It was supposed to be so easy: Employees could create content. All that free content would just roll right in. Hal Werner explains 9 key challenges to this method of content creation & what you can do about them.
From the moment that first person declared, “Content is everyone’s job,” content managers everywhere began to salivate. They had just gotten permission to mine their entire organizations for content creators. It was as if someone had finally given them a map to the content creation version of El Dorado.
If the content gurus were right, this distributed content creation method was a treasure trove of untapped content production. More content at no additional cost — perfect, right?
It turns out, it isn’t quite that simple. If you’ve ever tried to get your employees to create content for you, you know what I’m talking about.
What makes distributed content creation so difficult? And what can you do to overcome the most common hurdles? Read on for some hard-learned, guru-free, real-world insights.
1. They don’t report to you
One of the simplest problems with distributed content creation is that the creators may not report to you. When that’s the case, it can be pretty difficult to get them to do what you need them to, since there are likely no direct consequences for failing to live up to their content responsibilities.
You: “Hey, you promised that blog post last week.” (Potential) Contributor: “So? Whatcha gonna do about it?”
When contributors don’t report to you, you have to get a little more creative about their involvement.
Figure out how to tie their contributions to their goals and motivations. You could even work with their boss to secure their cooperation and offer a little incentive.
2. They have other priorities
Every department has its priorities — and most of them aren’t content creation. It shouldn’t be any wonder, then, if your content creation needs often fall to the bottom of the list as contributors work to meet their own goals.
If your company wants to be effective with distributed content creation, leadership needs to allot time for people to contribute. It needs to be considered part of their responsibilities, not something simply tacked on top.
If your company isn’t willing to make time for contributors to help out, you’ll need to admit that distributed creation isn’t really for your company and outsource content instead.
3. They didn’t realize how big a commitment they were making
It’s easy to commit to writing a blog post. Following through? That’s a lot harder.
It’s human to want to please others, especially when it’s something — like content marketing — that seems like a good idea. But much like exercise, actions often fall short of intentions.
While it can be frustrating, it’s also important to remember that’s it’s rarely intentional. Someone who has promised to write you a whitepaper has bought into what you’re trying to do with content, even if it took them three months to deliver the first one.
This kind of enthusiasm is something you can work with. A motivation gap is much harder to overcome. For this person, you’ll have to work more on enablement (how can you help them be successful?) and setting up realistic commitments.
4. They’re not pros
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at doing something. Many professional content writers have hit that mark. Some of them have hit it twice. They’re an expert in the craft and they’re efficient.
Is it any wonder, then, that things don’t go as smoothly when you request content from someone who’s had five hours of experience?
People who don’t create content for their day job will inherently need more direction. They’ll need more hand-holding, revisions, editing, and ultimately, more time to produce.
Make sure contributors have the tools and information they need before they start. It’s a good idea to have experienced professionals edit on the back end, too.
5. They don’t know how to proceed
For full-time content managers, it can be easy to forget all the steps that go into properly creating content — things like research, goal-setting, planning, pre-production, etc. The steps become second nature. But for infrequent contributors in a distributed production model, this may all be completely new ground.
If you ask someone to write two blog posts a month, do they know how to proceed? Here’s what that might look like:
- Your content contributor needs to understand how to research the larger topic to get a deeper understanding of how it’s viewed in the marketplace.
- You may have to walk through goal-setting for your project (is the goal for the series pure pageviews, organic sessions, leads generated that originated with the post, etc?).
- There’s a good chance you’ll need to explain planning and ideation — help them define a purpose for the series, an overarching topic and subtopics.
- It’s almost certain you’ll have to inform them of the keywords most critical to the organic success of their posts.
- Some may need quick refresher on outlining to ensure a good post flow.
- It’s probably handy to make sure they have some idea of how their posts will work in your intended user flow.
- Make sure to explain any cross-linking and CTAs you want done.
- Don’t forget to give them your contributor guidelines — a guide to your brand’s tone and voice.
The more guidance you can give your contributors upfront, the less reworking everyone will have to do later on.
Don’t care to give a mini-camp on content creation for every new distributed creation project? Consider documenting as much of your guidance as you can, whether you do it in audio, video or written form.
