But documentation is not just about printing out reams of paper or setting up a wiki. It’s a living functionality. Documentation has versions. It requires discussions. It involves reminders. Documentation is the engineering of any successful content operation.
It can help your colleagues, you, and/or your employees to structure their days and weeks, and also put into place expectations and responsibilities. This can be immensely helpful if you are worried about people skipping vital behind-the-scenes functions, such as, as you will see below, analytics.
If you remember the end of the Gawker saga, you will likely point to the Hulk Hogan lawsuit as its literal demise. This is true. And absent Peter Thiel’s war on Gawker Media, it may have survived. But an incident that preceded it demonstrated the issues it was confronting over exactly what it should continue to be. A Gawker post that was seemingly true (has not been disproven) about a media professional being blackmailed met immediate opprobrium and criticism.
While I make no claims to know what documentation and processes Gawker had in its twilight years, the amount of public debriefing about that incident featured more than one at-the-time Gawker (and former ones) employee claiming that the piece was exactly (almost literally) the type of content they were urged to do by Gawker founder Nick Denton. And, indeed, it’s the type of story he might have approved of years before, but his thinking had changed. That thinking was not clear to the staff.
Now, Gawker was clearly the type of publication that consistently tested the limits of censorship, taste, and appropriateness. It is incredibly unlikely any branded content operation would encounter the same problems, and, still very unlikely any editorial operation would either (unless it is trying to emulate Gawker’s truthtelling).
But you need for every member of the operation to understand their roles and the roles of the content they are producing. If you have partners you need to mention, that should be documented.
If there are topics that are off-limits, those need to be documented. If there’s a
What documentation do I need?
The most important is the all-encompassing brand rules and voice guide. You may call it something else, but you should have everything one needs to know in one document. It will be long, but it needs to be delivered on every employee’s first day. They should do nothing before they read it and read it twice. You should strongly consider a quiz that they must score 100% before they can do anything live. Topics to include:
Do’s and Don’ts
Types of content and best examples
* By versioning, I mean some documentation of things that have been changed, or used to be. People will make mistakes and someone who has been there for a long time might revert to policies since changed. Giving that context will make it easier for a new employee to avoid those pitfalls and for the entire organization to understand what has been changed and why.
You should do two things with this documentation. 1) bold the most important points in it (the key takeaways, as it were) and encourage employees to further “highlight” them.
Secondarily, include these takeaways in a one-sheeter that should be visible and locatable on their desks at any moment in time. Employees should be encouraged to tell management if there are points in the main document that should be included there, and you should aim to revise the copy at least once a quarter.
You may require other documentation, but this is the key one that every organization should prioritize.