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Content operations: the hidden superpower of digital delivery

Victorian Houses Nottingham by Natesh Ramasamy

Just like building a house, a good content strategy needs foundations and structure to make it work in practice. This is content operations – the tools and processes that enable us to successfully create, manage and publish content at scale.

At Shelter, content operations are something our content teams have always considered, but with so much else to think about, it was almost impossible to devote the time or resource it needs to do it well. In a growing organisation like ours, we have seen an increasing need to focus on content ops as a discipline in its own right. We have numerous teams working on all kinds of content, and when you’re all using the same CMS, things can get complicated quickly.

“Many technology transformations fail because systems are not embedded into the business. They need the right processes, capacity and capability to use the technology to scale the impact you are delivering! For publishing, the process of creating and digitising the value stream of user needs met by content and publishing is called content ops. Ignore it at your peril.”

- Caspar Below, Head of Digital at Shelter

To remedy this, we now have a Content Operations Manager, whose role is dedicated to working to improve the way we do this full-time – but it took some convincing to get there.

A content problem

After setting out on an ambitious website migration project in 2019, it became clear that we had a problem. There were thousands of web pages live across our platforms, but a significant proportion of them were out of date and unaccounted for.

We had done the research and invested in a shiny new piece of technology – a headless CMS to give our content teams a more streamlined and efficient way to publish. But we were now faced with a website full of content where value and user need were unclear, and no coherent ownership structure to help us resolve this.

Despite now having great tooling to publish at scale, there were some big questions that needed answering about how we should manage and use it to get the best ROI. With a new system and the need for new ways of working, it was an opportunity to rethink how we approach content operations and governance to really deliver on our content strategy. This was a chance to streamline publishing, make our content work harder, and avoid getting into further content debt.

Making content ops a focus, not an afterthought

Part of the decision to make content operations a role in the Digital team was the realisation that when we can smooth out the rough patches in content delivery, it frees up content designers to focus on doing their jobs more effectively.

As such, a big part of the content ops work we do centres on identifying and removing the everyday blockers and continual barriers stopping teams making great content. It works to join up the gaps between our content teams, eliminating their pain points and time wasters, increasing velocity while keeping standards high.

To give our content operations power and sustainability, we’ve also established a content lifecycle, covering all phases of content delivery to reflect the same spirit of continual improvement at the core of our Digital Framework.

The work we do day to day follows the Digital team’s test and learn approach, and usually fits into one of three categories:

  • people – aligning content teams through training, clear roles, responsibilities and structure

  • processes – implementing, improving and documenting workflows

  • technology – creating tools and documentation to run the CMS and manage our content effectively

One size doesn’t fit all

In an organisation with many moving parts, it’s always challenging to create processes and guidance that work for everyone. We also have a lot at stake. Shelter’s strategy is highly ambitious, and our content has the power to make real, measurable differences to people’s lives.

Everything we publish is part of a diverse ecosystem of content, informed by our users’ needs, strategic goals, our stakeholders and our content teams. Investing more in content operations is helping us look at the big picture, fill in the gaps and the way each of these aspects work together, so what we do publish has more impact and traction.

To do this well, we also need to consider the context of our content teams and the types of audiences they serve. Our content ops aren’t meant to be a rigid set of rules but rather a framework to give teams the tools they need to create processes that best serve their users.

By connecting stakeholders and content teams through smooth, streamlined processes and thoughtful technology in this way, we are helping Shelter do more with less – giving a greater number of users high value content by focusing on efficiency.

Want to know more about content operations at Shelter? Read all about it in the latest release of the Digital Framework.

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