What Is Content Operations?
Every team that produces brand and marketing content uses content operations, though not everyone does so strategically. While it can be intimidating to create and implement a content operations workflow, doing so pays dividends. The right workflow can streamline processes, save significant time and money, and deliver higher-quality content for a better customer experience.
But creating content — especially in-house — is often one of the most expensive line items in marketing budgets. Companies from e-commerce leaders to media giants continually evaluate their content operations to look for ways to save money and produce better content.
This guide walks through the fundamentals of understanding and implementing content operations at scale.
What is content operations?
Content operations is made up of the people, processes, and technologies that create, store, manage, and distribute content. It’s the execution side of a content strategy. Content operations include all the steps in the content lifecycle from planning meetings to revitalizing high-performing content.
Everyone from sales and merchandising to IT and customer solutions can have a part in everyday content operations. Content operations, or content ops for short, includes actions like the editorial workflow this blog post goes through before you begin reading it.
Implementing a content operations strategy
Many companies build their content operations around the singular goal of producing more content. But this method often doesn’t work because it doesn’t budget time for understanding how to best create, manage, and distribute this content. Alternatively, a more nuanced approach can produce the highest-quality content in the most efficient ways. And yes, that can mean more content, too.
Content operations start with an outline of the processes, teams, technologies, and ground rules for producing content. Who’s responsible for what parts of production? Is this step marketing or merchandising’s responsibility? Answering these questions is a good place to start.
From there, teams can map the important steps across content operations tasks. This entails making simple outlines of the processes, roles, and technologies that are part of day-to-day content operations. This exercise can include everyone from brand managers and content strategists to email marketers and content creators.
Once these details are mapped, teams can define their goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). Decision makers should be consulted and agree on their designated roles and responsibilities. Make changes, get sign-off from everyone, and distribute a working strategy to all teams involved.
Then, when you’ve defined a course of action, teams can measure results, gather feedback from stakeholders, and make adjustments to optimize processes and content. With new technologies and needs cropping up daily, content operations is definitely not something to “set and forget.”
Who needs content operations?
Essentially, any company that produces content to sell products or wants to build a brand needs content operations. Content ops can bring a return on investment (ROI) whether it’s an e-commerce company that produces product content for 30,000 variants a year or a well-funded fintech startup with a focused bundle of solutions and minimal content needs.
Omnichannel customer experiences are the norm today. And designing and optimizing digital customer journeys are a daily practice for most. Brands that don’t focus on either likely will soon. The digital landscape continues to expand across channels, and content needs are growing. Companies must have a clear understanding of their content operations and how to guide them strategically to thrive and grow.
Here’s a look at some of the types of companies and roles that focus on content operations every day.
Agencies produce everything from blog posts to TikTok videos for large client rosters. That variety of content production across channels for different brands makes content operations essential. With so many different processes and desired results, teams need a clear strategy that’s implemented agency-wide and can be quickly communicated to new contractors, partners, or employees.
Clear expectations for roles and responsibilities allow agencies to work more efficiently, which saves resources and leads to higher-quality work. This is especially important when seeking to unify processes across global brands. Additionally, a well-defined content operations process can help agencies bring new members up to speed and know exactly where to start with new clients.
Brand managers are ultimately responsible for every piece of content delivered via content ops. Content either creates a stronger brand connection or damages it. Every part of content operations can impact the customer-facing experience, and everything from creative briefs and product content quality standards is vital to consistent brand management that delivers clear ROI.
Asset approval is a crucial step that often gets overlooked by brand managers when tight deadlines and ad-hoc processes run amok. But if the creative workflow doesn’t include clear operations protocol, teams risk publishing deliverables without proper approval, which could lead to everything from using an old logo or assets with an expired license. Both can cause damage.
A great content strategist requires an intimate understanding of content operations regardless of the company or brand. When content strategists outline a vision for a new project or a year’s worth of content, they ground it in the reality of their team’s capabilities and resources. And because they know what people, processes, and technology are needed to produce different kinds of content, they can frame their approach much more effectively.
When content strategists have a firm grasp of day-to-day operations, they can push more strategic edges, create higher-quality experiences, and lead their brand into new content production territory.
