The Blog Editor's Ultimate Guide to Managing Multiple Contributors

    by Pamela Vaughan

    Date

    January 30, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    contributorsadvanced

    Want a more well-rounded and sufficiently fed business blog? The answer is simple -- don't do it all yourself! Okay, okay ... easier said than done, right? But in all seriousness, a blog with multiple contributors results in a better blog overall.

    Think about it. Who do you think is better capable of writing a stellar post about email marketing for this blog: Someone on HubSpot's marketing team who manages our social media presence, or someone on our team who manages our email and lead nurturing campaigns? Not only does having multiple blog contributors help you generate more blog content, but it also allows you to showcase the thought leadership and perspectives of your company's various experts. Because everyone has a specialty, right?

    But managing a blog with multiple contributors is a whole different ballgame than having just one or two dedicated bloggers. Believe me: As editor of this very blog, I'm faced with the challenge of managing the contributions of the 30+ people (and growing) on our marketing team, as well as contributors from other parts of the company, and external contributors like guest bloggers -- so I can attest to the fact that it's no easy feat. And because the "How do you manage multiple contributors?" question is one I've been getting asked a lot lately, I thought I'd share with you some of the tools, processes, and tips and tricks I use to help make managing multiple contributors a lot more, well ... manageable ;-)

    Encouraging Blog Contributions

    Of course, all of this is moot if you don't have multiple blog contributors to manage in the first place. And while this blog post will assume that you do have that challenge on your hands, I don't want to gloss over the challenge of encouraging blog contributions in and of itself.

    So if you're not quite at the point where you need to worry about effectively managing multiple contributors -- but would like to get there someday -- check out this comprehensive blog post about how to cultivate a content culture at your company instead. Then bookmark this post for when you've effectively cultivated a content culture and you've got a whole new challenge on your hands.

    Now onto some tips for successfully managing multiple contributors.

    Create and Implement a Written Style Guide

    Multiple contributors can be a great way to help you publish a lot more content and, thus, boost your blogging frequency. And considering the fact that an increased blogging frequency is shown to positively impact key metrics like blog traffic and leads, what blog manager wouldn't mind having more content to work with?

    But any good blog manager knows that you can't just automatically hit 'Publish' on any new blog post contribution you get. You also need to have an editing process in place to ensure that the content is up to snuff and that it aligns with your blog's goals, style, tone of voice, etc. And let's not undermine how much of a time suck editing can be, folks. I've seen editing others' contributions take anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours. This is where a written style guide comes in handy. A written style guide serves as the commonly acknowledged authority to address contributors' questions of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and usage. As a result, creating and implementing a written style guide can save you a ton of time during the editing process, since the idea is that your contributors will be creating blog content with the style guide in mind -- preventing you from having to do a lot during the editing process. 

    One of the main goals of implementing a written style guide is to achieve consistency in the content you produce, so while you can follow an established style guide like the AP Stylebook, there's also nothing wrong with creating your own house style guide to address any specific nuances you want your writers to be aware of. In fact, we recently created The Internet Marketing Written Style Guide in an attempt to cover all of the basics for online writing, and explain the best way to use the most common words and phrases unique to inbound marketers. It also provides some step-by-step guidance if you really do want to create a house style guide of your very own. Whether you use ours as is or modify it for your own business, just make sure your contributors know your style guide exists and that they're required to follow it in their writing.

    Provide Training for Your Contributors

    Another thing that will save you time in the long run is to provide some upfront training about how contributors can write successful blog posts -- for your blog in particular. They may know about some general blogging best practices, but every blog is unique, and your contributors should have a good idea of what makes a piece of content successful for your particular blog and its audience.

    It's up to you to decide what makes most sense in terms of how you implement this training. Maybe it's a group-style training session every few months. If you're not adding new contributors too frequently, maybe it's a one-on-one training session between you and your new contributor. Maybe you come up with a written training guide on your internal wiki including resources that every new contributor is required to read before they start blogging. Or perhaps it's a combination of the above.

