How to build a more accountable content marketing workflow
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How to build a more accountable content marketing workflow

Concrete steps to create a high-resolution content workflow.

The editorial calendar is the first hub of operations for most content marketing teams.

It’s about distilling priorities. Articles need to be written and they need to be published. A calendar lets you break down which articles are being published when.

Editorial calendars, however, tend to become less and less useful as your content marketing operation grows.

The problem with the editorial calendar

We’ve seen teams go through this shift time and time again. As the amount of people and moving parts involved in producing your content grow, the spreadsheet holding your entire workflow together falls into disrepair. Due dates are pushed forward. Pieces don’t get finished.

Accountability is a product of transparency. When your data is out of date and there’s no visibility into the pipeline, it becomes very difficult to even understand which pieces are being worked on, let alone whether they’re proceeding on schedule.

You don’t need to be sending email followups on a hair trigger to create that accountability. You need a high-resolution content workflow — a system that can give you clarity around how pieces are progressing, defined milestones in the production process, and clear assignments and due dates.

1. Build measurable outcomes

Accountability begins with getting visibility into the writing process.

We’ve seen teams organize their content marketing workflow using kanban stacks organized by theme, department or month of intended publication. These schemas can make it easier to organize your ideas and onboard other team members to the system, but you end up having to fit all the planning and actual execution into secondary fields or comments.

What you want, at the most basic level, is a view that shows you the evolution of a piece of content, from left-to-right, as a series of card stacks.

In this example, cards are created in Brainstorming, are sent to Researching, are picked up by writers and moved to Drafting, and then are placed in Revising upon the completion of a draft. They go to Publishing once editor and writer are happy with the results, and off to Promoted once they’ve been distributed on social and other channels.

Now you have a view that you can use, at a glance, to see where each piece of content in your pipeline is at the moment.

2. Staggered due dates

When you first put together your editorial calendar, it’s fine to just have a single due date. But over time, people start to change due dates and you lose accountability for how long articles actually take to write.

Getting visibility into each distinct stage of the writing pipeline is the first step in fixing this. The second is making sure that your due dates actually hold people accountable rather than slipping ever-further into the distance.

To do this, you want to set separate due dates for the different stages in your pipeline. Let’s say you know the day you want to publish a certain piece. That’s your final due date. You also know the piece will have a significant research aspect, and it will require a few days worth of revisions after the first draft is completed. You save yourself the trouble of following up after each discrete stage when, instead, you set due dates for when each status should be completed.

One article, with four due dates for each distinct stage of the piece.

When turned into a calendar, this will let you see one article, split up into different stages, with the due dates for each one staggered over time.

A calendar view that lets you review your team’s progression in stages rather than complete articles.

When a blockage on research results in the piece missing a deadline, you can intercede and fix the problem before the piece itself is late and you miss your deadline.

Before, you would have had to rely on the researcher reaching out to get the problem fixed. This way, you can stay on schedule because you’ve split up the workflow into steps that can be tracked.

3. High-resolution progress tracking

When you’ve split up your content marketing workflow into distinct stages and introduced staggered due dates for each stage, you have the raw materials that you need for high-resolution progress tracking.

In the standard editorial calendar, you can just see which articles are due and when.

With high-resolution progress tracking, you can get far more granular — and more actionable — views. You can get visibility into specific stages of the pipeline and understand if they’re progressing as they should.

You can see which articles are currently being drafted, but are blocked from completion because they still need extra images or other resources.

At the end of the week, you can review everything that’s been sent out during the week by filtering just the last few days of publication dates:

Doing a retrospective on the week with a “Delivered this Week” view.

You can sort your view by those pieces that are due to be delivered in the next two weeks, then go down the list and see if any of those pieces need extra information to move forward.

Whatever the function — management, research, writing, editing — and whatever your requirements, you can build a view to get visibility when you have the right system in place.

Accountability is transparency

Accountability, when you’re running a team, means setting clear expectations for output. It sounds negative, or associated with punishment, but it shouldn’t.

The science of objectives and key results is a good example of how accountability and measurement can improve morale, employee retention, and workplace happiness. By getting everyone focused on measurable goals, without talking about “quotas” (At Google, for instance, hitting 70–80% of your target is considered excellent) OKRs encourage creativity and build trust.

To encourage that kind of accountability inside your team, you don’t need to create check-ins or devise negative consequences. You just need a system where everyone’s work is out in the open, everyone can understand what’s happening, and you can fix whatever problems are blocking your team from achieving high-velocity output.

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