You’ve got the green light to start creating content. You’ve even got a budget. But as you look around your marketing department, you realize that you don’t have anyone to actually create anything. Outsourcing content creation makes sense, so you start looking on LinkedIn or asking peers for recommendations.
But not all content creators are equal. Some are generalists; others are specialists. Some can make a white paper witty; others are your go-to for sales copy. When you’re evaluating content creators, here’s what to look for to ensure it’s a positive experience for everyone involved.
Expertise in the type of content you want. There’s the obvious difference between someone who creates video content and someone who writes. However, there are also different subsets of content writing: long form copy like case studies and white papers, shorter sales copy, pithy blog posts, and to-the-point infographics, to name a few. When you’re evaluating a creator, make sure he or she has the expertise in the content you want to create. It may make sense to hire several professionals in some cases.
Some knowledge of the subject matter. It’s rare that you’re going to find a content creator that knows the specifics of your product or service. However, when you’re outsourcing content creation, your writer or videographer or designer doesn’t need to be the one who can set up the software and deploy it to users. He or she should have some knowledge of your industry, though, because it will be tedious and a waste of time to bring your creator up to speed on general concepts that are required to understand your company’s mission.
The ability to provide work samples. At this point, you’re nodding and saying, okay, I’ve found a content creator on LinkedIn/through a directory/from my gym buddy who works in a similar capacity. Now, you’ll want to see if the content creator is a good fit. Before you hire someone, you should be able to get work samples of the type of content you need. It might not be exactly what you’re doing; for example, if you’re doing a series of case studies, you’ll want to see case studies that the writer has done in a loosely-related industry to evaluate his or her storytelling chops. But before you get started, you should be able to generally evaluate your provider.
Market-rate pricing. Cost does not determine value. If you’re shopping around for the lowest price, you’re bound to be evaluating your content creator by the wrong criteria. Someone who is good at what he or she does is not going to charge you $50 for a white paper. If you’re evaluating against the above criteria, you can’t bargain shop.
Bonus: A journalism background. For videographers and writers, a journalism background is a huge bonus in your content creation efforts. These are the people that will know how to ask questions, including follow up questions that get the most interesting answers.
About the Author
Christine Parizo is an experienced B2B technology copywriter who got her start in B2B technology journalism back when buyers still thought mobile phones were just for calls and clouds were something to watch on lazy, breezy days. Since then, she’s infiltrated companies who want their smartphones and tablets to access corporate networks from far-flung locations, studied corporate culture, and written white papers, case studies, website copy, and data sheets. Christine digs deep into the technology alphabet soup for feature articles published on TechTarget’s sites. She’s also passionate about running, fitness, the new Star Trek canon, Italian language, and coffee. Christine is based in the Houston area and lives with her husband, two small children, and a spoiled house cat.
Content marketers love benchmarks. Late President Theodore Roosevelt warned that “comparison is the thief of joy,” but he was an indomitable larger-than-life persona who resided in a class by himself. The rest of us aren’t always sure we’re doing a good job, especially in a discipline that has only recently become more measurable. Comparison as way of establishing an accurate baseline for our content marketing efforts is the only way to understand what’s working, where we can improve, and how to justify a bigger budget next year.
To that end, we invited marketers to take our interactive content marketing maturity assessment, produced with the Aberdeen Group, and see how they stacked up against their peers. We asked 111 marketers to report on their practices around content strategy and purpose, content planning, content creation, promotion, and measurement. Each answer was correlated to one of five maturity levels:
Beginning — Organizations that are still new to content marketing, and have not yet made it a priority. This is reflected in overall content output and quality, as well as time given to planning and limited resource allocation.
Emerging — This group has figured out that content marketing deserves a dedicated staff and might even have some budget for content creation, but is still competing with other marketing priorities for resources.
Variable — This group feels confident about the increasing sophistication of their content marketing program, but still have some challenges around budgeting, demonstrating ROI, or knowing how to reach the next level.
Formalized — Efficient, strategic, and proactive content marketers who have made content the cornerstone of marketing and demand generation. They’re very effective, but still struggle to accurately measure the business value of their content.
