Content marketing is a team sport, and for most business, it is also a growing priority.
This means that it is becoming more and more important to have a workflow that balances all of the needs of a content marketing team. As is often the case, determining the correct workflow can be difficult.
Just the other day, I received an email from a CoSchedule customer outlining their entire content marketing workflow in a visual flow chart. It was complex and relied upon a large number of people and tools. Of course, it was a flow chart. Anything that requires a flow chart has to be complicated. Right?
A good, simple workflow may difficult to find, but like anything, you’ll know it when you see it. A great content marketing workflow should focus in on a few big goals:
- The team understands the big vision – why are we doing this?
- Each team member knows what their individual role is.
- Individual tasks are correctly appropriated.
- Each team member understands what they need to do, and when it needs to be done.
- The team has an agreed upon communication channel, and sticks to it.
- The workflow is able to “manage itself” without a great deal of oversight by any one member.
Despite theses goals, many of our current content marketing workflow standards fall far short of the intended goal. Let’s take a look at why.
The Traditional Status-Based Workflow
The most common workflow type that I have seen in 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.
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 is a better way.
The Much Better Task-Based Workflow
A better content marketing workflow can be accomplished through a simple task-based approach.
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 that I 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.
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 simple “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 give 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.
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, 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 motived 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.
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.
It’s All About Clarity
A workflow is really all about communication. The workflow that will work the best is usually the one that communicates the most. Can a status-based workflow work for a team?
Yes, certainly. But can it scale?
As teams grow and the complexity of their content increases, they will need to find ways to optimize their workflow and communicate better than ever before.
With CoSchedule, we wanted to find a place where that workflow could happen so seamlessly that it is almost completed without effort. While we have a lot more in store for how CoSchedule will accomplish this, the task-based workflow is the first step in the (very) right direction.