Content operations: Getting started with a people-first approach

Content operations is the secret behind streamlining content management and delivery so your creative teams can focus on exceeding their content goals.
October 19, 2023


So you’ve hired a fantastic content team, created a great content strategy, but somehow you still aren’t hitting your content marketing goals.

Companies invest a lot in content creation, but creating content is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a long list of operational tasks that come with managing and delivering content across a growing number of channels and markets.

This is where content operations comes into play. It’s the secret behind streamlining content management and delivery so your creative teams can focus on exceeding those content goals.

What is content operations?

Content operations is how you produce content from start to finish. It’s the people involved, the technology you use, and the processes you follow.

By clearly defining how you create, deliver, and manage content, content operations enables you to continuously improve and streamline the process.

What’s more, it helps companies understand the effort required for different content types so they can be more strategic about where content creators invest their time. 

How is content operations different from project management?

Content operations is similar to project management in that it clearly outlines the process and people involved, but the goal is a replicable process rather than a one and done project.

Content operations takes the operational approach we see in project management and applies that to content production to make the whole process smoother and more efficient. 

Why do you need content operations?

Content operations frees editors to focus on content creation. It takes over the physical work and mental overhead of managing operational tasks and provides a framework creating quality content, faster. This is critical for organizations that want to scale content production and need to manage large volumes of content. 

Content teams need help managing a more complex content lifecycle

Content teams used to focus on writing content. After a draft was approved, they would paste it into a content management system and move on to their next assignment. Today the content lifecycle is far more complex with multiple versions of each piece of content adding to the workload.

As content scales, content operations within the content lifecycle get more complex.

How does a content operations manager or operations team help?

A content operations team, or team member (such as a designated content operations manager), takes a high-level view of content and its lifecycle.

With this big picture in mind, they can smooth out challenges, eliminate redundant work, and help optimize and organize content across your portfolio of digital products. All while freeing creatives to focus on what they do best: content creation. 

Builds replicable processes

A lot of time is lost when people have to figure out the next step in a process. Questions like who needs to review this copy, will this need translation, or what format the content should be in take time to answer.

Miscommunications result in rework and missed deadlines. Who hasn’t hurried to get content written only to find out the approver is on vacation?

Content operations figures all these things out before content is written and documents them so that everyone can see what’s expected and when. With replicable processes in place, projects start sooner, move faster, and consistently deliver the right content. 

Enables predictable timelines

Once you have consistent processes, you can start predicting timelines. You can tell content writers their outline will be reviewed within seven days. You can commit to producing a certain number of blog posts or case studies each month. 

This ability to commit to and communicate timelines benefits people across functions. Graphic designers, reviewers, and anyone who supports content production can anticipate when they need to be available to keep the process flowing. This helps establish expectations and predictable workflows across teams. 

Empowers people with the right tools and technology

Manually updating content in multiple places and the administrative work required after content is published is a huge drain on creatives.

Many teams use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to track and manage content, but these tools aren’t designed for content operations. As a content operations manager, I look for tools that automate administrative work and make content management easier for creatives.

For example, using Airtable enables our content team to track content in one place while automatically notifying stakeholders and updating our wiki pages. This automation reduces the workload on creatives and reduces human error.   

How does content operations increase the value and ROI of content?

Making content operations more efficient gives people the time, bandwidth and brain space to be more productive, more creative, and more strategic with the content they create. They’re free to focus on writing amazing content, exploring new formats, and building unique customer experiences. 

Get content out faster

Content operations is like an assembly line for your content. While the content itself is unique, the steps for content production can be itemized to create a replicable process.

You save all the time that used to be spent figuring out what format to use, what design elements are needed, who will approve the content, and what a realistic timeline might be.

All those steps are built into a process so you can produce content faster without missing steps or sacrificing quality content. 

Optimize content performance

Using technology to streamline content creation frees up time to focus on how that content is performing. You can incorporate performance measurement into the process so you know when the message hits the right mark. And because content operations clearly define processes, you can use those performance metrics to refine the process and optimize content performance.

Allocate resources to maximize ROI  

Content operations helps companies understand the cost of different content types. You can look at the process and put a dollar value on people’s time. Then you can look at performance metrics to determine which content types deliver the highest ROI. With this information, you can refine your content strategy to maximize return on investment.

