If you’ve read my IMPACT team biography before, you know I’m a simple woman with simple needs, as it ends as follows:

“She also says her love languages are AP Stylebook, Fast and Furious movies, cold weather, Han Solo, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

I don’t know what it is about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I just find them to be sublimely comforting when I’m stressed out.

The only thing missing from that list is something I love almost as much as I love the act of content creation itself. No, it’s not ushering in fall with pumpkin-spiced everything when it’s still definitely 80 degrees outside — although that does “spark joy,” as the kiddos like to say.

It’s process and tool building.❤️

As our editorial director, the primary process I develop and execute (along with my trusty managing editor, Ramona) is our content strategy. Our strategy covers all of the content we publish seven days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays. 

🔎 Related: What is a content strategy? (definition + examples)

At a rate of 20 to 25 published pieces of content per week, I know our content production “machine” is much more robust than those of the average small to mid-sized business. That being said, I conceived what I am about to teach you about how to run your content strategy through Trello with all of you in mind. 

You see, at IMPACT, our content training team and I work closely together. In our individual laboratories, we innovate processes and best practices and share them with each other. On my side of the fence, that means everything I design and build for IMPACT’s content strategy, I do so with the idea of solving for us and for you.

That includes how I’ve customized and built Trello to govern a business content strategy just like yours, so you can publish the highest quality content possible on time and consistently.

So, today, we’re going to go on a little content journey together. And, by the end of this article, you’ll know:

What you need to know (and do) before you even think of touching Trello
How Trello should fit into your overall content strategy tool stack
How to customize Trello for your unique best practices and processes
My favorite tricks of the trade for communication and governance

Are you ready? Let’s dive in. 

Wait, what the heck is Trello?

Trello is a handy little workflow tool you can use to manage tasks, production workflows, and a heck of a lot more, with loads of customization options:

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In short, Trello is an incredibly simple but powerful tool for any company. In addition to content strategies, I know of a few folks who use it just for personal task tracking. In fact, IMPACT VP of Services Katie Pritchard once shared with me that she uses Trello for her wedding planning! 

Before you start building your strategy in Trello

One of the most common mistakes we see digital marketers and teams make with any tool, platform, or piece of software is that they immediately fire up the tool as their first step. Yikes.

For example, an unseasoned marketer opening up the HubSpot workflows tool before they’ve even conceived of the what their nurturing workflow will be. When you think of your technology is the strategy itself, you’re buying yourself a one-way ticket to “I’m ruining my strategy before it even gets off the ground” town. (Yes, that’s a real place. I think it’s in North Dakota.)

Whether we’re talking about Trello, HubSpot, Mailchimp, or WordPress, you must remember that your tools are not your strategy. Your strategy must be developed before you start clicking around — even if it’s a rudimentary first version with plans to iterate substantially.

In the case of Trello specifically, you need to have the following in place before you crack it open and start customizing:

A documented content strategy or editorial content calendar (even if you only have a month’s worth of content documented, that’s fine)
An understanding of how Trello fits into your content production process, as well as a rough draft of what your process stages are

If you don’t have those two things nailed down (and written down, because floating around in your head doesn’t count!), stay away from Trello until you do.

How Trello fits into our content strategy process 

Keep in mind that for the examples in this section, and any that follow, that part of beauty of Trello is how you can customize it endlessly to suit your needs. So, what I’m going to show you is how we’ve built it for IMPACT, based on what we’ve seen that works well for us. 

Moreover, everything I’m going to show you is using the 100% free version of Trello, although there are plenty of paid “power-ups” you can purchase or higher levels of plans that will give you more features. (Given the state of things currently, however, I thought I would start by simply showing you what’s possible with the free stuff in Trello, since that’s been enough for us so far!) 

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s dig into how we use Trello in our content strategy. There are three phases to IMPACT’s content strategy, with specific outcomes and tools associated with each:

Brainstorming

This is done in conjunction with our revenue team and our director of demand generation. For my revenue team content brainstorms, I use our sales content sandbox tool, which allows sales members to suggest and upvote topics they deem to be the most urgent.

