A content operation is all about the execution of your content vision and strategy

Content Science defines content operations as the behind-the-scenes work of managing content activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. Your content operation either already has or will need to have a mix of elements involving people, process, and technology

In today’s highly competitive content landscape, the demands on content teams are greater than ever. To be able to sustain and scale effective content, you have to develop what we call mature content operations. 

The Content Science content operations maturity model consists of five levels:

  • Chaotic: No formal content operations, only ad hoc approaches
  • Piloting: Trying content operations in certain areas, such as for a blog
  • Scaling: Expanding formal content operations across business functions
  • Sustaining: Solidifying and optimizing content operations across business functions
  • Thriving: Sustaining while also innovating and seeing return on investment

In Content Science’s most recent study of content operations, 46 percent of participants reported that their companies were at level 1 or 2, while only 4 percent of participants reported their companies at level 5. So if you’re just starting out, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Developing a thriving content operation takes time, resources, and dedication. 

This article walks through how you can start building and working toward a thriving content operation. 

Make Content a Core Competency

Every company will need content as a core competency. And that competency will frequently cut across business functions, similar to the way competencies like information technology/engineering and design are crucial across business functions such as product, sales, marketing, and support. If a company does not elevate content to a cohesive core competency, then the company is likely to suffer problems that make content ineffective and that make its operations inefficient at scale.

To make content a core competency at your company, consider:

Hiring a chief content officer or executive soon: It will be impossible to mature content operations at your company to levels 4 or 5 without the right leadership. If you or your company are serious about content, hire a chief content officer or similar executive role early because it is the most  effective and efficient approach to maturing operations. Once hired, this role can establish vision and strategy and then align and optimize teams, processes, and technologies.

Empowering content coaches and advocates: Mature content operations need more than executive leadership. They need managers, team leaders, or project leaders who are empowered to coach their teams on content issues. And just about everyone on the team must

be prepared to advocate for content. Content operations mature more smoothly when each member of the content team is equipped to lead.

Creating a center for content excellence: To ensure everyone in your organization understands what it takes to create effective content, you need a go-to place to:

  • Capture key lessons learned about your content so you don’t needlessly repeat tests or analyses.
  • Summarize new outside research about content to save your teams research time and to spur ideas for optimizing or innovating content.
  • Crystallize best practices to help your company maintain a high standard of content.
  • Find training resources that can support discussions or briefings with stakeholders.

Get the Right People on Your Content Team

Getting the right leader in place is just one part of putting together a thriving content team. You also need to think about:

Cultivating a culture system: Culture is the often-overlooked but powerful connective tissue in content operations. Positive culture forms a level of trust that reduces the need for documenting and implementing pedantic rules and excessive reviews. Culture also makes governance infinitely smoother.

Putting together a star constellation: Your content operations will not be sustainable or scalable if they depend on one content rock star. That star will flame out quickly. Instead, you need to assemble a constellation of stars who, together, can make your content operations shine. In our “What Makes Content Teams Thrive?” study, we asked content leaders about the qualities they look for in hiring new team members. Top answers included:

  • High performing
  • Curious
  • Systems thinking
  • Considerate
  • Competent in a content skill or role

Hiring for new roles: Just hiring a writer/editor (or dozens of writer/editors) will probably not give you the capabilities you need. Consider hiring people who can take on a variety of content jobs, including these five emerging roles:

  • Content strategist: Identifies key content opportunities and conducts high-level planning
  • Content analyst: Establishes or refines content intelligence systems and conducts analyses or evaluations
  • Content engineer: Models content and architect rules to enable dynamic, automated content delivery and management
  • Content designer: Plans and develops the content for specific experiences, especially dynamic experiences and conversational interfaces
  • Content marketer: Plans and coordinates editorial and production for marketing

Empower Analysis and Evaluate Performance 

One of our studies found that companies with maturing content operations were more likely to have at least some elements of content intelligence, even if they didn’t yet have an entire system. 

To help your content operation succeed, you need to start:

Enabling content genius with data access: While they might not call it content genius, companies that are maturing in their content approach are empowering their teams to evaluate their content decisions. And while analytics are not all you need to make a content decision, they certainly help. A company that forces its content team to make decisions without data will never mature its content operations.

Dedicating effort to innovation: Mature companies devote ongoing effort to larger-scale experimentation—in other words, to researching and considering bigger bets on content. As an example, one of our anonymous study participants describes observing companies push the boundaries of content:

“I go to trade shows, and it’s hard not to salivate over some organizations and what they’ve done—these new innovations. It’s clear just from what they’re doing that these organizations truly invest in their content. They’re fully committed to and understand the value of content, and you can see it just in the number of things they’re trying, even if some of them fail. I think if that level of understanding or investment is there, companies are able to go a lot further.”

Moving Forward

Now that you have an understanding of what a content operation is and how to start building yours, you’re ready to take the next steps. Here are some suggestions for how to go from idea to full implementation with help from Content Science:

Assess your content operations: Want to assess your company’s level of content operations maturity? Is your organization chaotic, piloting, scaling, sustaining, or thriving? Take the Content Operations Assessment online at content-science.com/contentops to get a free quick assessment and a free copy of Content Science’s latest content operations study.

Dig in deeper with a certification course: This article features content from Content Science’s Content Leadership Certification program, which is part of our Content Science Academy. The certification course provides an introduction to content leadership, and covers topics including cultivating a content vision, bridging silos and aligning content stakeholders, and content leadership and operations research. 

Get guidance from The Content Advantage: There are even more content operations insights and examples in The Content Advantage. You can use the information in the book to help you continue to develop your content operations. 

Partner with Content Science: We are here to help you. If your organization is ready to get to work building a powerful content operation, you can engage Content Science to work with you and your team to develop a strategy that will put you on the path to success. 

This article is part of our ongoing How To series, in which we help you learn how to get started in or improve across key content areas. Catch up with more in this series: 

The Author

Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

Last Updated: January 29, 2021

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