Why Your Content Marketing Needs a Well-Oiled Workflow in 2024

Content marketing is now a mainstream strategy used by 91% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers, according to the Content Marketing Institute. But as more brands pump out blog posts, videos, podcasts, and social content, it‘s getting harder to capture audience attention and stand out from the sea of mediocre content.

One of the keys to consistently producing high-quality, high-performing content is having a well-planned workflow. A content workflow maps out the steps, stakeholders, resources, and timeline for executing your content from initial idea through to publication and promotion.

Think of your content workflow as the engine that keeps your content machine running. Without a structured, documented workflow, teams risk missed deadlines, bottlenecks, inconsistent quality, and lack of alignment.

In this guide, we‘ll cover what marketers need to know to build an effective content workflow, including:

  • The components of a content workflow
  • Why having a defined workflow is essential
  • The step-by-step process to create one
  • Real examples from leading content teams
  • Tools to manage and optimize your workflow

Anatomy of a Content Workflow

Let‘s break down the key parts of a typical content workflow:

Ideation

Every piece of content starts with an idea that aligns with your content strategy. This stage involves brainstorming topics, doing keyword research, identifying target audiences, and prioritizing what to create based on potential impact. Techniques for ideation include:

  • Analyzing top performing content in your niche
  • Assessing content gaps and opportunities
  • Mining customer feedback and FAQs
  • Interviewing subject matter experts
  • Reviewing competitor content

Planning

With a prioritized list of ideas, it‘s time to assign content and plan out your editorial calendar. This stage defines:

  • The content format (blog post, video, infographic, etc.)
  • Who will create it (in-house or outsourced)
  • The project owner overseeing the workflow
  • Key project milestones and deadlines

Many teams use a centralized content calendar to map out their publishing schedule across different channels.

Creation

The meat of the content workflow is the actual production of the content based on the brief. This could involve:

  • Outlining and scripting
  • Writing and editing copy
  • Designing visual assets
  • Filming and producing videos
  • Recording and editing audio
  • Coding interactive elements

Depending on the content type and team structure, creation may involve multiple contributors and review cycles before content is finalized.

Optimization

Before content is published, it typically goes through an optimization stage to maximize its visibility and engagement potential. This includes:

  • Keyword optimization for SEO
  • Adding engaging headlines and meta descriptions
  • Optimizing images and videos for faster loads
  • Ensuring content is mobile-friendly
  • Cross-linking to relevant content
  • Adjusting for accessibility

Approval

Most content workflows have one or more approval stages where key stakeholders review content for quality, brand alignment, and legal compliance before giving the green light to publish. Approvers might include:

  • Senior content strategists
  • SEO managers
  • Product marketing leaders
  • Brand and compliance teams
  • Legal counsel
  • Executives

Having a clear approval workflow prevents bottlenecks, such as content getting stuck in review or circulating to people who don‘t need to weigh in.

Publishing

Once content is approved, it moves to publishing based on the defined schedule. The specifics of publishing workflows vary based on the content type and CMS, but often involve:

  • Uploading content and assets into the CMS
  • Adding tags, categories, and metadata
  • Setting publish dates and times
  • Configuring URL redirects
  • Scheduling cross-promotion via email and social

Distribution

Publishing content is just the beginning. A complete content workflow includes a distribution and promotion plan to get content in front of the right audiences. This could encompass:

  • Sending to email subscriber segments
  • Promoting via organic and paid social media
  • Syndicating to third-party sites and publishing platforms
  • Pitching to relevant media outlets
  • Paid promotion via search, social, and native ads
  • Featuring in email newsletters and content digests

Measurement

Finally, your content workflow should track performance analytics to measure ROI and gain insights for future optimization. Key metrics to assess include:

  • Traffic and engagement rates
  • Organic search rankings and visibility
  • Social shares and mentions
  • Conversion rates and revenue impact
  • Feedback via surveys and comments

Regularly reporting on content performance helps identify top performers, opportunities for repurposing and optimization, and low-performing content to sunset.

