We’ve all heard of economies of scale, right? The more you produce of a good/service the easier and more cost-effective it becomes. However, there is also a term called “diseconomies of scale” which states that as you produce more and more, you begin to lose control, which could ultimately lead to lower quality and higher per-unit costs.
The positive and negative aspects of scaling are issues that many content marketers are starting to face as the demand for content production, specifically quality content production, continues to rise.
Whether you are an enterprise brand with an entire content marketing department producing daily content, or just an SMB with one Swiss-army-knife marketing employee creating a handful of blog posts every month, you inherently have a point at which the production level of content becomes too difficult to control.
Don’t fret, as with everything on the internet, there is a way to “optimize”.
Increasing your company’s level of content production is a necessity in today’s marketing environment, and if you can learn the tricks of the trade for maximizing your critical point, then you will be able to produce high-quality content and more of it.
My company, CopyPress, has built a successful platform for scaling quality content, and I’m going to walk you through our process and show you how you can scale content without sacrificing quality (This interactive graphic also shows the process).
The best part is, while these steps are highly applicable for brands, agencies can also use the steps to improve their processes for handling large production orders.
Disclaimer: This post will only focus on the process of content production. It takes the presumption that you have an effective strategy already in place and are looking to increase the amount of created content.
Step 1: Identify What High-Quality Content is to You
Probably the most important step in the entire process is identifying what your expectations are for the content’s quality.
There are several ways to go about understating expectations, but a good place to start is with a thorough questionnaire that covers the following main points:
- Who is your target audience? You will most likely have two targets. The first is the holistic target audience. Second should be the target buying stage the content will be directed to. These “buyer personas” should be outlined prior to ever creating content.
- What is your brand voice? This question requires a great deal of information about the subject matter of your brand, the style associated with the brand’s identity, and the general personality that you want to portray.
- What is the purpose of the content? This will vary depending on the content, but it is a vital question to consider before scaling any campaign. Are you creating the content to inform, entertain, generate traffic, improve backlinks, or increase sales? Knowing how the content will be measured before it is created will help to ensure expectations are met.
- What are the parameters of your content? With the objectives out of the way, it is time to start considering the specifications and scope of the content. If you are creating articles, how many words and how many articles do you need to create to reach your goal? Try to develop concrete parameters when you can.
- Find an example that matches your expectations: Your content will likely fall into a similar structure whether it is a blog article, white paper, infographic, interactive, vide, etc. Look for an example of a form of content that matches your goals. Even if it doesn’t match your industry or topics, you might like the design or flow, so use that to provide a concrete idea of your expectations.
Step 2: Put Your Expectations Down into a Style Guide
After you’ve collected the information about what level of quality you are looking for and you have a clear idea of expectations, you need to put it into a style guide. Each project will have different parameters and should also have a different style guide.
For instance, if you are looking to produce a thousand 500 word blog articles over the next 12 months, you would create a style guide for that project much differently than if you were producing a hundred 2-minute videos over the next 12 months.
A style guide is a project blueprint and measurement tool and the more descriptive you can be, the better!
Keep in mind that scaling a large project needs uniformity, but it shouldn’t remove all creative freedom. Structure your style guides so you clearly define the necessary parameters, such as brand voice, target audience, length and type of content, targeted keywords, and other macro-level specifics. Leave room for micro-level freedom, such as article titles and direction.
It should be a living style guide, meaning that as the project continues, different parameters may be adjusted or iterated based on performance.
Step 3: Develop an Internal QA Process and Campaign Manager
Scaling content creation means you are spreading the control of your work exponentially to each creative that takes part in the production of content. Develop an internal QA process or project manager to counteract the lack of control. The QA team will be used post-production to access the content against the campaign style guide.
They will be the individuals cross-referencing the content, sending back any revisions and ultimately approving the content when it meets expectations. The most efficient QA process is one that uses someone with a background in content creation and your company. If you can justify hiring an internal team, that would be the way to go. This gives you the most control and will keep the production in line with your company’s objectives.
Step 4: Find Content Creators
Steps four and five can be done independently of the first three. In fact, you can start the acquisition and vetting process as early as you’d like.
The most cost-effective strategy for scaling content is to find reliable freelancers you can outsource on a per-project basis. This keeps you from bringing employees on without consistent workflow, and since you have an internal QA process and campaign manager set up, you can maintain some control internally, even though the project is completed outside the company.
Have your project manager look for creatives that have experience producing the type of content you need for the current campaign and possible long-term projects. If they have experience within your industry, it’s even better.
If you aren’t able to find videographers, designers, or developers with experience in your industry’s vertical, anchor the content with a strong writer or editor that has a background in your market.
There are many places you can use to find creatives, but some of the most well-known are:
- Independent Creatives: Find a writer or designer you like based on searching for topics that you want covered in your content. Then reach out to that creative through email, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
Step 4: Vet the Creatives
Once you have a healthy amount of applicants, the next step is to vet their abilities.
We have our creatives take a practical and application based exam. This gives us the ability to see their skills not just in writing, but also in handling direction and hitting deadlines. The abilities to follow direction and hit deadlines are critical aspects to finding a creative that will fit into your process. I’d strongly urge you to provide a small test so you can see, even in a small sample size, the working dynamic between yourself and the individual creative.
