Rebecca Bakken is a freelance writer and content strategist for MarketMuse. She has 10 years of experience as a journalist and marketer, doing everything from managing large teams to going it alone as a solopreneur.
Writers and editors know that the road to great content isn’t always a direct path. But if you’re running a content marketing department, you have objective business goals to hit and deadlines to meet, leaving not a lot of time for writer hijinks or other process inefficiencies.
Whether you’re just starting to build a team or your current department could use an overhaul, there are four things you need to execute the most efficient content creation process possible:
- Specific Goals
- Evolving Plan
- Right People, Right Spots
- Tested Tools
This post will guide you on how to develop your internal strategy, as well as recruit and manage your writers and designers. First, let’s think about what you want to achieve:
It’s hard to have an efficient process if you don’t have a target. Talk to your managers and sales team about your company’s quarterly and annual goals, and then determine how you can assist in achieving those. For example, if you’ve got a new product and your team has sales benchmarks for it, you might set a goal for the quarter to bring in X amount of leads with an email campaign that builds awareness for the new product.
Whatever your goals are, make sure they’re:
Business focused. This means no vanity metrics like boosting traffic or gaining followers on social. Your efforts must support business goals in some way, so instead of gaining followers, your goal might be to gain leads from social channels.
Specific and actionable. Vague goals lead to vague results, so get laser focused on what you want to achieve. You’ll find that the more specific your targets are, the easier it is to take action on them because a clearly defined goal can be broken down into steps.
Attainable. Setting yourself up for success means being realistic about what you can achieve with your time and resources. Stay ambitious, but be honest about what it would require to reach your goals, and whether success relies too much on factors outside of your control.
Attributable. You want to be able to connect your actions to achieve goals, both to show ROI and so you know what’s working and what isn’t. Consider how you’ll track and measure the results of your content marketing efforts, whether you use UTM codes or features within your CMS or email platform.
When you set your quarterly and annual content marketing goals, don’t neglect areas where you’re already performing well. There’s always room for improvement, and you don’t want to let your progress slip. It’s perfectly fine for some of your goals to be to maintain a certain metric or make modest improvements if it’s an area where you’re already killing it.
Once you have your goals identified, you can start to work on strategy.
Having a plan is integral to an efficient process. A thoughtfully developed plan removes the guesswork when it’s time for action, and makes it clear who is responsible for what.
If you have a content team, this can be a great opportunity to work together and brainstorm. Get the pertinent parties in a room, display your goal on a whiteboard, and start tossing out ideas for content types, distribution channels, ways to track performance, and innovative ways to hit your targets. If you don’t have a team, the process will be less boisterous, but you can still brainstorm on your own. The point is to think strategically and creatively about how to reach your goals.
Here’s what your plan should define:
1. What content is needed. Be specific here, identifying all copy and articles that needs to be created. Include outlines that specify target audiences, word counts, focus topics, and related topics to cover in each piece of content.
2. How you will measure performance. Each goal may have different metrics for success, so decide which attribution model is appropriate for your objectives, and set your tracking system before you start distributing.
3. How you will distribute the content. Email is a great way to engage your contacts, while third-party platforms like Medium or even LinkedIn can attract new leads. And don’t neglect the power of ads. Decide the appropriate channels for distribution, and conduct tests to see if new platforms are worth the effort.
4. When and where to optimize. Once you post your first blog or send your first email, you’ll immediately have some metrics to work with. For longer campaigns, you may want to wait a few weeks before you take those metrics seriously and start to make tweaks, while a dismal open rate on your first email may warrant immediate action.
If your plan doesn’t seem to be working toward your goal, find ways to tweak it. Flexibility is a main attribute of a good plan, because content, as with life, isn’t always predictable. This is another reason why brainstorming is a smart way to start, because you can derive your Plan B (as well as C and D) at the outset.
Your plan should also identify who will be taking on each task, making for an efficient workflow. But since the human element is also the most unpredictable, it gets its own section.
