Content without governance is not strategy

Graphic suggesting leaders and territories.

Content creation without governance is not a true content strategy. Routine auditing, workflow adjustments, and iterative learning are key processes of a working strategy and necessary for improving content over time. Explore this perspective on content governance and learn ways to gain buy-in for future content initiatives.

If you aren’t considering what happens to content after you publish and deploy it, then you aren’t really working with a content strategy. A strategy is a plan for specific outcomes that determine success. Part of that plan is how we take care of content that’s out in the wild.

Content creation is hot in 2014. According to the Custom Content Council, the industry is on fire with about $44 billion in content-related spending from 2013. Organisations increasingly invest in content people and technology to fulfill the aims of various campaigns and web projects. The amount of information on the internet continues to grow.

How many of us are just pumping content into the market without thinking about its future?

Content planning, development, and publishing are just steps in the journey. When we deploy content without any consideration about its governance, we aren’t truly embracing a full content strategy. We also miss out on benefits that come with keeping an eye on content at the governance level.

Creating content is just one part of a content strategy

There are plenty of articles and guides on the internet that encourage content professionals (especially content marketers) to create content and “feed the beast”. Within the content marketing community, specifically, the planning and actual structuring of content is the most abbreviated part of the process, with a lot of haste toward production.

Well, content creation is just one part of an holistic content strategy.

Let’s consider a definition of content strategy to appreciate what a full content strategy is. Rahel Bailie, one of the industry’s most-respected practitioners, defines Content Strategy as [t]he analysis and planning to develop a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the content lifecycle.

In order to sustain a repeatable system around effective content, we content practitioners need to frequently evaluate our methods and outputs. This evaluation comes after creating content, but is often informed by the creation steps.

After creation and deployment of content, there needs to be a consistent evaluation of the content’s performance, its relationship between other assets, and whether or not the expectations of users and the organisation still fit within the content strategy. Holistic content strategies require this kind of evaluation.

Assets, calendars, structures, and other content components need grading and scoring. This is what leads to tempering of content into stronger assets, or, the culling of weaker pieces so that the top performers can continue to shine.

In our massively interconnected world, the usefulness of content — and our expectations for it — is continuously shifting. A strong governance plan is the best way to keep up with those shifts and to ensure that content is doing what it should.

What’s governance?

Content governance is definitely not as attractive as content planning, development, and deployment. However, governance is critical to the success of any long-term content initiative. It’s the promise of dedication to content’s long-term success.

According to Val Swisher of Content Rules, content governance policies contain guidelines to determine who has ownership or responsibility for various aspects of content within an organisation. This includes processes to evaluate content performance and its existence within a given content ecosystem.

If you’re in charge of governance, you’re likely going to:

  • Audit content, once it’s in the wild, to determine performance at set intervals.
  • Use insights from collected performance data to inform next iteration of content.
  • Ensure that the right people are working in the right roles to maintain content structure and delivery.
  • Adjust existing content policies and processes to adapt to new market forces and challenges.

What this brings to the organisation:

  • Improved content through iteration over time.
  • Identification of content that is poorly suited to key objectives.
  • Routine assurance of content quality.
  • Confidence that content teams are conducting their roles and meeting set expectations.

Extending governance to user research validation

With proper content governance in place, opportunities arise to monitor how people experience content. You can use this insight to improve the delivery and sustenance of content, as well as how content is designed.

There’s even a chance to use information from content governance to validate user personas or research. The more accurate you are with profiling, the stronger your content becomes with respect to voice and tone, choice of channel, and how you meet the expectations of your audience.

For instance, let’s say you build content using a particular user persona and find out six months after content deployment that some of your initial assumptions about the intended audience aren’t true. With a proper governance process in place, your team can use the collected data to identify that something’s wrong with user assumptions. You can take advantage of these insights and update your content to adjust to what you learn throughout the campaign, hopefully improving content performance for the future.

Gaining buy-in for content governance

By now I hope you’re in agreement with how important and critical content governance is to long-term success for any organisation. Here are two recommendations that will help push for stronger governance:

Sell iteration up-front: When stakeholders and clients are in agreement that iteration is key for content success, a good foundation for governance is established. Content governance only exists where practitioners and stakeholders are okay with iteration, measurement, and continuous improvement. Without the appetite for this cycle, it’s very difficult to sell the value of governance.

Make insights an objective: There’s as much to learn during a content campaign or project as there is before its launch. But when stakeholders and clients agree to learn more about their audience after the launch of a campaign too, they’re more likely to adopt an iterative process. If there’s a need for iteration, content governance policies and practices can thrive.

A sustainable content strategy should seamlessly cycle insights back into content development. We only get these kinds of insights if there are policies and practices that allow content professionals to discover these useful nuggets. A true content strategy requires governance to create the means of continuous improvement of a given content project.