The Way We Work

What tools keep a blog rolling forward, week after week—even year after year? No two blogs are alike, but after working together for more than two years, the oDesk blog team thought we’d share some of our hits and misses from editorial management tools we’ve used.

Our core team of three people works across different time zones and has varying availability: Jenna Weiner works at oDesk HQ full time as content marketing manager and the blog’s editor-in-chief, while Julia Camenish and I are solo professionals who also have other clients and commitments.

To keep all of us on the same page, our editorial calendar and management system needs to provide a quick and easy way to track:

  • the upcoming blog schedule
  • posts to be written by our team (versus guest posts and other contributions)
  • the topic of each post to be written, ideally with a brief outline
  • due date, and (to a lesser extent) publication date
  • the author of each post
  • current status (i.e. where in our workflow it is)

We also need a system that is accessible to everyone and easy to use. We’re tech-savvy people, but can’t put the blog in limbo while we tackle a steep learning curve.

Truthfully, we’re still experimenting—and realizing that even the smoothest system has its hiccups.

Phase 1: Who doesn’t love a spreadsheet?

Our first editorial management system was as unflashy as you can get: a multi-tab spreadsheet shared via Google Documents. One tab showed a day-by-day publishing schedule, the other listed all upcoming posts—both pending and actively in progress.

In some ways, this system was ideal:

  • all the information was in one spot
  • we could all access and update the file
  • the spreadsheet could be sorted to suit individual needs: by deadline, topic, author, etc.

Eventually, however, the system started to fall apart. Maintenance wasn’t impossible or even particularly difficult—something I think is true of a lot of systems. However, it wasn’t efficient.

Eventually, we stopped tracking the details of upcoming posts and focused only on the publishing schedule. However, that meant each of us keeping our own tabs on who was working on which article, as well as its current status.

Phase 2: Discovering Edit Flow

With our spreadsheet up and running, we heard great things about a WordPress plugin called Edit Flow. What features came out on top?

  • Custom status designations in the WordPress “posts” view. In addition to the standard “Draft,” “Scheduled” and “Published” tags, we also created “Pitch,” “Assigned” and “In Progress.”
  • A calendar view. This is fantastic if you have posts already in the WordPress system; you can view the calendar and drag-and-drop the posts as needed.

We had high hopes for other features but couldn’t adapt our workflow to use them. Maybe it was a “learning curve” issue, but while we all wanted to like it, it seemed to fall short as a sustainable process.

“Collaborating inside of WordPress just seems clunky to me,” said Camenish. “Yet it also seems as if we’d save some time if all edits and such were accomplished inside WordPress instead of shuttling articles back and forth between different programs.”

Phase 3: A Google comeback, and the introduction of Asana

Earlier this year, project management app Asana emerged as a potential replacement for our abandoned story-tracking spreadsheet.

“Asana has been great so far,” said Weiner, who also uses it to track other projects. “It keeps everyone on the same page asynchronously, unlike email, so it is there when you need it but doesn’t create extra work.”

It was also easy to create a setup that worked for us:

  • We created a shared blog “workspace,” visible only to our team, with several projects: Posts, Pitches and Editing.
  • Within those projects, we can all see what tasks and related subtasks are on the go—as well as their respective deadlines.
  • Each task has its own conversation thread. This lets us share ideas, ask questions and make comments in one spot.
  • Asana creates a calendar of deadlines to add to Google Calendar—something our whole team uses—and sends email alerts about new tasks and any updates.

In short, Asana’s framework has been flexible enough for each of us to adapt it to our individual preferences.

More recently, we decided to move our editorial schedule from the spreadsheet to its own Google Calendar; since we all use our calendars regularly, we thought this might make information sharing more fluid among our team and allow us to collaborate more easily with others—like Alexia Nielsen, oDesk’s social marketing manager.

This switch gave us the most up-to-date information right in our calendars, automatically updated to reflect recent changes. And while calendars don’t sync with Asana, we were able to verify the schedule and upcoming deadlines on a weekly basis. (We could, that is, until last week when our Google Calendar sharing stopped working; the Google Enterprise team is working on a bug fix.)

So, no editorial management system is foolproof. But we’re still looking: there are other tools we’ve considered or used for other purposes—including Dropbox, Evernote, and Tracky—and more tools come available on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

What systems do you use to manage your blog or social media content? Please share your own recommendations and experiences in the comments below!

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.