As a business grows, if there is no content governance framework in place, or the business outgrows the framework that was in place, content creation becomes chaotic and inconsistent.
Problems that can arise from the chaos range from creating content that’s off-brand or low quality and ineffective, to legal repercussions if copy published contravenes advertising regulations or is defamatory.
What exactly is content governance?
The term that refers to the combination of policies, guidelines, processes, and systems an organisation or business has in place to manage the content process. The goal of good content governance is to guide every aspect from content planning to publication to ensure the approach is consistent, efficient, on-brand and appropriate.
The most suitable way to go about governing content from creation to publication will depend on:
– the size of your business
– the number of people/divisions involved
– future growth plans
When should a business implement a governance framework?
As early as possible. A growing small business will eventually either begin to outsource elements of content creation or begin to involve multiple internal team members. And as the number of people involved increases, so does the opportunity for things to go wrong!
The basics for early content governance
At its most basic, content governance should begin with policies and guidelines around content creation and approval processes. You’ll want to ensure that:
- Content that’s created aligns with the brand’s content strategy
- Content aligns with the brand style guide
- There is adequate oversight to ensure content is of high quality, accurate, and legally compliant prior to publication.
- Content projects being planned are appropriate, aligned with business goals, and an effective use of resources.
So the initial phase of developing your governance may involve creating a brand style guide and devising your content strategy. The sooner a business can do this the better – style guides and content strategies don’t need to be complicated.
Next, you’ll need to examine the current process and workflow for content creation and consider how that might change as the business grows. Your content governance procedures will need to grow with it. Questions to ask:
- How is content planned?
- Who chooses topics, campaign themes, images?
- Who reviews and approves the topics and the completed content?
- What platforms are used?
- How do we measure our spend and monitor effectiveness?
- How do we check and update content as it ages?
- What are the risks associated with the material we publish?
- What (if any) guidelines do we have in place?
- Have any issues arisen with our content or content process?
After assessing the way that it works now, ask: is this current process adequate, appropriate, and scalable? If not, it’s time to design a new one.
Choosing a governance model
The next step is choosing a model. Much will depend now on the size and structure of your business. There are 3 common models:
Control is centralised. There may be a content committee or team. This team will be involved in developing strategies and processes (or working with external consultants to achieve that). They might also be tasked with approving content projects, campaigns or even created content.
Control/authority is distributed among business divisions or physical locations/outlets, with each division, state or outlet having a high level of authority and control over content that relates to their activities.
A combination. For example, a centralised team at HQ is responsible for high level activities such as development of content strategies, brand style guide, national campaigns, and for engaging any key external service providers, such as content marketing services or video production agencies. Individual divisions then have some autonomy, within guidelines – although exactly how this looks can vary greatly depending on the type and size of the business.
The hybrid model is the most common among larger businesses, because when a substantial volume of content is being produced, it’s difficult and typically impractical for a single centralised team to manage and monitor every aspect of content creation from planning to publication. Yet there’s still the need to have brand-wide guidelines and to ensure consistency, quality, and legal compliance across the brand.
Whichever model you choose for your business, you’ll need to be clear on:
- Which documented policies, guides and strategies will guide the content creation and review processes?
- If there is currently no brand style guide or content strategy, who will be responsible for developing these or consulting with external experts to develop them?
- The content workflow – who/what roles can author, commission, create, review, approve and publish content.
- How will you ensure that staff know about relevant strategies and guidelines, and what steps they must take if they want content produced?
What should the content workflow look like?
When there’s a clear strategy in place, there are typically 7 key stages in producing and maintaining content:
Whether it’s blog content, website content, whitepapers, ebooks, social media content, brochures or catalogues, or articles for industry publications, planning is the key to getting the desired outcome. For blog content and social media, planning will initially involve the creation of a content calendar, populated with reference to strategic guidelines.
Most content needs approval at concept stage, whether it the blog/social calendar that requires approval, or a specific marketing campaign concept.
Creation of articles or other long form content, images or infographics, copy for campaigns, email copy for lead nurture content. This should be guided by brand guidelines, for example, the brand style guide or editorial guidelines.
Even if you outsource to professional content writing services, or have highly skilled writers in-house, someone needs to review the copy or content created to ensure it adheres to the relevant guidelines, is on-brand, and of high quality. The person tasked with this will depend on the size of the business – it might be the company director/CEO, or a content editor or marketing manager.
For some businesses or circumstances, there will be more than one level of review needed. For example, where the topic is technical, someone with the relevant expertise will need to review the content for accuracy. Where there are legal risks or compliance issues, the company’s legal team might need to review it.
The review process may involve the draft content moving back and forth for amendments, so version control, and keeping track of the review progress is important.
In some cases, the person who reviews the content might have the authority to approve it. In other cases, multiple individuals might have to approve the content – for example, the editor/content manager, legal team, and an in-house topic expert.
There might be multiple individuals permitted to publish approved content, from those in-house who might publish blog content and EDMs, to external social media agencies looking after the social channels.
‘Evergreen’ content is a wonderful thing, but it’s likely you’ll publish some content that will need to be updated in the future. Content that contains data may need refreshing. Content that discusses legalities or regulations can become inaccurate if legislation changes. You might cease offering certain product or services over time. And links to external websites can become ‘broken’ if that website removes the page or the website is taken down. While conducting period content audits can pick up these issues, it can be more efficient to have a system of scheduling content reviews in advance for content that could date or become inaccurate.
What can go wrong without content governance?
Without appropriate content governance in place, numerous things can go wrong, from the merely chaotic to the high risk and serious:
Without a style guide: content will be inconsistent in style, images might be poorly chosen, and the words chosen might not be right for the brand voice.
Without strategy & planning: when there’s no clear direction, content creation becomes random, and will typically be less effective “Hey, let’s write a blog post about…” can result in content that isn’t targeted to the right audience, and has no clear purpose.
Without a review & approval process: without proper oversight, content published could contain errors, be inappropriate or of poor quality, or contravene advertising regulations or other legal restrictions. (Speaking of legal issues that can impact content writing, if your brand sells products that may have therapeutic benefits, you might also like to read our article Copywriting, therapeutic claims and the TGA.)
Without an updating process: content can become inaccurate or misleading.
Documenting & disseminating!
It almost goes without saying that once you’ve established your style guide, content strategy, content workflow and approval process, you must ensure the relevant personnel are aware of the content governance processes and procedures, and have access to information relevant to their role. This might be done at commencement by an internal training session to inform existing staff, and then ensuring you have a process in place for newly hired team members.
Some of your external service providers may also need some of this information. For example, if you engage freelance copywriters or a content agency, you’ll want them to follow your style guide, even if you are providing detailed briefs. If an agency is planning your content (blog topics for example), they’ll need to understand elements of your content strategy to ensure appropriate topics are proposed.
For enterprise level businesses, content governance can be complicated, but for the SME it doesn’t have to be.
The important elements are:
- A documented content strategy
- Brand style guide
- Editorial/blog guidelines (if applicable)
- A clear and documented process/workflow for planning, creation, review and approval of content, version control, and updating older content.
- A process of ensuring staff are aware of the items listed above.
Content creation, like every other aspect of business, benefits from good strategy, planning, systemisation, and quality control. Go forth and plan!