Columbia Ship with Enabler Definition

Is getting content from your internal contributors proving more difficult than guiding a ship up the Columbia?

This year, more than last year, more than the year before that, you’ll look at your monthly content schedule, see your name next to “Content Due”, then glance at the teetering pile of untended projects covering your desktop and you’ll wish you had a full time copywriter on staff. Believe me, a full time copywriter is a desire that burns bright within all of us small- to mid-sized company content managers, but that ship may be a long ways from the harbor yet. So, in a pre-lunch, low-blood-sugar, fifth-cup-of-coffee induced fit of optimism you remind yourself that there is no substitute for the experience and expertise that already exists within your small, well-worn team of internal contributors. And, by golly, if the Seahawks can make it to the Superbowl then Karl in accounting can come up with 800 words on best practices for Quickbooks!

Sometimes the freshest of beginnings come only after a pass of the wrecking ball.

So how might we improve the content creation process for the folks that (sometimes reluctantly) churn out the content and make even better content while we’re at it? Sometimes the freshest of beginnings come only after a pass of the wrecking ball. If you’re finding success in your current methods, then please leave a message below on what you find works best for creating an atmosphere at your company that values engaging content. However, for those of you who feel like you’re juicing a turnip when you ask for content from your team, read on. As the make-believe grandma in my head who’s always quick with a proverb says, “You can make a turnip milkshake, but ain’t no one gonna drink it unless you put a little sugar in it.” So with that let’s put some sugar in this and process it.

The goal here is to encourage better content from your contributors and foster a company culture that values creating premium content for all your digital channels. Content that leads to a brand braintrust, thought leadership within your industry and, yes, even glory in the rankings…if you’re into that sort of thing.

At Edge, we’re experimenting with a new approach to internal content development. We know that not every team member is a natural born writer, but everyone does have a unique area of expertise that they can draw upon to make regular and meaningful contributions. So we are seeking to align the interests of our internal experts with topics both relevant to our industry and of value to our target audience.

This approach may not be a right fit for every company, but these 5 practices are really targeted at revitalizing the editorial process for small to mid-sized companies for whom outsourcing may not be a viable or attractive option and so must lean heavily on the contributions of their internal experts.

We are seeking the content “Sweet Spot”.

1) WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

To start off with, we’re encouraging all of our contributors to write about their areas of expertise and what interests them, whereas before each contributor was handed a topic and expected to produce an article for it regardless of their personal interest or expertise. Instead of asking Chris (our SEO & Reporting Intern) to write about about community events, or Matt (our Graphic Designer) to write about a success story, we ask Chris to write what he’s learning about analytics and Matt to write about his passion for better design. And as each of them write about what interests them, they try to overlap their passion with how it might interest our audience and also be relevant to our industry. See chart below…

The Content Sweet Spot Chart

The Content Sweet Spot Chart

Hitting the Content Sweet Spot: The best content will flow out of your contributor’s expertise and interests while also being of relevance to your industry and of value to your audience.

So we replaced our four traditional blog categories, or taxonomies, with a more open collection of industry-relevant topics and encouraged our contributors to align their interests and expertise with the wider list. It mostly means that when Matt (our Graphic Designer) is on the content schedule for the month he can feel free to write about whatever he knows & loves as it pertains to our industry and is of use to our audience. He may choose to write about design in the context of community or industry news or any of the old categories relating to design or a success Edge had with a design project. The trick to hitting the Content Sweet Spot is to remove creative impediments and foster each contributor’s core competencies.


But won’t telling your contributors that they can write about whatever they want make it more difficult for them to focus? Perhaps a bit at first, but again the goal is not to send them spinning off into a taxonomic vortex each month, but to help guide them to discovering their own stream of relevant and helpful content.

2) PUBLISHING FRESH CONTENT

We suggest giving the search engines what they want – fresh content served hot out of the brain oven. Mmm…
Once new content is submitted, proofed and approved decide what the best channel(s) for publishing is and get it out there into the world, rather than waiting and trying for a once-a-month, simultaneous publish date that coincides with your email marketing. You should still have a deadline each month or week (depending on your own content schedule), after which you can take the best articles from the month and distribute/feature them via email marketing to your various subscriber lists.

TIP: Shift your editorial calendar up a month. Have your contributing team research and develop their content the month prior to its scheduled publishing date. This way, when the new month starts, you can spread out the fresh content love throughout the month via your website and social media channels and not just in one lump sum of content around (and often after) the deadline.

HELPFUL TOOL: Get your hands on the NEW 2014 CONTENT SCHEDULE TEMPLATE. If your content schedule is either non-existent or could use a reboot this year, feel free to copy and adapt a new schedule from the Google Doc we’ve provided here. Using a live document format such as Google Drive can make it much easier to edit, share and collaborate on your content schedule with your contributors.

