The content lifecycle: caring for your content

Author: Zosia Poulter

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Reading time: 5 minutes

This is a blog about content production processes for your website. I’ll explain the fundamental steps and help you to think about tailoring them for your organisation. You’re probably doing (most of) this stuff already. But it’s likely to be a process that hasn’t been deliberately planned or formalised yet.

Discussing and documenting your process sounds dull. But don’t skip it. It will:

  • give your team a shared understanding of the steps involved in content production
  • empower content producers in your team to work actively, rather than passively
  • demystify what you do for non-digital folk in your organisation
  • keep you organised and working consistently
  • ultimately improve the quality of your content

Read this blog if you work in (or lead) a digital / marketing / content team in an arts organisation. Or if you write, create or publish content as part of your job.

Think of content as a living, breathing thing

We, humans, love getting stuff done, crossing tasks off our to-do list and feeling like we’ve accomplished something. But content doesn’t like to be ticked off and forgotten about once it’s ‘done’. It demands attention. Without attention, your content might end up:

  • out of date
  • redundant
  • misinformed
  • lacking relevance
  • inappropriate in tone
  • lost amongst other content

A well-designed process can help to structure your attention at the right time so that your content is useful to your audience. Too often, I see content that feels like it’s been created in a silo or content that’s just sitting there gathering dust and using up unnecessary carbon (more on this topic in our Sustainable Web Design blog).

Process is only one part of the wider content picture

Before I get into the process bit, it’s important to note that good processes won’t solve all your content problems. It’s only one part of the equation. Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad is a useful framework for considering other content elements that are equally as important. Attention needs to be paid across the whole quad to make sure your content is useful, usable and engaging. But process is a good place to start.

> Understand the Content Strategy Quad

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Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad

The content lifecycle

This is just a snazzy name for the content production process. Some folks call it their content workflow and liken it to a factory assembly line. I like the term content lifecycle because it helps to present the process as a bit more holistic. But call it what you like. These are the main steps that your content will need to pass through:

  1. Plan
    What content do you need on your website? This should be linked to your editorial strategy if you have one. If you don’t, it’s important that the content you plan is meeting both business objectives and user needs. Think about content formats as well as how the content is going to be distributed.
  2. Create
    This is the making part. The words, images, video and audio that make your content. This might involve your team, a subject matter expert outside of your team, or an external supplier. Whoever is working on the content, make sure they have your style guide to hand.
  3. Revise
    Once the first draft is complete, your content might go through several rounds of revision, especially if you’re working with someone outside of your team. It’s always good to get a second opinion if you’re working alone. Check the content is meeting the goals from your planning stage. Adjust as necessary and prepare your content for publishing, using all the best techniques for web writing.
  4. Publish
    Upload the content to your CMS platform, adding supplementary content, links and appropriate meta data. This is the first time you’ll see the content ‘in situ’ on your website, so adapt and adjust as necessary to make it work.
  5. Maintain
    This is the most overlooked step in the process and one I see often neglected in the arts. Content needs regular review and maintenance to make sure it’s still meeting business goals and user needs. This might take the form of a comprehensive content audit on your site, or a regular page-by-page ‘MOT’. This step might prompt you to restart the content production process again. And that’s why it’s suitably called a lifecycle.

Tailoring your process

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Depending on the size and structure of your organisation, you’re likely going to need to adapt what I’ve outlined above. And not every type of content will necessarily need to go through every stage.

For example, the planning phase could be split out to include a pitching or workshopping activity if you need to come up with content ideas. You might also include a user testing exercise in your review stage if it’s appropriate (HotJar have written an interesting article about user feedback on their content). If you’re a larger organisation with CMS editors outside of a central team, you may want to include an approval stage to make sure you’re aware of content that’s being published.

Assigning responsibility

As you map and document your process, assign an owner to each stage. Some stages might need input from multiple contributors, so make sure it’s clear what each person’s responsibility is (you could use the RACI matrix for this).

A word of advice. Don’t design the process in a silo. Engage with your team to uncover what’s involved at each stage, what challenges they currently face and how they like to work. Then, make sure the rest of your organisation understand the process and know how to work with you if they have content that needs publishing. This will help to manage expectations and give you something to point at when the inevitable ‘can you just publish this PDF quickly’ request comes in.

Applying the process successfully

Take your process to the next level by embedding it into a project management tool. Sounds technical and expensive, right? Well it doesn’t have to be. There are, of course, clever platforms like Asana and GatherContent but a shared spreadsheet or Trello board can do the job well enough. Especially if you’re working in a smaller, less complex organisation.

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Example content lifecycle Trello board

Whatever tool you use, mark each stage of your process in a new column and move your content along the lifecycle as it progresses. You can include deadlines, owners and even links to your tone of voice or writing guidelines.

Like content, processes also need care and attention. Make time to review your lifecycle. Adapt it. Don’t let it govern how you work if it’s not working. And remember, this is just one piece of the content puzzle. If your process isn’t working, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

This is part of our monthly series of posts on content. Read our other blogs about putting your brand voice into action, writing for the web  and social media for the arts. Look out for our next piece on content principles.

And if you’d like more information or have any questions, please just get in touch: zosia.poulter@substrakt.co.uk