Optimal — Best-in-class content gurus who might have a few lessons to teach everyone else. They have a robust content marketing operation driven by a larger marketing strategy and business goals, and understand how to connect content to revenue.
Based on their answers, we also gave each respondent an overall maturity rating along with recommendations for reaching the next level. Although none of the respondents got an Optimal overall score, and just under 20% fit into the Beginning category, with the vast majority falling somewhere in the middle—pretty close to a typical Bell curve distribution.
While 40-45% of respondents consistently placed into the Emerging and Variable categories across all questions, they answered most confidently to questions regarding content planning (26.13% rated as optimal), while creation questions yielded the lowest number of best-in-class answers (7.21%). More than half of marketers fell into the Beginning and Emerging categories in regards to content promotion, suggesting that signal boosting and content promotion still challenge many content creators. Over 70% of the participants rated in the top three maturity levels when it came to understanding the role content marketing should play in their overall strategy, and a little more than half rated equally well in terms of measuring marketing effectiveness and ROI.
Surprisingly, the most evenly split answers were given to a question about which sources the respondent used for generating content, ranging from a single internal resource for the Beginning group to a robust mix of internally and externally created content, as well as curated, user-generated, and influencer-created content for the Optimal group. This tells us not only that there is a true spectrum of content generation approaches, but that there isn’t a clear dominant paradigm that has been adopted by a majority—leaving plenty of room for evolution.
Less surprisingly, we learned that even sophisticated, effective marketers who have mastered most aspects of content marketing are most likely to get stuck at finding meaningful metrics for their work. Demonstrating clear business impact continues to present a challenge, which is a finding we have seen documented in other reports on the content marketing industry.
If you’re investing in content marketing I’m sure you’ve heard or read about the importance of sales and marketing alignment. I want to talk about how that looks from the sales side.
All too often marketing and sales alignment is looked at as a one-way street with marketing pushing sales to use more of their content. I’ve experienced the impact of content on salesfirsthand, so I completely agree as salespeople we need to leverage content. But real alignment means much more than that.
Sales can use content in three major ways:
We can offer prospects good information and thought leadership, and use the content as an icebreaker to start a conversation
We can help align content to prospect needs to empower them in the buying process
And if someone isn’t ready to buy, add them to a nurturing campaign
Sales teams need to take time to seriously understand the content your marketing team is creating. This will help you understand your prospect and build a relationship with value. If done correctly your relationship can be built on trust and establishing yourself as a resource.
The other aspect of alignment lies in the hands of sales. Your sales team can be the “eyes and ears” for marketing. With a direct line to prospects, sales can help uncover need and express what content is missing or may be needed. They can also provide feedback as to what’s working so you can better strategize and focus on content that your readers want.
Knowing how to leverage content marketing can help make a good salesperson great. But to truly have sales and marketing alignment you need to listen and learn from your sales team to better understand need and close the loop with marketing to produce better content in the future.
As your content marketing efforts mature, so too do complications. What was once simple becomes more challenging as you increase volume, balance goals and add new content contributors. But there is good news. Innovative systems designed to increase your productivity and effectiveness are designed to catapult your content marketing into new territory.
But how do you know when you’ve reached the tipping point? Here are four signs it’s time to put “evaluate content marketing system” on your to-do list.
Sign #1: Reaching engagement plateaus
At the beginning of your content marketing program it was fairly easy to show improvements. Unfortunately, as the program expands the bar has been raised and it’s getting harder and harder to achieve rapid growth. Or perhaps your viewership numbers are growing but engagement has stagnated—the same people commenting and sharing your content might feel good but your community might not be keeping pace with your business goals. A good content marketing system can help you focus on the most effective content assets and improve productivity so you can climb over the plateau.
Sign #2: Significant growth in content contributors
It’s one thing to keep organized when just a few people are developing content. But what happens when you double, triple or tenfold the number of content contributors you’re leveraging. You may get more content, but you’re probably also bringing along a lot more headaches.
