Build an Internal Content Marketing Team
We come across a lot of uninspired content when conducting research on behalf of our clients. We’re not saying it’s poorly written or even that it provides bad advice. It’s just too many companies cover all the same topics and make all the same points.
The reality is marketers have narrow perspectives. We get caught up in product benefits and the details listed in our persona profiles. So do our competitors. The end result is every company’s blog and resources section looks more or less the same.
So what’s the solution? How can you come up with original topics to include in your content calendar? Where can you go to find the little nuggets of information that will make a mediocre piece of content great?
The good news is there are untapped sources of information throughout your company, they just sit in different areas of the office. Sales, support, product, engineering, even the leadership team all have unique viewpoints you can integrate into content.
The bad news is involving them in the content process, at least on a consistent basis, is incredibly challenging. Content isn’t a responsibility for non-marketers so any help they can offer is going to be sporadic at best.
And even if they do write content with an interesting take, there’s the matter of getting it to a place where it’s suitable to publish. Content from an employee who wasn’t hired for their writing skills often requires a lot of editing.
Still, involving employees from other teams can take your content marketing efforts to another level so it’s worthwhile to take on these challenges and build a collaborative, company-wide process.
Make content part of your company culture early
Content marketing is a must for early-stage SaaS companies. In addition to being a cost-effective lead generation channel, it’s a great way to build an audience of devoted fans.
If you’re the Founder and/or CEO, take a page from the Buffer, Kissmetrics, and HubSpot playbooks and make content part of your cultural foundation early on. Let every employee know they’re expected to contribute to the blog and assist marketing with downloadable content. Require managers give their direct reports time to write and discuss progress during check-in meetings.
You might be thinking company-wide content contributions will be difficult to maintain as your company scales. Getting 10 people to write is doable but setting the expectation for 100 employees is going to be a challenge, right?
On the contrary, if you make content a priority early on, it will be embedded in your culture as your company grows. Through repetition, your long-tenured employees will grow to be skilled content creators. And new employees will join the company knowing they’ll have the opportunity to write. Your brand’s content reputation may even be the reason they’re aware of your company and checked to see if you were hiring.
Helping non-writers write great content
Most content marketers got into the profession because they have a background in writing. But even they’ll tell you that they improved at their craft the longer they did it. Over time, they sharpened their prose and refined their writing process.
So you can’t expect someone with a business or computer science background to deliver killer content on their first go. They’re going to need guidance and feedback through multiple drafts before they produce a piece of content that meets your company standards.
Marketing needs to own this process. They need to set the expectation throughout the company that content won’t go live until they sign off—but they’re going to help anyone who wants to contribute get there.
Explain why we write
Content marketing is one of the most visible functions within the company. Everyone sees the work we churn out. And they might have a high-level understanding of why we’re doing it. But it’s worthwhile to give a potential contributor a primer on content marketing.
Assuming they’re going to write a blog post, start by teaching them that the blog is meant to educate prospects and not necessarily sell to them. A lot of newbie writers gravitate toward topics about features and how awesome your product is. If that’s their pitch, point out that you already have that information on your core features pages and work with them to hone in on a top-of-the-funnel topic.
Reviewing your marketing personas will help. A refresher on the challenges your prospects face will not only help your colleagues come up with a suitable topic to write about. They’ll likely have a unique take based on their personal expertise.
Have them craft a thesis and an outline
Novice writers sometimes struggle with keeping their content focused on a single takeaway. They have a topic in mind and start writing, only to veer off in another direction. This makes the editor’s job extremely difficult because they’re not sure what the author is trying to say.
Once the content contributor comes up with a topic, have them craft a thesis their article will focus on. It should be a 2-3 sentence overview of the lesson they want the reader to come away with.
Then have them outline how they’ll build toward that takeaway throughout the article. Their outline should be in bullet point format and ideally summarize each paragraph they’ll eventually write.
You may encounter some resistance early on by adding an extra step to the writing process. However, reassure the writer that a thesis and outline will make it easier for them to produce a first draft and limit the number of edits they receive.
The more guidance you can give them at the start, the better
As with leading any effort at work, setting expectations before someone jumps in is a must. If you give them vague directions, you’re going to get content that requires a lot of editing. And no one likes extensively reworking their content.
Provide content contributors with brand and editorial guidelines before they start. It’s fine if you don’t a detailed style guide but you should at least put together a basic document with an overview of your content standards. Here are some points worth including:
- Brand voice
- Expected word count
- Paragraph length
- Formatting (e.g. subheadlines, bullet points, lists)
- Brand voice
- Do’s and don’ts
These are good starting points for your company style guide. You can update it as you go through the content process with different non-writers and identify other areas clarification is needed. But it’s generally a good idea to keep it basic so you’re only presenting them with the rules that really matter.
The case for in-person editing sessions
Writers expect edits and feedback on their content. A marked-up document with comments and recommendations are part of a healthy collaborative content process.
But for the uninitiated, it can be incredibly jarring opening a document and seeing there is still work to be done. Most non-writers are already stepping outside their comfort zone by contributing content. And they can feel like they failed if an editor has taken a digital red pen to their work.
Instead of adding a bunch of comments and suggested edits in a Google Doc and sending it back to the writer, we recommend sitting down with them and talking to them about how they can get it across the finish line. Here are a few tips for conducting an effective in-person editing session:
- Help them with flow – Novice writers often struggle with brevity and smooth transitions. Point out lengthy sentences and unnecessary words and suggest how they can effectively convey their thought.
- Talk through unclear concepts – When an idea isn’t clear, ask the writer to explain to you what they’re trying to say. Then talk through how they can put it on paper.
- Don’t spend too much time on the little things – A lot of editing is small grammar or stylistic improvements. There’s no need to explain why a comma or capital letter is needed.
- Point out what they did well – As you work through the content, always be sure to tell them what worked so the session doesn’t feel like all bad news.
- Be encouraging – Once you’re done with edits, reassure them every writer works through multiple, incrementally-improving drafts before their content is ready to be published.
Grow your internal content team
Talk to any content leader and they’ll tell you they wish they had more writers. But of course, most small SaaS startups can’t justify a large content team. By making content marketing a company-wide effort, you can expand your writing team to include people with unique expertise and perspectives.