Your writers, editors, and designers are essential components of a well-oiled content marketing machine, but only if everyone is doing their part and working collaboratively. Whether you have an in-house staff or a roster of freelancers, your team members are the engine behind an efficient content creation process.
Schedule regular one-to-one meetings with each person on your staff so that you get consistent updates on what they’re doing, any problems they may be having, and how you can help them. This also leads to better working relationships between you and your direct reports, and lets you learn their career goals, preferred learning style, and any weaknesses that can be strengthened. It also gives them a good opportunity to broach any issues they may be uncomfortable bringing up on their own.
As a manager, something you should ask yourself regularly is, “Do I have the right people in the right spots?” Be open to letting someone shift their responsibilities onto something at which they’re more naturally adept, and be proactive in suggesting changes.
If you have a writer or designer who is consistently underperforming, either in terms of quality or efficiency, consider the following actions:
Have a frank discussion about the problem. In a one-to-one meeting, discuss specific examples of sub-par performance, and ask about the reasons why the work suffered. Avoid making assumptions or blanket statements, and stick to the facts. Hear them out, and give sympathetic responses without excusing poor work.
Devise an improvement plan. Be clear about the areas in need of improvement, and offer help and resources that can assist them. Then, set a timeline to meet again to review performance. This lets them know that you’re willing to work with them, but sets clear expectations.
Consider a change in roles. If someone can’t keep up in your environment, think about whether there are any less intense roles for which they would be better suited, or if a part-time or contract position makes sense.
There may come a time when you decide that a member of your team isn’t working out. It’s not a fun situation for anyone involved, but it’s a necessary part of running a team. If this happens, remember to keep all justifications purely performance-based and specific, and be sensitive to their feelings.
If you’re building a team and want to vet writers and designers before bringing them on full time, you can hire them as freelancers first to get a good idea of how they operate and whether they can consistently (and efficiently) produce solid work. You may even find that working with freelancers instead of hiring a staff is your best move, as it’s a lower cost option that gives you tons of flexibility.
So, you’ve got your goals set, your plan devised, and your team assembled. Now you just need the right tools to get the job done.
The content marketing tools and software you use can save you loads of time, as they perform tasks that would take hours, if not days, to complete manually. But learning how to use tools and software takes time, so decide which ones are most useful to you and your staff, and provide the training and resources to use them to their fullest extent.
Here’s a keyword research guide that breaks down all of MarketMuse’s favorite tools and platforms. Depending on your strategy, you’ll want to have tools and software that perform the following:
- Rank tracking
- Keyword research
- Traffic and backlink analysis
- Content optimization
Be aware that you usually get what you pay for with these solutions, and that there’s a vast difference between a tool and a software platform. Keyword research tools can give you a quick estimation of related keywords based on words that appear together in posts ranking for a given term. However, they can’t quantify co-occurrences or other on-page factors to rank those that are the most important related keywords (i.e. the lowest hanging fruit) like a software platform like MarketMuse can.
If you want to maximize efficiency and have the budget, software like MarketMuse, HubSpot, and SEMrush are worth the money because they’re all multi-use platforms that give you most, if not all, the information you need.
You can also help your team use the tools and software you choose effectively by having a shared folder that contains:
A spreadsheet with the usernames and passwords of everything you use
Training documents and links to resources on how to use each one
Examples and templates of any reports they’ll need to produce
Of course, a folder can’t replace in-person training. When you adopt a new tool or platform (or have someone new starting), have a training session so they know all the functions and capabilities. Ask your team about what they find helpful and what’s confusing so that you can evaluate and change your arsenal if necessary.
Once you’ve established your department’s goals, plan, roles, and tools, you’re going to need to update and improve upon them to keep up with trends and evolving company objectives. Here’s a blog post that can help you organize, optimize, automate, and collaborate for a streamlined content creation process. A content marketer’s work is never done, it’s a whole lot easier with an efficient process.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Unsplash.