Sign #3: Pressure to increase the volume of content produced
Increasing the quantity and quality of content produced can have a positive impact on building your community and driving business impact. But it also puts pressure to organize in a new way. Keeping track of a couple white papers, and a handful of blog posts is relatively easy. But if you find yourself making a significant increase in content volume it’s time to consider a structured organizational tool.
Sign #4: New team leader
If you’ve recently hired a content marketing leader you’ve made an important decision to focus on your content strategy. Your Content Strategist is going to add tremendous value to the team. If you want them to scale quickly they will need to operate as a team leveraging the expertise and talents of people across the organization. A content marketing system will allow them to do this with ease so they can spend less time coordinating and more time creating.
The most effective content marketers learned long ago that an ad hoc approach to content creation doesn’t cut it anymore. Those who have learned to “think like a publisher” have found that a documented content strategy and regularly discussing content plans are essential to getting valuable results.
Regularly published, high quality, on-brand content that boosts SEO and credibility and grows your audience and customer pipeline takes a lot of planning and a lot of effort. An editorial calendar is essential for content marketing teams focused on maximizing content ROI.
Do You Actually Need an Editorial Calendar?
If you create content for your business, the short answer is yes.
As long as your content is expected to drive measurable results, whether it’s web traffic or revenue, an organized framework is the best way to ensure your time and money are wisely spent. An editorial calendar helps you and your team manage the ongoing flow of content planning and creation and enables transparency around your content marketing efforts.
Operations remain highly tactical even in mature content marketing organizations, with urgent projects materializing and demanding immediate attention. Having a clear view of your calendar allows you to make changes and sacrifices where necessary, and prioritize the most critical items over those that can be deferred.
What Makes a Good Editorial Calendar?
A good content calendar is like a good budget—they key is to be honest with yourself and plan for your actual behavior (or in this case, publishing capacity) than an ideal situation and superior future you. Also like a good budget, an editorial calendar asks you to consider all available resources and each piece of content as part of a bigger picture, and one beat in an ongoing publishing cadence you’ve committed to.
Whether you use complex software or sticky notes on a wall, your editorial calendar should allow you to do most of the following:
Organize content according to themes and topics that represent your expertise
Address personas and buying stages connected to your business goals
Make deadlines, assignments, and responsibilities crystal clear
Flag upcoming and missed deadlines
Show the relationships among various pieces of content, and between content and campaigns
Retain flexibility—changing and rearranging items should be easy
Filter and sort content according to whatever factors you consider most important: author, channel, topic, formant, etc.
Provide visibility for other stakeholders within your organization
Make you look good—because look at all the stuff you’re getting done!
What Kind of Editorial Calendar Is Best for Your Team?
There are almost as many ways to manage your content calendar as there are content marketers. I’ve seen various tools employed: dedicated Moleskine notebooks, legal notepads, spreadsheets in Excel, Google Sheets where sharing is critical, simple apps like Trello and robust project management tools like Basecamp. There also numerous stand-alone editorial calendar apps and plugins that work with a specific content management system or publishing engine. Lastly, there those that are built into content marketing platformsdesigned to serve as a hub for creating content as well as managing the editorial process around it.
The larger and more sophisticated your content marketing team, the greater the likelihood that you’ll need something more robust than a notebook or spreadsheet.
With a team of one or two contributors, analog methods can work, and something like Trello that offers both a card-based board and a calendar view is probably sufficient.
Once you have three or more content creators in the mix, or if you regularly source content from outside your organization, the complexity of your editorial process increases exponentially. The calendar method or software you use needs to be smart enough to reduce friction in the editorial process. Remember, and repeat after me: email is not an editorial process.
Just like developing your first content strategy, crafting a content calendar and finding the right tools to manage your editorial flow takes some up-front effort. The result is a smoother process that yields the kind of output and outcomes you can brag about to all your content marketing peers.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was editing other people’s writing with a pen. I would gleefully underline, circle, and cross out lines of text. Proudly utilizing all the proofreader’s marks I had learned from the Chicago Manual of Style, I would indicate where and how the text should be nipped or tucked. This mostly analog approach still works, but isn’t always efficient when creating content for digital media on tight deadlines.
