Publishing anarchy? You need content governance

by | Feb 25, 2016

You’re a senior executive, or even the CEO, but you feel powerless to rein in the publishing anarchy. You need some rules – some kind of process – that will keep staff feeling empowered and motivated but also singing your organization’s tune in some sort of harmony and rhythm.

You need content governance.

It’s a phrase you’ve probably been hearing more often recently, as all types of organizations – for-profit and nonprofit, private sector and governmental – realize that the breakdown of the technical barriers to publishing means they may now, must now, take themselves more seriously as publishers in their own right. And if they’re doing it well, they might even become “thought leaders” in their line of work, allowing them to build an engaged, loyal audience, which of course leads to new clients.

Content governance is important because it ensures there is a strategic reason for everything an organization publishes. It reinforces brand message and consistency, reduces duplicative efforts and improves decision-making. It also reduces risk, including the risk of publishing something that makes the organization look bad, or worse, is legally actionable.

But these are just the advantages to the organization. The best reasons to adopt some kind of content governance regime have to do with your reading audience, who after all are your current and potential customers. For them, content governance reduces inbox clutter, improves their appreciation of your message and leads to more engagement and action.

Every content governance regime includes the following elements:

  • A statement of roles, rights and responsibilities for managing how content is published and promoted. There are generally four types of people involved in a publishing operation: authors, editors, producers (including designers, copy editors and web production) and publishers. Each should have specific duties and limits to their powers. As with any type of governance, checks and balances are critical.Larger organizations with many departments may want to consider a centralized production hub that owns content governance. Modeled after newsrooms, this model empowers the hub to set and enforce editorial style and branding standards, have sole publishing rights and set and monitor goals for each piece of content using web analytics. Each department would operate like a section of a newspaper, with its own authors and editors who would work closely with the centralized desk.
  • An editorial and branding style guide. You’ll need a document that governs how your authors and editors should speak to the various user types who make up your audience. Are they writing primarily for an initiated, professional audience, or the general public (many organizations seek to reach both). An editorial and branding style guide sets the rules for how your organization uses words and images – your organization’s “voice,” in other words.
  • An established workflow for every type of content published. Most content will originate on your website, but the way you promote, via search, email and social media, is as important as the message. You should document every step in the process of authoring, editing, adding photos or graphics, tagging and publishing every type of content.
  • An editorial calendar. It’s surprising how few organizations have a comprehensive calendar of each piece of content it produces for its website, email and social media outlets. A calendar forces managers to slow down and ask some key questions: what is the audience, what user needs does the piece meet, how does it relate to larger organization goals, when should it run and through what channels and how will its success be measured?
  • A way to measure results. Before publication, each piece of content should have at least one goal – it could be a desired email open rate, or a total for unique visitors, time on page or number of social media likes or shares. The staff in charge of content governance should keep track of all metrics and report it to the editor-managers frequently.

When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of world peace, he quipped “I think it would be a good idea.” Content governance is like that – easier said than done. You’re likely to get resistance from managers who feel their control is being usurped, or who worry about new layers of bureaucracy slowing down their messaging. The trick is to set up a structure that allows department heads to feel supported and empowered, rather than blocked or bypassed.

Moving from anarchy to governance isn’t easy. But the results – bigger audiences, more engagement and loyalty and more sales conversions – are well worth the effort.

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Mike Mills


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