10 Reasons Your Content Operations Aren’t Ready for Global Scale

Content is no longer just the domain of marketers. Not long ago, it was mostly CMOs and marketing executives who had to think deeply about to how to scale their content operations as they grew. Within the marketing org, the teams that mostly worried about how to scale content were the same ones looking after acquisition and growth. Content marketing and SEO went hand in hand, with the ultimate goal of traffic, to convert visitors to leads, opportunities, and customers.

Scaling Content: A Growing Cross-Functional Challenge

As virtual collaboration continues to increase, more and more teams, both inside and outside of marketing, face the same challenge. Their goals are no longer centered around demand generation. Today, diverse groups all face a shared task of scaling up their content efforts. For example:

  • Support teams charged with writing help articles and knowledge base articles for users
  • Documentation teams whose job it is to create technical guidance for developers and integrators
  • Community forum managers who need to manage, organize, and develop content
  • Customer success teams who create educational content for their customers
  • Educational teams who produce learning content and trainings for end users
  • Sales enablement teams charged with developing tools and trainings to boost sales efficiency
  • Product marketing teams who create campaigns and assets to demonstrate product value
  • Competitive intel teams building battle cards and reports to inform marketing and sales strategies
  • HR teams who create training for internal employees
  • Internal comms teams that develop messaging kits and internal assets
  • Social media teams who create micro-content for a growing number of social channels

And the list goes on and on.

With so many different functions that have suddenly had to evolve and grow, learning independently how to scale their content production efforts these days, often within the same company, we would expect the entire discipline of content operations to be extremely sophisticated and streamlined, and truly ready for global scale.

But the unfortunate facts are:

  1. Content operations are typically decentralized at most companies
  2. Most teams producing content are not prepared to scale globally

This means there are lots of teams running down identical tracks, all trying to leap over the same hurdles. Separate from one another, with no shared learning across teams, let alone infrastructure.

Why Your Content Simply Can’t Scale

Here are some of the top signs that a content effort, no matter where it lives within a company, isn’t ready for global scale:

  1. Growth depends on humans. If you can’t scale content without hiring a directly proportional number of humans, you will struggle to scale anything globally (unless your budget is unlimited). When you try to add more languages, or create content for more countries, you’ll quickly see whether or not you have a process that is scalable to begin with or not. If you need to hire 10x the people in order to scale your content 10x, you’re gaining zero in operational efficiencies. This means you’re missing opportunities to automate various steps of the content creation, production and distribution process. If this is your situation, the path will break at some point, and you won’t be able to scale any further.
  2. Resourcing paths aren’t diversified. Even if you depend mostly on humans, you’ll likely need to rely on a mix of outsourcing and insourcing to gain true efficiencies in your content operations. Tasks that don’t require deep knowledge of your business can be easily outsourced, but this takes a vendor management muscle that many in-house content teams don’t immediately have. Make sure the resources you involve in your content processes are diversified, not just by vendor type, but geographically too, so you can benefit from outsourcing certain low-risk steps to locations where it will cost less for your business.
  3. Content formats are limited. If you’re philosophically tied to just certain content formats, chances are you are boxing in your operations cost-wise as well as stifling creativity. Often, content creators assume that just because a given format performs well that it’s the “best” format, refusing to try out other formats, or giving them a halfhearted try before reverting back to the familiar (and likely more expensive. Yes, we all know that video is great for example, but it’s also typically the most expensive content format. Have you tried audio-only? What about text-only? What about reducing the ratio of multimedia by 50% and reducing costs accordingly?
  4. Stakeholder feedback isn’t encouraged. If you aren’t soliciting feedback proactively from the people you’re creating content for, you’re missing the most vital piece of your content operations. You need to not only get their opinion on the content itself, but how easy it is to use, whether the format could be improved, how you could make it easier to consume, and what else is missing. Feedback is needed for continuous improvement. Sidestep this and you’ll miss the boat entirely, and simply won’t be able to scale.
  5. Team members cling to the past. If you’re holding on tightly to the way you did things previously, whether at a former company or at the same company, you’re setting up your content operations for disaster. Everything changes, and content processes have to evolve to meet any business where it’s at today. Lessons from the past are great to have, but very well may no longer apply, such as when you’re in growth mode and planning for significant future scale.
  6. Systems aren’t tightly connected. If you’ve locked yourself into a content management system, learning management system, authoring tool, or some other system that isn’t ready for global scale, you’ll pay the price — usually by adding even more humans into the mix. For content to scale into other languages, it’s incredibly important to choose systems that have integrations and connectors with all of the tools you’ll use to create, store, publish, update, and localize the content you’re creating. Integrations with the core tools you use for each of these vital content operations pieces are essential.
  7. Maintenance isn’t automated. Another common challenge teams have when trying to scale content efforts is the challenge of not being able to automate the updating of content after it’s been published. While perhaps humans have to be involved in certain instances, there are ways to automate many updates. If you have to manually republish an article each time there is a small update, imagine this when you multiply it by 10 languages someday — it simply isn’t sustainable if you rely on humans.
  8. No one can explain the value in business terms. If you can’t clearly articulate what the value of each type of content is and the impact it has on your business, this is another clear sign you will struggle to scale your content operations. Content needs to be categorized and tracked in terms of performance, even if you have to periodically survey the content consumers in order to get such data. If you can’t provide clear data on how well current content is performing, you’re not ready to scale it yet.
  9. All content is deemed of equal importance. No matter what type of content you produce, it’s never the case that all content is of equal value. While we’d love to think all content has value when we devote our time and energy to creating content, the truth is that usually 20% of the content represents 80% of the value to the business. How will you invest in scaling it across languages and countries someday, if you cannot stack rank its importance? This leads to a crisis of mistakenly believing that everything should be salvaged, or someday localized, when not everything will really have an impact, especially in a new market.
  10. Processes aren’t documented. Yes, this is the boring piece that most creative teams involved in content creation endeavors don’t want to hear about. But if you want to scale anything, you first have to break down the process, get it out of your team’s head, and document it so that you can teach others (employees, contractors, machines and AI) to replicate it. It’s surprising how many companies survive this way, with so much of process living in people’s heads until it’s time to scale, which is a forcing function for documenting basic processes.

In summary, scaling content operations usually requires a combination of significant changes in people, process, and technology. Change initiatives are hard! As a result, many companies today struggle to truly scale their content operations across various parts of the business. As companies grow to be even more digital and virtual, the many teams involved in scaling up content production at companies will need borrow lessons from those who already know how to do global content operations at scale.

Look to localization leaders, for example, who will naturally seek to quantify the value of content, build scalable and repeatable processes, and leverage the best in tech to make it all happen as seamlessly and with as little human involvement as possible. They also tend to be good at proactively seeking feedback, listening to stakeholders, and being phenomenal partners to others in the business. All of these pieces are required to build content operations at scale, that can grow with your business globally.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. Her latest book is "Found in Translation" (Penguin). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly works remotely from New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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