    Whatever you decide, I recommend including the following in your blog training:

    • Your Written Style Guide: We just covered this, remember? ;-)
    • Your Target Audience/Buyer Personas: Remind your bloggers who they should be writing for, and what your buyer personas' specific problems, needs, and interests are so they can create blog content that directly appeals to the readers you're trying to attract through your blog.
    • Topic Selection Guidance: How should they go about selecting blog topics? Are there certain subjects they should focus on or avoid based on your goals and historical data about what works -- and what doesn't -- on your blog? (We'll discuss topic selection guidance more later in this post.)
    • Your Blog's Voice/Tone/Style: What tone of voice and writing style should your bloggers strive to achieve? Does your audience prefer a formal or more conversational tone? Should they crack a joke every once in a while?
    • The Blog Editorial Process: How should bloggers work with you during the editorial process? Is there an editorial calendar they should work with? (More on this stuff later, too.) What deadlines should they adhere to? How will you implement feedback and revision cycles? Outline your editorial process so bloggers know what to expect and how to work with you.
    • Other Nuances: Do you want your bloggers to cite data in a certain way? How should bloggers use and cite images and visuals in their content? Are there specific formatting guidelines you want them to follow? Keywords they should target, etc.?
    • Sampling of Successful Blog Posts: Providing examples of awesome finished products will give contributors tangible evidence of what great contributions looks like. 

    Use an Editorial Calendar (But Stay Agile)

    One of the best blogging tools I've come to rely on -- particularly when it comes to managing multiple contributions -- is my blog editorial calendar. If you aren't already using one, go create one -- or download ours for free -- and start using it immediately.

    ed cal exampleNot only does a blog editorial calendar enable you to plan out your blog content in alignment with your various blog goals such as search engine optimization, lead generation, and achieving any sort of topic balance, but it can also keep your contributors accountable for the content they commit to by establishing deadlines for drafts and content revisions.

    It's up to you how much you want to involve your contributors in your calendar. My recommendation is to let them access it, but refrain from letting them edit it, which can easily be done by using something like a Google Doc for your editorial calendar. For example, our blog contributors can see when we have open slots to fill and what types of content we're looking for to fill those holes. And once they commit to a certain time slot, they know they need to get us a draft at least three days ahead of time so we have time for feedback, revisions, and editing.

    One more thing worth noting about a blog editorial calendar: It shouldn't be set in stone. Think of your editorial calendar as a working document. As long as you're not pushing up deadlines for your contributors, it's okay to move things around for the sake of staying agile. That means that if a contributor gets you their blog post three days ahead of their scheduled publish date and it needs no revisions, you should feel free to publish it sooner if it helps. This agile business blogging behavior also allows for you to capitalize on time-sensitive opportunities like newsjacking, which can't ever be planned for ahead of time.

    Offer Topic Guidance

    I'm going to let you in on a little secret folks: When it comes to writing a successful blog post, topic is everything. You can write the most amazing blog post in the world about a given topic, but if your readers don't care about that topic, it's not really going to help you achieve your blogging goals. As a result, helping your writers come up with great topics before they start writing is key to getting the most out of your blog contributions. It can also save you a whole lot of time in the editorial process. In addition to addressing some general topic selection do's and don'ts in your initial blog training, here are some tips to help you ensure that every blog post is about a topic you approve of:

    Create a Blog Topic/Idea Backlog

    The ideation process of blogging can be one of the toughest parts, and you might find that some of your bloggers would rather not have to come up with the ideas themselves. Spend some time brainstorming some great ready-made blog topics that contributors can choose from. You can even roll this up into your editorial calendar by pre-populating specific slots with topics that writers can claim.

    Ask Bloggers to Run Ideas by You First

    While you may have some contributors who appreciate not having to come up with topics on their own, you might also have contributors who hate "assignments." We've found that it's always best to encourage contributors to write about what they know and love, because it usually results in a much better blog post. That being said, we've also run into situations where a blogger spends their time writing about a topic that isn't a great fit for our blog, and we don't end up publishing it. That's a big waste of time, isn't it?