People who create content daily need an operations strategy to avoid content chaos. They need to know who’s producing what and when. Content deliverables have to be clear and understood. Creators spend time doing everything from gathering information in manufacturer catalogs to editing new product videos. Work has to be approved by editors, creative directors, and even C-suite execs.
To content creators, the operations side of a content strategy is a way of life. They understand the inner workings of each part of the process, the strange quirks in technology, and who can help get something done faster. They need content ops because it’s how they do their job every day.
Teams that support a marketing strategy — and produce thousands of product-related content every year — require well-oiled and maintained content operations. Creating photos, videos, tech specs, and product descriptions for a range of variants takes multiple departments with many complex processes and technologies — an e-commerce team brings it all together through content operations. Even if companies outsource content production to an external company or studio, they still need to define a clear content process for desired results.
A content operations methodology that’s designed for large-scale production can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, produce higher-quality content, and significantly increase conversion. A tiny refinement in one process or technology could save countless hours over a year. And if a few hundred pieces of content are produced annually, then savings will compound over time.
Marketers benefit from a streamlined approach to content operations and an understanding of how the strategy works to achieve the best possible results. For example, if a marketer is planning the editorial calendar for the year, they need to know what resources are available, when content can be produced, and how often. This information will allow them to map the year effectively. Marketers who take the time to establish a clear content process with their creative team save time and money while producing more effective campaigns.
Benefits of content operations
Getting content operations organized is worth the time and effort. Netflix saved billions by understanding their content ops. With well-implemented content operations, teams can get everything from higher-quality content to significant cost-savings.
Here are other notable benefits of adopting content operations:
- Higher-quality content of all types
- Increased content production
- Uptick in conversion
- Improved collaboration across teams
- Consolidated content technology
- Higher-performing content and brand loyalty
What content operations means for content strategy
Content operations and content strategy play an important and entwined role in the content lifecycle. A content strategy is the plan; content operations is how it’s executed. The right marketing technology (martech) is definitely crucial to content operations, but people and process also play a key role.
What makes a good content strategy? It often begins with a full content audit to identify gaps and redundancies. Find what’s working well and do more of that. Define your audience(s), research which experiences resonate with them, and then identify if new content is needed. Outline people and process challenges, along with ways to improve. These steps will help deliver a consistent and content-driven customer experience. Once strategy and business goals are aligned, you’re set up to build content that drives action.
Content management software plays a big part in a successful content strategy. Tools that make managing content easier allows teams to achieve greater brand consistency with fewer opportunities for human error — though humans are still the key to successful software use! Technology — such as content management systems (CMS), enterprise content management (ECM) software, and product information management (PIM) tools — keep content consistent and accessible. Bundle these tools together into a digital experience platform (DXP) and you’ve got a content operations foundation built to support enterprise scale.
A solid content operations foundation revolves around workflows that get content from ideation to distribution. And a complete understanding of workflows — from start to finish — often surfaces opportunities to automate. This can increase collaboration, visibility, and consistency across the content ops process.
To maximize software potential, many teams turn to integrations. Connected tools work together to eliminate process redundancies and overlapping content storage locations. Allowing platforms to “talk” to each other also keeps teams working in the platforms they're comfortable with instead of constantly learning new systems or jumping between solutions.
There are many routes to efficiency and content operations. One powerful option is combining digital asset management (DAM) and PIM solutions so you have a universal source of truth for every product or service sold. A central place for brand assets and product information makes it easier for distributed teams to collaborate and produce consistent product experiences across all channels and touchpoints.
Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) can be leveraged for tasks like enhanced visual search, metadata tagging, or even automatically delivering podcasts to the correct channels. This helps eliminate redundant tasks, freeing up time for meaningful, impactful work.
Measuring engagement allows teams to understand the performance and impact of their content operations. Analytics could inform decisions about content needs and channel prioritization. These data-driven insights can influence content reuse and repurposing to get more mileage from every effort. They can also help teams establish benchmarks for measuring the return on technology investments.
Content operations and the content lifecycle
Ideally, content operations reflect the content lifecycle. A piece of content goes through many stages in its life and is touched by different people, processes, and technologies across them all.
Digital assets typically include six stages in their lifecycle:
Whether teams produce product videos, infographics, blog posts, white papers, blockbuster movies, or social media content, outlining the people, processes, and technologies at each stage will sharpen any content efforts and give teams the space and time they need to innovate their next content masterpiece.