3) QUALITY & CONSISTENCY CAN BE CONTAGIOUS

In order to encourage a higher level of content quality many content managers within small companies may need to first remove the stigma of writing for the company blog as some lame, add-on chore that gets left until the last minute. In other words, we must create a culture within our companies that values content. To do this we must acknowledge that good content takes time and assure our contributors that it is alright for them to take the time they need to produce something of value. For content managers and editors of your team’s content this also means patiently working with your content team to help them develop their voice and skills as contributors. We must avoid the temptation to rush undercooked content to publication or to make all the edits ourselves and thus deprive the contributor of the opportunity to grow their skills. The challenge is to embrace and enact revisions without exasperating your contributors.

The message of quality and caring about the content your company publishes, of course, carries more weight when it’s affirmed from the top down, but one can hardly expect to nurture any change at your company if they, as the content manager, aren’t leading by example. Write more this year! Write even when you’re not on the content schedule, and don’t wait until the deadline is looming (guilty…I’m guilty). It make take some time and I’m talking months, but your team will come alongside you as you lead.

Then be sure to monitor how the content you and your team produce is performing in analytics. More than likely, as your team creates better content, more often, you’ll see bumps or even spikes around publish and social promotion dates. That’s just the short term reward. Content’s real payoff (thought leadership, brand trust, improved rankings) is reserved for those in the game for the long haul – those who consistently produce “sweet spot” content.

TIP: Not every piece of content is featured post material, but it still may be a juicy, little tidbit worth publishing. For shorter pieces, consider distributing them via your social media channels with links back to supporting material on your website. Publishing and promoting ONE solid, deep dive article each month that hits the content “sweet spot” is better than 4-6 hastily written, fluffy or overtly salesy pieces. Plus, some quick write-ups covering community events may be better suited for your social media channels anyway.

4) PUTTING OUR HEADS TOGETHER

To help jump-start creativity and combat contributor disconnect, we’ve started hosting a monthly contributor’s chat at the beginning of each editorial cycle, or just before the pressure of the deadline hits. A regular contributor chat serves several useful purposes for your team. One, it solidifies the idea that this is indeed a team of contributors and that no one is producing their work in a vacuum. Two, it validates your teams’ ideas and subtly lets them know that you value the content you’ve asked them to create. Three, a quick chat can help you avoid overlapping content, encourage collaboration and help any contributors who may be stuck.

As you facilitate these contributor chats be sensitive to the following:

  • Possible tie-ins to current events, seasons, holidays, company/industry milestones
  • Topics that make your contributors light up and they speak to naturally, because we’re looking to create streams of content that flow from each of our contributors, not just one-off articles
  • The “Sweet Spot” Chart: Start with your contributor’s unique expertise and passion, then look for topics that also share industry relevance and value for your audience. Finding each contributor’s sweet spot, or content stream, may take a while, but don’t give up as it is worth the search.

5) CONSIDER CONTRIBUTOR INCENTIVES

Sundaes as incentives

You may not find it necessary to offer incentives to your content team. Producing helpful, shareable content may be its own reward to some, but then again, Karl over there in accounting may never lift a pen before seeing the green flash of a Starbucks Gift Card. So if you find that your team needs a little extra nudge, offering incentives might place further value on the role of contributor within your company and even make for a little friendly competition out of it. Perhaps offer some nifty prize to the contributor whose Article/Content/Tweet/Facebook Post brought the most visitors in that month or produced the highest GCR. Perhaps a sundae bar for the whole department?

How have you become a content enabler at your company? What do you find to be the greatest challenges to getting your team to produce quality content? Are you seeing a greater value placed on content marketing within your industry? Share your thoughts below.

2 Comments

  1. Steve Van Atta
    February 5, 2014

    Zack –

    Great article. Lots of hit-the-ground-running counsel and helpful perspectives.

    One thing we’ve discovered is the power of using a team member’s customer experience and activity to generate great content. Even if that person with the regular/valuable customer interface doesn’t fit our regular content-provider profile, we can pair her or him with someone who does. That kind matchup sometimes helps both of them, as the designation content provider [who has nothing as the deadline looms] gets some fresh material, and the non-writer gets someone who can produce the copy! We’ve also encouraged those who aren’t confident in their writing ability to simply verbalize their content while one of the writers acts as a scribe and editor.

    Leveraging the customer intel [aka, future content] that’s available from our people who are in daily contact with audience members has really helped the breadth and depth of what we publish online and off. I don’t know about your experience, but some of the best material comes from those who haven’t been anointed with the “content provider” label.

    • Zack Stack
      February 5, 2014

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the kind words about the article and the great insight as well! I agree. I love the idea of pairing copywriter with internal expert, so they can help each other bring better content to our audience. This is something that we do on occasion with our clients who either don’t have the time or ability to write full fledge articles, but are the only ones qualified to speak as experts for their company or industry. We’ll have them give us bullet points then we’ll convert them into an article format and send it back their way for some proofing. Whatever we can do to help them bring fresh content to their sites.

      Here at Edge, we’re also doing our best to encourage and equip team members who may not have traditionally thought of themselves as part of the contributing team. We paved the path in 2013 by changing up our approach to content production, as I described above, and hope really hit our stride this year as we see our contributors stretch themselves and their skills grow.