January 4, 2021 | Sean Foo
So your content marketing strategy is approved and you have your content production team locked down – you should now be on the express lane to success, right?
Hold your horses because the journey has only just begun!
Whether you are a fast-growing startup or an established brand, efficient (and effective) content marketing isn’t like a production line where articles or videos are cranked out and then uploaded automatically by a machine.
A team of people will be involved in the content development process and that adds complexity and challenges – especially when you decide to scale the process.
Producing 5 pieces of content a month might seem hassle-free, but I guarantee you that when the time comes to produce 20 or 30 articles a month, big problems will arise that will affect your organization’s productivity.
You don’t want that!
Thankfully with a content review and approval process, you’ll be able to establish a framework early on that will allow you to consistently produce and publish content that is valuable to your audience and on-point to your brand message.
A content approval process is essentially a series of steps or sequence, from the initial creation of the content to the final approval of the piece, ready for publication.
For an article, it is highly likely that it will have to go through, at minimum, six phases:
In today’s hyper-competitive environment to grab and retain attention, you’ll need both quality and quantity of content.
But without an approval process, mistakes might sneak through that will affect the results you get from its traffic potential to its persuasiveness.
The first draft of any content usually contains gaps which don’t necessarily have to be language or grammatical errors.
They can include:
Think of your content marketing engine like a submarine. Small cracks and loose screws now won’t matter on the surface, but the deeper it goes, the pressure and stresses will absolutely wreck your entire vessel.
The same goes for your content marketing machine.
If you decide to scale, you’ll need a content marketing approval process to get your entire team on-board to hit your publication deadlines stress-free!
An effective content review and approval system will accomplish four core objectives:
From grammatical errors to missing sentences and wrong use of keywords – you’d be surprised that even the best writers, agencies or in-house teams make mistakes that’ll need to be corrected.
How you write for your blog isn’t how you would write for another platform such as LinkedIn or a guest-post on Forbes (the same goes for video content as well).
From the tone of voice to relevant internal-linking, your piece must be native and highly relevant to the platform you are publishing it on.
While this might seem rather obvious, sometimes during the content creation process, we might be writing for ourselves and instead of for the audience!
A content approval process allows a more thorough vetting of the content to ensure it satisfies the search intent of your audience and adds value to their lives (be it educational or entertainment-wise).
When you hit the publish button for your article, it will take anywhere from 2 to 6 months for it to reach its maximum traffic potential. That means, the longer you drag out your content creation process, the further away you will be from your business goals.
A content approval process helps to ensure your content doesn’t get stuck in limbo and gets distributed to your audience.
Now that we know just how important a content workflow is, let’s get started on creating one for your business – doesn’t matter if you are establishing an in-house team or working with external agencies.
While this should be covered in your content strategy, it is key to outline clearly your content marketing goals to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands the value of playing ball.
Every organization will have different goals – some might be in a hyper-competitive space that requires 10 pieces of content to be pushed out weekly at specific timings.
Others might require only 8 blog posts a month to build traction on their new blog. Whatever the case, it is mission-critical that your objectives (and expectations) are clearly highlighted.
One great way to do this is to make sure your content goals are SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
For example, if your overall content strategy is to drive targeted traffic to your website’s blog, you want to establish SMART goals such as:
Specific: We want to grow our blog’s traffic
Measurable: We want to experience at least a monthly visitor growth of 2,000
Achievable: We have the resources and team to generate 10 blog posts per month
Relevant: By growing our traffic, we will be able to grow our email subscriber base
Timely: We want to achieve this within 12 months
By getting everyone on-board with these SMART goals, you’ll be able to track the progress of your content marketing and get buy-in from the people involved.
The next step is to identify the people involved in your content approval process.
There is a saying – ‘Too many cooks spoil the soup’ and there is nothing closer to the truth when it comes to content development!
Everyone has an opinion and unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), not every opinion is valid and should be considered. You want to keep the number of stakeholders involved in editing and approving content to a minimum.
Thankfully, you can effectively do this by defining the stakeholders involved and assigning them roles and responsibilities in the content approval process.
