The Ultimate Social Media Content Creation Process
Everyone with a presence on social media needs to create content - from individuals building personal brands to organizations creating exposure and sales to agencies running social initiatives on behalf of clients.
But content creation for social media is difficult and newsflash: it’s getting even more complex with the proliferation of social channels and the fragmentation of media types.
Take Instagram for example, now with 4 separate media types:
- Posts: photos or videos, ideally 1:1 aspect ratio
- Stories: photos or 15-sec videos, 9:16 aspect ratio
- IGTV: long-form video up to 10-mins anywhere from 16:9 to 9:16 aspect ratio
- Reels: 15 or 30-sec audio-driven videos, 9:16 aspect ratio
Yes, you can create 1 piece of video content and post it across all 4 Instagram media types but it’s really not ideal because user behavior and content expectations are so different in each media type. The utopia of ‘create once, publish many’ is exactly that, a utopia. In the real world it’s instead about create once, repurpose many.
This is why it’s vital to have a social content creation process to manage the content you produce and the people responsible for it at each step of the way.
What is a Social Content Creation Process?
Let’s start at square one. A social media content creation process refers to a set of steps and procedures for how your organization creates and distributes content on social channels. Ideally, this process lives in a document or workflow tool which is easily accessible to everyone in your team or organization.
In this guide, we’ll outline all the typical steps involved in defining and operationalizing a social content creation process.
Define a Social Content Creation Process
A social content creation process should be bespoke to you or your organization. Yes, you can start with a base process template but there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
This is because every organization is different with unique stakeholders, varying levels of complexity and unique requirements. The process you define needs to satisfy your specific requirements and ensure high-quality content is produced in an efficient manner.
Step 1: Involve EVERYONE from the start
Whether you’re working brand side or agency side, you need to involve everyone who has any stake or interest in social media when defining a new social content creation process. Everyone needs to agree together and understand how the process works. The best outcome is for everyone to feel like it was decided upon together with group consensus. Yes, this might be hard in large organizations but if you can achieve this, you’ll be starting from a really robust foundation.
Getting group consensus upfront will pay dividends months down the track when/if unrealistic expectations are placed on you by others to push content through or achieve a certain unrealistic result without additional resources. If everyone in the organization understands the process for creating and producing content, expectations will be managed better and there’ll be less chances of conflicts.
Step 2: Determine your stage gates
Think of your content production workflow as a road with a start and endpoint. Along the road you will determine a certain number of gates. When content begins at the starting point, it travels along the road and passes through each ‘stage gate’ until it reaches the end of the road when it gets published.
It’s completely up to you and your team as to how many stage gates you define in your workflow. There’s no right or wrong number of gates. Striking a balance between what’s needed for internal compliance and operational efficiency is typical. How many stage gates generally correlates with the number of people in the content production team. Usually big teams = many stage gates.
Here are a few examples of some content creation stage gates varying in levels of complexity:
2 stage gates (eg Sole Trader): Idea → Create content → Publish
5 stage gates (eg SME - pictured above): Parking Lot → Planned in Calendar → In Production → Review → Approval → Publish
8 stage gates (eg Corporation): Parking Lot → Creative Brief → Trafficked → Design Creative → Write copy → Creative Director Approval → Legal Approval → Social Manager Approval → Publish
Step 3: Assign owners for each stage gate
Let’s go back to the road metaphor in the previous step. We’ve now constructed all our stage gates along the road. Now we need to assign someone to stand at each stage gate. This person is responsible for the stage gate and the content does not pass through until that person opens the gate to let the content through.
That person might be you and you might be standing in front of multiple gates - maybe even all the gates! This assignment of individuals to gates may seem redundant when you think about 1 piece of content but imagine a production workflow with 5, 15, or 50 pieces of content in the pipeline. Suddenly, things start getting complicated exponentially. This is why you need to place people at each stage gate so there’s accountability at each gate and content doesn’t ‘get stuck’ in the workflow.
The example above provided by Josh Krakauer from B2B social agency Sculpt, shows overall ownership at the content level and also shows a number of other attributes the agency uses to denote priority, goal of content, platform, content pillar, purpose and links to other content for inspiration.
