Content Operations - The Missing Link Between Strategy and Delivery

In June 2019, I asked LinkedIn, "What does 'operationalizing content strategy' mean to you?"

I'd had this idea that something was missing from all the usual talk about content strategy. To me, that something was "content operations." But was that just a buzzword that didn't have meaning to more than a few of us? Based on the responses to the post, it does have meaning. And it is missing from most organizations.

What is content operations?

Unlike the term "content strategy," the term "content operations" has a fairly consistent meaning. A quick search turned up a handful of blog posts and ebooks about the topic starting in 2016. (See end of this post.)

Here is the synthesis, which I plan to use as my own definition:

Content operations is the people, processes, and technologies that allow an organization to implement its content strategy to efficiently produce and effectively deliver content.

Interestingly, most of the definitions came from platforms that enable content operations for content marketing groups. Yet content is produced and delivered by more than just a marketing team. Like content strategy itself, content operations has to rise out of the silo of one group within an organization to have maximum impact.

Benefits of content operations

I could list all the ways organizations are hurt by not operationalizing their content. But most of us have already lived that sad story. Instead, let's focus on the benefits of creating structures and processes that make it possible to

  • Get work done efficiently
  • Make content more effective
  • Boost engagement

A better ROI for your content

What is the return on investment (ROI) for your content? Do you even consider content as an asset? The relationship between revenue and content is indirect. Colleen Jones defines it this way:

Is the result worth the cost to achieve it?

All too often, when this is measured (which isn't often), content is really expensive and doesn't produce the results expected.

The expense of producing content is likely a lot higher that anyone thinks it is. One recent survey found that an average of 4 people are involved in the production of a single piece of content. And those people are on different teams. How much time is each of those people spending on that piece of content? My guess is at least an hour--and that would be for just an email. A blog post or an article or something more complex would mean several hours for each person--and maybe even more people. When you do the math, the cost of creating content adds up quickly.

If you knew the cost of content and what it was providing for the organization, you could make better decisions about whether to produce the content. Maybe it isn't worth it. Or maybe you'd find a more efficient way of producing it that corresponds to the value so that the ROI is acceptable.

It is imperative that every piece of content be mapped to a measurable goal. Setting the goal is part of the content strategy. Measuring and reporting on the results is part of content operations. Making sure the production of content is efficient is also part of content operations.

Unified customer experience

Whether your organization calls its audience customers, members, citizens, donors, students, or something else, you want those people to have a good experience across all your channels and with all your employees. Often this experience is disjointed and sometimes even contradictory. That happens because content is not aligned across departments. In the worst case, departments are competing with each other for the time, attention, and money of the same set of people.

A blog post by Kapost sums it up best:

A content operation transforms a disjointed, ad hoc content creation approach into a strategic, organized workflow that yields measurable results. When you connect teams and produce content your customers actually need, you make less matter more.

It describes the 4 components of content operations:

  1. Alignment with business priorities
  2. Cross-departmental collaboration
  3. Accessibility and visibility for your entire organization
  4. Insight into impact of content

See how marketing isn't mentioned? That's because the customer experience isn't about marketing, it's about how a person feels when interacting with your organization. Not just how you try to sell them a product or convince them to donate or join.

Content runs through the entire experience from the way a customer service representative talks to someone to the way the website anticipates questions to confirmation emails to chatbots to Google's search results and many places in between.

Without content operations, all of that is left to chance. Each department that manages a product or communication channel does their own thing. Consistency leads to a much better customer experience, which leads to loyal customers, donors, members, subscribers, and students.

Cost savings

Are you starting to get the idea that content production is a hidden expense? (Or maybe it's out in the open!) We haven't even got to the cost of the tools--the technology--that is used to produce, manage, and deliver the content. How much has been spent on content management systems (CMS) that everyone hates? Have you even used that personalization add-on for it? Is your marketing automation system just a glorified email client?

Even the technology products that are advocating for content operations are telling you they are an "enabler." No piece of software will solve what are inherently people problems. Even if you buy the right tools, they don't get implemented, integrated, and adopted magically.

Before you buy another piece of software, you need to understand your people and their skills. Not just the IT department and what software or programming language they know or can learn to run the application, but the users of the software. Who will be putting content into the CMS? Do they understand the production process as well as how the CMS supports it? Who will be writing and sending the email newsletters in the new email marketing system? Do they have a line of sight to what content exists or needs to be created to make their missive effective? What will the users need to know to use the new software effectively and efficiently? Do they even want or need a new tool?

Content operations makes sure the people and processes are aligned with the technology. New software can reduce productivity if not managed well, costing even more than the purchase price. Maybe you don't need to spend six-figures on buying and implementing new software. Maybe you can optimize what you have for much less.

Who owns content operations?

Perhaps the biggest question of all is: Who owns content operations?

If it is something that isn't a marketing function, where does it belong? Unfortunately, the answer is, "it depends." (Isn't that always the answer?!) Each organization is unique so the job title and where it sits on the org chart may change from place to place. So much depends on the people and organization structure.

What I do know is that it is a function that ultimately is inter-departmental and it is senior. No matter the size of an organization, the person who owns and runs content operations needs authority to make it work in and across every department. Something like this Director Content Operations position at Nike (active as of July 24, 2019).

If this sounds like something you want to do for your organization and you've been given the mandate or permission and authority to set up content operations at your organization, you might need some help. Check out the training I am giving in October: Content Operations: Putting Content Strategy Into Practice.

Content Operations References

In addition to the links above, I found the following helpful in defining content operations and its benefits.

Content Marketing Gap: What to do, How to do it, How to operationalize
What is ‘ContentOps’ and why should you invest in it?
The Need for Content Operations
The Kapost Identity Struggle: Content Marketing or Content Operations?
3 Components to Running a Smooth Content Operation
Every marketing team needs content operations. Here's why.
Content Leadership + Operations Benchmark Study: Executive Summary
A content operations maturity model