Yes, yes, there will likely be office politics involved if you are in a bigger organization, but this process is a necessary evil that has to be done in pursuit of content marketing success.
Here is a list of the key roles that are common in a content approval team.
I) The Content Manager
The content manager can be a representative of an external agency or from your own in-house team.
His or her role is to ensure the content strategy is being followed, the right pieces of content are being assigned to the creators as well as publishing the content on the various platforms.
II) The Content Creator
Whether this is your writer or a videographer, this is the person (or team) in charge of creating the actual content itself.
Normally, the content creator will be the one who interprets the brief, comes out with an outline and produces the content.
III) The Content Designer (Post-Production)
Your content designer (or post-production person for videos) is in charge of creating the accompanying graphics or effects to go with your article or video.
IV) The Editor
The editor is in charge of going through the content and providing feedback on the content creator’s drafts.
V) The Business Expert
The business expert is someone in the company who is a commercial or subject matter expert from another department.
His or her role is critical to add value or insight to the content. This is especially necessary for the middle to bottom of the funnel pieces, to showcase the differentiators or unique selling proposition of the brand’s products or solutions.
VI) The Digital Marketer
The digital marketer is the individual who coordinates all your content & digital marketing efforts, ensuring it contributes effectively to the end goal – likely generating leads and sales.
He or she will be the person who will be utilising the piece of content, after it is published, as an asset to market your brand to the rest of the online world.
VII) The SEO Manager
The SEO manager is in charge of optimizing your content to ensure it is friendly for search engines such as YouTube, Google Search and Bing.
Depending on your resources, it is highly likely some of the roles might be handled by a single individual – however, we advise to have the business expert role to be someone completely separate from the content creation or digital optimization team.
You’ll want an objective set of eye-balls to critique your work and share plus integrate key ideas critical to the business that you might have left out.
Now that you have your content team assembled and clear about their roles, it’s time to create the actual content approval workflow.
Every stage here is actionable, where each individual will have to play a part to ensure the content is swiftly reviewed, edited and pushed along towards publication.
The clearer your content review team understands this process, the faster it can be handled and the more content can be published, allowing you to keep to your original content marketing strategy.
Here is a content approval process that we recently worked out with one of a mid-size client with a content review team of just 5 individuals, including the content creators (in this case, it’s us)
In the examples, we will be using blog posts as the content piece. You can just as easily adapt this process if you are producing anything from long-form videos to Instagram posts.
While this is an optional phase, certain brands or companies want tighter control over their content creation. This outlining phase would also need an approval workflow so that the narrative and content approach is set in stone.
The last thing you want is to re-do the entire content piece after hours or days of effort have been poured into it!
1. The content manager sets a topic and direction for the blog post and passes it to the content creator (eg. writer).
2. The content creator outlines the article and passes it to both the content manager and the business expert.
3. The content manager (and business experts) will leave any feedback and send it over to the writer to start creating the blog post.
Now, this is where the main content review & approval workflow will begin, once the first draft is out from the writer.
1. The writer produces the first draft and passes it on to the editor for his review.
2. The editor takes a look and leaves his suggestions and feedback before passing it to the business expert.
3. The business expert goes through the content and leaves his comments and passes it back to the writer.
4. The writer will then make the necessary changes and pass the finished article to the designer for the creation of relevant graphics and illustrations and the SEO manager for optimization (eg. Title tags, sub-headings, meta descriptions etc)
5. The article will then be passed to the content manager for consolidation and publishing it on the company’s blog.
6. The published article will then be passed on to the digital marketer for distribution across social networks (eg. LinkedIn, Facebook) or for link-building.
With your approval workflow established, the next step is to set your approval timeline – the last thing you want is for your approval team to drag out the process!
While the timeline should have some flexibility, it is important to define some clear boundaries (or limits) to ensure content gets produced, reviewed and approved.
Everyone is busy so here are three things to take into consideration when defining your timeline:
– When you need each step to be completed
– Whether working per content piece or by batches is better
– The number of content pieces that need approval
Now, a big point to note is working in batches vs piece-by-piece. Both have their pros and cons.
If you are a medium-sized or smaller company, working in batches makes more sense. It allows for dedicated focus for all approving parties and clears all articles at once.
