The Dream Digital Team - CREATING CONTENT: TALKING AND LISTENING - The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)


Chapter 10. The Dream Digital Team


The people on your digital content team will make all the difference when it comes to meeting your achievement thresholds. This chapter outlines exactly who you need on that team and how they need to work together. A mix of talents is critical, as are people who can work across disciplines. More important than any of the skill sets is the ability of each team member to work as part of a bigger effort, to understand his or her role and the roles of all teammates, and to listen to and learn from each other. With the right mix of creative, business, and technical expertise, led by someone with strong management and listening skills, the team is poised for success.


back end; front end; multidisciplinary; content strategist; metadata content strategist; language arts content strategist; information architect; visual designer; graphic designer; content creator; copywriter; copy editor; videographer; photographer; usability professional; developers; content management systems (CMS); search engine optimization (SEO); audience engagement; project manager; business analyst; analytics expert

We have spent a lot of time exploring how to configure your content and digital teams so that you can produce and manage content in the most efficient and effective way possible. The focus of this chapter is to describe and define who should be doing all of this work.

As we’ve discussed before, most organizations suffer from siloed environments in which content is created without input from important contributors or, even worse, where there is duplication of effort. The goal of this chapter is to help you create your digital dream team—to let you know whom you need and why you need them. They may not all be directly under your supervision (some may be outsourced), but you will manage many of them.

You Need Great Talent

Talent is the mainstay of any organization. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your technology is or how tightly your processes run: if you don’t have great people who understand and do their jobs creatively and with passion, you will not be able to run a successful organization. Nor will you be able to create great content that engages your audiences with your brand.

Remember, content isn’t just about the actual words or pictures on the pages. It’s about how that content is planned for, created, published, and distributed. In this chapter, we’re going to discover who should be on your digital team and how to configure those teams. Then in Rule #6, we’ll explore workflows for content creation, publication, and distribution.

The Digital Strategy Talent You Need

Here’s a list—not complete, but a good starting place—of the types of talent you need. I say “talent” because your company may not be able to hire as many individuals as you would like, but however big or small your team is you will need these skills at the table. It is possible that an individual will wear more than one hat. Remember Jonathon Colman from our case study about REI at the end of Part 2? He does wear many hats—he calls himself a hybrid web professional.

The people on your dream content team will probably fall into three groups of advocates:

• Customer advocates

• Publishing and distribution advocates

• Business advocates

While every member of your digital team is supposed to advocate for all three of these areas, on most web teams you will find that some professionals think the customer is the most important, others think that the business is most important, and still others that the content management system (CMS) is the most important.

The truth is that all three are vital: when you don’t ensure that all are being protected you will not have much. The tough part of managing teams who come to digital projects from different places is that you need to remember where everyone is coming from. Be sensitive to each person’s take on content strategy and content development, especially as you create the workflow.

Note: You may have some professionals who fall into all three divisions below and advocate for different things at different times on different projects. The goal of this chapter is for us to describe the different roles of a great digital content team. Your situation will constantly flex; make sure you have the right talent who can help you flex with it (a Lycra® content approach, so to speak).

Customer advocates

• Content strategists

• Visual designers

• Information architects

• Content creators (writers, photographers, videographers, and graphic designers)

• Usability professionals

Publishing and distribution advocates

• Developers

• CMS authors

• SEO experts

• Audience engagement strategists (social media professionals)

Business advocates

• Project managers

• Analytics experts

• Business analysts

• Reviewers

Before we talk about those different roles, let’s talk about some of the challenges inherent to a digital team.

Finding the Money (Spending Like a Publisher?)

As we said in Chapter 9, all organizations need to start thinking like publishers. Does that also mean that they need to spend money like publishers? Can every organization possibly have a staff that huge, one that encompasses an entire design and editorial staff? If the organization is unwieldy when it comes to content production, how can you ensure that money is being spent wisely? Well, output matters.

Making Output Matter

The size of your team should be in direct ratio to how important your digital efforts are to the organization. For most large companies, the way you attract customers and market to them online is central to achievement thresholds, which usually involves getting as many people as possible to visit your digital properties and begin/continue conversations. For smaller companies, having a strong online presence allows you to stand out from your competitors. How do you produce all this content and design all these websites and content projects if you don’t have a team?

As we discussed in Chapter 2, you need to make the business case for content. You need to make it in the right way, beginning with a deep understanding of your C-suite and what matters to them. Once you do that, you may be able to hire additional full time employees. Or you may be able to gather some budget money to outsource some of your needs. In fact, outsourcing may be the solution that is right for your company. Luckily, many fine organizations around the globe specialize in content planning, creation, production, and distribution.

Having a Back End and a Front End

To have a great digital content team, you need to have two types of web professionals—those who understand the front end of the web and those who understand the back end. The front end of the web is what the audience sees—the graphical interface (visual design), the navigation, and the interactive elements. The back end is the code, what makes the web run. We talked about code in Chapter 4.


What you see is that many of these people/talents overlap. Some do not. That’s where you may have some major challenges to work through. The important thing is that each role is somehow represented on your team.

Many teams run into problems when the back end and front end do not communicate. They need to understand each other and work together, but they don’t understand the limitations that each role faces. Remodeling a room is a good example: You want to redo your kitchen. You have a certain budget—as my husband, the economist, always tells me, “There are limited resources in the world.”

Can You Have Both?

There are hybrid web professionals who do understand the back and front ends. These people are rare—so when you find one, make a friend for life. However, as the digital industry continues to change and grow, more professionals will learn to be comfortable with both.

You can bring in a kitchen designer who has 10 years of experience redesigning kitchens. Or you can try to redo the floor plan yourself. However, to redesign a kitchen, you need to understand the back end of the operation—that is, where does the plumbing go, where are the electrical sources, what are the restrictions of the local building code if you want to make changes?

