Creating content without clear workflows is asking for inefficiency and headaches. It leads to rework and makes collaboration a headache due to unclear expectations. And when it comes to content marketing, where there are often many moving parts involved in creating a single piece, that lack of structured planning could be undermining your success more than you might think.
This isn’t just hot air, either. If you don’t have clear processes in place right now, ask yourself these three questions:
- How often does your team submit a piece of content for edits, only to spend an extensive amount of time reworking it?
- How often does your team meet your deadlines?
- Finally, how much does collaborating on a piece of content with your team… suck?
Here are some common responses:
- All the time.
- Not often.
- And a lot.
Developing clear content marketing workflows can help you stop the headaches, reduce the need for rewriting, and streamline collaboration to make hitting deadlines easier. In fact, a CoSchedule study showed that organized marketers are 397% more likely to report success.
What’s a key part of getting organized? Developing repeatable workflows. After reading this post, you’ll know how to:
- Create a single piece of content without having to rehash the whole thing.
- Accurately budget your team’s time so you can ship your content by your deadline. Every. Time.
- Break down silos so your team knows exactly where their role falls in the content creation process.
- Put a strategic content workflow plan in place will save time and improve results.
A Template for Every Content Marketing Workflow
This post will show you exactly how to develop workflows from scratch to fit any type of content marketing project you may need to execute. But, what if we could lay out some basic workflow outlines to help you get started? Download these six templates + one checklist (Word + PDF) to help you visualize how steps and tasks should be ordered and laid out.
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Status-Based vs. Task-Based Workflows
A common workflow type for content publishing is the status-based workflow. This system works just like it sounds. Everything is based on the status of the content. In WordPress, this is controlled with the post status toggle, or the more advanced Custom Post Statuses feature.
In this workflow, each piece of content is assigned a status. This status could be as simple as idea, draft, or in-progress. What the status is isn’t as important as what the status means. The idea here is that the status itself indicates where the content currently is in the creation process, and where it is going next.
Are statuses the best tool for the content marketing workflow?
Boy, that sure is a lot of responsibility for a poor little status isn’t it? One little word holding the entire workflow in balance. :(
This simple little status can lead to some big problems…
- Team members frequently forget what each status means.
- Content is frequently labeled with the wrong status.
- Error correction requires heavy oversight and monitoring to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
- Light users quickly become confused because they don’t “know the system.”
- Editors and managers are required to be overly involved in the individual processes of the workflow.
- It does a poor job of adapting to exceptions in the workflow.
- Overall workflow remains hidden and makes a bird’s-eye-view difficult to achieve.
The bottom line is this: systems that are not visually and mentally intuitive are often very hard to use. Jakob Nielsen is well known for his work in software usability, and is famous for creating the Heuristic Evaluation method, which outlines ten general principles for user interface design. There are several that fly in the face of the traditional status-based approach.
- Visibility of system status: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
- While the status-based approach works hard to keep users informed, the lack of clear definitions usually does the opposite. How is a user to know the status of something if they don’t fully grasp what it symbolizes?
- Recognition rather than recall: Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
The big problem with the traditional status-based approach is the hidden nature of the process. The actual meaning of each status is actually hidden from the workflow, which means that the individual members need to commit it all to memory. This can be challenging, and relatively impossible for infrequent users.
- Flexibility and efficiency of use: Accelerators—unseen by the novice user—may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
The bottom line is that the status-based workflow isn’t the best thing that we can offer our team. There has to be a better way.
Consider Combining Status-Based Workflows With Task-Based Workflows
Content marketing workflows can be improved by combining a status-based approach with task-based checklists.
Back when we were doing research for CoSchedule, we found that though many teams used a status-based system, their workflow actually fit better with a simpler task-based approach. In addition, all of the teams we talked to were experiencing some or all of the frustrations outlined above.
The task-based workflow simply requires users to assign tasks to one another as work needs to be completed. This works just like any traditional to-do application or task list. Tasks are listed in the order that they need to be completed, and users check them off as they are done.
Tasks work well because they are written in clear language using a full sentence (recognition rather than recall) and can adapt easily to varying circumstances (flexibility and efficiency of use). For example, if a task requires a unique approach, a detailed description can be included in the list, rather than a blind reliance on a single word.
- Completed content marketing workflow task list
- Completed tasks clearly show the work that has already been done, and what is still to come.
- When a user sees a task list with both completed and incomplete tasks, they are also given a clear visual of how things are progressing (visibility of system status).
In the status-based workflow, users were required to simply “know” what each status meant and “assume” work had previously been completed. With tasks, instructions are clearly communicated along with a history of the work that is already done.
In addition, users clearly know when work has been delegated to them specifically, so they don’t need to be constantly hunting for what they should be doing next. The advantages are numerous:
- Assignees are given clear and specific tasks with a set deadline.
- Assignees are clearly informed that a task has been delegated to them.
- Assignees fully understand what is expected of them.
- Assignees are able to see “what they need to do next” all in one spot.
- Assigners take comfort in knowing that they have communicated clearly.
- Assigners aren’t required to guess or remember the meaning of a specific status.
