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Editorial Workflows: Who's responsible for my web content?

What’s the best editorial workflow for generating quality content for my site?

Photo of Koen Platteeuw
Fri, 2015-03-27 09:07By koen

If you’re asking yourself this question, you’re on the right track! It means you take content governance seriously as an integral part of your content strategy. But setting up a content management procedure that works for you, is not that obvious. There is no single magical solution that works for all. Rather, we can come up with an infinite number of possible scenarios. The real question is picking the right model that works for you, taking into account corporate culture, size of the organisation, available resources, internal politics, and so many other factors.

An editorial workflow is much more than just the process of creating new content. Rather than content production, it looks at the total process of how an organisation manages its content assets. If we agree a workflow mainly maps the dependencies between a series of tasks and a series of roles and responsibilities, it makes sense to start looking at a key element of a content creation workflow: The Content tasks.

Editorial tasks: much more than writing, editing & publishing

If you’re working on a small project, and you will be the sole responsible for content, you might find the below list of tasks overkill, as you will be performing the majority of these yourself anyway. Nevertheless, seeing the complexity of the process will help your efficiency. So even in your case, I recommend you keep reading.

The first tasks that come to mind are the creation, editing and publishing of content. But content processes are more complex than that. So here you have the tasks we have identified in a chronological order:

1 - Request

The creation of content doesn’t start with its actual creation, but with somebody in your organisation identifying the need for that particular piece of content. Obvious, you might say. But many editorial processes are hermetically closed. We will have to allow for inputs and requests. Note that the people requesting content are often not part of the team responsible for the site.

2 - Content Planning and Scheduling 

Content pieces are often scheduled using an editorial calendar. What is the deadline for this piece of content? When will it be published on what format?

3 - Research & Contribute

Often we ask help from subject matter experts within our organisation. They can research on the content subject and contribute. Contributors focussing on content curation might find the relevant inputs for you. But often they are not part of the web team and they will not actually create the resulting content piece.

4 - Create

Creating the piece of content. In web projects we often read this as a synonym of writing copy. But take into account this also includes the creation of other types of content like video, audio, imagery, infographics, etc. Also, creating content often happens outside our website. Although writing for the web requires slightly different skills that writing for print, much of this writing happens offline. 

5 - Draft

In only a few situation is drafting content seen as a separate step in the process. But this can be more valid on pieces which require collaboration among multiple authors. Another situation where content drafts add value, is where the creation of pieces of content are resource heavy (read: expensive), and require a sign of or approval prior to the elaboration phase.

6 - Add

By adding content we understand introducing the created content piece on the site’s Content Management System (CMS). This can happen during the creation phase. But some organisations let their authors work offline and have dedicated staff uploading the pieces to the CMS. 

7 - Proofread / Review / QA

Pieces of content need to be reviewed prior to publication. Articles can be proofread on grammatical errors, but also looked at in light of the style guides your organisation uses. We also recommend to fact check the content, as well as double check no copyright issues could arise from publishing. Also other areas like respecting corporate or brand messaging can be checked.

8 - Revise

Following the content review, it might be required we revise or enhance our initial piece and resubmit for publishing. An extra iteration might benefit overall content quality, but might slow down the process. It’s up to each organisation to decide which of these is most important.

9 - Approve

Give green light for the publication of the content

10 - Publish

Make the content available to its audience

11 - Translate

Making multilingual content available in different languages. Some organisations might choose not to publish content until all translations are approved. Others might take a more agile approach. This should be decided on a case by case basis. (Depending on a case by case basis, we could have added a prior task for "requesting translation")

12 - Maintain / Update

Some content is more maintenance heavy than others, but all content must be maintained. Even if it looks like static content. At a regular time we need to review if this content is still valid and is still helping us or our site sites. Also, web content has become more interlinked. Even if core content can be maintained, we might have to monitor matching user generated comments or social media inputs. 

13 - Archive / Unpublish

Moving content to an archive section or unpublishing the content. We keep it in our CRM for reference. 

14 - Delete

If we believe certain content is outdated, and can no longer be used, nor is required for internal reference, we can delete the content.

If your site is a single person effort, you will perform all fourteen of these actions yourself. But understanding and identifying the individual steps will still help you deliver a better quality content experience. 

The Different Roles

So now that we know the tasks of the content publishing workflow, what are the different roles of the process? It is important not to see roles as individuals here, as most web project don’t have the resources to give each of these roles to a dedicated individual. You need to read the following roles as descriptive rather than actual job titles. There might be people with a “Web Editor” job title who will identify themselves more with the “Content Editor” role as described below.