In other words, you may have limitations and you may have to follow them, even if they have absolutely nothing to do with budget. You might throw all the money in the world at the task, and there are still certain things you just cannot change about the kitchen because of the plumbing code where you live.

This is why it is so important for both sides of your web team to understand the functional requirements of what you’re trying to do with content and interaction. One side may recommend a solution that just is not feasible—either because you cannot write programming code that way or because that solution does not solve the business-case challenges.

Work hard to ensure that the back end and front end understand each other’s roles. One of the inherent problems on digital teams is that people are usually from very different fields and backgrounds. Plus, there already may be baggage from working together in the past. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen a copywriter roll her eyes at a developer and a designer smirk at a marketing professional.

You need to help them see the world through each other’s professional eyes. They need to understand both ends of the web and not just advocate for who they think their main client is on the project—whether it be the customer, CMS, or business case.

Why? Because your number one goal is to satisfy your audiences so that they keep coming back to your digital properties. Explain it this way to your team: If a customer comes to a gorgeous website that is sleek and fancy but it is hard to find what they want and the navigation is clunky—they’re gone. Likewise, if the back end of your site is super-efficient but the site is no fun to look at—they’re gone. The two ends need each other.

If your team isn’t united behind that goal, then make sure you find the right professionals who do understand this. If your entire team is not internal to your organization, you may need to work even harder to make sure those conversations happen. And speaking of team members not being internal to the organization—even if you hire an outside firm, make sure that those people are invited to meetings and are part of the conversation. Everyone needs to hear everyone else.

Multidisciplinary Digital Strategy Teams Are Best

As we discussed in Rule #4, to plan, create, and distribute great content within your organization, you need multidisciplinary content teams. Because of the nature of modern business, and by this I mean the siloed nature of departments within organizations, you need people who span across departments, who can move horizontally within and sometimes outside of the organization. To put it in different words: You need web professionals who know something about everything and everything about something.

As Tiffani Jones Brown says, “As it stands, the boundaries between IA, web strategy and content strategy are porous. They will become more porous later. So, disciplines, kiss” (Brown, 2011).

Kissing Disciplines

It’s no longer acceptable for a visual designer not to understand content strategy. A usability expert has to be able to talk to developers about how to solve mobile template challenges. Lawyers need to understand the unique challenges of the online space so they can give appropriate advice about how to create and enforce guidelines.

Your content will be sharper and richer when the different members of your team understand each other’s roles better, as well as the broad sketches of their jobs. By understanding certain limitations on technology, distribution vehicles, or sourcing content, members begin to understand what roads are best to follow and what roads will lead to nowhere. By each person understanding what they bring to the table and how their talents overlap, better content projects result.

For example, a visual designer may want to make a template follow certain design best practices. The content strategist, after content testing, knows that people ignore some of the content embedded in modules and would prefer to move that content into the main section. By understanding each other’s points of view, a better customer experience emerges because the two professionals put their heads together to solve the problem in the best interest of the customer.

We all must learn to work together—and the good news is—most of us can.

Pick the Right Talent

Now that we understand some of the inherent challenges of creating a team, let’s focus on the talent and professionals you should hire so you can ensure your team works together seamlessly.

Captain Web

Every team needs someone to be in charge, and the head of a digital engagement strategy (or whatever job title that person has) needs to have a unique set of talents. First, she needs to be able to manage people. She also needs to be able to listen to, and have the ear of, executives above her, including the VP of Marketing and perhaps even the CEO of the company.

Depending on the industry, the digital strategy of an organization is going to get a lot of scrutiny. The person leading the team needs to be comfortable with people, technology, and explaining process.

For many, this job is the culmination of some other marketing, technology, or communications job. Captain Web needs to understand:

• The overall strategy of the organization

• The business case

• The back end technology that runs the web

• The marketing strategies in place, both off and on digital properties

• Content strategy

• Design, development, and publishing process

• Talent within the organization

• What’s missing from the team so she can outsource

• How to manage perceived mistakes

So basically you’re looking for Superman or Wonder Woman. Actually, I’ve worked with many Captain Webs and I’ve found all the successful ones to be the same—they are calm under pressure, great listeners, and empathetic to the tremendous demands placed on their teams.

However, what makes Captain Web stand out is her approach to getting it right. First, Captain Web is not the type of person who thinks she is always right. This person is a listener. This person always follows Rule #3, and inherently understands that “to do the web right” they need to work in phases.

A great Captain Web knows how to work with the different people on the team: Customer advocates, the publishing and distribution advocates, and the business advocates. Interestingly, these people may cross over between front end and back end. Your best bet is to keep everyone focused on the idea that success will only happen when everyone brings their best game to the table.

One more thing—Captain Web needs to be someone who believes that each team member has equal importance to any other. This can’t be emphasized enough. This means that everyone should be at the table at many points in the process. If the meeting is about the back end, don’t exclude the front end team—let them experience each other’s expertise first hand. Captain Web should not be the go-between; she should be a great facilitator.

User Experience Professionals

The hallmark of user experience (UX) professionals is that they keep the customer at the center of every project. The better the experience customers have, the better chance there is for continued engagement with your brand.

UXers are phenomenal at keeping the focus of the project on best standards in current web thinking. However, they are sometimes so focused on the customer that they forget about the business case; that is, why the project was undertaken in the first place. That can’t happen if the project is to be successful from a business perspective and a customer perspective.

Content Strategists

Content strategists are responsible for the entire publishing lifecycle of content within your organization. By the way, I find that people often lump content strategists and copywriters together, but that is a misconception. That’s not to say a content strategist didn’t start as a copywriter—and a great one at that. But just because the word content is in their title doesn’t mean they are writers.

Content strategists are critical to web teams as content demands grow and the needs change, ranging from the need for technological expertise to the need for editorial expertise. Most organizations think they need a highly experienced editor, and only later realize that they also need someone who understands the technical end of the picture.