As a bonus, it also makes the lives of your SEO manager, designer and content manager much easier!
It’ll allow them to allocate key blocks of time to finish their contribution to the content (optimization, designing or publication).
Here is an example of a recent time-line that we set with one of our tech clients (based on 3 articles a week)
As you can see, it will take approximately 9 days from the start of the topic and outline approvals to the publishing of the batch of 3 articles.
Having such a timeline established will allow you to quickly identify potential bottlenecks and rectify it by adding more individuals into the role (such as more editors or designers) to reduce the time needed to complete the step.
More importantly, this assigns accountability to the various roles, ensuring that everyone does their job on time to keep the ball rolling.
People come and go, but your editorial guidelines are forever.
An editorial guideline is a playbook that allows anyone new in their role to quickly get up to speed with their responsibilities in the content creation & approval process.
This helps to maintain brand consistency throughout your content for your audience and followers.
Here are some common guidelines for your content to consider implementing.
For written content:
For video content:
Now that we have the content review process, timeline and guidelines established, we can wrap them up and systemize it using checklists!
While this might see bordering on the edge of being too methodical, hear me out!
A checklist for each specific role, allows your content review team to work faster and more accurately – especially when they have a lot on their plate.
For example, a content editor will likely have a checklist that centres around how coherent, engaging and grammatically correct an article is.
Creating checklists such as the one above for the various roles in the approval process (such as for your SEO manager, business expert and content manager) will allow you to quickly onboard new individuals into their tasks and ensure reviews are done comprehensively.
Finally, what you want to do, especially as your content team grows, is to use project management tools to quickly assign tasks and to hold your approval team accountable.
Trust me, it gets really inefficient to continuously remind stakeholders to complete their approval tasks through email – not forgetting how it can clog up the inboxes!
Here are our top picks for a project management tool to better organize and execute your content approval workflow.
Learn more about their capabilities & how they can accomplish it.
Get started with some of their ready-made editorial calendar templates.
The key here is to select one that is best suited for your needs and then introduce the rest of your content team to it.
Pro-tip: Go for simplicity rather than complexity. The faster you can get the ball rolling the better, you can always upgrade your project management tool down the road.
While having a robust content review process helps you to streamline the production and publication of your content pieces, issues will inevitably crop up that might derail you from hitting those deadlines.
Thankfully, we have gone through a whole host of them so that you can prevent them from happening to your own content team and accelerate your content approval process.
Solution – Set due dates & assign a dedicated chaser
Sometimes, despite setting up the approval framework and assigning tasks to stakeholders, balls will get dropped and people will forget their responsibilities or push it off to another date.
To pre-empt this, set clear due dates in your project management dashboard/tool and assign a dedicated chaser to remind everyone in the chat thread on the looming deadlines.
Ideally, a few days before the content publication date and on the content publication date itself (if there is still a delay).
Someone will have to be the ‘bad guy’, but this is a necessary step to ensure timelines are being met.
Solution – Reaffirm your outlines & pay more attention during content planning
“Can we add another section on this current event?”
“Maybe we need to add three more graphics to really bring out this example”
If you are hearing suggestions such as these late into the content approval process, it’ll likely cause a domino effect on not just your publication timeline but a delay on the rest of the content production as well!
To pre-empt this, place more emphasis and welcome more feedback during the content outlining phase. Once everyone is satisfied with it, the outline will be locked and any feedback from then on is to optimize the content, not change the direction or the approach.
Solution – Share the content brief & lay-out the right context from the get-go
Perhaps the most infuriating part of the content approval process is having to deal with vague feedback that leaves the content creator scratching their head.
This is mainly due to the reviewer not having the right context from the start on:
In order to create amazing content, feedback can’t be too general or it will not only demotivate the content creation team, but it might also make the content worse-off than the original!
The solution here is to share the content brief and other key resources (such as the content strategy, buyer personas) with the entire content review team to get everyone on the same page.
Building a content review & approval process doesn’t have to be difficult, just follow our 7-step guide and you’ll be able to easily scale your content team without any compromises.
Need help with your content marketing? We can help.
Contact us here and we’ll be in touch!