Five quick steps to creating a content plan that kills endless revision loops

Those of us who live in the world of content planning and production know that nothing slows down a project like the final stage of content revisions and approvals.

After hours of work putting just the right words in just the right order, there’s suddenly feedback from multiple people outside of the core production team. Many don’t even know why they’re reviewing the content, but, gosh darn it, they’re going to make changes and, frankly, they don’t like the way that one thing reads.

The screeching halt of the content production process can be heard across the entire office. The only solution is to get out of the content game, right? Maybe spend a few months on the open seas learning the fun names of the knots used by boaters.

Stop. Don’t jump on that boat just yet. You can put a repeatable content plan in place that helps you cut out the most terrifying loops of the revision cycle. It won’t be easy, but these five steps will make it easier.

Note: This blog was created from our recent presentation on content planning and production at a content strategy event. If you want to see the full presentation, check it out here.

1. Identify and clearly define team roles

You don’t always have complete control over the team involved in a content project, but you can control how the team is put into action. Whenever you are working on a content project, have a kick-off meeting where you convey roles and expectations for everyone involved.

Clarity is key to the entire content planning and production process. It’s your job to create a plan for your content project and define roles that help see that plan through.

Here’s the thing that we in the content planning world often forget: many stakeholders in a new website launch or a big eBook project have never been involved in a large content production before. If you don’t clarify how they should give feedback on content, they’ll just do what they think is best and likely make you sad.

Here are some common roles we use at NgageContent, our growth marketing division. By letting everyone know that other roles are covered, they worry less and can focus on what they need to do. Note that on smaller teams one person can have multiple roles.

  • Researcher — Finds internal and external facts, figures and materials for the content.
  • Copywriter — Writes the content and is responsible for consistency, language and tone.
  • Subject matter expert — Provides industry or organizational expertise.
  • Copy editor — Holds content accountable to style guide, grammatical and template standards.
  • Approver — Has the final say on content going “live.”

2. Lean on templates and style guides to avoid endless revisions

The unsung heroes of content projects are those of us doing the planning and writing, am I right? But our most helpful sidekicks are style guides and templates. They can really swoop in and save the production process.

That’s because there is no reason to have an endless revision loop over the use of a word or the styling of your headlines. From the outset of a content project, select what guides and templates you will use and make sure everyone knows that’s the plan.

For example, many companies use AP style on all of their content. Recently, our team of grammar nerds were all buzzing about the AP’s recent decision to finally jump into 2016 and stop capitalizing internet and web. If someone wants those capitalized on a content project, we point back to the style guide and say, “Hey, quit living in the past!” — or something nicer than that. (Ignore the fact that in the presentation above we say to capitalize them both — it’s from five weeks ago. My, how times have changed!).

Similarly, in-house templates and organization-specific style guides can solve issues.

Templates for content projects help everyone do a better job coloring inside the lines. By assuring them that every page on a site gets the same treatment or every blog has the same ending bio, people new to the content production world worry less. Even better, an in-house, organization-specific style guide can be a blueprint to keep everyone consistent. This guide covers things like how and when to use a company’s full legal name or what to call your CEO. To answer a question you might have, yes, these guidelines are extremely taxing to assemble. But go through the pain once and you will never again have an argument about whether you need a comma between a company name and LLC.

3. Centralize the team in an online hub

It’s 2016 and it’s time to demand that your content production process move to an online system that makes it easy for you to write, edit and track content from anywhere.

I don’t care if you use Beegit, Gather Content or, if you have a small team and are looking for something free, Google Docs. (OK, I’d prefer you use Beegit, but that’s not the point). The idea is that your online document flow lets everyone on the team know who last made changes and where the content stands. The old way of someone emailing a document around the office that called ‘ContentProjectFinalVersion8’ is rife with frustrations and slowdowns.

Don’t let your content get lost in a loop where someone says they are looking at something. Are they? With online tools, there is accountability. That’s key, particularly for those that are new to content production. Not only is this likely their first project like this, they probably have another full-time job and it’s easy for content creation and editing to fall off their radar.

Which brings us to the next tip…

4. Set and share clear (early) deadlines

Content always takes longer than you think and people are always running late. Give everyone on the content team very clear deadlines — and make their deadline well ahead of the planned completion date.

Make sure that everyone has their deadline in a very visible place, either in your shared content hub or in a tool like Trello or CoSchedule. Making a team plan that includes visible accountability for everyone involved will make life easier throughout the process.

There’s a bonus in doing your content planning this way: By identifying early on those stakeholders that fall behind, you’re not coming in like the Punisher on deadline day. Instead, you can see early on who is off track and have a conversation with them. From that, you might find that the reason they are struggling is that they overwhelmed by being part of the content process. Since you’ll be ahead of schedule, you’ll be able to help them swim to shore.

5. Get approvals on small samples of content

Let’s say the content plan is working and your early efforts to give everyone a role and a clear deadline have gone over well. Now, your team knows what to do and where to write. First, go ahead and wink at yourself in the mirror. You’re amazing.

Next, to avoid the last big revision meltdown, get buy-in from subject matter experts and final approvers early in the game. Don’t put all your wonderful prose together on day one. Tie together your big thoughts into small chunks of content or even just bullet points. Get approval on these core thoughts and then you’re really ready to run.

Again, if you have templates that fill up part of the content, agreement on what you are expecting from others and approval on the core ideas, you’re 80 percent of the way there. Now, go craft your narrative or add sizzle to that content in peace, knowing that you won’t have to start all over again on a new content revision loop.

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