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What are content operations and why are they important?

How well is your content team embedded within your product or service delivery? How seamless and smooth are your publishing processes? How consistent is your content to your users? How easily can your organisation scale its content?

For Shelter, the answers to these questions lie in the strength of our content operations.

If content strategy and organisational strategy are about what content gets made, content operations focus on how it gets made by creating the optimal conditions for great content: the processes, platforms, and people involved.

Content ops supports the people and systems an organisation needs to consistently deliver useful, usable content. It integrates and orchestrates all of the complex, moving parts of the content ecosystem.

Kristina Halvorson, Content Strategy for the Web

What we need content operations to achieve

A big part of content ops is identifying and removing the everyday blockers and continual barriers to making great content. Working beyond the silos and eliminating the pain points and time wasters. We realised that when we can smooth out the rough patches in content delivery, everyone involved will enjoy their jobs more, be more energised and produce strong results.

Also, since we upgraded to a headless CMS (Contentful) in 2019/2020, we now have the ability to deliver a higher ROI on our publishing software, allowing content teams to focus on delivering better results in a more time effective way.

Some specific goals of our content ops are to:

  • ensure all content designers have the knowledge to meet Shelter’s range of standards, from brand to accessibility to SEO and much more

  • equip content designers with the tools and technology to do their jobs

  • give all content designers and producers the time needed to deliver content that meets user needs

  • make sure everyone in Shelter’s content world - our content designers, content managers and content owners, and Central Digital teams - understands their role in delivering great content

  • establish and solidify the collaboration and communications that keeps the machine oiled and running smoothly

  • create processes and features that can be iterated and scaled up for use within different content teams across the business

Our content processes

There are a range of processes that make up content operations, depending on the strategic purpose of the content, its audience, the content type, and the complexity of content and the product or service that it’s part of.

Some standard content processes:

  • Publishing workflows - briefing, writing, reviews and approvals, image sourcing (or commissioning), creating content in the CMS, publishing it live - then managing live content, which covers monitoring its performance, making revisions and improvements, and retiring the content when needed. All of this is contained within Shelter’s digital lifecycle.

  • Content design - the methodology used by our central content team, the Digital Advice team and others as a proven path for researching user needs, identifying content goals, drafting content, critiquing and improving, and publishing. More on how Shelter performs content design.

  • CMS workflows - these are really a subset of publishing workflows (above), but are automated flows within our content management system, Contentful. Teams and individuals can be automatically alerted and linked to content that needs their review or attention. (June 2022 note: these are currently in development.)

  • Design workflows - which cover anything from new web page designs to user interactions like buttons, and use tools like Shelter’s design system for ensuring consistency for all our users.

  • Production workflows - covering all content from our Creative team (including images, graphics and animations), as well as video production, which has its own set of specific flow points.

All these processes are where you see our principles and guidelines in action - meeting the standards of both Shelter and the wider digital world.

And in any content process, a core principle is to achieve a high quality result (as in meeting the user’s needs), efficiently.

Our content technology

The most prominent tool of our content ops is Contentful, our CMS. Contentful lets us do a full range of content creation and management tasks: drafting, page building, publishing workflows (see above) to pushing content live and then updating or retiring that content.

From an operations perspective, Contentful has three real benefits:

  • It lets us create content that’s consistent in look, feel and behaviour. Our content, development and product teams worked together to create a content model, which defines the many types of content we can create, and which elements and fields that can include.

  • It allows us to reuse content. A single piece of created content can be used on many pages and for multiple audiences and messages, which saves us time - and, again, consistency. This requires its own process to ensure that single piece of content doesn’t get changed for one page or audience, thus affecting all the other pages and audiences it’s used for.

  • We can use Contentful as a library for images and graphic assets, keeping our raw visual content in one place.

Our other content tech covers our measurement and analysis tools as well as the digital channels besides our websites: Tools for delivering campaign petitions (Impact Stack), social media (Sprout Social), and email marketing (Adobe).

Aligning content teams across Shelter

If the Shelter teams creating content aren’t connected to each other, our content will be disconnected and disjointed for the user.

So we foster collaboration - between content people and between teams. We achieve this in two ways:

  • Through product or service teams - Any new product or service is the connection point between content people (content designers, content managers and content owners) and other digital functions: Product management, UX, Development, Digital analysis and others.

Example: Shelter’s Product Team for Services was tasked with delivering a personalised advice service. They needed to create a scalable solution that helps people find information easily, applies to their specific circumstances, and gives them confidence that they’ve understood the information so that they can resolve their problem. 

The product team worked closely with our Digital Advice team (the content owners) through focussed discovery, design and deployment phases to write project principles and goals, user stories/actions/outcomes, and a wide range of content goals.

  • Through our Content Community of Practice. Communities of Practice (CoPs) are cross-organisational, non-hierarchical groups that meet regularly maintain best practices, create learning opportunities and - crucially for good content ops - reduce duplication.The other type of alignment we foster is strategic: connecting our content delivery to Shelter’s strategy (the golden thread) through clear governance, and connecting it to each directorate’s content strategy.

Managing content managers and their content

To help all of Shelter’s content people understand their role responsibilities, we developed our tiered approach to devolution. Within that model, we have two types of content ownership roles, covering every page on our websites:

  • Content owners - who lead self-publishing content teams and are subject matter experts in their content

  • Content managers - who are responsible for monitoring their team’s content, measuring its performance and managing it through updates and retirement. Content managers aren’t content professionals and don't publish content - they rely on the expertise of the product teams (including content designers) to make decisions around what that content is, the user value, how it fits into user journeys/big picture, and deliver it.

Supporting both of these roles is the Content Operations Manager in the Central Digital team, who builds relationships with them, provides access to and training in Contentful and other tools, and helps them streamline their processes.

Why we decided we needed to prioritise content operations

The importance of our content governance

Content and user journeys

Shelter’s devolved model of delivering digital

Further reading

We recommend Rachel McConnell’s Leading Content Design, a valuable book on all things content ops.

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