How to get colleagues who aren’t marketers involved in creating content

Catherine Every

Every Word Ltd

At first glance, getting product teams and other parts of the business involved in the creation of content for your content marketing plan sounds like a good idea.

Many hands make light work. And more importantly, their expertise will enhance the perception of your brand and its depth of knowledge.

Then reality hits. The content you get back is terrible. At worst, it’s simply unusable. At best it requires so much editing and rewriting it would have been quicker to do it yourself.

So what’s the answer?

Here’s my guide to commissioning content marketing pieces from people who aren’t content marketers.

Respect their expertise

The chances are that the people in your business outside marketing know a lot more about the nuts and bolts of your product or service than you will ever do. So they’ve got a lot to offer.

As Jamie Cartwright, Product Manager at Betterment, puts it:

Working with various parts of your business’ staff to demonstrate expertise on a daily basis will completely refresh the kind of content you  produce and revolutionize your followers’ sense of what the company is about. Everything from company culture to a visible demonstration of skilled work happens when you engage non-marketers in your marketing efforts.

Respect this expertise. Be grateful too. In the long run, their content marketing efforts are helping to secure more sales. In the short term, you could easily argue they’re taking valuable time out of their day to do your job.

Keep this in mind when you’re working with them. If only because it will change the way you approach interactions with them and display a more positive attitude, one that’s likely to get better results.

But don’t assume too much

The product people in your business are experts in your product but they aren’t necessarily experts in marketing. They’re the experts in what they do. You’re the expert in what you do.

So while you should respect their expertise, you shouldn’t assume they understand your job or the jargon you use.

As Matthew Stibbe, CEO of Articulate Marketing, says:

Across nearly all clients and over many years, it’s become clear to me that product managers (usually technical people) and marketers (usually not) are ‘two peoples divided by a common language.’

Which is why Callie Hinman, Content Strategist at AffiniPay, says:

Smart marketing professionals… know that to prevent misunderstandings, they must translate their vernacular into a language an audience who is generally unfamiliar with marketing can easily comprehend.

Take the time to explain what it is you’re after – brief them just like you’d brief anyone working on a project. By defining what you want rather than giving free reign, you’re maximising your chances of getting what you’re hoping for.

Show them who their reader is and what their motivations are

There’s a lot to be said for getting your mindset right before working on content marketing pieces with people who aren’t content marketers. But it doesn’t solve the problem completely.

For Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, ‘Write for your reader ’is the foundation of persuasive writing. and in rhetorica: A toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques, it’s his first tip.

When you step into the shoes of the person you’re writing for, everything slots into place.

You probably take it for granted that you’re writing for time-pressed CEOs. Your average non-content marketing person might not. And even if they do, they might not realise the ramifications of this.

If you’re running training sessions to upskill your people, you may find it helpful to know I use Marcus Sheridan’s experience (They Ask You Answer) as a starting point.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Sheridan turned his swimming pool business around by writing blogs that answered people’s questions. The story not only explains the concept of writing reader-relevant content but the power and importance of blogging too.

I start by asking people what they’d want to know if they were thinking about buying a swimming pool. This starts people thinking about the sorts of things non-experts are looking for and the level of content that’s required.

From there, I move to looking at who a company’s customers are. Finally, I explore the type of content their customers will be interested in. In my experience, the lightbulb moment can happen at any of these three stages, but it’s very exciting watching the realisation process.

If you don’t plan to run training sessions, make sure you have a client avatar to hand when you’re briefing. Take the time too to translate what this means for the content you want.

Provide a planning framework

If people aren’t regular writers, the act of writing isn’t always positive. (Let’s face it, that’s also true if you are a regular writer.) It helps to show them how to break down the task. Briefly, here’s the approach I teach:

  • choose the topic
  • brainstorm the topic (don’t worry about filtering anything, just get everything down)
  • step into your readers’shoes
  • create a skeleton outline of a piece your readers will want to read (ditching anything you’ve brainstormed that doesn’t have a logical place)
  • divide the number of points you want to make by the word count to see if you’re being realistic about the amount you want to say
  • start writing, keeping the word count in mind as you go

(For the full version of these tips and the thinking behind them, see How do I write an article?)

When you provide a framework like this, you’re taking the mystique out of the work, so you’re helping them. By asking them to sense check things before starting to write, you’re also helping yourself when it comes to editing their work.

Provide content frameworks

As well as providing a planning framework, you might want to think about providing content structure frameworks too – think of it as painting by numbers for creating content.

It’s another thing that takes the mystery out of writing content and makes it much more approachable. For starters, try:

You might also want to think about personalising these templates with relevant examples in each section to make them even more relatable or even developing your own content structure frameworks.

Step into your colleagues’ shoes

Just as it’s important for your non-content marketers to step into your customers’ shoes, so it’s important for you to step into your colleagues’ shoes. In fact, as Callie Hinman says, your success depends on it.

Take a moment to look at things from their point of view. Think about what they’ll need from you if you’re going to get the best results from your collaboration. And make sure you deliver it. When you do that, you’re giving yourself the best chance of a successful and productive working relationship.

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