Fifth Step: Developing a Workflow (Linear Process)

Up to this point, the work consisted of tasks in defining and explaining the content creation work. This step will move from essentially “meta” work to working on the actual content. This step bridges the two type of tasks. Using a workflow essentially divides most of the casual content creators from the steady, more serious ones.

Tracking changes in docoments if a simple form of standardized formal methodology (work flow)
Tracking changes in documents if a simple form of standardized formal methodology (workflow)

This step may seem to many as “too formal” or “just for big organizations”. Yet, my experience is different. Large organizations, or large projects (in medium size organizations), seem not to have a problem in creating a flow of fresh content. The problem is usually in what to write, what to select from a large pool of material. Large organizations also don’t have a problem with brainstorming for new topic ideas, or finding new sources of ideas. Actually, small organizations and individuals tend to have a problem in keeping a fresh flow at a steady rate. After new ideas, comes the task of turning them into written content. Here a workflow system is extremely useful for individuals and small projects. Finally, keeping the momentum going over a long period of time, while the writing and creative quality is at top level is even harder. A process of creating content from idea to promotion and then maintenance does not have to be complex. But it does help in starting projects quickly and making the product manager aware of what can be done. First a workflow process enables one to judge quickly how much work is done and how quickly it gets results. In the mid-term, statistics on the work done versus the results gives everyone the idea on how to navigate in the market. Finally, when a project is going at a steady rate, a real ROI (Return On Investment) can be gathered and comparison to other forms of marketing (PPC, direct email campaigns) can be used to verify expectations and set overall business strategies. All this may sound complicated, especially for the single contributor. Yet, without clear statistics and results, especially in small projects, the content creator is doomed. I have seen countless cases where working “free form”  and just rely on energy, confidence, experience in a field, or another form of self drive does not work. Remember, content creation is nothing much more than a great deal of work in a new medium. Usually in a new format (blog, wiki, newsletter), and with great deal of exposure and almost unlimited competition. 

A workflow in content creation (or content marketing) is simply a process which both guides and tracks the content creation process. A workflow is useful for most people starting out. Even a simple workflow such as the change tracking in a word processing program. Once you start using a workflow, each step in the planning, research, writing, editing and promotion is there to “just do”. You do the work, but tracking the progress and the results is done as you go (essentially automatically). If you are doing the work in a group or for a client (as a freelance consultant), you do not have to report and explain the work and its progress.  When you are testing a specific market, or developing an audience strategy, a workflow helps in estimating the work required from a small scale pilot project to a full blown operation. A workflow also helps in honestly tracking progress when deadlines and milestones are important. If you need to add instructions or guidelines, as simple as examples or as complicated as real hard policy, workflows are excellent to implement these.

 In earlier posts, I described steps in starting a content marketing project. Essentially these were planning, researching, and testing your skills in creating or acquiring content (buying, managing writers or video editors, etc.)  A workflow is different from planning in the precision, formality, and most of all actual work done. When you establish a workflow, you establish in a real sense, each step of the work. The picture at the top of this article is of a formal workflow of editing and annotating (keeping notes and track) of a document “creation”. Microsoft Word and Open Office (or Libre Office) Writer, and many other word processing program have a document change “system”. This is an example of a very simple “workflow”. If you work on your own, or with co-writers, editors, publishers, and other writing professionals (i.e. PR, legal or other corporate roles) you probably make use of annotation and editing tracking features like these. Wikipedia also uses a suggested (not exactly “formal”) editing and change tracking method. As in blogging and social media creation world, a single writer working on one article at the time, usually does not make use of editing tracking. The process of editing and changing document is very much like creating content for a blog or a social media page (i.e. group on Linked-In, Facebook, Wikipedia; or a stream on Twitter, YouTube). You start out by researching and thinking in detail on what to write (or photograph), then see if you have competing content (which you can improve or make unique from your perspective), at this point you think in detail on what to say and how to approach an original idea (i.e. opinion, technique, finding, new creation), or even something already there but with your own approach. You may even add something from another source when it is useful to your site or interesting to your readers (i.e. reblog or link to an external page). These steps are essentially equivalent to the idea and even the “first draft” of a document. Here you may “send” this information to a blog editor or even to a publisher. In the blog world this happens when you are a “guest blogger” (it is not as bad as Google makes it to be). Basically you are giving someone else the details of the content BEFORE you actually sit and write. If you are working alone, this could be the stage of gathering information (research) and deciding on the topics and content subject matter.