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It also automatically sorts by the number of upvotes (so I can see the highest priority items automatically) and color-codes by status. (I’ll share more on this tool in an article soon.)

Planning

In this stage, I synthesize all of the priorities I’ve gathered from the revenue team and our director of demand generation in our content strategy master spreadsheet.

At this stage, I set the strategy for each individual piece of content, including keyword optimization, featured snippets, desired subject matter expert, a one- to four-minute video for each topic with my thoughts on scoping, the destination URL, and so on. 

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This document also provides the high-level view of our content strategy for leadership, in addition to allowing sales to continue to use the sales content sandbox tool, uninterrupted, without having to mess with an overly complex document.

Production

Once our strategy is set, it’s time to go into production mode, and that’s where we bring in Trello. Trello is the tool all content contributors in the company use to manage each piece of content they create for IMPACT, and it’s how my team tracks the progress of every single piece of content, from requested to published.

Now, let’s talk about how to set Trello up! 

“Why do you use multiple tools instead of one?”

This is a topic that I could write an entire article about on its own. But, the short version is, trust me. I’ve tried. I’ve tried the one-to-many spreadsheet, the one-to-many content strategy platform, and so on, and it just doesn’t work. 

Here’s why:

There are so many stakeholders involved at different stages, all in need of different things. Specifically, from a technology standpoint. For example, my bosses don’t want to dig through Trello to see everything that’s being worked on. But the content strategy master sheet gives them the easy “one view” they’re looking for that doesn’t create more questions than it answers. 
Yes, you can create process stage columns with drop downs, as well as automated color-coding and sorting in spreadsheets. But it’s a pain. It makes the administration of the production process and the production process itself two separate, very time-consuming acts. By using appropriate tools at appropriate stages, you actually reduce the amount of administration.

Bottom line, while it sounds counter-intuitive that more tools results in less administration, redundant communication, and wasted time, but it’s the truth. Once I stopped trying to force myself to have one tool solve for every single stage — brainstorming, planning, and production — my life got so much easier. 

Honestly, I wish I had come to this realization years ago. It would have saved me a lot of heartache and sleepless nights.

Create content production stages in Trello

Most written content pieces, like blogs, follow a basic production process:

A piece of content is requested or set in a content strategy for production
Someone claims that topic as their own, or it’s assigned to someone
Then there’s an outlining phase
Which is following by a drafting phase
The draft then goes through some form of revisions
After which (fingers crossed!) it’s approved
And, from there, you move to staging and publication

Determine and document what your specific phases are before you go to build them in Trello. Although your building time in Trello may show you that you have more stages in your production process than you think.

One thing I will tell you from experience is that you’ll have an urge to streamline or condense stages, as you’re building. Don’t do this. I don’t care if your Trello board ends up having 18 stages. If you need 18 stages, make them.

🔎 Related: How to write a blog post (+ free blog post template and tools)

You may think that having so many is needlessly complicated, but you’ll be surprised how much no one cares how “wide” your Trello board is. Moreover, the more you condense stages, the more you’ll increase the need for bulky administration and superfluous communication.

For example, if there are multiple people who need to sign off on a piece of content in a specific order, then you should have a Trello stage for each of those touchpoints. Otherwise, you’ll have to go in and make sure people tell each other when the document is ready for the next phase of review, instead of just dragging and dropping the card to the next stage.

Here is what part of our board looks like:

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Following the lanes for topics requested (not all articles are immediately assigned to a specific person) and a draft being in production, we have lanes for:

Content Compass and outline ready for review
Draft is in production or in internal QA (before it comes to the content team)
Draft is ready for review by content team
Draft is in revision (writer is working on edits from content team)
An article is ready to be staged in HubSpot
An article has been staged (but not proofed) in HubSpot
Woohoo, an article has been published or scheduled

Here’s a fun fact — if you put a 🎉 at the end of the title of a section lane in Trello, confetti will go off when a card is moved into that stage. I like to use it for milestones like a draft is ready, staged, or has been published. 

We also like to have the first lane not be a stage of production, but rather a homebase for resources and templates:

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Above is an example of how we leverage that first column for our content strategy. It includes a legend so people can see what the different labels mean, our template card for our content (more on that later!), and our different playbooks for different types of content.

