The Team Dynamics of Content Marketing

Most blog posts and discussions about content marketing focus on what the content should look like, what separates it from the rest of the web, how to build relationships with influencers, and so on. This is, in large part, because content marketing grew out of the blogosphere, and blogs are traditionally one-person operations. But, like it or not, the modern content production process is a team activity, and that means we can’t have a complete discussion about content marketing without talking about how to make that team work.

The Positions

Content marketing, in its current form, is a new field. Content production teams don’t have designated positions with universally accepted terminology, and there’s a great deal of leeway. The exact shape of your team is going to depend on the size of your company, and none of this is set in stone. Still, it would be hard to imagine an effective content marketing team that didn’t have some approximation of the following positions:

The Head Storyteller

I’ve heard this position called the Chief Content Officer, and similar titles to that effect. If you’re a content marketing agency, this position may be filled, in part, by your client.

The head storyteller is the person who defines the story of the brand. They are strategic thinkers who understand the culture of the company and target audience in question. They make the big picture decisions, like:

– What is the next “big win” piece of content going to be about, and who should be involved in what part of production?

– Should the focus of this project be on direct conversions, branding, or customer retention?

– What values, lifestyles, and unique selling propositions should the content focus on?

storytelling3.18pratikLead Editor

The lead editor is concerned with the particulars of content. The term “editor” is used in many different contexts, and the lead editor doesn’t necessarily check grammar or do fact checking (depending on whether or not your team has copy editors, or the writers are expected to have this aspect of writing under control). However, the lead editor almost certainly approves or offers direct advice on content ideas.

Editors may offer advice on the way to approach a piece of content, what elements of the story may be unnecessary, and what could use improvement. In many ways, the lead editor can be thought of as a content marketing team’s “Quality Control Officer.”

The lead editor may also write, and if they do, they may also assume the position of “head writer.”

Finally, the lead editor may also act as the team’s “headline writer.” Some editors have special training and experience writing headlines that grab attention, and if this responsibility doesn’t rest on the writers or copy-editors, it will usually end up in the hands of the lead editor.

Writers

This is the most obvious element of your team. What qualifies as a “good” writer depends a great deal on the goals in question. Some of the best writers may have no formal training in writing, and may excel because they are excellent researchers, or they have experience with their own blogs.

You’ll need a team of writers with a diverse skill set. Some content is written to convert, some is written to engage. Some is meant to inform, and some is meant to entertain. Some content should be funny, and some should appeal to business managers or engineers. “Good” writing varies depending on the task at hand. You’ll need some writers who are thorough researchers and others who are skilled storytellers.

Don’t put too much focus on grammar or spelling. The primary concern is the ability to engage audiences and keep them interested.

pratikwriter3Content Specialists

Any high-impact content strategy relies on more than just writing. It’s a very good idea to have some photographers, filmographers, and graphic designers on your side. Of course, not every content marketing agency has the resources for this, so outsourcing may be necessary.

Don’t limit yourself to work with “professionals.” Working with a popular artist from Flickr or DeviantArt, even if they have no formal training, can be beneficial if you capitalize on their existing audience. The same goes for web comics and other “amateurs” who have managed to make a name for themselves online. You will need to use discretion, of course, depending on the brand image you are going for.

Head “Listener”

No content marketing team is complete without somebody to handle online activity outside of your own efforts. The web is an interactive medium, and your audience expects to be heard just as much as they expect to be entertained or informed.

The head listener takes the temperature of reactions to content, and advises writers on how to respond. If the company has no outreach professionals or social media marketers, they may respond to comments and engage with consumers directly. They may also advise writers and content specialists on how to respond to comments and social media activity.