 The workflow could be as simple and “informal” as: 1) research topics, 2) do a Google search on key words, 3) read ten to twenty similar articles, 4) draft a proposal, 5) write the articles, 6) post them, 7) promote them in your own Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, and Google Plus page, 8) DONE! (get Google Analytics statistics and report them to…) It could be more involved and detailed using examples or style guides from different publishers (you could use more then one style guide or policy resource) all the way to contacting and negotiating publishing details (dates, topics, article length, payment schedule) with blog publishers (i.e. Huffington Post). When designing and creating a formal program in a large organization, a workflow is crucial. This is especially true when there are many different “channels” or contributors (writers and editors) pushing content into “one page” (any one site or a series of related sites). In most companies there will be many different sources, here, one good workflow with simple (yet rigid) rules will help keep everyone writing and publishing in a uniform manner. A workflow can also be employed to track overall progress, analyze statistics (frequency of publication and length of time vs. size of article created), and eventually manage resources to optimize business goals. In most business organization the publication and maintenance of a blog page is only a small element in the overall business development effort. Yet today, its a crucial channel of communication. Its also used in gathering customer feedback and other business intelligence like competitive position (i.e. analysis), market preferences, and market direction change trends.

In large organizations establishing a workflow may mean also establishing a publishing policy, writing guidelines, and even officially approving resources and formal job descriptions (hiring new people or transferring people departments). It may even mean working with many outside resources and adopting certain new methods such as AdWords advertising and social media sites (Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, or Blogs). This step may seem like a hurdle or a challenge which face the content creator. Especially one-man operation in a large organization (writer, editor, graphic artist). But in reality this is probably the most crucial step in getting content creation started (and flowing). In regimented processes organizations, establishing a new process is sometimes difficult, but necessary. The advantage of having an established (assume “approved”) process is nothing less than having approval and understanding in the organization. Do not assume complete management approval, or even understanding. But the biggest “first step” means being ready to go! In some organizations, where starting risky new projects, or creating new processes is difficult, bringing in outside help is useful. In these cases, search out an outside expert (like yours truly) and use their methodology or skills to create a new processes (or adopt one like the one I am describing here). In some cases, outside experts are only useful in narrow specialty fields (i.e. SEO, internet P/R, content management) or their experience is not strong enough to help in establishing new processes. Instead of getting a whole workflow designed and approved. Simply use their specific skills to establish just the process steps which are relevant (i.e. online advertising => AdWords, SEO => style and online adaptation of content, etc.) In most organizations, a shift to content creation may be a bigger shift in standard marketing. In this case, even a partially defined and approved process flow may be a good way to start. Other aspects of the workflow can be left to be defined at a later time, when the expertise is acquired internally or from an outside resource. Once some of the “steps” in a workflow are established, content can be created, published, and promoted. If approval or work specific to the business environment is needed, these steps can be done manually without a formal workflow definition.

What’s not covered by a process workflow? In situations where policy or high level approval is required, a workflow will not be enough to get started. Government, corporate, and semi-governmental organizations may need not only “political buy-in” but also regulatory or legal approval. In many states, financial and security related stories are simply never reported directly. In a publicly traded US or European company (as well as many Asian states), a sales organization will not be able to “reference” a new “deal” with a key customer. This especially applies to organizations and companies (suppliers) who work in security related fields. A military supplier may not be able to reveal sensitive supply contracts. This includes even ones which are reported indirectly in trade press. Don’t go into an organization with expectations of changing how things work just on the basis of a great content marketing plan or a wonderful workflow. Good luck, and get going. There is no substitution to good work with enthusiasm and persistence!





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