Step 4: Set stage gate timeframes
Now that you have your stage gates and you have someone responsible at each gate, you then need timeframes for each gate. When a piece of content hits the next stage, you need to define how long (approximately) it will take for the content to pass the gate.
At the “approval” stage gate you might allocate 24hrs for that stage. This means that if content is sitting there for 48hrs, either there’s some kind of issue or the person responsible at that gate is not clearing their tasks efficiently.
Now I know what you’re thinking. For a stage gate like “design creative” this is near impossible to set a timeframe rule. Yes, I agree. Some content might take a few hours to produce while others might take many days or weeks to produce. But don’t worry. Your process should have a default timeframe which can be edited easily for each piece of content based on its complexity. Ultimately you need a starting point but you also need flexibility which is where stage gate templates come in.
Step 5: Define stage gate templates
One way to handle content production at scale is to create stage gate templates for typical pieces of content you anticipate producing. These templates can relate to content pillars or content themes or they might relate to different social channels or media types.
However you define them, they can also have different stage gate owners and/or different timeframes for each, again depending on the complexity of the underlying piece of content:
|Press Release||4 hours|
|Promotional Post||48 hours|
|Customer Testimonial||1 week|
|Thought Leadership Blog Post||2 weeks|
Step 6: Visualize your workflow in action
Now its time to operationalize your workflow. Put simply, this is putting it into action and implementing it across your team or organization. With many moving parts including stage gates, gate owners, timeframes and templates - its best to have the ability to zoom out and visualize the entire workflow with all the pieces of content flowing through it.
This is useful first and foremost for tracking progress but also reassigning, estimating, pivoting or reporting. Different team members can also visualize the workflow and filter content specific to the stage gates they own. There are 4 main visualizations you’ll need for your workflow process:
- Linear visualization: This view the the simplest view which visualizes your ‘road’ from start to finish so you can see all your stage gates and lists content under each stage.
- Calendar visualization: This view is best for planning backwards from due-dates or seeing when content is scheduled to be going live. You can show and hide stage gates or isolate different stage gates too.
- Gantt visualization: (pictured on the left) Uses a calendar mechanism across the top and lists stage gates and content down the left side so you can see the overlaps and potential conflicts between content as they pass through different stage gates.
- Kanban visualization: (pictured on the right) Popularized by Trello, the Kanban visualization is based on columns. Content becomes cards which can belong to these columns. Usually, each column would represent a stage gate from left to right with content moving across the board from idea to published.
Step 7: Report on your workflow performance metrics
By including workflow performance stats in monthly reporting this reinforces the workflow process you’ve created collaboratively with your team and reinforces how it works each month. Your workflow performance stats will include:
- Total content pieces produced
- Total content pieces delivered on time
- Total content pieces delivered late
- Average stage gate duration
- Average stage gate owner duration
Tools for Managing your Social Content Creation Process
Divvy is content planning tool built for teams who need to collaborate efficiently on content production. The killer feature of Divvy is the ability to customize your own production workflow and define each stage gate according to your requirements. All content starts out in the "Parking Lot" whereby all collaborators can dump content ideas into this single repository. Then, content moves through your customized workflow until its approved and published.
Trello popularized the "kanban" board. Kanban is part of the agile project management methodology which visualizes tasks (or pieces of content) on a board. Each piece of content is represented by a card and grouped in columns. Usually each column represents stages of production but some marketers prefer to use columns to denote thematic groupings or departmental groupings. In any case, the idea is that each card moves through the board from beginning to end.
When all else fails, you can always rely on a trusty spreadsheet! Google Sheets is the free and quick way to list all your content ideas in one place. By adding a few columns for attributes like Theme, Status, Who and ETA you'll be able to keep track of your content ideas and their production progress without the need for a paid tool. The example above is a free Sheets Editorial Calendar provided by Google Sheets Geeks.
Let's not forget, the ultimate tool for social media content automation - Upflow. If you don't have the resources or capacity to plan and execute a social content creation process, you can save hours of effort by automating it all with Upflow. The tool enables you to define key topic and subjects and finds high-performing content for you to share on your social media channels. This keeps your frequency up and helps you achieve better reach and engagement by being active on your social accounts.
Create your free Upflow account and get started today.