Luckily, the conversations about content strategy are always varied and interesting. I’ve noticed that lately many of them are about governance and its importance to content success. However, most of these conversations are missing two major elements:

  1. They loosely, or even worse (!) vaguely define governance
  2. No clear, practical rules for success are given (and no, recommending an editorial workflow and style guide does not count).

I thought I would take a stab at it.

Topic 1: Define governance in the context of content strategy.

I looked high, and low, like the baby bird in “Are you my Mother?”, and I came to the following definition:

Content governance is the day-to-day detailed management of content delivery and style. The tools involved in content governance can and may include content workflows, editorial guidelines, style guides, editorial management boards, web content committees, publishing calendars, etc."

Topic 2: How can we achieve governance success?

Teams can use many tools to achieve governance success. However, each tool suits certain teams and not others. Rather, I’d like to focus on the essential business practices you need in place for content governance success. These include:

  1. Executive Backup: If the higher ups don’t buy into why content governance is important, there is no way it can succeed. Even if you are a one-person Web team, with absolute full control over the site, one day you will be on vacation. And if the executives in charge don’t believe in following the style guide, or that their need to putthisuprighnow without spell checking is more important than the rules governing your content, well, I hope you had a great vacation.
  2. Can-Do Attitude: There has to be a can-do attitude from the entire Web/digital strategy/content team. Governance is hard to do. It requires attention to the details. It’s nitpicky. It’s consulting documents. It’s checking in with oversight committees when decisions need to be made about what spelling to use, or how often to post this certain piece of content, or how to refer to the competitor. So patience and a good dose of “every problem has a solution” are definitely in order.
  3. Flexibility: In most organizations, many decision makers can weigh in on content governance issues. It’s important to be flexible and not have a one-way-is-the-right-way attitude (that’s true for almost everything in life, but let’s stay focused). Teams who demonstrate flexibility over time show a commitment to content excellence. A willingness to moderate course, if necessary, is always a plus in our ever-changing digital world. Just make sure to document and advertise any changes.
  4. Organic Style Guide: “Hey, Ahava, you said no tools.” Yes, you are correct. Style guides are tools, but the experience of creating and managing an organic style guide is my focus. Organic in this context means the style guide arises out of the entire organization’s commitment to content governance. By storing a style guide in a centralized location and providing key players access, you create a team governance methodology. As they say in sports, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” (And Michael Jordan responded, “But there’s an ‘I’ in win.” However, he was talking about winning a basketball championship and we are talking about content governance, which is far livelier and debate provoking, I’m sure).
  5. Proof of Return-on-Investment: This is the biggie, but it’s not as much work as you may think. Remember a situation where content governance made an impact on the bottom line, or at least made a dent, and you will be able to gain executive buy-in pretty quickly. Or, instead, if you don’t have executive buy-in, or a team mentality toward content governance, suggest improvements to what you do have in place and illustrate how those actions may change the bottom line. In cases of ROI, I always am careful to point out that the bottom line may not be money (in the case of not-for-profits, etc). However, every company has an achievement threshold, so find examples and studies that point to how content governance helped achieve or went against this threshold.

Your Thoughts

I’d be interested to hear what you think -- both of my definition and the essentials you need for achieving content governance success.

[Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading 5 Ways to Land Your Next Content Strategy Project.