As content strategy continues to develop as a discipline, the lines between those “editorial content strategists” and “technical content strategists” will blur. Or else one will migrate into an entirely different discipline. In any case, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Technical Content Strategists

Technical content strategists are concerned with many of the back-end attributes of publishing content: Metadata, structured content, adaptive content, and so on. They worry about the form and functionality of content so that it is prepared for multi-channel publishing. Technical content strategists may have technical writing backgrounds, library science training, or some other type of information technology background. These content strategists are invaluable for CMS authoring, as well as working with developers and designers to improve the content customer experience.

Editorial Content Strategists

Editorial content strategists are those who are concerned about the messaging of the content. They are the former editors and writers of the world and often come from a journalism, writing, communications, or public relations background. These content strategists are going to be tightly focused on editorial standards, voice and tone, and messaging.

Both types of content strategists are invaluable within an organization. Hopefully, you can find all of these skills in one person. But if you can’t, make sure you can tell the difference between the two so you know who the right person is to entrust with different parts of the content publication process.

Information Architects

Information architects are like building architects—they build a website so that it has all of the support it needs, but so that you can still move things around and rework the layout if you want to, without the whole thing falling down.

Just like a building architect has to make the building beautiful and ensure that all of the electrical, plumbing, and other infrastructure works well, most information architects see themselves as shaping the website’s structure and taking into account the back-end file structure and the front-end interactive elements. “As a discipline, IA defines spatial relationship and organization systems, and seeks to establish hierarchies, taxonomies, vocabularies, and sachem—resulting in documentation like sitemaps, wireframes, content types, and user flows, and allowing us to design things like navigation and search systems” (Wachter-Boettcher, 2012). IAs should also work closely with content strategists so they understand the customer experience from the perspective of content.

In my experience, the most important thing about an IA is that he or she really understands the business case behind the digital strategy as well as how the audience will accomplish their goals. Without this understanding, you may end up with an “inside out” website, which is the term we use for a website that demonstrates the internal organization of the business (“See how we’re organized!”) rather than solving the audience’s problems (“How can we get you what you want?”).

For example, think of a big bureaucracy, like the government. Those within the bureaucracy understand how that agency is organized and the role they play in the government. Most people don’t have that internal knowledge—they just want to understand how to do what they need to do when they interact with the agency on the web.

Visual Designers

In the same way, content creators interpret the business needs of the organization in written, video, or photographic form, visual designers interpret the identity of the brand in visual form. To be a great web designer, though, visual designers must understand usability and the interplay of interactive elements, as well as how consumers interact with all those interfaces. If content is the steak, design is the plating. We never want content to break design, as Margot Bloomstein, a content strategist, says, so it is important for designers and the rest of the team to work together, from the beginning, ensuring a single-minded vision for how the site will look and navigate (Leibtag, 2010).

Visual designers can make or break the success of web projects. When you hand client mockups of web pages, they often go right to critiquing the designs: Colors, pictures, typography, placement of elements, etc. They don’t respond to the content as often, usually because the designer has filled content blocks with lorem ipsum…, and therefore their eye naturally goes to the design.

That’s why the visual designers you hire, outsource, or include on your web teams need to understand that design’s primary purpose is to shape and define interaction. If a visual designer is wedded to a particular design because of the way it looks, he’s the wrong guy for your team. If he loves it because of the way it works, you’ve got a winner.

The visual designers you hire, outsource, or include on your web teams need to understand that design’s primary purpose is to shape and define interaction.

We will talk more about design in Chapter 11.

Content Creators

The people that are a part of your content creation team (writers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and so on) may be in-house, or they may be freelancers or firms you hire to manage different content projects.


These people will hopefully run with the content strategy and produce useful, engaging, persuasive content. Great web writers understand all the technical ins and outs of writing for an online audience—SEO, usability, reading on screen—but will also capture the essence of your brand and know what you need your content to do.

Copy Editors

This group can help keep your editorial strategy on target, update style guides, maintain standards, and make sure that your content looks its best. Copy editors can also help refine content in terms of translations and localization.


As video becomes a significant part of every organization’s content strategy, you need to have people who can create great video experiences. They might team up with other content creators and creative professionals to tell brand stories that captivate your target audience.

Whether you outsource video professionals, or you have them in-house, include them in significant content conversations. Understanding the brand and business objectives will only serve to help them create video that is in line with what you’re trying to accomplish.


Pictures are invaluable on the web. Not only can they spark a conversation, they can also keep one going. And often pictures can be the central reason a browser converts to a customer.

Unless you run a news site, you probably won’t have a photographer on the staff. However, you do need several competent, savvy photographers you can use when you have content that requires visual treatment. Your brand guidelines may specify different types of pictures, headshots, and action shots that are acceptable according to brand standards. Make sure your photographer knows about those standards before the shoot so he or she can plan accordingly.

Usability Professionals

Usability professionals research design, and evaluate the customer experience of products and services. Their main goals are to define and demonstrate how intuitive and easy it is for a customer to interact with a technology type. Usability experts are invaluable on digital projects because they can validate both visual design and content through testing. Remember to use their comments and findings when you are talking to the C-suite—this kind of feedback will be meaningful to them.

Usability testing usually involves watching a participant interact with your digital project—whether an app or website. Most usability tests are performed using a script and asking the participant to complete a set number of tasks. Each of the tasks is scored so after testing a predetermined number of users you know if you are on the right track (Krug, 2009). These tests should be scheduled at intervals throughout the project; you should probably test wireframes, the second iteration of wireframes, the design, and the second and third iteration of design. In this way, you can refine content and design throughout the course of a project so you know if you are moving in the right direction.

