We all know that planning is important: You’ve gotten to know your audience, developed target personas, curated existing content, and documented a great content strategy to engage your audience.
When you’re ready to start producing content, a well-defined, proven, content creation process can keep you from getting bogged down while creating the next article, blog, paper, video, slideshare, etc.
As the content strategist for a content agency. I am always looking for best practices that eliminate roadblocks to creating compelling content while staying on schedule and in budget. Below are some secrets (well, they’re not really secrets anymore, are they!) we use to help things go smoothly.
1.Have a vision or goal before you start
The first step in the content creation process is to know why you are creating a piece of content and what you expect it to accomplish.
What is the purpose for the content?
(paper, article, infographic, blog, web copy, video script, slideshare, etc.) You should have a clear idea of why you are creating it and what it should do. Should it motivate people to subscribe or opt-in? Should it simplify a complex thought or process? Should it move an audience towards a purchase, or is it just to build your brand image? The answers to this question will guide the format and the content.
What need does it meet?
People are overwhelmed with content. And, today’s consumer expects content to meet their needs. Therefore, every piece of content you run through the content creation process needs to resonate with readers – why will your audience want to read or watch it? What will they get in exchange for their 3-5 minutes? What problem of theirs are you solving? The bottom line is that if you want them to consume it – and share it – the content needs to offer something and meet a real need.
How will you measure the content’s success in meeting its purpose?
Having identified the content’s purpose – what you want the reader to do after reading or watching the content – how will you tell if they actually make a purchase, or share the content, or opt-in? You can choose from various metrics, such as social engagement, downloads, sharing, time on page, clicks, positive feedback, and attention from industry pundits. The metric you choose should be easily trackable and reportable, and may require content and social media management tools.
Remember to check with stakeholders so that everyone agrees on the correct answers to these important questions.
2.Determine the budget and deadline drivers
You can’t run a business without a budget. The same goes for the content creation process. You need to decide how much you have to spend on any given content creation project, with an eye to all the projects you want to do in the near future.
You should also consider any looming deadlines. For example, does the content need to be ready by a certain date such as a product launch or conference? A rushed deadline can affect the budget because if you want something fast, it may cost more.
Always have a deadline for the project!
Projects without a deadline consistently drop to the bottom of at least one stakeholder’s priority list. So, find some reason to create a deadline – an event, a funding cycle, or even someone’s vacation can be effective reasons for finishing a content piece by a certain date.
3.Identify all stakeholders and authors
Sometimes it’s just you and your brain creating the content. But other times, several people may be directly or indirectly involved. The funding for the project may be coming from one department, but the subject matter experts are from a different department. The content creation process should include representatives from both departments in any communication, review cycles, approval processes, and promotions.
Stakeholders: To determine possible stakeholders, consider who will use the content, who has the necessary information, who is willing to actively participate, and who needs to review and approve the content.
Authors: You also need to identify who is going to provide the technical details – the authors. Who is it that has or can get the information you need and when will it be available? Who has time and is qualified to speak to the topic? Is such a person available in your company, or do you need an outside resource? If several authors will be involved in providing content, it is wise to identify at the start of the project a “lead SME” (subject matter expert) who can resolve conflicts of opinion or disparate viewpoints.
4.Get everyone on the same page
Once you have identified stakeholders and authors, communicate the high-level next steps in the content creation process. Make them aware of the schedule so they can block out time to review or attend meetings. Also communicate roles and expectations clearly. This communication can be done in person, on the phone, or through email. However you accomplish it, the end result is getting everyone on the same page.
5.Decide who will actually create the content
Do any of the stakeholders have the time and skills needed to create the initial content? Do you have in-house creative resources available to you that can write, edit, design, produce, or animate the project? Depending on your answers to these questions you may need to partner with an external content agency to successfully move the project forward.
6.Hold a project launch meeting
A good, informative project launch meeting can mean the difference between a project that runs smoothly and one that turns into a debacle. In fact, it can be the most valuable aspect of your content creation process.
To help stakeholders and writers/creatives prepare for the meeting, we find a content idea submission form useful. If you use such a form, send it to the stakeholders in advance of the meeting and ask them to fill it out. The information provided on the form helps guide the discussion during the meeting and enables you to prepare questions about the story.
Include all the stakeholders and authors on the meeting invite, and let them know that if they choose not to attend and make their voice heard as you shape the content’s story, they are pretty much opting out of having much say as the project progresses.
Typically, a project launch meeting should take about an hour. Here is a sample agenda:
- Introductions – 5 minutes
- Scope (content length), confirmation of authors and their availability, and identification of source material – 10 minutes
- Discussion of the story you have to tell and the solution you have to share. This could include background information or a specific business challenge, related industry information, details of how a problem is solved, results of a proof of concept, and next steps. – 40 minutes
- Summary of action items assigned to meeting attendees – 3 minutes
7.Outline the story and get buyoff
While it may be tempting, after the project launch meeting, to sit down and write the entire content piece, this may not be the best approach. We have found that, by adding an outline stage to the content creation process, we can minimize project risk. We make sure the outline is robust enough to capture the direction of the story and the information that will be needed to fill out the sections, but it doesn’t contain all the gory detail.
Distribute this outline to the authors and stakeholders and give them only a couple days to review it. By obtaining approval on the general approach before developing more detailed content, you’ll avoid wasted effort. Plus, the development of the first draft of the content will go that much faster.
Every process can be improved
The above strategies enable us to develop consistently outstanding documentation for our clients. But, we regularly review our process to see where it could be better. We’d also love to hear what you think are important steps in the content creation process – please feel free to share your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions.