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How to Keep Content Marketing Agile

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When I talk to marketing teams, Content is one of the areas with the most desire for achieving agility without losing your sanity.  Here is a guest post by Alex Novkov from Kanbanize about how they kept Content Marketing Agile.

Content is King! This famous quote of Bill Gates remains true over two decades after its inception. Therefore, it is no surprise that marketing teams invest a significant portion of their efforts in creating and promoting content.

However, the typical content marketing process is anything but agile.

It is a common practice to plan the content that needs to be created months ahead. Similarly to the Waterfall method in software development, this makes it hard to react to sudden changes, which are not that uncommon in marketing.

Get Rid of the Content Calendar

Implementing some sort of scheduling system is necessary to ensure steady content delivery. On the other hand, planning in detail specific content months ahead of time is anything but agile and can easily turn into pure waste.

The major culprit for this is the fact that marketing is very dynamic by nature and today’s plans might not be relevant for the day after tomorrow.

The problem with most content planning systems is that they were not created with the idea of agility. If we look up Google for a template of this sort, the results show mostly excel tables going into far too much detail about when the content should be published.

This is totally unnecessary when you’ve got a marketing Kanban board in place.

How We Did it at Kanbanize

Back in the day, at the startup level, with very limited capacity, we didn’t need a content management system. However, as we grew and more people joined our team, we had to plan what we want to publish in the near future so that we can optimize our capacity.

While I was still not adept enough with Agile, I insisted on implementing a content calendar and I spent a considerable amount of time brainstorming for topic ideas and outlining content plans.

Even though I didn’t want to turn our process into a waterfall and carefully considered how far ahead it is acceptable to plan, we lost a significant part of our agility because the team was so focused on complying with the schedule I made that they often overlooked activities like link building and social media promotion.

After a month or so of struggling to adapt, we decided to forget the content calendar and turn the requested section of our Kanban board into a content scheduling system of a sort.

We broke down the requested section of our board into two columns:

  • Near Future
  • Priority

The near future became our backlog of ideas. Every content idea was listed as a card in that column. In order to distinguish between the different formats like video, infographics, etc., we agreed to use specific tags for each card.

Priority turned into our weekly calendar. We started pulling cards from Near Future to Priority every week. Our goal was to stay flexible and focus on the content that we need now, not 3 months in the future.

How Did We Ensure a Regular Delivery?

We agreed to publish new content on a specific day of the week. In order to have time to do some finishing touches, we decided that a new piece of content must be finished no less than 4 days ahead of the publishing day.

In order to be able to react to sudden changes, we decided to keep one piece of content per section in reserve. This way even if we failed to meet our internal SLA, there was no danger of missing the publishing window.

If such a thing was to occur, we just had to invest a bit more capacity in creating an additional piece of content the following week so we can get back on track.

So basically we started pulling new content cards every week from Priority and published them with one week delay (unless there was an emergency). This provided us with the opportunity to do timely promotion and start creating new content when we’ve got capacity without reducing the promotion cycle.

Content Marketing Board

As our process evolved, we did a few board layout updates. Currently, our content creation steps are as follows:

After a new piece of content is ready to be started, a team member pulls it in the first In progress phase of our process – Conceptualization. It consists of 3 steps visualized as board columns:

  • Working on – here we prepare detailed content plans, clarify the buyer’s persona and list the main pain points that we are going to address.
  • Ready for review – this serves as a waiting column containing cards until we’ve got the capacity to evaluate a concept.
  • Concept review – a team member does a review and suggests improvements.

Afterward, the card moves on to the working phase where the author prepares a draft version of the content.

When the first draft is finished, it moves on to a thorough review stage that consists of 4 columns:

Ready for content review – waiting for an editor to become available
Content review – review of the draft for facts, style, grammar, etc.
Ready for SEO review – waiting for an SEO specialist to become available
SEO review – thorough SEO review

When there are corrections that need to be made, the card goes to a follow-up column.

Once the card is ready, it moves forward to a step where it waits for final touches (graphics, layout, etc) before being published.

As soon as a piece of content is published, the card is placed to Done and another one is created for the promotion cycle.

In conclusion:

Forsaking the content calendar and creating new content only for the near future improved the agility of our team drastically. It allowed us to optimize our capacity and improve the way we react to sudden changes.

We learned the hard way that a properly-structured Kanban board and good internal collaboration can be more valuable to our productivity than any complex scheduling system.

Author bio:

Alex Novkov is the content lead of Kanbanize, a company developing Lean Kanban software. Seasoned Kanban practitioner, Alex has dedicated his time to educating the world how to be more efficient.

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