6. People have their own agendas
Sometimes the challenge isn’t getting people to create content, but getting them to contribute to the RIGHT content.
This is especially true when your contributors have strong points of view. Strong points of view can be an asset, but when they don’t resonate with your audience or match with your goals, they can do more harm than help.
Data can be helpful here, especially if the the content you’re requesting is focused on influencing SEO. Arming yourself with keyword search volume can go a long way to steering opinionated contributors if you explain that nobody will find the amazing content they’re helping create.
Other content contributors simply have a point of view contrary to company messaging or audience needs.
A good project brief goes a long way toward cutting down on this kind of behavior. If you’ve clearly defined your goals, messaging, topic, slant, etc., then it’s a lot easier to get a rogue contributor back on strategy.
7. They’re self-conscious
People who make their living developing creative products (think copywriters, designers, content marketers) tend to develop thick skins about their work. They may get sensitive from time to time, but usually they can suck it up and do what they need to do to serve the business.
Distributed content creation involves people from all walks of your company. Many of these people don’t have practice putting themselves out there creatively. And while it may sound easy to do in theory, many of these folks can choke up when it comes time to put out.
Nobody wants to look (or sound) bad.
Let them know you’ll have a professional edit their work. That will give them extra comfort.
Others are self-conscious about their appearance in video. Get them to stop focusing on the camera and into a more casual, conversational mindset. Get them absorbed in the subject they’re passionate about. It’s amazing how quickly people can forget their trepidation once they get rolling on their favorite topic.
Everyone hates the way their voice sounds on recordings. Remind your content contributor that their audience is more invested in the substance of their content than their voice quality. In fact, if you expose them to several podcasts, they’ll quickly discover the standards for voice recordings outside of radio are not that intimidating.
8. They underestimate the difficulty of execution
While some people are self-conscious about content creation, others are overconfident. If you’ve never tried to write a blog post or shoot a video, it can seem pretty straightforward. How hard can it be, right?
But when it comes to actually typing up the words or setting up a scene, the difficulty can become very real very quickly.
And then, some contributors won’t realize their limitations until they glimpse the final product. It can be deflating to think you’ve put together a masterpiece of thought leadership only to realize you’ve fumbled through a barely watchable spot.
Make sure contributors are well-equipped with guidance and best practices before they start.
9. They get bitten by the ‘thought leadership’ bug
The term “thought leadership” is thrown around so much that it’s almost meaningless, but it’s still a boardroom darling. Everyone wants to be a leader, right?
But that’s a problem, because often a contributor simply comes up with an obscure new term nobody uses to describe something that already exists. Or maybe their “thought leadership” is really just a nuanced approach to something that already exists. This hurts audience uptake of your content and pokes holes in your credibility.
Instead, get these contributors focused on content that provides tangible value for your audience.
While this isn’t a fail-safe against false thought leadership, forcing content contributors to answer the question “How does this help my audience?” cuts down on the amount of vanity content they submit. Have them focus on immediate to near-term value for your audience.
Keep in mind
It’s hard enough to get good processes and standards in place within your marketing group. Throw in outsiders, and things get tricky fast. Here are a few places infrequent contributors can add complexity:
- You have to identify your contributors. Who has which skills you need? Who can write? Who can talk? Who can present? Who has the subject matter expertise? Putting together this list alone can be a major project — not to mention keeping your list up-to-date over time.
- Someone has to manage day-to-day contact with them. This usually involves a lot of chasing people down, which can take a lot more time and effort than it does with regular contributors.
- They’re less familiar with your processes. This means you’ll have to spend more time educating and fixing. For some contributors (think C-suite), it may be smarter to handle a project in an ad-hoc fashion.
- They’re probably not using your team’s content creation tools. You may have to add contributors to your tool and train them, or deal with the overhead of having someone use the tool on their behalf.
Nothing is free, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable
Unfortunately for content leaders, distributed content creation wasn’t quite the mystical fountain of free content that pundits promised. In fact, if you take a hard look at the concept, it’s more about a transfer of productivity than added productivity. But if you’re willing to put in the work to do distributed content creation well, there are plenty of advantages to be had.
Do these challenges look familiar? How did you handle things? Let us know in the comments.