In the case of content, you should absolutely test your content, as much and as many times as possible. Testing both design and content together makes the most sense—you will get the fullest results because you will know whether the two are working together as they should; in tandem. So don’t test with lorem ipsum—it will only hurt the arguments around the table when people claim the design is working or not working. You can’t know unless you’ve also tested the content with it.

Testing content with design also helps to avoid one of the main problems we have described about content—it gets shifted to the end. Your content should be considered from the very beginning—it is the fuel that fires all those important conversations you are having with your target audiences. By demanding that usability testing happens with the actual content you are going to use, you ensure that it doesn’t get left till the last minute.

Publication and Distribution Advocates

The publication and distribution advocates are heavily wedded to technology. They understand that once the content ball is passed to them, they need to move it down the court without hiccups. In short, these professionals are responsible for how your content lives and performs in the outside world.

How your content performs is largely based on how easy it is to share and manipulate it. Therefore, you can expect these professionals to be very focused on providing seamless, technically superior experiences for their audiences.


Developers are a significant part of the web process but they often are left out of the business case meetings as well as the other planning project meetings. Most inexperienced clients will bring developers in for the requirements phase of a project. Or they will skip right over the business case and move right to requirements—this is a mistake. How can a developer truly understand the requirements if he or she doesn’t understand the real goals of a project?

The truth is that developers are a critical part of the business case, design process, and content meetings. Developers know the code—the building code that is. They can tell you where you can put plumbing and electrical wiring without getting into trouble with the inspector at the end of your project. Developers are also helpful for suggesting the best types of programs to use for what you’re trying to accomplish. Most importantly, they can tell you what you can’t do—and bring everyone back to reality.

When you’re using a content management system, you need your developers in the room so they can help you understand the full functionality of that content management system. If your databases aren’t working correctly, you’re in trouble. So make sure your developers are included in your planning meetings so you can hear and discuss their input.

CMS Authors

Your CMS authors produce your content and make sure it shows up on your digital properties correctly. In some organizations, CMS authors are called content producers, web producers, or web production specialists. These folks manage the content management system, assure content quality once it goes up, make sure it looks as it was envisioned, and that all links are working.

CMS authors are also experts on your CMS, what it can do and what it cannot do. Include them in all content conversations, particularly those that surround workflow and planning. We talked about CMS authors in Chapter 4. Remember, some CMS authors are going to have some knowledge of the CMS based on how often and how much content they are responsible for publishing.

SEO Experts

The first requirement of content is “Is it findable?” If people can’t find your content, then they aren’t going to interact with it. SEO professionals are responsible for this findability and their jobs are getting harder every day. Not only are the search engines of the world changing their algorithms constantly, but social media has put increasing pressure on optimizing content.

On your teams, the content creators and SEO professionals should engage with each other from the beginning (or they might be the same person). One is not more important than the other, although it is clear that your content should be written and created for people to consume. How you tag and identify the content on different channels is vital, and your SEO professional should be engaged in that process as well.

Once the content is out there, the SEO team should watch and analyze its performance, making tweaks along the way. That’s when you iterate—bring the content creators back in for help once you identify potential weaknesses in the way the content was originally optimized for search.

Audience Engagement Strategists (Social Media Professionals)

We talked a lot about distributing content using audience engagement strategies in Chapter 5. After you publish content, you need to distribute it to as many people as possible. Great audience engagement strategists are like hosts at cocktail parties—they make everyone feel comfortable and don’t focus all the attention on themselves.

Community engagement is really the interaction of several different parts of an organization: marketing, PR, customer service, crisis communications, and emergency response. Make sure that your audience engagement strategists work with other people in those departments so that you are delivering the best possible experience for your customers as they engage with your brand using distribution technologies, including social media.

Business Advocates

Many of “business advocate” professionals might not think of themselves as business-focused. However, on digital projects, the reason these professionals are on your team is to keep the focus on the business objectives for the project. They are invaluable for shifting attention from creative differences back to what will ultimately make the project successful—if the feature you’re arguing about encourages better brand engagement.

Project Managers

Project managers keep the trains running and on time. In many organizations, Captain Web may serve as the PM on many, if not all of the web projects. Great PMs know that they need to listen to every voice, but as Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, says, “Prioritize ruthlessly.” In this context, not everyone is equal. The goal of a project is to satisfy the business case for why you started the project in the first place.

I have seen all types of PMs—those that are obsessed with timelines and spreadsheets, those that try to manage everyone’s expectations, those that tell everyone they are right. Those are not the great PMs of the world. The great PMs of the world understand the delicate balance between listening, hearing, and getting the work done.

The real reason to have PMs is what Mike Monteiro, a designer and author says, “The project manager also serves as the voice of the client in the room” (Monteiro, 2012). Even if the project manager is on your team, and you are the client, the client in this case is the business case for the project. A great PM keeps the project focused on the original business goals for doing the project.

Analytics Experts

Analytics experts are responsible for watching how the content performs. This may be simple, reporting on how certain pages are performing, or complex, monitoring product sales and customer traffic on a daily basis.

True analytics experts are data geeks. They don’t love numbers—they love patterns and mysteries. They want to answer the questions of why, and how, and when. They think data is a god that must be followed into the wilderness. I admire those qualities. However, as with any true discipline, even in digital we must triangulate our research. This means that if we have an assumption, and we have one data point that backs it up, we should look for at least two others to be sure.

Our analytics tells us one part of the story. We need usability testing, customer feedback, and business processes analyses before we can make any true determinations.

Business Analysts

Business analysts are critical to have on your team because they will keep you focused on the business objectives of the organization. They will also tell you how the content is doing from a performance perspective and how well you are doing in terms of the organization’s overall goals and metrics. In most organizations, the business analyst for your web team would be the VP of Communications or the Director of Marketing, who reports C-suite messages back to the marketing and digital teams.

