Get a steady stream of content flowing from internal producers with these 10 tricks.
If you’re like most marketing managers at small- to medium-sized B2B firms, you’re expected to deliver a constant stream of quality content on a shoestring budget.
That often means you must rely on internal subject matter experts to produce your content. Internal people whose top priorities don’t always match yours. Who are not writers. And who don’t always come through, despite their best intentions.
When I worked in corporate communications for an electric utility, I edited several publications. Even though I wrote a lot of the articles myself, I couldn’t do it all. I had to rely on staffers. In the process, I learned a few tricks to get people to contribute quality content on time.
Here are 10 ways to get internal content producers to deliver:
- Clarify the assignment. Don’t assume your writer can wing it. Put the assignment in writing. Use a creative or editorial brief to define the audience, objectives, messages and deadline in the same way you’d assign the project to a freelancer. You can go as far as providing an outline to get them started. Also consider meeting in person or over the phone to go over the assignment and answer their questions.
- Calm their fears. I have a friend who says she’d rather do anything else but write. While your staffers may not suffer from scriptophobia, the prospect of writing blog posts that get published to the world at large can seem daunting to people more accustomed to writing internal emails, memos and reports. Some staffers may procrastinate because they feel they have to produce a masterpiece. Let them know you care more about their ideas than their prose.
- Prevent the Shakespeare effect. On the other hand, some staffers may fancy themselves budding authors. Personally, I’d rather work with people who don’t think of themselves as good writers. They’re more likely to submit to editing. For your less-humble contributors, be clear about things like word count, audience persona, and audience reading level. And emphasize that their submission will be subject to editing.
- Trick them (sort of) into thinking they’re not writing. Framing the assignment in simple terms can work wonders. For amateurs, it feels a lot more doable to “jot a few ideas down on a topic” than to compose a blog post.
- Give them options. People learn differently. And they write differently. I often tell contributors not to worry about putting their ideas into a formal structure. It’s a lot easier, for example, to write a series of bullet points. Hell, I’d take a bunch of ideas scribbled on the back of an envelope or dictated onto a sound file as long as the substance of the thoughts was solid. Again, as long as you have good raw content to start with, you can always add the lead, body, transitions and conclusion later.
- Make it a Q&A. A great way to elicit content from sources without them having to formally write something is to use a question-and-answer structure. Often, I will draft the questions in an email to the source. This allows them to write the content as a series of responses to your questions. As with the bulleted list, you can corral their responses into a readable format.
- Involve them. If you want to cultivate regular contributors to your content, create an editorial committee and invite key producers to join. Staffers will feel a greater sense of ownership and engagement in the content marketing program. They’ll also feel greater responsibility to produce quality content on time.
- Reward them. Even if contributing content is a part of the job, people still crave recognition for their efforts. For folks who’ve never seen their name in print (or on screen), a byline can be a powerful incentive to write. Thank your writers with anything from a simple email to a certificate, a mention in the internal employee newsletter, or all the way to an annual contributor lunch. And make sure their bosses know how much you appreciate their efforts.
- Check in periodically. Don’t wait until the deadline to learn that your contributor is behind schedule. Create a series of milestones such as an outline, first draft and final draft. Set up auto-reminders based on your production schedule and check in with your writer.
- Leave the editing to the professionals. As mentioned above, the contributor’s job is at least to provide the raw content. Many newbie writers spin their wheels trying to organize a coherent structure and writing the more sophisticated elements such as leads and transitions. Your job is to polish the rough stone into a shining jewel. Don’t have the time or skills to do the editing yourself? Hire an editor. It’s still cheaper than hiring a freelance writer to work from scratch.
It takes a little more effort to shepherd a flock of amateur writers. But if you don’t have the luxury—or budget—to hire freelance content marketing writers, spending that extra time will make a big difference in quality and timeliness.
What other tricks do you use to get great content from your staff? Share your ideas!