For our video content strategy (I’m going to dedicate a whole article to that later this month), I’ve got a bit of a different setup:

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We have more templates, and there are a few resource cards that gives an overview of how the board works, who does what (it’s a smaller team of stakeholders), and links to other resource documents.

But that’s just the high-level purpose of Trello. 

Example content stages in Trello

Of course, your specific needs and processes will dictate what your content stage lanes should be in Trello. But, if you’re really struggling and/or prefer to adapt a process rather than build one from scratch, below are a handful of basic content stage pipelines you can customize.

If your content is based on interviews

Topic ready for production (your queue, before interview scheduling)
Interview scheduled
Interview completed (I would recommend attaching transcript and recording files at this stage)
Draft in production
Draft ready for review
Draft in revisions
Draft approved
Content staged in HubSpot (or other CMS)
Content published or future scheduled
Content added to content directory for sales

Now, if you’re scratching your head about that last stage, you need to have some sort of communication feedback loop with sales. They need to know when content they’re looking for (e.g., stuff that comes out of your revenue team brainstorms with the sandbox tool) is ready for them to use.

At IMPACT, I share this as part of a larger reporting strategy with biweekly message board content “newsletters” in Basecamp. But we also have a centralized content directory organized by service where those topics are entered. 

If your content is produced by one writer (no interviews)

Topic ready for production (your queue, before interview scheduling)
Draft in production
Draft ready for review
Draft in revisions
Draft approved
Content staged in HubSpot (or other CMS)
Content published or future scheduled
Content added to content directory for sales

If your content is produced by many writers by assignment

Topic ready for production
Topic assigned (tag the writer as a member when placing the card)
Draft in production
Draft ready for review
Draft in revisions
Draft approved
Content staged in HubSpot (or other CMS)
Content published or future scheduled
Content added to content directory for sales

If your content is produced by many writers by assignment or with the option to claim their own (we do this)

Topic requested
Topic claimed (topics with assigned writers already chosen start in this column, with the writer tagged by the content manager; or people move the card here and tag themselves when they claim it)
Draft in production
Draft ready for review
Draft in revisions
Draft approved
Content staged in HubSpot (or other CMS)
Content published or future scheduled
Content added to content directory for sales

If you have multiple stages of approval

Let’s say you have multiple people who need to review a single piece of content in a specific order. 

For example, if you have a senior content manager above the writer, plus a subject matter expert:

Content manager for quality
Subject matter expert for substance
Content manager once more for final polish edits

Or, here’s another common one:

Subject matter expert for substance
Compliance review
Content manager for final polish edits

No matter what your editorial review process is, you should have a single lane for each stage of that review process. That way you don’t have to comment to people in a Trello card when it’s time for them to review, if you’re trying to collapse multiple review stages into a single lane.

Instead, they’ll know what’s ready for them because the card is simply moved into their lane; they don’t need to worry about missing comments. And, if their lane is empty, they don’t need to ask any questions, they just don’t have anything to work on at the moment.

Using labels for your content strategy in Trello

Labels are a great way to flag cards in Trello. But you can use labels in a variety of ways for your content strategy:

Subject matter
Priority
Content type
Desired department
Flagging errors

Again, since our content strategy is more complex than most, I have multiple Trello boards for different strategic components — don’t stress about the different boards. And, on each board, I use labels in a variety of different ways.

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In this example, I use labeling mostly for priority, error flagging, and important indicators (e.g. “Requires Extra Attention”). 

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You can also, however, use it to denote content type, desired team, source of the content request, and so on. 

It may take you a couple of months to really nail down your labels. Thankfully, Trello is so easy to update and use, making swift changes on the fly is a cinch. However, if you use your labeling in a way that others need to understand (or others manage themselves), I would suggest holding off on making changes until a break point, so you can adequately communicate those changes. 

Create Trello card templates for your content 

Ah, this is one of my favorite things about Trello. In order to publish a piece of high-quality, revenue-generating content, you can’t just build out the right stages. You need to maximize Trello in such a way that it reinforces strategic best practices and gives your content creators everything they need in one place to be successful. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of building processes, your people will not follow the rules if you put your rules and best practices scattered across different places. So, hear me when I say this — centralize as much as possible into your content card template. The more you make people look for things, the less likely they are to stick to best practices or follow the assignment.

