Our Learning Series guest speaker, Marcus Sheridan, and his team at The Sales Lion, have some follow-up advice on how everyone in your organization can help develop great content marketing.
Whether you're running a Fortune 1000 company or a small trade association, the ideal scenario for content creation (i.e. great content marketing) is to get full buy-in and support from your employees and members. Here at The Sales Lion, we call the in-house creation of content 'insourcing,' and we favor it for two main reasons:
- The depth of experience answering customer and prospect questions is deepest internally.
- The organization's culture shapes the tone and style of the content, making it 'sound' and 'feel' more authentic.
While most C-level execs and small company owners love the concept of insourcing, very few know the straightest path to making it work for their organizations. Let's take a look at that path and the steps to success with insourcing.
Step 1: Communicate the Content Strategy
Communicate the content strategy - the why, what, how, who and when. The organizations who are best at insourcing build success with a solid foundation of understanding. That starts with a clear and unequivocal demonstration by leadership, in which they buy into the process of educating prospects and providing useful content that solves prospects' problems.
The definition of the 'why' (Simon Sinek covers this better than anyone) is the best place to start and is unique to each organization. The easier the why is to understand by your employees and members, especially how it impacts the organization and their prospects in the long-term, the better the buy-in.
A simple summation of the philosophy behind a good content strategy, and one that we use successfully with clients is: 'They (Prospects) Ask, We (The Organization) Answer'.
Key Takeaways: Hold an all-hands-on-deck meeting to initiate the insourcing effort. Make content creation and ongoing brainstorming of new ideas an integral part of organizational culture and your community. Ensure that the processes are highly visible, keep score and incentivize. (What gets measured gets done, right?)
Step 2: Capture the Brainstorming Ideas in a Content Calendar
Capture all of your brainstorming Ideas in one calendar (an Excel spreadsheet works well). The goal we like to set for clients in any initial brainstorming session is identifying 100-150 unique questions that prospects, customers, or members ask. Don't get hung up on the exact number; the important thing is to begin conditioning your employees to think more like a consumer, and over time it becomes easier for them to develop questions.
Key Takeaways: The brainstorming session must not be judgmental - take any and all ideas and enter them into the spreadsheet. The fine-tuning will occur once the initial question list is completed. Be sure to structure your article and blog titles as close to the way a consumer would enter it into their browser search box (You can turbo-charge the power of your titles by incorporating the 'Big 5', which is explained in detail in another article we wrote, 2 Groups of People that are Killing Blogging and Content Marketing Success Around the World. You can download a copy of the spreadsheet we use at The Sales Lion for your own personal use).
Step 3: Train Your Employees to Listen Well
Train your employees to listen well, in other words, elevate the awareness and value of listening well. Like any other skill, good listening requires awareness, training and persistent work. In every organization on any given day, there is constant communication with clients, members and prospects, which if properly received and leveraged, could provide enough content ideas to fuel the content strategy in perpetuity.
The brainstorming in Step 1 serves a second purpose: it heightens the awareness of the team for zeroing in on the types of questions customers, prospects and members ask. That awareness, coupled with a culture that focuses on educating prospects and solving problems, makes your content creation team much better listeners.
In your brainstorming session, have your team identify as many of the 'listening points' as possible. Call centers, trade shows, email correspondence, chat platforms, social media networks and local networking events all provide the opportunity to be highly attuned to any and all questions about your offerings.
Key Takeaways: Hold content brainstorming sessions at least semi-annually, and preferably quarterly, to keep the listening skills sharp and the new content ideas flowing. Create a central repository of ideas in a Google docs folder or a project management tool, like Basecamp or Asana, and review the ideas in your quarterly meetings. Assign a specific person for each listening point who will be responsible for capturing the questions generated there.
Step 4: Define Content Creation Responsibilities
Define content creation responsibilities by department, and assign specific roles and responsibilities for content production. The commonly held belief that content is the exclusive domain of marketing is just plain wrong. Any department that interacts with customers, prospects and members on a regular basis should be involved in your company's content creation efforts.
Because content comes in many formats, identify and assign roles to the best people for each form of content you're producing. For example, if you're creating video, then some of your people might be able to riff on a content topic because they do it so frequently - that's the talking-head role. Others may like the Q&A format, in which one employee is the interviewer and the other is the interviewee.
With articles, some employees might have great ideas and can bullet-point the key points, and other employees have the skills to write and edit the material.
Key Takeaways: Get as many employees as possible to contribute to the content creation effort, whether their role requires direct or indirect involvement. The more people involved, the greater the number of ideas and the longer the effort lasts. List the roles and responsibilities of each content team member on your spreadsheet.
If your organization struggles with getting buy-in and sustained engagement with content creation from employees and community managers, try these steps. Spend more time on building the foundation correctly and it will help you achieve success over the long run. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint!