As we wake up, grab our phones, and check our timelines and the news, we can agree that there’s a lot of web content out there.
While the quantity of content is vast, the quality can be questionable.
Many publications and organizations often shoot for efficiency in content creation. This sometimes means hiring the most affordable talent or subject matter experts and churning out as much content as possible to blanket the internet with articles, infographics, whitepapers, and other ways to “cover the airwaves.”
We see this with content marketing. The more content an organization creates, syndicates, and shares, the better their positioning and likelihood of customer engagement.
Well, at least that’s the theory…
What about the source and quality of content? Does the author have a stake in the topic they’re writing about? Do they even care?
If you are like me, and content quality and authenticity are of value, then identifying the right content champions are key to creating quality content.
There are plenty of articles and services that claim they have great content creators, writers, and producers ready to help. I’d like to shine some light on another method of producing quality content: identifying and empowering your own internal champions at your organization.
I’m passionate about organizations using their internal champions to talk about their products, perspectives, and even show customers how to solve their product or service challenges. You and your teams spend the most time with your products– you must be the experts, right?
I also speak from experience as I often empower and support my colleagues to create content about our customer data platform, Lytics. I’ve worked with our data scientists, developers, sales folks, and have even put my own efforts into creating content.
I much prefer this route than managing remote writers who may be great at the craft, but lack the subject matter expertise– an important ingredient, especially for B2B communications and technical services or products.
I hope this article can lend some tips on how to create an environment where your subject matter experts will want to contribute their expertise to your content strategy. We’ll cover how we find and empower content champions, building and maintaining a solid workflow and style guide, and governing this process with as much transparency and accountability as possible.
Finding and Empowering Champions
Any great content has a foundation in achieving an organizational goal, or helping a user or customer learn something new, help figure something out, or make a confident decision about a product or service.
Use the same foundation for great content to source your internal content champions. If your organization is serious about providing a stellar product or service, there are likely teammates willing to champion this cause. The trick is to help draw out their expertise without becoming a burden to them.
There’s a reason why your senior staff are considered senior.
They’ve been in the trenches long enough. They’ve done their fair share of the work, and continue to improve their craft and the work of their employer.
I love reaching out to senior-level teammates to see and hear what they have to say about our product. They add a level of expertise and knowledge that’s pretty hard to find elsewhere.
Sure. You might be able to contract a third-party content resource to create content. But, they won’t know your product in-and-out like your own teammates will.
At Lytics, I enjoy tapping into the knowledge of our data scientists and developers. They’re building the engine that runs our whole product and allow me to use gems and nuggets from their work to validate how we’re trying to change the data science-driven marketing game.
In return, it’s my duty to make sure this experience is worth their while. Whether I create a medium for them to push the company forward by improving our product, discuss their concerns with status quo or challenges of the marketplace, or even just to give them something neat to share on their social timeline or put on their resume, having that incentive helps.
If there’s a chance to help your champions build their reputation further, try working that into the new content. That way, there’s a higher level of investment into the piece. This is amazing if you work with engineers and developers who want to explore their work as a means to clarify it with their audience, but also document it for themselves.
It’s not just an article about data, or code– it’s a point of view by a data scientist or developer who’s looking out for the user. This difference is huge and can up the quality of content dramatically.
Of course, this works with non-technical pieces as well. The trick is to find a means to leverage expertise to create a piece while yielding some kind of return for your subject matter expert.
Next, we need to remember to make content creation simple for these champions.
Make it easy with a solid style guide and workflow
Taking a moment to create guide rails for your content contributors might seem like extra work to your teammates or superiors. I would encourage you to compare the costs of taking a moment to create a guide versus the return on investment of bad, unused, awkward content.
That’s a fun conversation to have.
Chances are that if you’re a user-centric organization, you’ll likely want to invest in building things that are useful and that drive value always. A style guide is one filter and checkpoint in making this happen.
Remember that internal content contributors are giving you their time to create and improve content. They’re helping you do your job, as content strategists, creators, producers, better. It’s only kind that you make this process easy in return.
Make idea generating and briefing painless
Just because you have an idea of how a subject matter expert piece will succeed in the market doesn’t mean your SME has the same thoughts in mind. Build a brief that outlines the challenge to solve, why you believe this solution is viable, and how you would like your SME to contribute.
Try these pointers, for example.
- WHAT are we doing?
- WHERE will it live?
- WHO is it for?
- WHY is this important?
- WHEN do we need to do this?
There’s no definitive brief template– I personally believe it depends on your organization and your own workflow. But, I’ve stuck to those pointers for content briefs and have typically come out with some great stuff.
Create a style guide that suits your crew
To keep the new content aligned to your overall content strategy, modeling, and structure, build a Style Guide that’s repeatedly easy to use.
Everyone knows of Mailchimp’s Voice and Tone guide. It’s beautiful. It’s simple. It suits Mailchimp.
While it’s a very inspirational document, don’t feel like you have to have the exact same setup. What the guide does best, which other organizations wanting to create a guide should shoot for, is giving enough of a guideline to get work going, without stifling any creative, concepts, or content.
This collection of style guides from various brands show how different these guides can be. Some are much more concrete, like Apple’s, while others are more abstract, yet guiding, like Skype’s.
Your Style Guide should empower your subject matter experts to get started quickly, create their contributions, and be so problem-free that they want to contribute again and again.
Transparency and Accountability
The best way to take care of the time you’re borrowing from your busy teammates is to keep an editorial calendar updated with content progress. Also, translating that calendar into elements that your teammates can understand.
Don’t talk to them like you would other content practitioners or your friends on social media. We need to break down these elements to actionable things that everyone can understand.
A simple calendar can be a spin-off of your main editorial calendar that captures each contributor, their content, topics, and relevance to objectives. Share progress of the overall projects and include subject matter experts in reviews to ensure quality and accuracy of their work.
Nothing is worse than misrepresenting a colleagues work or point of view. This burns contribution bridges quickly.
When you can, make sure contributor work is acknowledged by peers and leadership during content-related meetings and project benchmarks or check-ins. This is a great way to increase pride in the work and spark competition.
At Lytics, I constantly have private messages of people wanting to contribute new ideas to our blog and web content mainly because a colleague saw another colleague create something fun, unique, and smart. This keeps the intake of new ideas and content running, which is great or any content-rich organization.
Best of all, it’s authentic and rich with in-house expertise. This is hard to control and maintain with third-party sources of content. You can get the quantity, but I’d always question the quality and relevance to what matters to your business.
Quality Over Quantity? It’s Up to You
I’m definitely not saying that content outsourcing is a bad idea. If your strategy is dominance by volume of relevant, user-friendly content, do it by whatever means suits your objectives.
I’m a believer in finding, nurturing, and empowering content champions within the organization because it yields honest, good stuff. The return on this investment is much higher if it makes contextual sense to your organization. Your content will be sourced by the people who spend the most time with your business. Expertise abound in most cases.
Small organizations can play, too. The trick is carving out the proper time and creating the right systems that encourage great subject matter expert work and cooperation. This time might be harder to come by with a smaller scale of business and tighter resources, but the investments are worth it. Check out my article on creating a content strategy in a small organization for an idea of this.
Finding internal champions is a long-term brand and mindshare investment. It also drives healthy competition and camaraderie, built around improving your organization’s web presence. It takes a bit of work to guide subject matter work and ensure it fits the overall content strategy. But this work, building the relationships, and bettering content together, in my experience, is worth its weight in gold.