Now, here’s how we do it at IMPACT:

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I created one template to rule them all. And, once you make a template card (which you do by clicking on the “Template” button), you can just create future cards from that single template. It’s magical. 

Our standard blog article template card has the following sections:

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A strategic guidance section, which includes a personalized video from me providing tips, pointers, and thoughts on scoping (so no one has to start totally from scratch), as well as tutorials and resources all listed and linked in one place, so they don’t have to go hunting for them.

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Then there are two checklists. The first is to reinforce the best practices that are most commonly missed by our content creators. The second is for my internal team to complete before any piece of content goes live.

You can build as many checklists as you want, but be careful not to make them too cumbersome. You can build your checklists to either support every stage of a process or to simply reinforce the most important items. 

If you have paid power ups, you can also had specific due dates and assignees for each item in the checklist, but that can be a little bulky from an administration perspective, depending on how many pieces of content you’re publishing on a weekly basis. Still, it might be a great add-on for some of you.

Engage in comments in Trello for your content

Now, you may think you now know everything you need to know to make your Trello board a success. Before you go running off into the sunset to build your own amazing Trello board, I have a few final parting words of advice.

One of the keys to our success in Trello is not just how we’ve built it, but the insistence that any and all communication around a piece of content happen in Trello — but have fun with it. Bring your personality.

Yes, I use commenting primarily to check-in on deadlines, but I also use it to encourage, deliver positive feedback that someone’s boss can see, and so on:

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Remember, your tools don’t just help you execute your processes. As a content manager (or anyone who oversees content creation for their company), you’re also a relationship manager. People need to like working with you, so always be on the lookout for ways to make the content creation experience a positive one.

Finally, communication and consistency are key

So, you’ve built this outstanding Trello board as part of your content strategy technology stack, and you just know it’s going to rock everyone’s world. But how do you get people using it?

You need to communicate and use it consistently. It’s really that simple.

Communicate before it’s going live with relevant managers. Communicate with your people that it’s coming. You can also solicit feedback in beta stages and after it’s live, to continue to improve your Trello board and make your people feel more invested in the product. 

We use Basecamp for big, company-wide (and team-based) communication, so here’s how I announced our most recent round of changes to the entire company:

trello-content-strategy-announcement

But before I sent out this announcement, I had shared well in advance a preview of what was coming (along with suggested talking points) to all managers. I then shared a separate announcement in our managers group the day the announcement was going live. I also had talked about this upcoming change in daily stand-up meetings and weekly huddles with managers, so they were aware of the changes. 

🔎 Related: Every rockstar content manager possesses this one skill

Plus, on top of that, I worked with key members of the company to get their feedback on what they thought of my proposed changes. 

Announcements are fun, because they create excited. However, with time, excitement wanes. So, the key to your lasting success with Trello — or any tool, for that matter — is to use it. 

🔎 Related resources:

How to measure and report content marketing ROI
How to create a powerful monthly content ROI newsletter
How to do content ROI reporting the right way with HubSpot

For example, if I want to get someone who isn’t using it how they should on board, I’ll never Slack or email questions about the status of a piece of content. I’ll make the content (as you’re supposed to) in Trello, asking for a status update, and then I’ll Slack them the link to that card with a friendly note saying, “Hey, had a quick question about your article, can you follow up with me in this card?”

Don’t be a jerk about it, but understand that the more you explicitly reinforce the use of Trello has your hub for content production, the better off you’ll be. The more you communicate through your actions, however, that Trello use is not the rule by living outside of it yourself for the sake of “convenience” the more you’ll undermine your ability to establish Trello as the habit you need it to be for others. 

Stay tuned! There are so many ways to use Trello. So, soon, I’ll be sharing how we use Trello to run our video strategy, as well as how to supercharge your use of Trello with paid add-ons. (Again, everything above was developed using only the free version of Trello because, hey… it’s a rough world out there right now, and every dollar and cent we spend has to count.)

Read more: impactbnd.com