Why a Content Workflow is Essential

If the idea of mapping out a detailed workflow feels daunting, consider the risks of not having one:

  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities
  • Poorly planned content that doesn‘t support strategic goals
  • Missed deadlines and publishing inconsistency
  • Wasted time on redundant tasks and inefficient handoffs
  • Bottlenecks that block content from moving forward
  • Inconsistent content quality and brand voice
  • Inability to scale content production

Research shows that top-performing content marketers are far more likely to have a documented content strategy, persona targets, and defined workflows compared to their less successful peers.

For example, 69% of the most successful B2B content marketers have a documented content marketing strategy vs. only 16% of the least successful. And twice as many top performers have a defined workflow compared to those who don‘t.

So while establishing a workflow requires an upfront time investment, it pays off in terms of greater efficiency, execution, and performance in the long run.

Creating Your Content Workflow: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ready to build your own content workflow? Follow these steps:

1. Clarify your content goals and audiences

Your workflow should be designed to support your specific content marketing goals, whether that‘s building brand awareness, driving leads and sales, enabling customer retention, or a combination.

Get clear on your target audience for each type of content and what you want them to do as a result of consuming it. Document your content strategy to keep your workflow aligned with big-picture objectives.

2. Define your content mix and calendar

Decide on the primary types of content you‘ll produce, such as:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Social media posts
  • Email newsletters
  • Ebooks and whitepapers
  • Interactive tools
  • Webinars

Establish a realistic publishing cadence for each format based on your team‘s bandwidth and resources. Use an editorial calendar to map out content plans, key dates, and promotional campaigns.

3. Designate roles and responsibilities

Who will be involved in executing your content workflow? Common roles include:

  • Content strategists to guide planning and ideation
  • Subject matter experts to inform content accuracy
  • Writers, designers, and producers to create content
  • Editors and reviewers to provide quality control
  • SEO and audience development managers to optimize reach
  • Project managers to oversee the process
  • Stakeholders to provide approvals and input

Clarify each role‘s ownership and expectations at each workflow stage to prevent confusion and gaps.

4. Map out your production process

For each content type, plot out the detailed steps and stages required to execute from start to finish, including:

  • Topic research and SEO optimization
  • Content outlines and scripting
  • Asset creation and revisions
  • SEO and conversion optimization
  • Reviews and approvals
  • Scheduling and publishing
  • Promotion and distribution
  • Reporting and analysis

Specify who is responsible for each task, relevant deadlines, and what constitutes completion before moving to the next step.

Many teams visualize their workflow using flowcharts, Kanban boards, or project plans to illustrate the sequence of hand-offs. Here‘s a sample content workflow visualization:

Sample content workflow diagram

5. Select your content stack

Determine which tools you‘ll use to manage your content workflow. These may include:

  • Content calendars to map out production
  • Google Docs and Sheets for collaborating on content
  • Design and video editing software
  • Content management systems to publish and store content
  • Project management tools to track tasks and deadlines
  • Marketing automation to orchestrate campaigns
  • Analytics dashboards to track and report on performance

Look for tools that integrate with each other to create a seamless end-to-end workflow. For example, the CMS HubSpot has built-in calendars, SEO recommendations, and progress tracking.

6. Implement, assess, and optimize

With your content workflow mapped out, it‘s time to put it into practice. Schedule a kickoff with all stakeholders to walk through the workflow and make sure everyone understands the process.

As you execute your workflow, pay attention to what‘s working well and not so well. Make adjustments as you encounter bottlenecks or find ways to streamline steps.

Conduct a quarterly assessment to review adherence to the workflow, content quality and performance, and team feedback. Use those insights to continually tweak and improve your workflow over time.

Content Workflow Examples to Learn From

Need some inspiration for your own content workflow? Here‘s how a few notable content teams keep their process running smoothly:

HubSpot

HubSpot‘s blog team splits ownership between content strategists, SEO experts, staff writers, and editors.