The editing process has become increasingly collaborative, even with decentralized or remote teams, with changes happening in real time whenever possible. Whether you’re adding tethered comments to selected text, or making edits on the fly, things happen faster and lend themselves more to dialogue than just making corrections. But it’s not just the methods that have changed. Anyone who edits digital content has to consider more than the quality of the writing.
What digital content editors do?
Planning, ideation, and content strategy development, as well as mapping out editorial calendars can take place offline, and apply to both digital and print publishing. They are critical components of an editor’s role, which bears the responsibility for seeing all planned content in the context of a larger business or publishing strategy.
Unlike someone writing for print media, anyone who creates or edits digital content has to oversee additional content features.
Business goals. How will your content help the bottom line? Will it be through building brand recognition and sentiment? Will it be a sales enablement tool? Whatever it is, it should have a job to do.
Scheduling. Publishing cycles on the web are brief. Digital content editors need to map out content calendars that lead to a frequent, steady cadence.
Keywords. Content intended for digital media needs to be optimized for search. In order to drive new traffic to your website, content needs to be edited with SEO best practices in mind.
Cross links to other content. Each piece of content should fit into a broader context and provide an easy breadcrumb trail to other related pieces of content that keep readers engaged.
Publishing platform. If it doesn’t go to print, where does it go? Digital content editors need to manage a content hub—possibly a blog or entire website—and seek out opportunities to publish original or syndicated content in other places where it can be discovered.
Promotion and distribution. Hitting “publish” isn’t enough. For content to reach readers, it has to be promoted. Even if social media and lead generation campaigns don’t fall under the content marketer’s purview,
Effectiveness. Now more than ever, business outcomes and influence can be tied back to individual pieces of content. A content marketer or digital content editor doesn’t stop when the editing process ends. Their work spans the lifetime of a piece of content, from initial idea to resulting revenue.
What tools do digital content editors need?
If you can remember 15 years back or so, print content was still king, and QuarkXpress was the dominant player in publication layout—even if not everyone felt it was truly a gold standard. In the digital world, technology solutions crop up every day, providing an a la carte buffet of applications content marketers can use to get their work done.
Whether you prefer a mix of solutions for digital content creation and editing, or would like an integrated content marketing tool or platform to get the job done, it’s best to start with a list of tasks. When you understand what needs to be done and how, you’re better positioned to select the software that will meet your all planning and editorial needs. Include the following considerations in your assessment.
Strategy development and goal setting
Planning and ideation
Editorial calendar management
Workflow and process management
Assigning, reviewing, and editing content
Publishing and distributing content
Measuring content impact on business
A digital content editor—or content marketer—has a broader and more technologically complex role than her predecessors. The scope of responsibilities and skills is larger, and the complexity can be a challenge, for sure. However, this role also has an unprecedented opportunity to set meaningful business goals and measure the effectiveness of content marketing—showing how essential it is to growing the bottom line.
Last November, we announced that Crescendo was available for free. We invited both sophisticated and novice content marketers from companies large and small to use our content marketing platform. And they weren’t bashful! To date, we’ve had over 500 companies sign up to check out Crescendo.
These early adopters have provided terrific feedback—highlighting content marketing issues they’ve been able to solve with Crescendo, sharing areas in the product that could use tweaks, and ideas for roadmap features. It has been an invaluable experience for a young startup.
For all of you that signed up for Crescendo and have provided feedback—thank you! With feedback from early adopters, our own content marketers, and the hard work of our amazing engineering and product team, Crescendo now makes it easy for marketers to:
Organize your content calendar in one place
Plan and assign content using workflows and shared calendars
Collaborate with other contributors, tracking revisions and comments
Publish to your blog and social media channels
Measure content effectiveness with our analytics dashboards
When we made the announcement in November, we noted that Crescendo would not remain free for long*. Starting today, we are rolling out a 14-day trial for all new registrants with pricing that has been developed for content marketing teams of varying sizes.
I invite you to sign up today to see how Crescendo can impact your content marketing. Spend less time managing your process and more time generating great content.