    The solution for this is simple: Give your bloggers the freedom to brainstorm their own topics, but require that they run their ideas by you first before they start writing. And instead of just running a blanket topic by you (e.g. "I'm going to write about social media marketing."), ask them to get more specific by providing a working title (e.g. "X Ways to Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing") and a brief outline of what they'd cover in the post. This will allow you to guide your contributors toward topics that both appeal to your audience and help you accomplish your blogging goals. A lot of times, all bloggers need is some help tweaking the angle or making some outline modifications.

    Provide Editorial Feedback & Require Revisions

    When it comes to the editorial process itself, you have one of two choices: Do all the editing yourself, or give your writers feedback on how to improve their contributions so they can revise the content themselves. There are pros and cons to each, and your decision may also depend on factors such as how much work a blog post needs to be ready for publishing, the amount of content you have to work with, and when you want to publish something. Here's what I mean ...

    Editing Content Yourself

    • Pro: The ability to turn content around quickly, rather than waiting around for the contributor to make revisions
    • Cons: More time spent editing, and the missed opportunity of educating contributors about how their post could've been better -- so they could ultimately become better bloggers

    Providing Feedback & Requiring Revisions 

    • Pro: Incrementally improving your contributors' blogging ability over time, meaning an improvement in the overall quality of content and efficiency of your blog management process
    • Con: A longer turnaround time as you craft your feedback and wait for contributors to make revisions

    If you're really trying to improve your blog and the quality of the content you get from your contributors, I truly recommend going the feedback/revisions route. It's the most effective long-term solution, and over time, you'll see a big difference in the quality of your contributions and how much easier they are to prep for publishing.

    If time isn't on your side and you absolutely must edit the content yourself, I recommend taking notes about what feedback you would've provided and saving the original article so you can show contributors the before and after versions. This way, they can still learn what would've made their original article better. You can either share this feedback over email, or sit down with them one-on-one after the fact if that's more productive.

    Establish a System for Working With Guest Bloggers

    While the prospect of other people blogging for you for free may sound like the best thing since sliced bread, working with guest bloggers can be tricky. Unless a guest blogger is going to become a regular contributor for your blog, it usually doesn't make sense to spend the time to train them like you would one of your internal contributors. And with a lack of training, it's less likely that a guest blogger will contribute something that really works for your blog. And you should never sacrifice the overall quality of your blog for the sake of accepting guest contributions. Rather, you should be holding that content to the same standards you would your internal contributions.

    If you're open to the possibility of accepting guest contributions, I recommend pulling together a public-facing web page outlining your specific guest blogging guidelines. This will help you set expectations with guest bloggers from the start, provide them with some basic information they need to be successful, and outline any processes they should be aware of upfront. This will also save you the time of explaining your system to potential new guest bloggers, and help set them up for success. For an example of how these guest blogging guidelines might look, check out our own guidelines here.

    In addition, you might want to set some internal guidelines for working with guest bloggers to ensure the back and forth doesn't become too much of a time-suck. For example, depending on your bandwidth, maybe you can't afford to work with guest bloggers on feedback/revisions, giving them just one chance to get it right. Or maybe you limit feedback/revisions to one single round, and nothing more. Or maybe you only spend the time to work with guest bloggers who have a certain reach, relationship with your business, or industry leverage. Ultimately, it's up to you; just make sure your system aligns with your other goals.

    For more detail about how to manage guest blogging contributions, read "How to Keep Guest Contributors From Ruining Your Blog."

    The Final Edit

    When it comes down to it, you or another dedicated member of your blogging team should be putting the finishing touches on all your blog contributions. And while you may have done your best to set your contributors up for success along the way, it's likely you'll still need to do some editing beyond just general proofreading, even after a round or two of feedback and revisions. I think this goes without saying, but make sure you're editing the final version of any post with things like your blog's tone and your written style guide in mind. Even though you're giving your blog a variety of perspectives with your various blog contributors, you should still maintain a unified voice and style. Stay consistent, and make sure the final product practices what you preach.

    What other tips do you have for effectively managing multiple blog contributors? Share them in the comments below!

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