Create quality content or end up like Yertle the Turtle.
I’ve recently re-read an interesting article on content marketing (3 steps to overcome the fear of building a content marketing strategy by Pontus Staunstrup, CMI, 7 April 2014 about the need for a content marketing strategy, and why so many companies and individuals don’t have one. It's a great starter kit for anyone who is responsible for this in a company, or responsible for delivering content for their own business.
What it, and many other articles and papers around content marketing don’t address though, is who is creating the content, how they are identified, trained, briefed and managed, so I thought I’d add some ideas around these components.
- Who is creating your content?
Your content is your ‘face’ to the world so it needs to reflect you/your company’s values, personality and vibe. Whoever is creating your content needs to understand the company, the business, your customers/clients and what they are interested in, and what makes your company/your products or services different. The words they write have to reflect all these elements, succinctly and engagingly. Even if you are commenting on or participating in forums or social media channels, the words you use, how they are used and how they are written say everything about your company.
Make sure you select writers who can write, this is not a job for the intern or the office assistant (unless they are a closet best-selling author). Also, select someone who has some level of marketing knowledge as they can apply this to their understanding of the audience/s they are writing for.
- How do you identify who should create your content?
If you’re a large company you can probably hire specialist content providers or contract this service out to any number of media/content management/marketing companies. If you’re like a lot of businesses, you’re going to need someone who can multi-task. In that case, when you’re looking for a marketing and/or communications person specify writing skills in your job description and ask for samples of their work, websites, blogs, articles, white papers they have written.
If you are your business have a really good think about whether you can, or should, write the content you need to tell your business story. Be tough on yourself. Just because you can write a proposal, submission or presentations do not assume that this means you have the skills, time or focus to consistently write good, engaging, interesting content for the various channels you use.
- What should be in a content brief?
Once you’ve selected someone who can write you need to brief them properly. Ideally, this should be a written brief and cover the following key items.
a) Who is the audience (age, subject interests, level – C-Suite management, clients, customers, internal audience, media….)
b) What is the key message?
c) Is this a one-off piece or one of a series (and if it's the latter the brief should include an overview of how many pieces you want written, the flow of messages and how you want them linked);
d) How many words do you want? Remember, its harder to write less than more.
e) Do you want internal or external papers/articles/comments referenced and if so, how?
f) What is the deadline?
g) Do you want headline options?
h) What review and editing process will be undertaken?
i) How much will you pay (if its an external contractor) OR how much time do you want the person to spend on the piece?
Even if you are writing for your own business, follow this checklist. Your time is money as well.
- How do you manage content delivery?
You need to have a process of review, proofreading and editing of ALL content. There’s no point posting content that has typos in it, has only gone through spell-checker (this does not pick up words that are spelt correctly but are used in the incorrect form), or has bad or no punctuation. The latter is a particular bug-bear of mine.
a) Who Is going to review and comment on the work?
b) How will the feedback be provided and what is the expectation around reworking/rewriting?
c) Who will edit and proofread the final draft?
d) Who approves it to go to print/get posted
One of my processes is to write the piece/post/paper/book and leave it for a day or two. I call this the ‘sleep principle’. Depending on the nature of the writing and long it is, I might ‘sleep on it’ for one, two or several nights. Something that feels terrific when you first write it might not read so well the next morning.
I slept on this Blog for two nights/two weeks and then reworked it. The first version was too long.
- What standards you need to establish
How will you ensure that your stories meet your standards of quality and consistency before they are published?
a) Do you have a Style Guide (no, not for what the writer has to wear), the one that outlines what style of writing you/your company wants, what spelling preferences you have (I was one of the last people to drop the ‘me’ from the end of program and I NEVER use American spelling, these are part of my style preferences).
b) How do you want the writer to treat acronyms, both everyday use ones and ones that are specific to you/your business or industry.
c) What is your view about punctuation (yes, I know, here I go again)? Do you care about it, and if so, how much? My son still makes fun of the fact that when I send him a text I spell out all the words, use capitals at the start of a sentence and a full stop at the end of one, and always type in my name.
d) What level of ‘fact checking’ do you want applied. (Not FAT checking as someone once named it). How important is this to your business and audience?
While this may look like a long and daunting list, the reality is that once the system and processes are established and you have a writer/s you consistently use, it flows very efficiently and effectively.
I write blogs for several companies – a design communications business, an art gallery and a contractor marketing to hedge funds. I have specific briefs for each, a clear process for the writing I deliver, where the writing is being used, the delivery time and really, most importantly, the style and tone of the writing I am to deliver.
Content is King. Bad content ends up where Yertle the Turtle did, in the mud.