If you are not able to do that, have them at least provide a list of examples and references. In addition to assessing their talent, try to monitor their production levels. A production level is the rate at which an individual creative typically works. If one creative takes twice the time to create the same piece of content as another, then you will need to either allocate that time or expense accordingly.
Do your due diligence upfront so that you won’t have to deal with quality, consistency, or professional issues down the road.
Step 5: Narrow and Organize a Tracking System
After you’ve analyzed the creatives, you need to narrow them down to a core group required to fulfill your current or upcoming campaigns. Be upfront and honest with the creatives about workload, pay, and expectations.
With your creatives now selected, make sure you have some internal monitoring system set up to keep track of their work hours, quality of work, and any concerns/issues that could arise on both sides of the relationship.
An effective tracking system will give your QA or editing team the proper place to make notes of the creative’s work throughout the life of their working relationship with you.
Step 6: Provide the Creatives with Project Style Guide and Conduct Onboarding Meeting
With the project style guide complete and the creatives selected, it’s time to get them acclimated with the specifics of the project. The style guide is the perfect way to outline the expectations, and an onboarding meeting should be set up to clarify any uncertainties about the project. The onboarding meeting is also the time to set clear deadlines and discuss possible pitfalls with the project.
Step 7: Conduct a Small Test
Arguably the most important step in the entire process, conducting a test is necessary if you want to scale effectively. Depending on the size of the project, you may want to increase the test size.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume you need to produce 1,000 product descriptions. A good test would be 1 percent of that project, or 10 product descriptions. The test will allow you to make any necessary adjustments to the style guide and fix any discrepancies with the creative’s interpretation. The internal team should assess the test thoroughly because the test pieces will be used as baselines for the remainder of the pieces.
Step 8: Iterate the Style Guide and Fix Pitfalls
Once you have finished reviewing, revising, and finally approving the small test run, all of the adjustments need to be recorded in the style guide. Additionally, add the now-approved examples to the guide as a baseline for the creatives to use when generating the remaining pieces.
Assume that all the issues you encountered in the test will be extrapolated across the other creatives. Take the steps needed to clearly identify and answer all the issues from the test pieces. Provide more examples, training, screenshots, or other materials that will make the process easier for the remaining pieces of content.
The test is not only about measuring quality and brand voice, but also assessing the workflow requirements. If the deadlines for production do not reflect the amount of time it takes to complete, then they need to be adjusted.
The time between the test and issuing the mass production of remaining pieces is the most important. Fix any issues during this stage and fix all potential pitfalls.
Step 9: Produce the Remaining Pieces
Now that you are happy with the test pieces and have updated the style guide and processes, it’s time to complete the remaining pieces of content in the campaign. The creatives need to be kept in line with the deadline dates agreed upon originally, so make sure to update them as the project progresses. The campaign manager needs to maintain constant contact with the creatives and respond to any issues. Undoubtedly, no matter how well you structure the project up to this point, you will likely face some question you could not have anticipated. The campaign manager’s job is to answer any questions, and if there is an issue that affects the other creatives, then it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Step 10: QA the Content Against the Approved Style Guide
You can either wait until all of the pieces of content are completed or do it periodically as the creatives deliver the content, but the next step will be the QA and editing. Using your internal QA team (or outsource editors if necessary), check the content against the approved style guide. If there are any distinct errors or differences between the delivered content and the style guide, then send it back to the creative to revise and make a note attached to that creative in your tracking system.
If the same creative is consistently underperforming against expectations, then you can either minimize their workload or avoid using them all together.
If Steps 1-9 are executed effectively, then step 10 should be a breeze. If you notice your internal team is coming across several errors and are sending back a lot of content for revisions, then you need to reassess your process to see whether the issue is with the expectations or the creative’s capabilities.
Step 11: Provide Feedback and Assess Project Workflow
After executing the full workload, it is important to critically analyze what worked and what was ineffective in the production workflow as well as the individual creatives. The tracking sheet created in the earlier stage should be used to make notes and ratings of the different creatives used on this project. The ones that outperformed the others should be allocated more responsibilities moving forward, and any issues should be addressed.
Keeping a fluid source of information and iterations in all areas of production will ensure an increase in efficiency for every additional campaign.
Bonus Tip: Keep Your Creatives Happy
The quickest way to ruin your ability to scale content is to lose your good creatives or to burn bridges with the freelance community. You need to make sure your creatives are paid according to their agreement and that they are given feedback (positive or negative). As you will see, the more content you create, the more likely you are to use the same creatives. Keep a strong relationship with them even if there are lulls between your content production schedules.
Undoubtedly, one of the hardest skills in content production is developing an efficient workflow that supports volume and consistency. With that said, there is a huge opportunity for content marketing departments and/or companies that are able to set up an internal process for scaling content production up and down as needed. The process above has been tried and tested for many years by my company, and we have seen clients gain competitive advantages through the high-volume production of quality content.
There is always going to be some quality concern associated with high production levels, but if you are able to set up a process that effectively documents and outlines expectations to creatives while also holding them accountable by an internal QA process, then you will be on your way to producing an immense amount of high-quality content.
Feature image credit: Flickr.com
In-article image credit: CopyPress.com