Some things cannot be replaced. Loved ones. Pets. Unlimited data plans pre-2012. Most things are replaceable, however, and this includes those who write content for your brand. This is not meant to be harsh or dismissive of anyone’s contributions. After all, your content is only as good as the people creating it. It’s just that people come and go, and if you want the content show to go on, you need to start thinking about how to future-proof the operation. Soon.
Here’s what it looks like when you don’t:
- Your lead writer leaves, and you go weeks or months without publishing as you sift through countless resumes and writing samples
- Your traffic, leads, and other key marketing metrics start to nosedive
- Your content becomes wildly inconsistent in terms of tone, angle, and voice
- Your editorial calendar once planned out months in advance, is being managed ad hoc on a day-to-day basis
And so forth. To help you avoid this fate, here are five things to consider when trying to future-proof your content operation.
#1. Re-Think the Role of Content Marketing Manager
In the early days, a content marketing manager was often synonymous with the role of a full-time writer. They did very little managing but lots of writing. That’s changed in recent years, but it’s still quite common to have this person being the sole contributor when it comes to written content. Obviously, this does not scale, and it puts your content plan in serious jeopardy should that person decide to leave, take a vacation, or get hit by the proverbial bus.
In our view — to use the newspaper analogy — the content marketing manager should be more like a managing editor and less like a lead reporter. They should be spending the bulk of their time planning topics, delegating work, measuring results, and doing important strategic work. Yes, they should also be doing a lot of writing, but this should be secondary. The bulk of the work should be spread out.
#2. Have a Deep Bench of Freelance Writers and External Contributors
Statistically, it’s rare for a marketing team to have multiple full-time writers on staff. Though a company may be able to handle the volume of content by getting employees to write on a regular basis (more on this in a second), it’s usually wise to develop a roster of external contributors. This can include freelance writers, industry thought leaders, or guest posters. At nDash, this is what we’d call a Content Community.
It’s important to note that not all of these outside contributions need to be paid engagements. Although most freelance writers won’t work for free, there are numerous examples of brands compensating people in other ways — namely, recognition. As we discussed a few posts back, Databox has built a publishing juggernaut by routinely getting its customers and partners to contribute content for free in the form of quotes, advice, and insights.
The more contributors you’re brand has, the less dependent it becomes on any one person, and the more diverse your brand becomes in terms of subject matter.
#3. Embrace the Division of Labor
While it’s great to have lots of people involved in the content creation process, it’s also a good idea to spread the workload around in terms of content deliverables. Instead of building a large, extended team and having them all write blogs, designate a few people for certain content types, including case studies, long-form whitepapers, sales collateral, newsletters, and so forth. This level of specialization makes your content team more efficient and effective while preventing writer burnout.
#4. Get Ahead of Your Editorial Calendar
In my time here at nDash, I’ve seen both extremes when it comes to editorial planning. I’ve seen some brands literally have their calendars planned out a year in advance while others come up with topics the day before the publishing date. There is no magic formula in terms of time frames, but we’d recommend trying to stay ahead by at least a month.
This accomplished a few important things. First, it gives everyone (especially those who are not full-time writers) plenty of time to hit their deadline and focus on quality without being rushed. Second, it gives the content marketing manager ample time to plan distribution and social promotions. Finally, it gives the entire team (including executives) a crystal clear view of what’s on tap.
#5. Define and Share Your Strategy
The biggest obstacle to scaling content creation isn’t a lack of time, talent, or budget. Most often, it stems from a brand’s failure to define success and document its marketing strategy. When the criteria for content success exist objectively in minds of a few people, it becomes almost impossible for other writers to make meaningful contributions. Their content is perceived as low-quality or off-brand.
Instead, make sure that all writers — not just those on the payroll — understand your content strategy.
It can include things like:
- Audience personas
- Things to avoid
This way, the ambiguity is removed, and writers have clear directions on what success looks like. The more people you can onboard to your brand, the stronger it becomes.
Final Thoughts on Future-Proofing Your Content Operation
No one is irreplaceable. This is true of all functions within a company, including the marketing department. If your goal is to build a brand for the ages, it’s critical that you start taking a long-term view and planning ahead.