How to Get Great Content From Your Colleagues: Five Rules for Success
Updated: May 4, 2021
Even the world's most effectively led, proactive, and well-organized content team is going to end up dead in the water without continuous quality input from within the organization.
Content marketing is sometimes referred to as "brand journalism"; however, if content marketers relied on the (sometimes antagonistic) journalism playbook for getting input every time they reached a dead end, they would almost assuredly find themselves jobless.
This article will help content professionals apply journalistic tactics to enable them to get great content from their colleagues. Readers will learn more about the following tips:
Be flexible. Whether adhering to a timetable or adapting to a multitude of individual communications styles, content pros need approach their job with a high level of flexibility.
Harness expertise. Learning how to coax quality content from individual experts in your organization is a highly valued skill.
Trust is paramount. Producing quality content that has an impact isn't risk-free. Building trust among your executives and thought leaders will overcome risk-aversion.
For this article, we interviewed three people:
Steve Eisenstadt, owner of Eisenstadt Communications
Alison Bolen, editor at SAS
Ephraim Cohen, practice leader at FleishmanHillard
Rule No. 1: Adapt to each situation
A good content marketer wears many hats—writing coach, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, to name a few. What are some other roles content pros should be ready to assume?
Alison Bolen: Can I add a few hats to the list? How about researcher, project manager, and cheerleader? But seriously, a good content marketer has to know where to find the best stories. At SAS, we use internal blogs, whitepapers, podcasts, videos, emails, and even wikis as the basis for content. Depending on the source and the topic, you may have to rewrite it, reformat it, or encourage somebody else to write it up before the content becomes useful and interesting for external readers.
Steve Eisenstadt: I'd also add translator to this list, since a lot of what we do in content creation, especially for high-tech companies, is take technical terminology and information and transform it into language that can inform or influence the nontechnical audience, such as a businessperson without deep computer science training.
Rule No. 2: Everyone's an expert… in at least one topic
How do you extract good material from a senior executive who tells you "I'm terrible at writing..." and he/she is, unfortunately, correct in that assessment?
Alison Bolen: Most people, fortunately, can produce good-quality writing if it's a topic they know. But not everyone can write a good introduction or put a clear structure around a topic in black and white. As a communicator, my goal is to find out what the executive's field of expertise is, then work with that as the basis of an article.
Ephraim Cohen: Content marketers spend a lot of time collecting content from executives and other thought leaders. The best content comes directly from those people, but to ensure relevance to the channel, and quality (since, as noted, not everyone is a great writer), a content marketer should assume the role of writing coach to that person.
Rule No. 3: Earn trust and take risks
All content creation involves taking some risks (misperception, competitive info being used against company, customer changes mind about being cited, etc.). How best to address a situation where you have a knowledgeable and articulate executive who holds back on content because of risk-aversion?
Steve Eisenstadt: Some degree of risk is inherent in any writing for a public audience. All you can do is persuade the executive that you'll take great care with anything sensitive, and that he or she will have final review. You have to earn their trust, and then explain that holding back on content probably will result in a superficial, uninteresting piece. And it's not as if there aren't a zillion examples of published thought leadership pieces that successfully navigated these waters.
Ephraim Cohen: If they have great content but they are... averse to publishing it under their own name, suggest we use them for their intellect and publish it as pure brand content. If it does well and the risk is worth it, they can always celebrate their success internally (which motivates them to do more). If the culture does allow for risk (some do not) but the executive is hesitant, it might be worth having them virtually shadow other execs to see how they handle the social environment.
Alison Bolen: This is entirely a matter of trust, and that's something you have to build up over time. People joke about not tweeting company secrets, but there's a nugget of truth there. If you can sit in on executive meetings and demonstrate that you know what material is fit for external consumption, you're going to build up trust in your ability to analyze risk. Next—and this part is harder—you have to demonstrate your ability to write about risky topics.
For example, if you're launching a new product in the second quarter, how can you write about the broader market concepts surrounding that product in the first quarter without giving away the surprise of the product launch? Offering topic suggestions and demonstrating an ability to build up buzz leading up to the launch can help gain trust in your ability to communicate the right points at the right time.
If you can show benefits from these types of projects and point out that the sky didn't fall in, it will continue to build up that trust and perhaps some excitement about future content projects.
Rule No. 4: Be flexible about publishing schedules
Is it more important to adhere to an editorial calendar/publishing schedule or to wait for high-quality great content, and how do you know when to choose?
Alison Bolen: If you do it right, an editorial calendar will help elicit consistent, high-quality content. It will give you a steady stream of topics to return to and consistent measurements about the value of those topics. Flexibility is important, though. You have to recognize opportunities that fall outside of your plans, and you have to recognize priorities that might sometimes be more important than following a strict schedule.
Ephraim Cohen: Don't choose. Instead, do both. Use a calendar with a schedule to stay organized, focused, and develop a drumbeat. But outside of high-value news events, stay flexible so that, on any given day, what was scheduled can be replaced with an immediate content opportunity that fits the long-term strategy.
Steve Eisenstadt: It depends on the communications goals. If the objective is a steady volume of pieces to establish mindshare or a position in the market, it may be important to adhere to a schedule. If quality is the overriding goal—say placement of an op-ed piece in a top business publication—then perhaps it makes more sense to wait for the superior content. Ideally, you find a sweet spot between the two.
Rule No. 5: When you link effort with results, you get buy-in
What are some ways to best explain the principles of content development to a senior executive with zero to little marketing experience... especially how to explain why content has to differ markedly from marketingcomms and copywriting?
Alison Bolen: You have to show results. If you don't have results yet, tell the stories of companies... getting results. You can find a lot of those stories right here on MarketingProfs, or other content marketing sites.
One story that executives still relate to is the newsjacking story David Meerman Scott tells about Eloqua's CEO writing an immediate response to an Oracle acquisition. That single executive blog post from Eloqua led to huge media attention and sales wins for Eloqua.
Sales numbers, conversion rates, and improved search rankings are good numbers to have, but anecdotes work well too. We have stories about customers contacting our sales teams after reading our content, or journalists mentioning our blog posts when interviewing executives.
These types of anecdotes can show how consistent, searchable content on a single topic can really start to position you as an expert on that topic in the marketplace.
Steve Eisenstadt: Start with the communications objective of the project and how it supports the company's business goals. Senior executives think in terms of how any activity impacts the organization's strategic goals, so you have explain it, and explain it clearly. Executives also understand language framed in customer terms, so explain that in this case the publication is the customer for the content. And the publication requires x, y, and z to use your content.