In small organizations, this might work well. But in large organizations, you really need this person to be part of the web team so that he or she knows exactly what is going on and can communicate that to all of the business teams within the company.

For example, if you run an e-commerce website, you need someone to be responsible for understanding the constant data that is pouring in. I’m not talking about the analytics of site usage, but about how different products are performing. Can the digital marketing team do anything to improve the situation? Or are you doing so great that they are ready to launch another set of products? How do you prepare for that?

Think of your business analyst as a translator. It is his or her job to move horizontally in the organization and understand what’s taking place in other departments. This will help the flow of information moving in the form of feedback and new requirements for the digital strategy team. In this way, the team can continue to build robust digital experiences.


Ah, reviewers. The true bottlenecks on almost every web project I’ve ever been on. How many times have I heard, “Oh, the developers are holding us up?” Almost never. How many times have I heard, “Oh, legal is holding us up.” A lot.

Yet, that said, reviewers are required on any project. They need to review content to make sure it aligns with brand standards, is in keeping with messaging, and is legally compliant (this is particularly important for heavily-regulated industries). In some organizations, it is clear who the reviewers are—they are the subject matter experts who can tell you if what you are saying is factually correct and appropriate. In other organizations, you may need to find reviewers who serve as editors or brand protectors.

The most effective way to manage reviewers is to educate them about digital content. Lawyers, in particular, can be very creative if you explain to them what you are trying to say. They even may help you find a different way to say it that is legal.

Spend time with your reviewers—whoever they are. Teaching reviewers about digital content and what you are trying to accomplish will often speed the process along and make them feel like an invaluable member of the team. If the project is successful, shine some of the golden light upon them. They will be more than happy to help you out the next time you need them.


Now more than ever you need to align the digital marketing talent you have. Members of digital strategy and content teams need to move horizontally across organizations as well as vertically. One project may not have the same group of people as the project before. Let the needs of the project dictate the roles that should be in the room every step of the way.

There are many different professionals you should have on your team (and in some small organizations, people will probably wear a few different hats). Your digital strategy professionals need to understand the back end and front end demands of the web. They usually fall into three groups—those who advocate for the customer, those who care about the business, and those who care most about publishing and distribution. No matter which group they are a part of, you need all of them on your team because they bring a much needed mix of talents to every project.

Projects are not about ego—they are about serving the client (and your organization) and doing great work. Collaboration is vital to a better product—no matter if the person is a front end, back end, customer, business, or publishing advocate. We’re all here for one reason—to reach our achievement threshold. Trusting each other’s knowledge and working together will get us there.

Now we’re going to learn Rule #6, which addresses all of your questions about how to structure dream content teams so they do their best work.


1. Brown, T. J. (2011). Toward a content-driven design process. Retrieved from

2. Krug S. Rocket surgery made easy: The do it yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems. Berkeley, CA: New Riders; 2009.

3. Leibtag, A. (2010). Content strategy: It’s truly a multidisciplinary practice. Retrieved from

4. Monteiro M. Design is a job. New York: A Book Apart; 2012; p. 112.

5. Wachter-Boettcher S. Content everywhere: Strategy and structure for future-ready content. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media; 2012; p. 20.


Workflow That Works


Content creation requires a talented team of professionals led by a talented leader who listens, is flexible, and respects each person’s talents and strengths. The team leader also understands the vital nature of the workflow process: how talent in the team must be in the right place and in the right role to get the job done. The workflow itself needs to be clearly communicated, make sense for the organization, and involve each part of the team as equal members of the process.


workflow; content lifecycle; information flow; multidisciplinary team; requesters; providers; creators; reviewers; publishers

The goal of the seven rules in The Digital Crown has been to give you a framework you can use to create, publish, and manage the content within your organization. The first two rules were about focusing your content on your audience and understanding your stakeholders. The next two rules were about keeping your content processes constantly iterative, as well as creating teams of multidisciplinary digital and business professionals. The fifth rule encouraged you to make governance central. Now we’re going to explore combining all of these ideas into Rule #6. Workflow is the beginning, middle, and end of content success; it’s where people, process, and technology should all come together in synergy.

What Is Workflow?

Workflow. Two four-letter words put together. Workflow is the process your teams follow to get the job done.

Let me explain workflow a bit. I have two daughters, ages eight and ten, and they love to watch DC Cupcakes, a show about two sisters who started a cupcake bakery together. Watching the show with them made me realize how workflow is everywhere and affects every business. When you bake something, there is an obvious workflow. For example, you can’t ice a cupcake before you bake it.

Similarly, have you ever tried to put together a Lego playset without the directions (this is where my four-year-old son comes in), the step-by-step, in-color directions that you have to follow carefully to recreate the totally cool toy on the cover of the box? It is impossible—trust me; only a mathematical genius with incredible spatial talents can do it—or a four-year-old.

Content strategists Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper describe workflow as “the way work or tasks flow through a cycle on their way to getting a job done. Workflow helps organizations perform tasks in an efficient and repeatable manner.”1

Again, you must bake a cupcake before you ice it. Otherwise, no one will eat it, and if no one will eat it, then no one will buy it. Result: The bakery will lose money.

Workflow Problems: People Creating Iced Cupcakes Without the Cake

Do you have any content lifecycles that are unbaked, iced cupcakes? Examples in content would be:

• Scrambling like mad to find an author, reviewer, and publisher the day that an important blog post is supposed to post

• Using three different names for your company on three different parts of the website

• Publishing content without metatags

• Using the wrong keywords, so no one can find the content

Those are your unbaked, iced cupcakes.

Meanwhile, that content was created in the same manner in which a frustrated parent tries to put together a Lego toy without the instructions—completely lacking in any logic, backward, and basically impossible.

Why do we treat content this way? Why do we treat our content teams this way? Most important, why do we treat our customers this way?

