October 8, 2015

What We Learned From Documenting Our Content Creation Process

Meryl Ayres

Creative

Recently, our team decided to document the content creation processes for all the properties within Wistia’s Learning Hub. As the blog editor, I was particularly excited to take a step back and look at how ideas become blog posts at Wistia. There had to be a method behind the madness, right?

Why now?

At Confab Intensive, a content strategy conference I attended this fall, one of the ideas that presenters brought up again and again was identifying and breaking down barriers for potential writers. If your goal is to create a content culture within your workplace, then you should make it easy for any team member to contribute.

An actionable step toward achieving this goal is documenting the content creation process and making it visible to your team.

Confab planted the seed, then HelpScout came along and watered it with this insightful post about making publishing a team sport. Within this piece, Gregory Ciotti talks about outlining HelpScout’s workflow and reveals how content is made at HelpScout.

After reading his post, we knew something had to be done. Our content manager, Alyce, and I grabbed a whiteboard and began the journey. And my, was it an exciting one. If you have a process that runs quietly in the background of your day-to-day work, try documenting it. We were surprised by the many benefits this exercise offered.

Let’s get critical

Taking a step back from a process that has basically become an appendage was super helpful. We found ourselves asking questions like, "what should the timeline be for this step?" and "what steps should we own as editor and content manager, and what should the writer own?".

Breaking down our typical patterns and workflows, talking through them, and documenting our thoughts brought calm to the chaos. It turned out there were definitely methods under there. They just lacked structure and simplicity.

Physical displays of instruction

Once Alyce and I talked through our process on a whiteboard and arrived at a place we felt good about, we decided to illustrate the steps on a wall in our office. To be clear, this wall is covered in a metal sheet, and we used dry-erase markers, so our artwork isn’t permanent.

Still, the process is loud and clear in our office space, which helps keep content top of mind for folks walking by. It’s also a convenient spot to gather around, so it’s easy to walk new writers over to the wall and anchor discussions with a large visual.

We also made sure to write our process in a Google doc. We are a software company, after all. This way, anyone can access the information from anywhere, and it’s easy for us to make quick changes and comment on issues that come up.

Help new writers help you

As we hire more people with diverse perspectives, ideas, and voices, our blog’s potential grows. I say potential because if none of these new brains make it onto our blog, then we’ve missed an opportunity.

Sure, we could leave it up to new teammates to ask questions about how they might get involved with the blog, but why would they? It’s intimidating, and they’re already overwhelmed.

More information often leads to less anxiety, so documenting the process and making it accessible can go a long way.

A blueprint behind the hustle

We’ve found that Trello is great for documenting which stage a given post is in (initial drafting, workshopping, layout, etc.), but it was becoming clear that we needed something else.

The same questions regarding details of the process kept coming up.

  • "Should my draft be in a Google doc?"
  • "How soon could my post be published?"
  • "Should I set up the workshop, or do you do that?"
  • "Is there anything else I should be doing to finalize my post?"

We needed an accessible blueprint that could answer questions before they came knocking. Our documented process is already serving us well in this respect.

Accountability all around

"Get it in writing." We hear that phrase a lot when making deals that matter. Why? Because when we write things down, we can reference them and help hold each other accountable. By writing down our content creation process, we placed more weight on timelines and ownership.

Our intention was not to shame ourselves into following through. Rather, we hoped this transparency would add a healthy sense of urgency and responsibility to our process.

Phew!

Besides all these benefits, we experienced an enormous sense of relief. All of these important details of our process finally existed somewhere other than our brains. As our company grows, we hope this system will keep a busy workflow in check and encourage participation on our blog.

Have you documented any of your processes? What processes at your work would benefit from this exercise?

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