The listener may employ analytics tools and advanced data analysis to measure the success of content, and may use these same skills to suggest content ideas to the lead editor and head storyteller. If the listener does not possess these data skills themselves, they almost certainly manage or work with somebody else in the company who does.

pratikdoglistening3.18The “Top Down” Elements of Management

Most content writing teams will have two sides of management: “top down” and “bottom up.” “Top down” management is more traditional and comes straight out of the industrial revolution, but it still plays a crucial role. Top down management serves to:

  • Eliminate the trap of multitasking by separating tasks that should not run concurrently. (Some studies suggest that multitasking can cut efficiency by as much as 40 percent).
  • Minimize indecision by giving workers a clear task to work on at all times.
  • Set productivity goals with proper incentives to ensure results.
  • Create a uniform brand message.

The most crucial aspect of this is setting a clear chain of command. A less than optimal decision is almost always better than indecision. By giving workers clear positions and labels, there is no confusion about who to ask for advice on which decision.

Incentives are also crucial here. Studies have shown that incentives, used incorrectly, can actually harm creativity and innovation. To summarize, traditional productivity incentives are great for productivity, but bad if you are looking for innovative strategies and solutions. If your goal is to encourage creativity, this needs to be made explicit.

execsfalling“Bottom Up” Elements of Management

If you are hoping to build any kind of interactive online presence, your own management structure must be interactive as well. Knowledge-workers like writers and content producers need to have some influence over management in order to maximize creative output and effectively respond to audience concerns.

Brainstorming sessions are the quintessential example, but this shouldn’t necessarily be confined to content ideas. Writers, editors, and content producers can bring front line experience to discussions of content strategy that the head storyteller may not be aware of.

Successful brainstorming rides a thin line. The fear of conflict can cause people to suppress their ideas, but it’s also a little known fact that debate actually encourages creativity because it encourages people to think as individuals. It can be effective to encourage civil debate during brainstorming, as long as cynicism is avoided. Rather than hearing “that won’t work,” we want to hear alternatives.

Again, incentives play an important part. If your team members feel they’ll be rewarded for creative or helpful input, the “bottom up” elements of management are more likely to work. If there’s nothing in it for them, most people would prefer to just follow orders and avoid making waves, at least until their job becomes so monotonous that they begin to lose morale. Of course, if things get to that point, productivity is already suffering, and you’re likely to have a “revolving door” of low quality writers and content producers.

mousetrap3.18Management Tools

Ultimately, the most effective management strategy is the one that allows you and your team to spend most of your time working and creating, not managing. Tools won’t do the job for you, but they can play an important part. The key is to find and use tools that are open-ended enough to fit your strategy, but simple enough that they will actually get used.

Most content marketers are well aware of content management systems like WordPress and Joomla. These can be very effective, but they tend to be built for use by a single person. They’re fine as the piece of software that powers your site, but not as management tools, despite the name “content management system.”

Your team needs a tool that is built for sharing documents as well as coordinating projects. SharePoint can be a good choice for big businesses, but the learning curve isn’t necessarily a good fit, and the start-up costs are probably too high for most content managing teams. Tools like DropBox can be great for file sharing, but they don’t handle multiple versions of files, and if two people try to edit a file at the same time it results in big problems.

I prefer simple online project management tools like Basecamp. Personally, I’ve actually been more impressed with WorkZone, which strikes a good balance between simplicity and functionality.

The important thing is to choose a tool that fits your strategy, not the other way around.

Conclusion

Content marketing is a team effort. To be successful, you need to define who is responsible for what, and make sure that you have the right combination of skills to tackle the task at hand. Keep management simple, but more importantly, use it to make jobs simpler. Management should streamline processes by eliminating indecision and overload. Meanwhile, it should give your front line content experts influence over their own work and creative input into overall strategy.

What are your thoughts on management and content marketing?

About the author

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya is the Lead SEO & VP of Marketing at E2M Solutions, a full service Internet marketing and SEO consulting company. He’s a regular contributing author at Search Engine Journal and has written for SEOmoz, ProBlogger, SearchEnginePeople and many others. You should follow him on Twitter.