When it comes to creating content online the baseline of knowledge varies widely. Which is to say that there isn’t a baseline of knowledge. Some brands have been doing content for years; some have heavy social media backgrounds but no blog, white paper or infographic experience; and some brands haven’t done anything.
So when it comes time to start a project, we as customer success managers often have to spend time learning what our clients understand about the process. We know from experience that when we take our client’s word that they understand the content creation process, but we don’t take the time to dig into what they understand, projects can go off the rails. Quickly.
Ultimately, this means to manage success we have to educate our clients on the key issues that contribute to project success. These are generally aligned around timing. What follows here is, by no means, an exhaustive list of what we wish all of our clients knew, but it is a critical one.
Observations on making content collaboration more seamless:
1. Time spent upfront means time saved in the long run.
Brands are always eager to get started. They sign a contract and they want content in their hands as soon as possible. The challenge is the assumption that we know everything about your company, your goals, and your approach.
When a brand doesn’t have established documentation around brand guidelines, tone, style or personas, it can cause challenges at every stage in the process. While these can seem like superfluous documents that aren’t necessary for creating written content, they are important for creating content in line with our clients’ expectations.
Writing can be a very subjective medium, and client expectations can vary widely. Having parameters around who your audience is, how you speak to them, and what to avoid, means that the writer has clear guidelines for how to create the piece. And that means it will be closer to what a client is hoping for, require fewer edits, and be completed more quickly.
It might seem like taking several weeks in the beginning of the project to nail down these specifics is laborious. But we can assure you from experience, when these specifics aren’t in place, we spend much more time going back and forth with the client over edits trying to get the piece to where the client wants.
2. We can move as fast as you… but you’ll move slower than you think.
It’s words, what could take so long to review them and give some feedback? Several things. Clients may think they have plenty of time to review content, to sit and read a piece and give the feedback needed. But you’d be amazed how often clients put this task off. For whatever reason, it can seem daunting. When Slack and your inbox are constantly fighting for your attention, closing them to read a piece of written content can seem like a low priority.
There is an art to giving great feedback. It requires understanding what you want and being able to clearly communicate that. People may assume they have the requisite skills to do it, but when they sit down to perform the act, they get hung up. I’ve had clients email me every week for months telling me this was the week they were going to get to the piece. And it never happened.
If you have multiple people internally who need to review a piece, then you will have different individuals who all need to make time to read and give feedback, and then you’ll need to meet with each other to make sure your feedback aligns so you can present a unified front on what you are looking for. This takes time. You need to make time for it.
3. If speed is your main concern, there is probably something else you are missing.
Yes, it would be great if we could go from idea to executed project in five business days. But that is usually not realistic. Content creation and collaboration is an involved process that can move quickly with the right investment and planning. However, if speed is always the most important concern, it means other elements will suffer. It could mean insufficient information given to the writer, timelines too short to craft a meaningful piece, or hastily given feedback which will be unclear or unhelpful.
If your only concern is turning content around quickly, the odds are you haven’t given enough thought to your content strategy or you haven’t given enough of a lead time to set the project up for success.
We have become very used to getting things instantly. We can convince ourselves that an immediate turnaround is the benchmark of a successful product, project or launch. But the internet is flooded with impulsive content. And that content is forgotten as quickly as it is created. Quality and lasting impressions come from care and consideration invested in the process.
4. The longer you take to give feedback the further the writer gets from the piece.
We don’t anticipate that clients will be able to read, review and give feedback on all pieces instantly. We get that it takes time. We ask that clients take the same amount of time to review the piece that it took the writer to create it. But again, we understand that won’t always be possible.
But here is something important to remember: Freelancers often work on multiple pieces for multiple clients at any one point in time. Sure it would be great to have a freelancer who is awaiting your beck and call and devoted to you and only you. However, that is an employee, not a freelancer. And so to successfully work with freelancers you must understand you won’t be their only client.
That is another reason to give timely feedback. Even if you give clear and specific notes on a piece, if you wait a month to do it, the piece will no longer be top of mind for the writer. They might not be as familiar with it. You never want to risk letting a writer’s connection to a piece wane by taking too long to respond.
5. Just because the first draft isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean the whole project is doomed.
Best-case scenario: the first draft you get back from the writer is flawless. There isn’t a typo, semicolon out of place, or missed citation. It’s ready to go as-is.
That generally isn’t the case.
Content creation is an iterative process. It involves not only having clear expectations for the piece, and revisions to get the piece to where it needs to be, but also time and experience for writers to familiarize themselves with your brand.
There is always calibration when starting with a new writer or team of writers. They need to get some reps under their belt, to see your feedback and find out what you like and don’t like.
Sometimes that means you will try a couple of different writers, and this is what we recommend. You never want to rely on a single writer to create all of your content because if they go on an extended vacation then you are out of luck. So building a team of writers who understand what you want can take a few pieces, but once they get you, it makes the process much more fluid going forward.
Overall endeavoring to start a content strategy can be overwhelming. Don’t rush it. Don’t be afraid of the early stages of the process. Don’t be afraid to try out new writers, to give clear feedback, and to invest the time and effort required to get the ball rolling. Because all of these small investments can add up to a big return in the form of quality content that reaches your intended audience and achieves your goals.