How to use the opinions of stakeholders to shape a content project from the start, encourage support throughout its lifecycle – and improve content quality overall
Once you realise a content project will be more successful when you actively manage your stakeholders, you need to know how to do it effectively. As Cranfield School of Management suggests, it's probably better to talk about stakeholder engagement rather than stakeholder management, because engaging with people goes deeper than managing them and has a greater chance of building lasting change.
When you engage with content stakeholders, the key is to be inclusive, interactive, and prepared to adapt to circumstances rather than sticking defensively to a plan that might no longer be quite fit for purpose. Here are the steps to take:
1. Identify your content stakeholders
Your stakeholders will vary depending on the scope of your project. But, generally, they’ll include the content budget-holder, the senior managers who are overseeing the project, the people affected by the project, and the operational people who will implement the project and create the content.
2. Analyse your content stakeholders
Mapping the relationships between stakeholders is often a way of mapping content workflow too, and will help with embedding your project. Senior managers, product managers, designers and developers, brand people, seo folk, social media people, marketing professionals, PR people and legal experts can all have a role to play. Prioritise your stakeholders by distinguishing decision-makers from influencers.
3. Talk to decision-makers
Your content project might have been commissioned by senior managers. You might have developed a business case for the project yourself. Or you might be piloting a small-scale project. Whatever the scenario, you need to involve senior managers early in project strategy and direction, and remind them how content contributes to the bottom line.
4. Consult with influencers
Once the strategy has been outlined, the people whose input is required for the implementation of a content project need to be brought into the fold. Gather their thoughts and opinions. You could either interview them in person or send out questionnaires for them to fill in.
5. Present to stakeholders
Create a presentation designed to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of stakeholders. Show them a vision of where you want to get to, the place you are now (content metrics will help with this), and a roadmap for the journey ahead. You can use the views you’ve already collected from content creators to manage their expectations and build consensus.
6. Be upfront with compliance people
Find out how the legal people in the compliance team review content. Do they look at Word documents, templates or finished designs? Talk to them and try to foster a spirit of collaboration. Show them what you plan to do, what they can expect to receive and when. This should save a lot of time in production.
7. Streamline the amends and sign-off process
Don’t ask every stakeholder to comment on everything, otherwise you will be overwhelmed with contradictory amends. Instead, ask stakeholders for specific feedback on their areas of expertise. If you reckon a piece of content is good to go live, then have the confidence to say so.