3 Paths To Involve Employees In Content Marketing
Want to tap into your employees' know-how to enhance your content marketing? Columnist Jonathan Blank explains how.
When we invest in content marketing we’re making two equally important and interrelated promises.
First, we’re promising our management team that we’ll garner a measurable return that aligns with one or more specific business objectives. Marketing Land columnist and Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb lays out the framework for this first promise on measuring content ROI.
Second, we’re guaranteeing our target audiences that we’ll provide more timely, relevant and ultimately useful information on their particular jobs or lifestyles than other publishers can provide. To live up to the second promise, we need to tap into our employees’ expertise.
I strongly believe that employee engagement is crucial to the success of our content marketing efforts, because they’re the ones who talk to customers every day and continuously discuss the products that are needed to meet customers’ needs.
Our employees give us the opportunity to augment our licensed and community-generated content with original material that has the feel of exclusive, insider information. While our colleagues may not be as trained in effective Web writing as we are in marketing, their insights are nuggets of gold and can be efficiently turned into content.
In this column, I’ll describe three types of content programs and processes that represent different paths to get employees engaged in content marketing in a manner that both taps into their knowledge and respects the fact that content is not their day job. These are not mutually exclusive programs. Share your thoughts on how to mix and match them for your industry in the comments below.
A Personal Brand Program
I used to lead social media for a global technology consulting firm. I mention this because in consulting, the difference between winning and losing business is often based on the perceived strength of thought leadership of the proposed project team.
The consultants I worked with were hungry to build their personal brands through personal and brand social media channels, even though they often worked 14-hour days on projects. A culture of content is almost inherent in consulting, although the processes or strategies might not be in place to fully take advantage of this.
Whether your company is a consulting firm or a provider of candy, you can cultivate this same desire in employees to build their personal brands on their own. In turn, you can leverage these strong personal brands within your content strategy. This program should be developed within the boundaries of your company’s social media policy.
The elements of an Employee Personal Brand Program include:
• Training on audience identification — If you’re building a content hub for your company, you need to know who you’re specifically targeting as a whole as well as each piece of content that makes up the hub. With a particular piece of content, you may be targeting a sub-segment of the hub’s audience.
While the research process for a personal brand strategy won’t be as exhaustive, employees should understand who will be interested in their insights and opinions. For example, the strategists at the consulting company I worked with understood they were writing for the P&L owners in specific verticals. In turn, the technologists knew they were writing for those responsible for project management within those P&L business units.
Have your employees write half a page on who they think would appreciate their insights the most and what pain points those individuals have. In essence, you’re going to take employees through a persona development project.
• Training on developing a personal editorial calendar — Employees should understand that some level of consistency is important when you’re building an audience, even when it’s potentially a small audience for a personal blog or social media channel. Give employees examples of the types of regular tips they can provide to their audiences and how they can augment that with their own commentary on curated articles.
Ease their mind about what it will take to consistently produce helpful content. This should be fun for them. One of the consultants I worked with told me that every new offering he came up with over a two-year period resulted from his blogging, which made him think strategically on a consistent basis. Show employees how to come up with new ideas for content on a weekly or monthly basis.
• An overview of channels — Develop a short presentation on the options employees have for building their online personal brands. Which channels can they tap into? What are the differences between them? What are the pros and cons of utilizing those channels?
• A syndication plan — It’s great that your employees are now helping your audiences. However, we have to get back to our first promise of garnering a return on investment. Develop a process for having your employees submit articles from their personal channels for consideration for your brand channels. Let them know when you’ll need it submitted, the criteria for submission, and when you or your team will provide feedback.
In essence, you’re taking the training you developed for your brand editors and scaling it down for use by other employees.
The Project X-Ray Series
Jay Acunzo at NextViewVC is a big advocate of the “project x-ray.” I have to give him a hat tip for this one. This series of content exposes the lessons learned from product development or campaign development cycles for the benefit of end users.
We learn a lot about customers’ needs through iterations of development. Normally, companies just talk publicly about what product enhancements they’re making. But they don’t talk in any in-depth way about why they are making those enhancements.
We may publish a whitepaper or facilitate a webinar to explain why we’re making a big product enhancement or launching a major new product. But I haven’t seen too many companies talk transparently about why they’re making smaller changes or why they decided to kill certain projects.
What’s great about project x-rays is that they ensure we’re producing content that consumers want to hear about and what we, as brands, want to talk about. We’re not talking directly about the awesomeness of our products and features. Instead, we’re talking about the awesome lessons we learned about what consumers need as we developed a product or feature.
Get started with a project x-ray series with the following:
- Template for explaining the case for change — Whether your project is developing a new technology, choosing a new color for a candy or making a spreadsheet that customers can use, there is a reason for initiating and prioritizing this project. Employees should have a template for documenting this in a manner that a brand editor can understand and use. This template should pose provocative questions about the relationship of the product, feature or campaign to the end customer.
- Template for explaining what worked and what didn’t — Use the lessons from the project to explain to customers how they can improve their effectiveness at work or better their lives personally.
- Guidelines for review — The teams that submit raw content for this series should be involved in reviewing the polished material to ensure their words or pictures were not taken out of context. Let the teams know how you will make sure that the information they provide will not give away confidential details. With an effective collaboration process built between product teams and editors, project lessons can help differentiate your content strategy.
The Roving Ambassador Program
Your content team is probably made up of writers, designers and former journalists. However, you should consider opening up a spot or two for “roving brand ambassadors.” These are subject matter experts who are keen to evangelize the brand and are interested in becoming better writers.
Develop a job description that emphasizes their role in identifying stories from around the company that can help educate customers on specific topics. They’ll collaborate with writers on your team, but will also take on tasks such as interviewing other employees and structuring stories.
You can have employees rotate through this program to cultivate a full company culture of content. Think of what is possible if you train dozens of employees to marry subject matter expertise with content marketing skills.
When we implicitly promise to be the most useful source on a topic, we have to tap into those very people who develop useful products and services.