- Assigners can easily be notified when a task is completed
- Assigners are always aware of the status of various tasks with a single glance.
- The benefits are clearly evident. Let’s walk through an example scenario.
Planning Status and Task-Based Workflows in CoSchedule
CoSchedule supports both status and task-based workflows.
First, you can use Custom Statuses to label project phases using the exact same verbiage your team uses in your workflow (ex: Ideation, Editing, Publish, or whichever terminology you use). You can find a complete explanation on how to set them up here.
Plus, you can use Tasks and Task Templates to build task-based checklists for all your content (and other marketing projects you need to organize as well).
First, open up a content project on your CoSchedule marketing calendar and select Template:
Next, select Create New:
Then, add tasks, deadlines, and the team members who will complete each task:
An Example Workflow: Meet Team Content
Meet Team Content – they are fast, efficient, and publishing new content on their blog like nobody’s business using a task-based workflow. There are two roles in the task-based workflow.
- Editor: The assigner, responsible for the planning and management of the blog. They choose the topics, assign the tasks, and manage the progress from start to finish.
- Contributor: Various sub-roles such as writers, designers, proofreaders, and social media managers. Contributors are the ones who will make the work happen. In a task-based content marketing workflow, they are the assignees.
Step #1: Planning
The first phase of the process is planning.
Planning meetings give the entire team a chance to work together to decide on topics and choose post ideas that will be added to the editorial calendar. Content planning meetings can happen on a weekly or monthly basis and should set the tone for the work going forward.
While the whole team will be involved in this process, the editor will make the final call on the subjects and topics chosen.
Step #2: Assignments
Once selected, content ideas are placed on the calendar. From there, the editor will assign individual tasks to each of the contributors including:
- The person writing the post.
- The team member designing post graphics/images.
- The editor/contributor responsible for proofreading the post.
- The social media manager, or contributor responsible for social media promotion/scheduling.
- The editor responsible for the final publishing of the post.
- Depending on the actual size of the team, some of these tasks will be shared by a single team member. In most cases, the tasks will generally stay the same, but the assignees may vary.
Step #3: Determine Deadlines
You have your team together, and all of them are aware of where their specific tasks fall in your content creation process.
The next thing you need to take care of during your planning phase is figuring out how long it will take each of your team members to complete a certain task. From here, you’ll determine when to start working on the content to realistically meet your deadline.
Normally, you could walk up to your writer and ask, “How long is this going to take you to write?” and they could respond with, “About four hours.”
It would naturally make sense to say, “OK; you have four hours to write, your editor takes about four hours to approve, meaning you could have your written content sent to your designer by the end of the day!”
While it may only take your writer four hours to draft the written portion of your content, those four hours may not be completed all at once. Another factor to consider is that your single piece of content may not be at the top of the priority list for cross-functional team members to complete.
The best way to approach this is to ask each member of your team something along the lines of:
“Hey _______, we just had a planning meeting about creating (type of content) for (publishing channel). We need you to draft the (whatever their role is). How much time do you think you’ll need to complete a draft and send it to (editor or next person in workflow line)?”
Then use the estimated number of hours they give to create your full (and realistic) content development timeline.
Follow this format to help guide you through the rest of your team’s answers:
- Under a day = 1 full day of production
- 8 or more hours = 1 and a half days of production
- 16 hours = 3 days of production
- Anything over that = break it down into smaller projects
- Anything over 3 days of production time can be broken down into smaller projects that will allow the project to keep moving forward.
This is the same process that our marketing team lead, Nathan Ellering, found worked through his experience and now that theory is part of our content workflow here at CoSchedule:
- Planner: 2 hours
- Writer: 4 hours
- Editor: 2 hours
- Designer: 6 hours
- Design Editor: 4 hours
- Content Manager: 30 minutes
- Social Media Specialist: 8 hours
- Social Media Manager: 4 hours
If you follow the above formula, your team would need to start working on this piece of content nine days before it publishes:
This is helpful because now you know when to start working on your content to publish it by your deadline.
In this example, if you wanted to publish the content on Wednesday, December 20, and the work will only be completed Monday – Friday, you would need to start creating the piece Thursday, December 7.
Wait, there’s more to consider!
In your current workflow, you have time set aside for each of your editors to go through and approve work. But what if they need time for a second round of edits?
It’s important to consider that both creators and editors will need time to edit and correct drafts.
How can you account for those edits? Add a day to your deadline total for every approval step in your content workflow.
If you go back to our example, you can see there are four people who need to edit content. So you need to start working on the project four days earlier, beginning Friday, December 1, to hit your publish deadline of Wednesday, December 20.
Your team may not necessarily need this time, but it’s better to overestimate the amount of time your team needs than to create a crisis situation where everyone is stressed trying to meet the deadline.
Step #4: Avoid Thrashing With Approval Steps
Avoid thrashing? What’s thrashing?
Thrashing is when your team has to go back and redo half the work on a project because it didn’t meet the initial requirements of an approver.
The problem with thrashing is that your team ends up wasting time that could have been saved had the expectations of the final product been clear before the content was in the creation process.
