AMA with GatherContent: Workflows, content ops and efficiency

Jimmy Daly
July 15, 2021

Angus Edwardson chats with us about workflow, content ops, efficiency, templates and more. If you want to see GatherContent in action, check out these quick tutorials we made together. and if you want to try it out yourself, use the code superpath to get a $299 credit.

Can you define "content ops" for us?

Angus: ContentOps, to me, is the combination of people, processes, and technologies that are used to produce, approve, publish, and optimize content. It is present in most organizations, in some form - but some more effective than others.

Follow up question: In your experience, what is the single most important component of content ops. If there's one thing that you need to get in place to set yourself up for efficient content ops, what would it be?

Angus: Good follow-up. I would say the most important component is people. Always people. Without people onboard, it can impossible to move forward and improve the way we operate - regardless of how good the intended processes or technologies are. People people people.

"Kurt Vonnegut famously showed that stories have shapes. Based on everything you've seen at GatherContent, are there common "shapes" to content production workflows?"

Angus: really interesting - I’ve never heard of this - I will definitely be looking into this afterwards. I’m not sure I know exactly the idea, but I would say the most common shape for workflows is siloed and linear - which is often the biggest challenge, and prevents us creating consistent multi-channel content.

Post-production, how can you use content ops to optimize content measurement?

Angus: The first thing that comes to mind is governance and having well defined governance policies for content. I think a more common focus would be looking at things like the distribution and engagement metrics around content, and using that insight to optimize (so iterating on content based on what we learn when we ‘ship it’), but really I find that most organizations can benefit more from simply looking after existing content and making sure it is simply on-brand and up to date and accurate (and can do this with simple things like defined owners, and review cycles / SLAs).

Can you show a visual representation of every step in a real content production process?

Angus: This shows a slightly messy process for creating an email. A SINGLE EMAIL. It uses a process I often use in workshops, to explore content operations workflows. I essentially map out the 3 components of any content ops workflow, then annotate content types and channels - it can be quite… illuminating! Especially when you start mapping out entire eco-systems for multi-channel marketing.

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Do you have any advice for hiring / onboarding / training a bunch of writers all at once, while maintaining brand standards for your content? Besides just close editing.

Angus: This is a great book on this subject:

I was actually speaking to Rachel yesterday (humble name drop ) - and she mentioned a few techniques around creating internal training plans for onboarding large volume of writers and content designers - so I would definitely look into some of the stuff she is sharing on this topic. Something I find has been really effective in my experience is creating a solid operational foundation for team members to join - so for example having clear templates for content types, and guidelines for those, linked to style guides, and things like personas and content briefs. This can be super helpful here. Our templating features in GatherContent can also support this well

Does anyone have any advice on how to implement a content approval workflow? We’re a small team (everyone does a little bit of everything), so the four eyes principle has typically been enough. However, we’re starting to publish more content and it’s getting difficult to keep content consistent in quality, voice, and information. Even though I’m the senior content marketer in the team, I hesitate to take the role of being the one who green-lights any content that gets published (from landing pages to blog posts), but I feel it might be the only way to ensure quality content going forward since not everyone in the team is a strong writer.

Angus: Two big steps here I would suggest would be:

  1. mapping out your workflow, and making sure everyone is on the same page (you could use the process I mentioned above in the answer to Jimmy’s question)
  2. getting technology to help you. The two things I would be looking for, even in a small team, would be a simple status feature, so content can have a status, and then also audit trails (more for larger teams, but it can be nice to know who approved what, and when).

At Animalz, we built our own in house content ops product on top of airtable.can you talk about using a saas like GatherContent vs no code like airtable vs full blown custom solution?

I love Airtable, and am a big believer in the right tool for the right job, and more specifically, the right tool for the right team.Full blown custom is an easier one, since I would say that is more suited to teams that are really really enterprise, and are dealing with very specific compliance processes, and/or huge volumes of content for multiple channels, in multiple languages. That’s really the only place I would say full-custom makes sense.No-code VS GatherContent, I think would come down to templating, roles and permissions, and access.Since GatherContent is built specifically to handle content ops, we have a lot of quite specific features such as templating and reusable components, guidelines around content, customizable approval processes, and shareable links - we also have a lot of integrations which come out of the box, and would not be possible with a no-code solution.Essentially depth on those things, but it would be hard to say without seeing the solution you have on top of Airtable (which I would love to see).

Follow-up question(s): What’s your advice for companies starting content from scratch? Is GatherContent a good option (vs. no-code) or is it too advanced in those early stages? Is there a “right time” to adopt something like GatherContent?

Angus: I would probably say, as you may predict, that GatherContent is potentially the best place for someone starting out, since it has lots of examples inside, and so can be used a great initial foundation for a few simple workflows, and then you can scale from there.While on the other hand, no-code doesn’t mean no-work - it can involve a huge amount of set-up and configuration.So I would say at least that it’s maybe less effort to test out an out-the-box and dedicated solution like GatherContent, and then see how you get on from there.

How can a team successfully outsource Content Management/Content Marketing when the goal is to raise technical brand awareness? In what circumstances can this work? In what circumstances will this not work? What are the conditions necessary to make this successful?

Angus: This is a really challenging problem, so I would say that the reality is that it’s very risky, and simply can go very wrong!I’ve seen a lot companies try and fail, and have to move on from working with external partners.But, more positively…I would say that starting with some clear principles, for example “we will never sacrifice brand value”, and making sure they stay as an absolute requirement when you are reviewing potential options is a great start. And then over-investing time in the hiring process, and having a clear probation test run is a great plan, too.There are great people out there, you just need to find them, and never let your values slip.

Do you have advice for content marketing teams that want to switch from internally-sourced and produced content to either a contributor-submitted or UGC-driven model?

Angus: This is something we’ve worked on a lot at GatherContent actually. We moved from an internally-sourced model, to a hybrid, where we produce a lot of content with external writers.As seems to be the theme, I think the best starting point is templates. I.e. having well defined templates for content types, and requirements for each field within them. Not from a technical point of view, but from an authoring point of view. What are your standards? What does this ALWAYS need to include? How should it be written?When you move from internally-sourced, to hybrid, or contributor based, I find it can be a great excuse to operationalize a lot of stuff you’re probably already doing.

This is specific to GatherContent, but is a nice example of how I recently translated an editorial workflow and set of rules from a magazine’s article contribution process, and translated it into a nicely structured template. It made it so much faster as a contributor, too!

How do you balance efficiency with creativity? is there such a thing as too much process?

Angus: I’ve definitely seen people go in two directions.Either being too focussed on creativity, and forgetting about actually having an impact.But on the other side, I think you get people being too focussed on efficiency, and just “going very fast in the wrong direction.” I think either way you need great process, and some of the brands that seem from a distance to have amazing creative content, actually generate this from incredibly sophisticated processes, which are focussed on efficiency. A really interesting one that I think could be a big discussion in itself!

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