The Content Corner: Work Smarter with Workflows

Dec 7, 2015

I noticed recently that I have spent a decent amount of time discussing or referencing content workflow, but I haven’t spent much time on how to actually create or use workflows. Developing content workflows can be a fairly painless process that can make your regular content creation a much smoother and efficient process.

Flow Chart Diagram Concept

Content workflows will vary depending on your agency and can cover specific topics such as blog workflows, social media workflows or even general site maintenance. The main benefit here is to establish a repeatable routine that others (even yourself) can be trained to follow to make sure steps aren’t missed in your hectic schedule.

Repeatable, Consistent, and Efficient

One of the societal changes the Web has precipitated is the democratization of the content creation process. Anyone can create and publish content in a variety of formats and platforms. Previously, I discussed the power of user-generated content and the critical role workflows play in that process. One of the most critical user groups, however, are your peers and members of your team. The development of a workflow allows for a more open content creation structure and allows for delegation.

Delegation of steps in the content creation process can be powerful in a variety of ways. The first is delegation of specific steps: it can free you or other content creators to focus more on just the writing and creation tasks. For example, if you can develop a workflow and have a team member handle the copy editing and SEO review portion, then the writer can focus more on sharing their subject matter knowledge. This process works wonderfully in my experience (thanks to my amazing editors at DigitalGov, by the way).

Question Mark on Organizational Chart

Delegation can also open the content creation process to other team members with similar expertise, but different perspectives. Sharing ideas and leveraging these different views can really provide a much richer content creation process. It’s not quite crowd-sourcing content creation, but it does allow for the integration of your team’s varied experiences and perspectives on topics. I love working with teams on projects because I know I don’t have all the answers and I am not the beginning and end of wisdom. Just as the Web opened up content creation, it also opened up the sharing of opinions that can help (albeit rarely these days) strengthen your content.

Charlie Gilkey at Copyblogger makes a great point that delegation is not about saving time, but about improving your content. A workflow can help you expand the content creation team while maintaining your consistency and efficiency and improve your final product.

Making Workflows is Easy

I can hear many of you as you start reading this (it’s a special skill I have) thinking that you don’t have time to create workflows. They can sound like a serious task and many people start picturing flowcharts and wondering if they have MS Visio installed on their desktop. But the truth is you have already created most of the workflows; you just need to free them from your brain and put them down on (digital) paper.

As an example, here is my normal workflow that I follow in order to bring you a sensational Content Corner blog post every Monday.

  1. Review topics added to my editorial calendar.
  2. Review DigitalGov’s monthly theme.
  3. Draft blog post (possibly just headings or a list of bullets).
  4. Complete first full draft of blog post.
  5. Review for basic copy edit errors and SEO/readability issues.
  6. Add links to cross-reference existing content on DigitalGov and elsewhere.
  7. Turn it over to the wonderful DigitalGov team and their own workflow.

Hey, guess what I just did? I created a blog post workflow. There will be more complex workflows and I could have documented some of the additional steps that occur once DigitalGov team members take delivery of my blog post.

The critical thing is to begin creating a list of the common tasks you perform during content creation and then either build out or improve and consolidate.

And don’t get hung up with choosing some complex tool or method of capturing the workflow. A shared environment and a simple list like the one above work just fine, if your team uses Google Drive or Evernote or Slack: just add the list to that platform (always being sure to check the Terms of Service before signing up). Without capturing the steps, you can’t easily delegate nor do you have a reference tool (if you are creating content alone).

A large majority of us are not developing content (or doing much of anything) in a vacuum. A critical part of any workflow in a team environment is to be sure to assign the steps accordingly.

For example, I know who on the DigitalGov team will handle each specific task that needs to be completed before a post goes live. This again helps with delegation and frees other team members to focus on their responsibilities.

Just as with project management basics and publishing workflows commonly baked into your CMS, this helps provide a smoother and more consistent experience for your team and for your users.You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.