Ask yourself if you are running your content production teams like you’re trying to reconstruct a Lego toy without the instructions. Are you making them eat a raw cupcake with icing?

Workflow Challenges

Let’s appreciate the value of workflow, which forces us, frantic though we may be, to go step by step and get it right. But it’s not easy, is it? Sometimes we have big teams to manage, and, face it, we are always rushed and some little devil inside our brain is trying to convince us that “just this once” we can skip the workflow steps and “just put it up.”

So let’s agree that this is not easy—using a workflow has its challenges. We can divide these challenges into four categories; in most organizations, these challenges overlap. See if you can find your organization in one of the following:

• Information flow

• Misplaced talent

• Lack of guidance and clear models

• Lack of training

Information Flow Among Team Members

Creating and publishing content is challenging because the production, management, and dissemination of content rely on the flow of information within an organization. And, as we all know, information within an organization does not always flow as it should—freely.

Information flow in an organization should look like Figure R6.1.


FIGURE R6.1 Information flow. Ahava Leibtag. All Rights Reserved.

Information should flow freely from senior management down to the front lines. Then it should flow back freely from the front lines up to senior management. This is not how things usually work.

Why? Mostly because in many organizations there are many more layers than this diagram shows. Also, information tends to flow sideways and stay within a particular department or larger segment within the organization. This leads to content silos, in which important information intended for a wider audience stays stuck in one place.

Now the bigger question—why does information flow the wrong way, resulting in poor workflow? The answer is—people. The information does not move by itself. Someone, at some point, fails to communicate, fails to report, or just plain doesn’t get the value of correct information flow, and—boom!—workflow is impeded.

Misplaced Talent

I have seen so many content projects go awry because the wrong people were in charge of the wrong things. I’m not talking about your typical, “He shouldn’t be the boss,” political nitpicking. I mean serious misplacement of talent—not just the wrong people in the wrong jobs, but the wrong jobs in the wrong order.

I will give you an example: I once ran a team of content writers who were writing content for a huge question-and-answer portal. The editorial direction was pretty unclear to begin with, but it continued to shift throughout the project. The project manager running the team was a very talented writer. But, she was put in the awkward position of having to be the project manager on a content project she really didn’t love. She didn’t have enough time to do this project, plus all of her other work, and so she fell behind on editing our submissions. By the time she got around to editing them, the project was more than halfway done, so we couldn’t fix the mistakes in time. It was a disaster all around. Wrong person in the job.

On a different project, I worked as a consultant who hired an excellent writer. She was also phenomenal with code, creating landing pages, and publishing content. (If you find a person like this, marry them to your organization.) Because she was so good with code, and the organization lacked anyone in-house to publish content, they ended up squandering this excellent writer’s talent in the production queue. Why, when you can easily find an entry-level CMS author, would you waste the talents of a writer who has worked for some of the largest media companies in the world? This time—right person, wrong assignment. I actually could go on and on with examples like the two above, but the reason I chose these was because they both illustrate workflow challenges: The wrong person is in the wrong role.

In both cases, the two women were talented at their core roles and were better off focusing on those. In the first case, the client should have hired a project manager, which they did end up doing, to their credit. The writer should not have been doing the editing work—that should have been done by a professional editor who truly understood the editorial direction of the project. In the second case, my client should have found a web producer to build the landing pages who would also insert content that the writer created.

These are both clear workflow problems that lead directly back to talent identification issues. A great writer does not make a great editor. A great SEO professional does not make a great project manager. And, a great designer does not make a great writer of microcopy. Icebergs will find your content if you let the wrong people steer the ship.

This is why Rule #4 is so important. Everybody on digital content teams has to wear a few different hats. Pick people who are good at more than one thing. This rule is critical for all of web production, not just content.

In the case of workflow, however, one person cannot perform more than one task at a time. So, make sure the most talented person at that task is responsible for it. For example, a nit-picky content editor should do quality assurance on published content so that she can pick up any mistakes or problems with layout. We’ll talk about evaluating talent later on in this rule.

Lack of Guidance and Clear Models

This is one of the challenges I see most often when consulting about workflow. Workflow is like a recipe, with a clear set of tasks that must be performed step-by-step. Embedded in the process are checkpoints and approvals, in the same way that in a restaurant, more experienced chefs watch the line to make sure dishes are prepared correctly. When not everyone in the kitchen is aware of the recipe, as well as the correct way to set the plate, mistakes occur.

It would seem then, that if people have guidance and clear models, they should be able to produce, create, and publish content. However, that leads me to my next workflow challenge—training.

Lack of Training

In many organizations, content is messy because people lack training. Not just in creating the content, but in all areas: Sourcing it, understanding who to go to for clarity, knowing how to use the CMS correctly to publish the content, and knowing they must take it down or archive it according to a certain timeline.

If you have a distributed content workforce, which we’ll explain shortly, then training everyone may seem almost impossible. But, nowadays training can be accomplished with short videos, half-day training seminars, and sometimes a simple phone call. You wouldn’t expect someone to make a sales call without some training, would you? So why do you expect them to manage and handle your content without training?

Let’s learn more about the different types of content teams you may have and how you can structure them to produce the best content for your organization.

Different Types of Content Teams

There are many types of content workforces and the makeup of your workforce will influence your workflow. You may have any one of the following types of content teams:

• Siloed

• Distributed

• Centralized

• Rogue

Siloed Content Teams

When companies don’t communicate in an organized fashion about their content, they create siloed content workforces. In fact, the organization may be structured in such a way that there is no reason for different departments to communicate about content. The nature of the web itself can create this problem, because by nature it is disruptive to the way organizations have always compartmentalized information. Content should cause departments to rethink the way they manage knowledge and data from within the organization, as well as how they communicate about it to outsiders. But many organizations have been slow to catch up; they still suffer from siloed communications.

