Lessons from Past Projects: Our Journey to ContentOps

Throughout our journey at Inquisition, we’ve been fortunate to work with a wide range of clients, many of whom have been receptive to our experimental ways of working. Although previously under a different business model, our approach to content has always been inspired by Design principles but as we have increasingly moved away from production to get-our-hands-dirty org design consultancy, the teaming component has become a core focus.

ContentOps is a term borrowed from the more popular DevOps — a philosophy that addresses the relationships between operations and development in order to continuously develop software in an agile manner. We see ContentOps as sharing its basic principles but not necessarily as straight-forward as a replica with different outcomes.

I’m not one to entertain new terms that do little more than confuse the marketplace as meaningless buzzwords that inevitably fail as folks start to question their validity. So although many components of ContentOps are not necessarily new, I feel it needs its own term because of its specific focus on teams, systems and processes to create value for audiences as a central focus, and meets the publisher’s goals, drawing on Design and Teaming practices.

It’s a way for content teams to collectively adopt a growth mindset, to question realities, why and how to change them to attain the desired results, which is a different focus to what I understand of Content Marketing.

In this way the team is never limited to a set of procedures but can effectively spin up possibilities supported by processes that have emerged to make ideas happen… and to scrutinise them.

Below I’ve briefly outlined some of our previous projects and lessons thereof that have been instrumental in guiding our ContentOps journey.

Content experiments in sprints

We worked with a small financial services company which already had an established content team that was creating a volume of content on their various web properties but they were looking to increase engagement with the idea of turning them into commercial opportunities down the line.

With severely limited time to establish an experimental content practice, we approached this by first getting a sense of how well the various team members understood the company’s value creation and delivery to its customers and how they think they made money. This was prior to the development of our Purpose workshops, which achieves this and more. Thereafter they could then discuss the role content needed to play in the company.

Following that were quick content experiments run in one-week sprints that would:

  1. instill the practice of learning about one’s audience and thinking about the various facets of their lives (through various forms of research),
  2. base content decisions on the uncovered informational needs,
  3. allow self-assigning into roles and tasks to be taken on per sprint,
  4. bias towards action, and
  5. create an environment that allows the free flow of communication and not (unintentionally) bottle-necked by the team lead.

We were pleased with how empowered some of the team members became throughout the process and that we’d left them with a starting framework to increase the value of their content.

Responsive and creative content creation

As a small part of our long-term project with a communication platform company, we created and managed social media content where we explored some of our what-if questions.

Twitter as a second-screen experience for TV shows is huge in South Africa, a situation that worked in our favour to engender trust and form the beginnings of a community. Our take was to not only participate in the live discussions but also experiment with different languages and local slang words that brands at the time were not using but their customers were. The pleasantly surprising responses from fellow tweeters helped us earn favour to draw the audience to the app — a challenge in itself since there was no way to direct link.

This responsive approach to live content creation required that our team be given the freedom to experiment and remain empowered to make decisions on-the-fly, keeping what works and chucking what doesn’t.

Purpose and audience research

Earlier this year we got involved with a new media company that brings a refreshing angle to African sports stories.

Their team consists of over 15 young and talented creatives, with whom we took the first steps to establishing team alignment in a day-long Team Purpose workshop. The reaction from the team was that they then understood not just what the company’s impact was going to be, as had emerged from the exercises, but that they were the ones to help it get there. It seems simplistic but the epiphany is quite profound when truly internalised.

They also embarked on extensive audience research, with each team member immersing themselves in people’s homes and gathering personal stories of the people’s lives they intended on impacting with their work. This brought about deep insights and uncovered opportunities which led to rich ideas in future sessions on content engagements and creative distribution paths.

The gallery-style display of their audience stories remain on their office walls as a constant reminder of whom they are serving.

The creative use of Trello by the Nobl team inspired this ContentOps Trello board outlining how ContentOps may be implemented in a team. This particular version is based on our client’s needs so it is meant to be remixed for your own requirements, should you be interested in taking on this journey.