To avoid thrashing, your team needs a series of approval steps that are intertwined in the creation process to allow them to fix errors before the content moves on to the next team member.
Your approval steps fall into your content workflow like this:
Step #5: Set Up Notifications
Once tasks are assigned and delegated, the contributing team will have a clear workflow and timeline for delivery. As tasks are completed, the editor will be notified of progress. This will allow them to monitor the process from a global level. Individual contributors will be motivated to complete their tasks by looming deadlines.
The beautiful thing about the workflow from this point forward is that while editors will control the process from a top level, the work itself will be taking care of itself. For editors, this means that there is no need to monitor statuses or to double check to make sure that the status being reported is actually correct.
Step #6: Plan Fluid Timelines
In the task-based workflow, every task should be accompanied by both and assignee and a due date. This clear communication is vital for the success of the team. One thing that we do at CoSchedule to encourage this is the use of relative dates rather than fixed scheduling.
Rather than selecting a specific date on the calendar for a tasks due date, CoSchedule users are allowed to choose a relative day in relation to their publish date. For example, “Three days before post” rather than “4/2/14.” This means that if you drag and drop your post to a new day on the calendar, all of your tasks will automatically be reassigned and move as well.
An Example Of A Content Approval Workflow For A Video
We’ve talked a lot about the generalities of a content workflow, but what does one look like in action?
Here is an example workflow for a marketing team that wants to create a video. You can use this example to help you understand how to apply what you’ve learned to plan the workflow for a specific piece of content:
Publish Your Content With Confidence Using CoSchedule
Now that you can see how easy it is to build your own content workflow, why not make it even easier?
CoSchedule’s task template approval process helps you easily transition your content workflow straight into your publishing tool. Take a look at how easily the video content workflow transfers into CoSchedule:
You may notice that there are approval tasks missing from your task list. Approvals are still there, just hidden in each task. You can edit and add approval features easily when you create the task:
These tasks are easy to assign and allow your content manager to remain in complete control of what content is publishing when. No more midnight panic attacks about a content piece going out at the wrong time.
Three General Tips for Planning and Executing Your Workflows
To close out this post, here’s a handful of generally solid advice for making workflows, well, work.
A Tip for Workflow Development: Start With Your Deadline And Work Back From There
One great way to plan your content, projects, and deadlines is to start with the deadline and work your way back from there.
The important thing here is to be realistic with your goals and tasks. If you aren't, you won't be able to ship the exact product that you'd originally thought up.
Seth Godin is known for planning out his content and projects like this:
A Tip for Workflow Execution: Plan Your Day Out In 15-30 Minute Increments
There are 1,440 minutes in a single day. You'd be amazed by how much time gets wasted in the small in-between-moments. And not to mention the time that is wasted aimlessly on social media, when you don't have a purpose for being on social media.
Many successful people plan their days, projects, and content out in 15-minute increments.
Download the workflow process template in this post's download. It's an Excel spreadsheet with the hours of the work day divided up into 15-minute increments. You can also customize your spreadsheet and make it work for you.
A Tip for Workflow Planning: Optimize For The Best Time To Work
When do you work best?
Everyone is different. Some love working early in the morning, while others prefer to work at night.
Do you know when your best time to work is?
The best way to figure out is by tracking your time, and remember to make a note on your feelings. Examples could include things like, "I'd do anything for a nap" or "butter me up, I'm on a roll."
Ask yourself these questions:
- When do you have the best concentration and energy?
- When are you least distracted? When do you have the fewest interruptions?
- When do the best ideas come to you?
- Prepare for high energy and high distraction parts of your day.
When you've found the times that answer those questions, work at those times and gauge how you feel after. If you need to, you can tweak it.
If your best work time isn't on the normal 9-5 day job schematic, talk with your boss about your optimal times to produce the best work. They may just help you make those times more possible.
To see if a more flexible work schedule would work for you, answer these questions:
- First off, write down your pros and cons. What are the benefits to working at your optimal times?
- Speak with HR to see if there are already flexible schedule benefits in place.
How will a flexible schedule benefit your employer? Keep this in mind and make notes on this. As your employer will want to know how this will help move their company forward.
After you've thought about all of these things, make an outline of the work arrangement you'd like.
- List out the times you'd be in the office and the times you wouldn't be.
- Mention how you'd stay in touch with your other employees when you are out of the office. (Here are some examples: You'd stay in touch by texting co-workers with HipChat or Slack and video conferencing with them using Highfive or Skype).
That’s a Wrap
Developing workflows takes a little bit of effort up front, but it pays off considerable dividends over time in terms of increased productivity, reduced stress, and a better quality of working life in general. Give yourself space to get started and make improvements over time, and you’ll start to see those benefits sooner rather than later, too. Best of luck on your journey toward better organized and more organized marketing.
Portions of this post were written by Garrett Moon, Devin Joubert, Breonna Bergstrom, and Ben Sailer. This content includes information that has been updated, repurposed, and republished from previous posts on the CoSchedule Blog to create a single, more useful resource on this topic.