You can see the effects of siloed communication when you find FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on one part of a global organization’s website, and a PDF file containing the exact same information, but in long, boring paragraphs, on another part of the site. This begs the following questions:

• When did Department A create the FAQs?

• Did they know Department B was creating the PDF Guide? If so, why didn’t they collaborate?

• Who is updating the FAQs when things change?

• Who is updating the PDF Guide to reflect those changes?

Chances are neither Department A nor B knew about the other’s content. It could be that Department A read Department B’s boring guide and decided to break it up into FAQ web pages. That team didn’t let Department B know. In any case, consumers are very confused; they are having two different conversations with the same company—and they do not know which conversation to trust. It is because they are having two different conversations that the audience will lose trust.

Silos Hurt Organizations

While content silos frustrate content professionals, they do more to hurt the customer—therefore, hurting the business—sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. As Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper describe, “While organizations suffer from the negative impact of content silos, customers are the real victims. When information exists in multiple areas, it often differs in content, style, tone, and message. Customers don’t know which one is correct, most up to date, or comprehensive. When customers encounter these inconsistencies, they become understandably confused. Sometimes confusion leads to aggravation. Inconsistency damages the customer experience.”

In other words, if the conversations on your digital properties are confusing and inconsistent, guess what your audiences are doing? They are jumping to your competitors to have conversations with them. That equals lost revenue for you.

Distributed Content Teams

“Distributed” in this case simply means that your content teams do not sit together in one place. Rather, they are scattered throughout your organization, like so many leaves in the wind. Distributed content teams typically are the hallmark of large, multinational corporations or institutions like government, higher education, and healthcare. Sometimes the different teams exist for political or budgetary reasons—but whatever the reason, if these teams are not well trained and motivated, the content suffers, the consumer suffers, and so the business suffers.

In the model of a distributed content workforce, different departments are given access to certain publishing powers within the content management system (CMS). Depending on workflow, they can hit “Publish” and have the page go live when they are finished. In some cases, there is an extra checkpoint, where presumably a trained editor is looking at the content to ensure it fulfills all of the organizations’ standards for web content.

Distributed content teams are usually a necessary evil and they present a variety of challenges. However, they can be incredibly useful in situations where you just don’t have enough manpower on your central content team to keep all of your content fresh. Distributed content teams are typically responsible for the assembly line content we talked about in Chapter 4. They may just change phone numbers or names of faculty or update events on calendars. Some distributed content workforces may have much more authority.

Think of a huge multinational organization with offices around the world, offering thousands of chunks of content describing products, services, or support documentation. Those teams create content around what they do and they want to have control over their content. Consider the following scenarios:

• Content must be produced in multiple languages and for multiple cultures

• Content is requested and sourced within that department; for example, they are engineers who produce technical documentation that your team can’t produce

• The head of that department doesn’t report to your boss, or really to any bosses, as far as you can tell

How do you apply governance standards to that team? How do you know when they are publishing content? Are you responsible for their data and analytics, or can you give them access and expect them to track those conversations? As we see, distributed content teams can be helpful and they can also present challenges.

Centralized Content Teams

Centralized content teams are typically marketing or editorial departments that have complete control over any content published to any of an organization’s digital media properties. While complete control sounds like a really fun fantasy, in actuality, centralized content teams can suffer from any of the following:

• Not enough resources or staff to cover all of the content

• Massive backlogs of content because of bottlenecks in workflow

• Confusion over priority on creating and publishing content

• Lack of clarity about who owns certain types of content

• Lack of subject matter experts who will help clarify content

Centralized content teams are also usually comprised of a motley crew of individuals: Former journalists, marketing managers, data analysts, and designers and developers. This can typically lead to in-fighting about who is more important (you all are!) or whose projects deserve priority. Also, depending on the size of the organization, centralized content teams may be exhausted all the time because they just have too much content to manage.

Rogue Content Teams

Of all of the different types of content teams, rogue content teams are my favorite because I love rebels. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing”? However, in the case of rogue content teams, they can cause a tremendous amount of trouble for you if you are responsible for the brand and content floating out there on the currents of the web.

Rogue content teams typically surface in organizations like hospitals and higher education. Doctors want their own Facebook pages, faculty members want to publish research on their own websites—and who can blame them? The web is a self-publishing medium and the doctor wants to get the word out about his services. A professor doesn’t want to hear that she can’t directly publish her research to her site—it’s “publish or perish” (pun intended here) in her world. Why should she be at the mercy of your governance standards? She doesn’t necessarily care about the brand of the university—she cares about her own personal brand.

In my experience, you can actually learn a lot from rogue content teams, and turn those lessons into a positive experience. Consider the fact that they had the gumption to go out there and create their own digital properties. This means that they:

• Are extremely motivated to converse with their target audiences

• Understand the innate importance of communicating using digital technologies

That makes them potential advocates in helping you persuade your senior leadership for better publishing standards within the organization. It also means that you may have to give them extra attention by giving their content priority in the beginning of your seduction process. However, if you manage it right, they will reward you by letting others in the organization know they should trust you.

Rogue content teams are also valuable because they are often creative, unhampered by political content concerns, and just trying to put a stake in the sand. While they may call your brand something it is not, use a logo their teenager created using illegally pirated software, violate every rule of social media etiquette, and do other obnoxious things that make you tear your hair out, chances are they may have created engagement with their customers because they are REAL. If they are having success, try to understand and appreciate the creative part of what they are doing as a model for your content teams.

That said, by definition they will probably not want to conform to your (or any) standards, and certainly will not want to adhere to a workflow. Managing their needs means having to convince them of the value of working with you—this is a tough sell for them.

Which Content Team Is Right for Your Organization?

