if forced into situations where they aren’t required, they can actually be incredibly counterproductive.
You need to focus on introducing processes that enable you to manage content flow between your team and clients/stakeholders more effectively. Perhaps more importantly, you also need to remove unnecessary obstacles for your team; to help them work more effectively and to ultimately deliver better work.
5. Reduce the Amount of People Required to Sign Things Off
A point I covered in my previous State of Digital column, but one well worth reiterating here, is that you need to have an effective sign-off structure to ensure you move content efficiently through internal teams and any external providers.
The fewer parties you involve in this process the better. People on all sides need to embrace relinquishing some level of control and accept that 1-2 people on either side can be trusted to make the right calls with content work. If you don’t have that trust, it’s probably worth accepting the process is somewhat broken in its current state.
6. Set Up Time Tracking
You might feel like time tracking could be detrimental to your team and apply unnecessary pressure. In my experience though, it does the opposite.
Given how time-consuming every element of the content process is – whether that be ideas, writing, design, data viz, research, outreach etc. – there are inevitably going to be conversations around how budgets are used in each of those areas:
- You can make a far stronger argument for needing more time or budget for specific tasks if you have the data to back up your arguments
- You can also plan work and quote for new projects far more effectively when you can consistently judge how long specific tasks take
Both of these points will help put content leaders in a position of authority for senior discussions and help your team to work to realistic budgets and targets.
7. Find the Best Tools & Commit to Using Them
It might seem obvious, but equipping your team with the right tools can be absolutely invaluable to the standard of work they deliver. You can’t expect to mimic the results being achieved by other agencies or competitors if you aren’t prepared to back your own staff with the necessary resources they need.
Invest time in picking the right tools, to ensure that when you do invest you do it in the right way. From a content perspective, these are all essentials that you can’t really do without:
- Crawling software such as Screaming Frog
- A link-driven tool such as ahrefs or Majestic
- An outreach tool like Buzzstream
These are really just the bare minimum though. Time tracking, project management, content scheduling and more will also all require their own solutions.
8. Have Accessible Inspiration Pieces to Use As Examples
I can think of few better recommendations than this – record as many examples of content you like and successful content you’ve delivered in one, shared location. Show your team where this is and encourage them to do exactly the same.
This will be priceless for you in so many ways:
- It’ll help you communicate requirements for content clearly to internal design and development teams
- It’ll help you quickly explain ideas to clients
- It’ll help you to quickly update management when they want to drop into content pieces
- It’ll act as a source of inspiration when you’re struggling with ideas or how to tie those ideas together
9. Set Deadlines & Keep on Top of Your Team
Reasonable deadlines, that everyone has agreed to and are happy with, are essential for effective content progression. If you ask your team, you’ll likely find they actually want them to help them plan and focus. Stakeholders or clients will certainly want them to ensure they get a timely return on investment.
For those managing the process, the key is to know how you want to move the content through the team. Without this, there is a tendency for ideas to take longer than they need to. You should know fairly well at the start of any piece:
- Which departments or individuals you need to involve and when they’re available
- Rough estimations of how long each stage is going to take
- Staged sign-off dates and a final sign-off date for the whole piece
With this information, you can plan for success. Project management software like Asana can be priceless here when you use tags and assign rigorously. Even if some of the plates you’re spinning begin to move, at least you can adapt more easily than if you had nothing planned effectively.
10. Ensure That Everyone is on the Same Page
From budgets to timescales, clear communication between teams, clients, management or whoever else is involved in the content process is imperative. Without it, you’ll hit a world of pain and your ideas and results will ultimately pay the price.
A good way to pre-empt problems is to have introductory meetings to any larger content pieces. Keep them brief, with a focus on:
- Securing internal buy-in right there
- Having a concrete, universally-agreed internal plan for any external buy-in process
- Ensuring all necessary departments (MD, project managers, creatives, designers, developers) know what role they need to play
- Agreeing a reasonable budget and deadline that everyone is happy with
Then, rather than having endless meetings throughout the creation process, think about how you can keep people in the loop without wasting time. A Slack channel with one person making periodic updates can be a really nice way to do this.
11. Hold Reflective Catch-up Meetings, But Don’t Harass Your Team
Following on from the above point, meetings do have a place. If you’re leading a content team, it’s your responsibility to exact standards, coach your team and enable them to do their best work. If you’re within a content team, you’ll likely crave these things too. This requires meetings, but they have to be done within limits.
In the context of content, too many check-ins and too many eyes on every piece will just confuse the process, hold up deadlines and prevent you achieving your goals. It seems to be an area which everyone has an opinion on, but that can ultimately be damaging if it isn’t genuinely useful input. You need to find the right balance.
Consider holding wider, weekly or bi-weekly content meetings, where you can do things like:
- Assess the success of several different content pieces at the same time
- Discuss where the pieces could have been improved or what you’ve done differently
- Consider upcoming pieces and encourage positive debate about which ones could be contenders to take forward
This will help prevent people feeling singled out and encourage a collaborative, team-led mindset to your content creation. It’ll also help ensure that standards are consistently exacted in a unanimous way.
12. Review Effectively
When reviewing content before it goes live, you need to be as efficient as possible to reduce the time it takes, whilst adding an extra layer of quality to what’s in place. Some of the ways you can review successfully include:
- Stick to deadlines and ensure any content creators know who to assign work to for review
- If you’re doing the reviewing, push to be the point of sign-off, build trust and own your decisions. Confidence is key
- Be firm but fair. People pour their heart and soul into the content they create and there’s a way to say changes need to be made without crushing them
13. Have Readily-Available Resources to Help You Explain Key Points
Educational documents that concisely explain important digital marketing discussion points in clear and concise language can be priceless for your cause. Whether that be documents to help you explain points to stakeholders in-house, or documents for agencies to help express points to clients, there are plenty of possibilities.
The finer points of link building, the importance of technical SEO and the role content plays in search performance are just a few of the many things that could be applicable here.
When you create any resources, try to focus on:
- Keeping them concise. People are more likely to engage with a two-page document than a ten-page one
- Making them engaging. Don’t just make the documents text-heavy. Include useful graphics. If they look good, they’re far more likely to sell your points
- Picking the documents that will offer the most value across the team. They will take time to produce, so it’s important to prioritise
14. Invest in Creating Great Case Studies
Clearly, case studies of your work are vital to have, particularly if you’re working in an agency. If you want to push an idea through, it becomes a lot easier if you can say: This is the strategy we want to apply, this is where we did it before and these are the results we achieved.
So what can you do to ensure the case studies you create offer the most value?
- Be transparent with your results – the more you commit to genuine, fair comparisons and the less you try to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes, the better your case studies will be
- Create engaging assets/landing pages to showcase the work
- With any accompanying copy, adopt the problem, solution, benefit approach. Keep it snappy and get to the heart of what you’ve done and why you chose the strategy
- Use clear and concise language
Effective, efficient content creation that brings enjoyment to creatives and drives great results shouldn’t be a mammoth task to achieve:
- With the right processes, that are truly useful, you can upskill your team and improve standards
- With effective project management, you can stick to budgets more easily, whilst reducing wasted time on unnecessary tasks
- With the right level of guidance, you can steer your team’s ideas but do it in a way that doesn’t crush them and make them afraid to express amazing ideas
- With more resources to use as reference, the easier it will be to explain ideas and the more effectively you’ll move content forward
- The better you’ve tracked the work, the easier it will be to justify arguments and fight for changes you need
It’s a fine balancing act – but get it right and you’ll soon reap the rewards.