The key elements of a content governance model

If you’re in communications, you’ve been hearing about content strategy for years now. How to write it, structure it, optimize it, and make it work harder for you.

“Create more content!”

“Think long-form and short-form!”

Tell stories to foster authentic connections!”

You get it. Lots of exclamation points! It may not feel this way, but in reality, content strategy is so last decade. The new movement in content is content governance — and you should welcome it with open arms.

What is Content Governance?

Simply put, it’s a collection of rules for publishing. Not only that, but it also identifies how you maintain and eventually archive your content. It involves a few different elements, like an editorial calendar, workflows, a content audit, style guides, and more. Together, these elements make up a content governance plan.

Content governance is a culture shift. It puts importance on the structure and governance of the content your team is working so hard to create. And you are creating content. According to Micro Focus, there are now over 4.4 billion internet users — up 83% in just five years! Between those users, there are:

  • 1.2 million new data-producing social media users every day
  • 4 million hours of content uploaded to YouTube every day
  • Over 3.5 billion Google searches conducted every minute
  • 293 million emails sent every day

Think about your organization’s content. If you’re like most, you have an abundance of content at this point and need some way to evaluate it, guide it, maintain it, and archive it. If you’ve ever launched a big, beautiful new website, you know how hard it is. But launching it is far easier than keeping it big and beautiful. That’s why the idea of content management is in trend. It’s a necessary process if you want to continue providing value.

To get started with content governance, you need to conduct these four activities:

Foster a Culture of Content

So much of creating and maintaining content is wrapped into a culture of content. One where content isn’t just created for the sake of creation, but one where content is created strategically with goals in mind. This starts at the top.

Some things to know upfront about content governance:

It will be messy at times.

Implementing a governance component into your content strategy isn’t a walk in the park. Being forced to evaluate and break down your content processes to identify a more efficient system can be taxing. Expect that going in.

Buy-in to content governance should start as high up on the organizational chart as possible.

Content governance involves the whole content team. The idea of content management isn’t a hard sell when your case includes consistent messaging, optimized content lifecycle, and increased online traffic. When everyone is executing on their designated roles, it creates a well-oiled machine. But everyone has to be on the same page, and it has to be a top priority.

Your organization will need to increase its investment in people to do the work.

The efficacy of your content will always come down to the content team that produces and manages it. There are three vital roles for every content team: a managing editor, a writer, and a designer.

Your managing editor is at the helm, armed with your style guide. They run point on every piece of content and manage content creation from inception to publication. A managing editor moves the needle by connecting content creators with subject matter experts, keeping the organization’s content strategy top of mind.

Your writer is curious, flexible, and can take edits in stride. It’s not enough to hire a technically good writer. You need someone who can tell a story about your organization. You’re looking for someone who can bring your content to life and make people want to read it.

Then, there’s your designer. Having a designer on the team helps extend what you’re able to do with your content, which is important considering that 65% of people are visual learners. Design is not always a high priority for budgeting (and not having a designer won’t break you), but giving your organization a unique visual identity is ideal.

Culture must be reinforced through proper onboarding and regular training.

There’s just no point in putting in the time, effort, and other resources to create a content governance plan if every fiber of your organization isn’t drenched in it. Sure, your content creator may know the plan like the back of their hand, but what about those involved in other aspects of content production? The rules, workflows, and policies you set up must be transparent and easy to access. Make sure your content management policies are communicated and accessible to everyone on your team. It should be a commonly-referenced document.

In a way, content governance is branding. It’s a curated message that you support with every piece of content you publish, all supporting your content strategy. You will only benefit from having everyone in-the-know.

Conduct a Content Audit

A content audit is an accounting and analysis of content, usually in the form of a spreadsheet containing specific metrics and evaluations. It provides the current landscape of your content and can make your life much easier. Not only will it give you a strategic view of your content, but it will significantly improve the conversations your organization has around your content. The purpose of a content audit is simply to have eyes on where your content is and what your content is doing. It helps you evaluate how your content is performing so you can tweak it, prioritize it, or start archiving it.

Your website is your biggest repository of content that often ties other content types together in an integrated way. Having a spreadsheet of your web content is almost like looking at the circulatory system. You can see the forest from the trees, which helps inform your content strategy as a whole.

Build Your Editorial Calendar

Everything you publish should be part of a greater content strategy — from your articles, webinars, and downloads down to your tweets, PDFs, and infographics.

An editorial calendar is often an Excel spreadsheet that keeps you on top of important dates and deadlines so you can drive your content marketing goals. It’ll help you plan digital marketing and events. It can help you structure your social media marketing. Really, it can organize any type of content that your organization is publishing (or wants to publish).

Here are a few best practices for maintaining your editorial calendar:

  • Guard the brand: not every content suggestion must be implemented, especially if it doesn’t fit your mission or your brand.
  • Make it your own: Our editorial calendar template is a guide to get you started, but there are lots of additional content you can add to make it uniquely yours. Maybe you want to add a column that lists the audience for each piece of content or what the main call to action should be.
  • Whatever you do, always update the calendar: One person should be in charge of the calendar, and the upkeep of the calendar should be in their job description. They must set aside time to keep it updated.

Outline a Content Governance Plan

Your content governance model is laid out via a content governance plan. It guides how your content will be created, published, maintained, and archived. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all template for a content governance plan because the needs between organizations vary widely, but these sections are typically included:

  • Executive Introduction: Shares high-level information for those who are not familiar with the plan.
  • Standards & Policies: Outlines the policies your content will adhere to, typically includes your content style guide, privacy and security policies, and any accessibility guidelines.
  • Governance Structure & Rules: Establishes who sits on your governance committee as well as their roles and responsibilities.
  • Workflows: Determines the workflows by which content is requested, produced, approved, and published. It outlines how content moves through the organization.
  • Templates & Architectural Guidelines: Outlines standards for how content is entered into the CMS. For example, a list of available page layouts, standards around what page layouts are used, etc.
  • Content Evaluation & Refresh: Lays out how content is tracked and how it is analyzed and updated. Typically includes your content audit and editorial calendar.
  • Training: Establishes how and when staff will be trained as well as ongoing training.

A screenshot of five documents highlighting different aspects of content governance.

Content governance isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to start surfacing better, accurate, and useful content. The way you manage your content is just as important as the content itself and done wisely and intentionally, it will set you apart.

Jarrett Way
Marketing Manager
Mighty Citizen
To Jarrett, writing is cathartic, so it was no surprise when he ended up in journalism school at the University of North Texas. There, he managed and contributed to a handful of online publications while learning about strategic communication. By telling stories in his community, Jarrett found himself at the intersection of communications and advocacy. His post-graduation endeavors took him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he spent four years diving into the world of content marketing and digital strategy. Grind City could only keep a Texan away for so long before Jarrett moved to Austin to tell the story of Mighty Citizen.