How to bring content operations into your organization

How you build a content operations function will vary depending on organization structure, size, and how content is currently managed. 

Embed the content operations role within a team and expand out

One approach is to hire a content operations manager as part of the team responsible for content creation. This is the approach we took at Contentful. As the Content Operations Manager, I’m part of the Content Team. 

If you choose this approach, you’ll start applying content operations to the processes your team owns. At Contentful, I started with our content creation and publishing processes. Then you can expand out to the teams your team works with directly — design, product management, events, etc. 

As the scope of content operations expands, your goal is to understand how each team’s processes impact each other. From there you can start to meld the processes into a more integrated, holistic approach that accounts for roles and responsibilities across functions. This results in more workflow integrations and reduces friction between teams.

Depending on the size of your business, the content operations role might evolve from a single person to a team dedicated to operations across functions. Each team might have their own operations manager and those managers work together on cross-functional process integrations.

Take a top-down approach and introduce content operations across teams

Another approach is to bring a content operations manager in at a higher level, where they would have authority across multiple functions. This enables content operations to take a top-down approach and build cross-functional processes from the start. 

The content operations manager would meet with all the different teams, identify pain points, and address problems between teams. Being at a higher level allows them to bring more teams into the conversation from the beginning. They can define roles, responsibilities, and workflows across teams to develop those efficient cross-functional processes faster than is possible when you’re working from within an individual team.

A people-first approach to content operations

Regardless of where content operations sits, I like to take a people-first approach because you're nothing without your team. It’s important to recognize that everyone works a little differently. In order to build realistic solutions, you need to talk to the people and teams involved. You need to consider how people actually work, not just how they should work in a perfect world.

I like to start with a conversation where the team can talk through the organization’s content needs, what the workflows are, what their pain points are, and what they think the ideal content process should be. I might already have an idea of where I can make improvements, but I need to know what they feel the problems are. Often those problems are symptoms of a bigger issue. 

Listening to the team and developing the processes with their input is important because I don't want to set up an unrealistic process that makes them feel like they’re going to fail. I’m very people-oriented and willing to take an iterative approach where we work together to keep refining the process until we’re happy with it. 

It’s important to realize that content operations isn’t one and done. You need to give teams time to try a new process, then come back and refine it a little more. Sometimes the problems are just too big to solve all at once.

How the Contentful Composable Content Platform makes content operations easier

In addition to my years of experience as Contentful’s content operations manager, I’ve also had the benefit of seeing how customers use our Composable Content Platform to rapidly improve content operations.

Unifying content in one place and enabling multiple teams to use and reuse that content across digital channels is a huge step forward toward more streamlined content operations.

For example, Unmind, a company that aims to reduce the stigma around mental health through its enterprise-ready platform, implemented the Contentful Composable Content Platform to help structure and organize audio, video, and written content. 

“We have so much content that we need to structure and look after. What we really find as a benefit with Contentful is the way we can edit copy, and edit our videos, and even create folders and really have a clear structure on where our content operations are.” — George Stokes, Umind’s Content Operations Lead.

With their content unified in one place, Unmind customized interfaces and workflows to improve content operations. Now, editorial teams and content creators can easily identify what content is required for a given asset and where they have more flexibility.

They have newfound confidence — and greater bandwidth — to be more creative with their builds. They’ve also been able to invest more time and resources in content optimization so they can enhance content visibility and engagement. 

Learn how Unmind replatformed to Contentful and transformed their content operations in just four months.

Content operations is mostly common sense, but it doesn’t happen on its own

Successful content operations seems like common sense, so it can be tempting to implement a content strategy and let teams figure it out on their own. In reality, it’s hard to get out of the weeds and see why things aren’t working when you’re trying to get the work done.

Dedicating time and resources to content operations helps organizations improve their content strategies and reach content goals sooner. Workflows become faster, teams become more productive and have breathing room to take on new projects and optimize existing content. Everything becomes more efficient so you get the most value out of the content you create.

Take a tour!

See Contentful in action with a personalized walkthrough.

About the author

Don't miss the latest

Get updates in your inbox
Discover new insights from the Contentful developer community each month.
add-circle arrow-right remove style-two-pin-marker subtract-circle remove