What it is

A content publishing workflow is an agreed process to publish specific types of content.

For example:

  • Policy update workflow
  • Event workflow
  • Press release workflow

Why you need one

Publishing these days is not a single-person activity. It involves many people and systems. Yet, content needs to find its way through this maze and ensure that it:

  • Meets end user’s needs
  • Is clear and consistent
  • Reflects the brand

A workflow can bring order by offering an agreed step-by-step process do carry out publishing tasks. This order is important when the content is important, complex or impacts existing pages or structure.

When to define it

If you’re creating a new website, the right time to define the publishing workflows is when you are developing the content strategy.

If you have an existing website but no defined workflows (running ad-hoc eh?), then you will need to define one immediately.

How to define it

A good way to define workflows is to get the relevant people (subject matter experts, business owners, call center reps...) in a room and map it out.

A typical workflow map looks like this:

(High-res PDF).

Legend:

  • Scope: the scope of the process you’re defining at the workshop; that is, which content types does it cover? You might find that a general workflow works for most content types. But you might also find that you need specific workflows for some important types of content.

  • Steps: the stages of the publishing process. This will depend on what you deem is important for your organisation to manage. An intranet may not have the ‘Promote’ and ‘Review’ column but instead may have a ‘Versioning’ column. A content marketing programme may have a ‘Listen & Engage’ column.

  • People: the people responsible for the stage. There are some standard roles in a typical publishing process that you’ll have to fill. Examples are web writer, editor, reviewer, subject matter expert, SEO expert and content sourcing manager.

  • Process: how it gets done. A typical way of documenting a process is to create a swimlane diagram. Here’s an example of a Press Release swimlane diagram from Richard Ingram.

  • Platform: the technology to get it done. For example, a CMS in the ‘Create’ stage and Google Analytics in the ‘Measure’ stage.

  • Tools: the quality control tools. This is the place to include all the content governance tools that were defined as part of the content strategy.

The workshop

Here’s how we use this framework to define the publishing workflow:

Identify the content types

It is rare to find a single all-encompassing publishing workflow that will cover all publishing requirements inside an organisation. In most cases, publishing workflow requirements will vary depending on the type of content. Product pages will have different publishing requirements than, say, technical support pages. Both should follow the broad goals of the content strategy but the publishing requirements will be different. The first thing to do is to target the content types you want to manage.

Invite the right stakeholders

Next, invite the right stakeholders who can fill out the boxes of the framework. These are people who have the knowledge, experience and responsibility to make content decisions. Typical people are Editor-in-Chief, Marketing Manager, CMS Lead, Subject Matter Experts and Business Leaders. It is best to send these stakeholders a reminder of the content strategy work done thus far and the expected outcomes of this workshop.

Run the workshop

It is time for the workshop. Follow these steps:

  • Brief the participants on the framework
  • Help them fill out the out the boxes
  • Explore ways to make the process more efficient

Don’t worry if the answers do not come easily. It just may be that this is the first time they’re defining the damn thing! Focus on how things are being done currently and probe for ways of doing it better.

Assign follow-up tasks

The participants may be able to fill out all the boxes during the workshop, especially the ones involving the process flows. Assign follow-up tasks to those responsible for finishing up such work.

Keep the discussion going

After you complete the workflow, pass it along to get more feedback. Discuss it with colleagues and see if they think it will work.

Operationalise the publishing workflow

The workflow is useless unless it is operationalised. You need to inform and educate the people involved on this new workflow. It is only when everyone uses the workflow that you’ll be able to see the benefits.

Conclusion

Defining content publishing workflows is about taking the next concrete step after defining the content strategy. It unifies people, processes, platform and governance issues.

Do you have a process for defining publishing workflows? How do you unite people, processes and technology to meet your strategic outcomes? Tell us in the comments.