The truth is, any of the above models except rogue may work for your organization. You may have to use a blended mix from all three. You can have a distributed content workforce that has access to some minor parts of the CMS and a centralized content workforce that does most of the heavy lifting on content. You may have rogue content teams that you need to get under control. Here’s a table to sum up our comparisons:


Iterate, Iterate

A point about iteration. No one is expecting you to create the perfect team. But you may feel you have done so. Great! But remember—be flexible. Iterate. If something is going wrong, sit down with the team and find the problem area—more than likely it will be that someone isn’t really capable of the assignment, isn’t interested in it, or isn’t doing it well. Find the problem, reorganize, and move on. Iterate the workflow, the team, and the process.

In a perfect world, you would create your dream content team based on your business objectives, as well as what your C-suite expects you to deliver digitally. However, most organizations already have legacy content, demands for new content, and talent and teams in place. So, your job is to find alignment between the amount of content you are expected to manage, and what the right amount of content truly is for your organization. And, like everything else on the web, configuring the right type of content team is an iterative process. What works today may need to be altered tomorrow.

However, even more important than the type of team you have, is the workflow you have in place for putting the right talent in the right roles. So let’s analyze workflow and figure out how to identify the right talent for baked AND iced cupcakes.

Workflow Basics

When we look at our content strategy lifecycle next to our editorial structure for planning, creating, publishing, distributing, and analyzing content, we see a reflective process (Figures R6.2 and R6.3).


FIGURE R6.2 The lifecycle of content strategy. Ahava Leibtag. All Rights Reserved.


FIGURE R6.3 Content publishing workflow structure. Ahava Leibtag. All Rights Reserved.

At each point in a content strategy phase, we have people who are responsible for moving the content to the next phase. So too, in the workflow, we have people who move the content from one stage to the next. This would be highly coordinated baton tossing of content, which works—as opposed to uncoordinated baton tossing. Let’s look at these roles.

The People

Any team creating content needs to have a clear picture of where the content is coming from and how it is published to the site. In every content production chain, there are typically eight different roles:

• Requesters

• Providers

• Creators

• Reviewers

• Approvers

• Publishers

• Distributors

• Analysts


In most organizations, content requests come in from the C-suite, from executives throughout the organization, and from data analysts requesting changes. In a proactive content team, the team makes content requests because, by analyzing data, they realize they need to change the conversation.


Providers are the people in the organization who give you the basic raw facts or data to create the content. They may be subject matter experts, sales people, product specialists, or marketing managers who understand their product or service lines.


Once the request comes in and the content is sourced, it needs to be created. This is when content is handed to your creative content producers: Writers, photographers, videographers, and so on.


Content needs to be reviewed to make sure it is in line with brand and editorial standards. Legal may need to review for compliance on regulatory matters. The original requesters and providers should probably review as well to make sure the content is not only factually correct, but satisfies the original business intention.

Final Approvers

These people can finalize the content and say that it is ready for publishing.


These are the CMS authors, web producers, and content publishers who ensure the content goes live and looks good.


The social media and audience engagement specialists are responsible for publicizing and using the new content to drive engagement.


These are the people who answer the question, “How is that content performing?” That is the most important question in the minds of analysts. Content supports the sales process and whatever it is that you’re selling; analysts are going to focus on how the data shows an ROI from having a robust content team.

Review of Roles




Create Assignments


Source Content


Source and create




Give Final Approval


Prepare content for distribution


Distribute content


Analyze content performance and behavior

The above is a very simplified version of a content workflow lifecycle. Within those roles are thousands of tiny details that need to be performed. To truly understand your content lifecycle so you can create an efficient workflow, you need to understand all the tasks that the people in each of these roles perform.

Evaluating the Workflow

Before you begin to structure your content teams for greatest efficiency, you need to sketch your current workflow. Here are some questions you need to answer for a basic sketch:

1. Who currently fills the above roles?

2. What is the current process in place for that role?

3. What happens when that person is unavailable?

4. Who gets to make decisions about changes in process?

5. How does information flow from one role to the next?

6. How does information get shared? (Files, shared drives, project management software)

A basic sketch might look something like this:



Now that we understand what the current workflow looks like, we need to apply one very basic principle—who the baton is passed to is just as important as how the baton is passed. It’s the people AND the process.

So take some time to analyze the table you’ve created and see if the personality and skills of the people in the “Who” column match what you need. If they do—great. If not, make some changes.

Putting the Right People in Place

The most important part of workflow is making sure you have the right professionals doing the job. As Erin Kissane says, “divide up the work in a way that takes advantage of your colleagues’ various skills. Got a data nerd handy? Put her on that content audit and gap analysis. And your content specialist who used to edit a magazine? Let him lead the feature design recommendations and voice and tone work” (Kissane, 2011).

In other words, you don’t want a baker icing a cupcake. You want someone who is really good at icing to decorate the cupcake and someone who is really great at baking to bake the cupcake. Now, that person might be great at both, or he may not. It takes good management and effective leadership to understand how to organize and structure workflow.

In order to put the right people in the right roles, you need to do the following:

• Evaluate talent fairly

• Structure for experience and personality

• Don’t be afraid to experiment

It takes time to set up an effective workflow and in small companies, some people, if not all of them, may wear multiple hats. At the end of the day, you have to be honest when you’re evaluating your talent and watch carefully how different people and personalities work together. Mix and match people—if it is a horrible idea, you will learn early on in the process that it may not work. Do not forget what we learned in Rule #4—everybody on the team has to be prepared to understand and know something about other professionals they work with.

If you find you are consistently having a problem getting your team to work together, then you need to troubleshoot and find the source of the tension. Otherwise, you’ll keep serving unbaked, iced cupcakes to your customers. And we’re going for yum—not yuck.

Now that we’ve talked about content teams and how to structure them to create and manage content most effectively, we’re going to talk about design and the fabulous interplay that needs to happen between the two to give your customers the best possible conversational experience.


1. Kissane E. The elements of content strategy. New York: A Book Apart; 2011.