Last time, we looked at the shape of your content, sharing some tips and big ideas for crafting your message. Now, let's take a look at the shape of your teams.

Governance is an area rife with examples of where we've conflated simple and easy. The idea of lifting something and placing it where we want is quite simple – we do this with, say: shopping bags – all the time. However, we don't make a habit of picking up our car and placing it into a tight parking space.

Content governance is full of simple ideas – tools, processes, guides, and the rest. But running a complex website isn't easy. Good content strategy is about making it easier on ourselves. And governance is one of the larger sections of a comprehensive strategy.

I like to boil ideas down into triples – lists of three – because they seem to stick better in my own mind. Content strategy is all about finding the answers to three, simple questions:

  • What content have you got?

  • Whose content is this?

  • What are you going to do with it?

Governance is jargon for how we go about answering the who side of content strategy.

Editors shape newspapers' content.

So, let's start with a tangent. It's generally bad content strategy to wander off topic, but blog posts give you flexibility. At least, that's what I tell myself.

When looking for examples of people who deal with a lot of content, you can't miss out newspaper folk. And, one of the things newspapers (and other content-focused bodies like book or journal publishers, tv stations, and magazines) have is editors.

By editors, I'm not talking about the people who sprinkle commas over passages. That's the job of copyeditors – to fix orthographic clangers and make sure prose is well-crafted. I mean the people who take an editorial role over projects. Editors:

  • help set an agenda for publications

  • translate ideas into directions

  • help agree standards

  • keep things on focus

Sure, an editor – should – know how to sling punctuation marks like the best of them, but their role is one of oversight. They set and maintain the direction a publication goes down – creating policies, roles, and an agenda.

Most newspapers have section editors – people who take responsibility for a topic area: news editor, sports editor, business editor. A section editor should be an expert in their topic. I'd make a terrible sports editor. Sure, I can write well enough, and can fill column-inches with consistent prose. But, football bores me, and league points and score statistics glaze my eyes over faster than a sharp knock to the head.

Newspapers have a sort of loose hierarchy for content production:

  • Editor (in chief)

    • Section editors

      • Copy editors

      • Writers (reporters, editorial contributors, etc)

As large organisations are being increasingly asked to work like publishers, why not learn from the publishers themselves? They've been doing this for a while now.

I'll leave this orthogonal section with a few open-ended questions:

  • Can you imagine your company (council, university, NGO...) using someone as a general editor?

  • How about section editors – can you think of the topic experts in your organisation?

  • Can you imagine creating a pool of great writers who can act like copyeditors?

Who's content is this?

OK, back to governance. Who looks after your content? This isn't always as easy an answer as you might be about to tell me. "The marketing team, of course." Or "each department has its own section."

Cool. What about your homepage? Navigation? Footers? What about every branded social media channel? Ancient intranet pages? Archived forums? I can do this for a while.

To get a definitive answer, you'll have to know your content really well. So, as part of your content audit, let's map out who's responsible for what. You can do this with a spreadsheet, listing all your resources, and making sure there's a column for the content owner – I use "looks after" as my heading. In a good CMS – ahem! – you can use reports to your advantage. Whatever it takes, look at what you've got, and who's put it there. Ask the who question for each item in your audit.

Who should own this content?

Then, you need to start thinking about out who should look after what content. So, as you review your content structure, ask a few questions about each section (or, if your site's small enough, each page). This simple framework can be forked – change it to match your needs. But here's a quick start:

  • Who keeps their content fresh? (Look for last updates in your CMS)

  • Which sections don't fit your message?

  • Which pages are orphaned, and don't fit into your site's structure?

Then, dig into your analytics:

  • Which pages or sections get the most traffic?

  • Which have the highest bounce rates?

  • Where are your analytics goals getting hit? Missed?

  • In content drill-down, which landing pages have good social media interactions?

Remember, we're looking for the people behind these facts. For some content, you'll have a clear view of responsibility. For others, it's murky.

Another tripartite question

To really crack open the who question, let's ask three further questions:

  • Who needs to take responsibility for this page?

  • Who keeps their content consistent?

  • Who can help them maintain it?

We will have hopefully started to answer the first question by now. But, it's worth asking it in this very straightforward way. Sometimes, the people who have been running a section aren't the best folk to keep it going. For example, they might be doing it because no one else is, but they aren't experts. Also, think back to the idea of section editors. Is there a person responsible for what this section is covering? Why isn't she in charge – or, at least, contributing?

The benchmark of good content is consistency. This is where I'd be circling copy editors in the hierarchy above. You'll want to have people who can keep text clean and orderly, and who can craft messages without turning to platitudes and cliches.

Finally, we want to look for people who can maintain your content. A section editor has writers who contribute, and keep things moving along. Sure, we don't have to publish news, and beat others to cover a story. But, we do have a lot of content to create and look after. So, we need teams of content creators to keep our sites up and running.

Now, most of you aren't actually publishers. You don't have the luxury of hiring in teams of copyeditors and junior reporters to fill your website with excellent stories. However, these roles can absolutely help us set up our workflows. Often, the writers, copyeditors, and section editor reside in a team of two.

I'd like to leave you with the video of a talk I gave on this topic at this year's Rocket Conf'. It covers many of the points here, and you get to listen instead of skimming your way through my own prose.

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Zach Beauvais

About the Author

Zach is head of content and communities here at Zengenti. He works on the content we produce, and looks after our community of users. His background is in tech journalism, community management, and technology evangelism for startups.


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