How to build a content governance model that sticks

Over the past two years, we have extensively discussed content production, management, marketing, and even operations at the Content Strategy Master programme of  FH Joanneum Graz. Nevertheless, some vital part was missing until the last term of the Master programme: How can we actually govern content in organizations?

Content seems easy on the surface, but it can be a very complex effort (at least as complex as you make it). What I’ve learned during my studies is that content strategy is not that much about the actual content. It’s more about the people working, interacting, and finally consuming your content. When we talk about people and organizations, we also have to think of processes. And those processes have to be defined and managed.

Getting started with content governance models

Building a content governance model is actually not that hard. When we take a look at the (new) content strategy quad of Kristina Halvorson, we can see governance and workflow on the opposite of substance and structure. It can be seen as the people- and process-side of the quad. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. But it often requires organizational change as a “side effect.” And that can be quite overwhelming.

Content Strategy Quad

Joseph Phillips wrote at GatherContent’s blog about a simple four-step road map for good content governance. These steps actually include all the thoughts we’ve (subconsciously) formed in our heads full of content strategy when working on a governance model at Rahel Anne Bailie‘s course on content governance.

The four steps outlined by Joseph Phillips are simple yet practical:

  1. Define and get agreement on content ownership and roles
  2. Design and document content workflows
  3. Produce and document guidelines, standards, policies, procedures and tools to operationalize content governance
  4. Deliver appropriate training to educate and align staff on content governance

Let’s make a short dip into those four steps and their implications for organizational change.

Ownership and roles

Ad-hoc processes eventually lead to content chaos. That’s why organizations with no roles, processes, or no understanding of the value of content are considered as least mature in the content maturity models.

We have to involve organizations holistically and think about responsibilities and appropriate processes for the content that is created, published, and maintained. A helpful tool could be the RACI matrix. It’s a straightforward tool to define who is Responsible or Accountable for a process/action item and who needs to be Consulted or Informed.

The RACI matrix is also used in the field of Information Systems, where I’ve completed my previous studies. Therefore, it’s great to be able to connect the dots between different disciplines again.

Design and document workflows

When you are more clear about the different roles and processes in your organization you will recognize that content is a “living” thing that moves through different departments, stages, systems and formats. As a consequence, it’s important that everyone involved in any content process shares a common understanding of how content will be planned, produced, published, and governed.

During this step, many organizations will realize that content is something that takes quite some effort. Content wants to be managed through its whole lifecycle. That’s where we are closing the loop to the very first lecture during our studies with Rahel Anne Bailie about the content lifecycle.

Produce and document guidelines (and more)

If you don’t have any standards, guidelines, and policies for content, you will end up with inconsistency again. By documenting, you will define the “single source of truth” on different content aspects and form the foundation for consistent quality (and in the end value for the customer).

According to Joseph Phillips, there are three artifacts you should pay attention to:

  • Guidelines (= how content should be produced)
  • Standards (= expectations)
  • Policies (= compliance-critical rules)

Deliver training and educate

In the end, you have to bring everything back to the people. When you have put a lot of effort into building a content governance model, you have to make sure it sticks within the organization. This typically also implies organizational change.

From my point of view, this is one of the most crucial components. You need to train your people on the governance model. This might involve educational initiatives towards your CMS or any other tools but also training on topics such as accessibility or compliance. You’ll need to come up with the right mix of interactive trainings, workshops, 1:1 sessions, and presentations to pick up everyone in the organization.

Final thoughts

Content governance might sound complicated, but actually, it’s about harvesting the fruits of content strategy – getting it right into the heart of your organization. The four steps proposed by Joseph Phillips are an excellent blueprint to get on the road towards your content governance model.

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