  • Content Requester: Person who identifies the business need of a piece of content and requests its publication
  • Content Contributor: Subject matter expert or stakeholder who essentially becomes a provider of data necessary in the elaboration of the content. This might also be a co-author in pieces that are a collaborative effort.
  • Content Author: Person who claims authorship of the piece: this role can happen in house, but is also often performed by an external copywriter.
  • Content Creator: In most cases this will be the same person as the author, but from a web perspective, the content creator is the person who introduces the data in the system. Content Creators might also have the role of uploading translations of existing content pieces.
  • Content Editor: Person who has the user rights to amend and edit the content in the CRM. Editors can be used for corrections, updates, reviews, proofreading, data enhancements, etc.
  • Content Translators: Make text based content available in other languages.
  • Content Publisher: Person entitled to push the “publish” button
  • Content owner: Person responsible for an individual piece of content once the piece is published. this isn’t always the author, as the author might have left the organisation or for example might not have access to our site.
  • Web Editor / Content Administrator: A single person responsible for editorial oversight. This person will be in charge of guaranteeing site coherence or imposing style guidelines and content standards. The site needs to speak with a single tone, even if authors might all have an individual writing style. The web editor will also be the person owning the editorial calendar, if used, as well as setting out deadlines. He or she will be expected to chase content providers that are (close to) failing to comply with agreed content delivery schedules.
  • Site Owner: this is the decision maker when it comes to the site. We would recommend this to be the same role as the Web Editor, but from practice, we know that many organisations have Site Owners slightly higher up the corporate pyramid as the Web Editor.  

What else to take into account?

So now we have identified the tasks and the roles, let’s take a look at some other factors that will condition the process

  • Content Management System (CMS). Some Web Editors for small projects might think that a CMS is not needed for small static sites, but believe me, all content requires maintenance, even static content. Do you really want to be in the situation where you require help from a web development company to do content changes or to manage your metadata required for SEO? There are hardly any sites that don’t require regular updates.
  • Publication frequency & content volume: Less is more. A site with a small, but complete set of coherent quality content is much better than a huge site, with routine updates that don’t add any value to the content set. Nevertheless, the frequency and volume of content creation will influence the ideal workflow for your organisation
  • Multilingual vs monolingual. Translations add a certain complexity to websites, which needs to be factored into your process.
  • Working online or offline: How much of the work are you expected to do within your website editorial interface? Will content be drafted in Google Drive or Microsoft Word based content templates? Or will we create our working copies directly on the system? How about reviews, proofreading, translations? Will these tasks be performed within the system? Does my CRM embed the editorial workflow? The correct user rights?
  • Your current content ecosystem: How are the different content tasks currently organised? While you might have your ideal scenario in mind, but depending on how good your organisation is with change management, you might not be empowered to change as much as you would like to.

Now you're ready to start defining your workflow

Next it’s time to choose the dependencies between tasks and roles and turn this into a real content management process. The perfect time to go back and take a new look at our content strategy. What are the content needs of our organisation and what’s the role of our site in that?  

So once we know our content needs, and have identified the tasks that need to be done, we need to compare these with the available ongoing editorial resource. A perfect moment for the most important lesson of this page: “Content workflow management is about managing people, not managing content”

So we go and identify our content stakeholders and interview them. Knowing the skillset of the stakeholders, as well as getting an idea of their engagement in the project will be crucial. What is their current role? How do they use the system today? What would they like to change to it? What tasks would they like to do in the future?

Take into account the politics

Take the time to listen to all people involved. It’s the perfect moment to learn about the politics going on the team. Maybe you realise the person you thought was the perfect site editor still is frustrated for not getting his ideas implemented when the site was built. It will be hard to get that person leading the project. Sure business consultants will tell you your editorial workflow should be “people-proof”. It shouldn’t depend on personalities but in line with company structure and job roles. But hey, this is the real world. We have tried that, and we all know, it often doesn’t work. So do keep people’s preferences and different engagement levels into account.

After the round of interviews you’ll know how many staff hours you have to your disposal for content management as well as the skillset of the team involved. Are your authors trained on using the CMS? If not, are they willing to learn? If we are grouping too many tasks on the same person, we will create bottlenecks in the process. If we spread the tasks across the organisation, we increase risk of having to work with people that see the web related tasks as “extra work outside of their real job”. Before assigning the task to a person, consider if they really have the time to get the job done. And even more importantly, do they have an interest in doing the job?

Assign roles

In the process, start by identifying who will perform the site editor role. This is the key role in the process. We recommend its responsibilities to be held by a single person with enough time for the job. If we assign this position to somebody with the right level of decision power. After all this person needs to be able to make the team comply with the publication schedule and content guidelines. On the other hand, if we assign this role to a senior person with not enough time to dedicate to the site, the project will stagnate for sure. It’s better then to assign the role to somebody more junior, but passionate about the project. That person might have to work a bit harder to impose certain decisions, but there will be an ongoing drive to make things happen.

After the Site editor, you can start expanding the team with site editors, authors and content contributors. Depending on resources, you can redistribute tasks like reviewing, proofreading, publishing and content governance to the people in the team or include other stakeholders with the right skills and willingness to participate.

Map the workflow and don't forget to adapt your CMS to it

If you now have a clear idea of your workflow and who will be performing these tasks, map them out. Now ask yourself the question: is my CMS workflow in line with the editorial workflow I mapped? No? Note that most CMS are customizable. Organisations often don’t like to spend their limited development budget on improvements to the editorial interface, but believe me, the return on investment will be big in increased engagement from the team and longevity of the site thanks to the continued contributions of the team. 

Continued monitoring & improvement

Finally, as is the case with all business processes, you will require to do some continued monitoring and adjustments. People change positions, job roles change as do an organisation’s content requirements. Find the right balance between not changing the workflow too often, so people get familiar with a process they feel comfortable with, and adapting to new circumstances, so we are still generating content that helps us reach our organisational goals and fulfil user needs.