Their workflow follows this process:

  • Content strategists analyze topic opportunities and create briefs
  • SEO specialists conduct keyword research to guide the content angle
  • Staff writers produce a first draft of assigned posts
  • Content editors review drafts, checking for readability, brand alignment, and overall quality and accuracy
  • Editors approve final drafts for publishing
  • Audience development specialists promote content via email, social, and campaign channels
  • Content strategists review performance metrics to optimize future content efforts

Using this process, HubSpot scaled to publishing nearly 1,400 new posts a year across 4 blogs in 5 languages.

HootSuite

Social media management platform HootSuite takes a hub-and-spoke model approach to their content workflow.

A centralized content team defines the overarching strategy, calendar, and quality standards. Regional marketing teams around the world then adapt and create localized content within that framework.

Content goes through multiple review cycles to ensure it‘s technically accurate, on-brand, and culturally relevant. Content tasks and approvals are managed through Trello and Airtable for visibility company-wide.

This workflow enables HootSuite to efficiently produce content across 6 languages while maintaining consistency.

Wistia

Video platform Wistia has an in-house production team that plans, films, and edits video content ranging from educational product guides to a quirky scripted series.

Their video production workflow includes:

  • Ideation and scripting by video directors and scriptwriters
  • Pre-production meetings to align the team on the creative direction, goals, and logistics
  • Booking of production crew, equipment, and talent as needed
  • Filming of video content, often broken into multiple shoot dates
  • Editing the raw footage into a rough cut for internal review
  • Creating motion graphics, B-roll, and other supporting visuals
  • Adding music, voiceovers, and sound effects
  • Final editing and production of the finished video
  • Publishing videos on Wistia‘s website and video channels
  • Promoting finished videos across email, social media, ads, etc.
  • Analyzing video engagement data to optimize future production

By establishing clear processes and checkpoints, Wistia is able to produce over 100 videos per year while being a relatively lean team.

Improving Your Content Workflows

No content workflow is perfect out of the gate. It takes time and experience to refine the process and address common challenges.

Some tips for optimizing your content workflow:

  • Reduce review cycles. Map out the minimum number of people needed to approve content to avoid endless rounds of feedback. Limit stakeholders to those who have final authority.

  • Clarify processes for reactive content. Have a protocol in place for responding to trending topics and short-turnaround content requests outside of your editorial calendar. Decide who has the final call on prioritizing these needs.

  • Create intake request forms. Standardize how people submit ideas and requests to the content team to gather the right information. Use an online intake form that connects to your project management tool.

  • Outsource specialist tasks. Find reliable freelancers and agency partners to help scale content production beyond what your in-house team can handle. Have clear standards and communication cadences.

  • Define an escalation process. Determine how to handle inevitable roadblocks in your workflow, like content getting stuck in reviews or sudden priority changes. Agree on who has the authority to unblock issues.

  • Build in a feedback loop. Have a retrospective after major content launches to document what did and didn‘t work well in the process.

  • Automate where you can. Look for manual steps in your workflow that could be automated using tools like HubSpot workflows or Zapier. But avoid over-engineering processes that are working fine.

  • Mix up your content formats. Incorporate different types of content into your workflow to test audience assumptions. For example, try a video version of a popular blog post.

Regularly auditing and improving your content workflows will help you adapt to changing market demands and team structures.

Conclusion

By now, you should have a solid understanding of what a content workflow entails and how to establish one for your content team.

We covered a lot, including:

  • The key components of a content workflow from ideation to analysis
  • Why having a defined workflow is a necessity, not a nice-to-have
  • Step-by-step guidance on creating your own workflow
  • Real-world examples from top content teams
  • Strategies to continually optimize your workflows

Implementing a well-structured content workflow takes concerted time and effort. But when done right, it will help you deliver relevant, quality content more efficiently and consistently to better engage your audience and drive marketing results.

Use the best practices and tips outlined in this guide to level up your own content operations. And adapt the provided examples to fit your unique content goals, team structure, and resources.

Here‘s to building a well-oiled content engine that propels your marketing forward!