We all know that terrifying feeling of losing control. It can make your stomach twist into a thousand knots.
So why choose to do something like we did -- hand over control of something as important as our company blog?
With the recent launch of HubSpot's German blog, we needed to get to know our new audience. As we always preach at HubSpot, building your buyer personas is step one of creating awesome content. In order to grow a successful following in Germany, we needed to find out what exactly German marketers are interested in, and the daily challenges they face so that we can start solving them.
There are several possible ways to collect that data, but we wanted to be creative and try something new. That's why we decided to run a guest contributor week on our German blog, and hand over control to some German experts to write and publish content for a whole week. (Gasp!)
The campaign turned out to be a success in more ways than one; not only did we learn about our new German audience, but we learned a lot about what it takes to run a successful guest contributor week on our blog. Read on to find out what happened, and see how you can run your own guest contributor week without quivering for fear of the unknown.
1) Choose Your Editors Wisely
This one should be fairly obvious, but you need to be able to put all your trust in the people you choose to take over your company blog. You should ensure that they understand your brand and readers, that they have lots of experience and expertise in your industry, that they are credible, and have a reasonably wide reach of their own.
For our experiment, we chose two German thought leaders in the field of content and inbound marketing. We were extremely interested to see the difference in opinions between the two on what they considered suitable content for our audience.
For our first guest editor week, we chose Eduard Klein who owns one of the most popular websites on content marketing in Germany. Apart from writing for his corporate blog, he also leads a German Content Marketing Institute, where he gives presentations and sessions on how to successfully use content marketing for your business. Through all his experience, influence, and position as a thought leader, we were convinced that we could trust him and hand over the keys to our blog. Eduard taught our readers the ingredients you need to run an effective content marketing strategy. According to him “it’s still a relatively new concept to implement a corporate blog for generating leads and customers in Germany.”
But getting only one opinion is never reliable, right? This is why we chose to enlist another guest editor for the second week. To ensure we had different content, we decided to pick somebody who was already a German expert in inbound marketing. Olaf Kopp is a passionate SEO and inbound marketing expert. Apart from being one of the first inbound experts in Germany, he runs his own agency and speaks at a lot of different events. During his week as guest editor he and his team of SEO-, Conversion-Optimization- und PR-Specialists covered the entire inbound marketing process; identifying content topics with keyword research and analysis, content analysis and storytelling, content seeding and outreach with online PR, and converting website visitors into customers.
Both considered their choice of topics to be relevant to the same market. This showed us how much variation between topics and level of education was needed in order to approach the same audience. Only concentrating on a very niche buyer persona wouldn’t help us get the readership we wanted because “when it comes to content marketing in Germany, there’s still a lot of misunderstanding in its practice," according to Olaf Kopp, cofounder of the Aufgesang Agency Group.
Having this level of variation in topics during a guest contributor week provides extremely valuable information for when you’re building out your own editorial calendar, so watch the engagement of each piece and figure out which topics resonate best with your audience. (Don’t forget to watch the engagement in your guest contributor’s network, as well as your own.)
2) Managing Your Contributors
Who knew that designating someone else to create your blog content would take up so much time?
Between managing schedules, providing feedback on first drafts, editing final drafts, and finding images to use, we were really surprised by how much time we actually had to invest in running a successful guest contributor week. We were just lucky that all of our contributors delivered their content within the specified deadline.
To avoid any mistakes and stress in front of the deadline, we needed to put a plan in place. These are the things you should consider when running a guest contributor week:
Getting the brief right is your first step to success. Setting and managing expectations at the beginning will drastically reduce the chance of major issues popping up later on in this process. If you want to run a successful guest contributor week, it’s vital that you set hard deadlines for your contributors and allow a week or two for back-and-forth between drafts before you're scheduled to publish.
For our guest contributor week, we put together a document that outlined the whole project. The structure of our brief was as follows:
- Short brief on the project
- Go-live date and date to submit the content
- Request for a short bio from every author
- Request for a list of their social media accounts
- A list of the file formats they need to submit
- Request to send over headshots
Send out a template for an editorial calendar so that your contributors can submit first ideas for their week. The calendar helps you organize yourself and keep track of additional requirements or media that will be needed. Below you can see the calendar we used for our campaign. We sent it complete with one example to let our contributors know what we expected them to fill out.
Your guest contributors will probably have overlapping industry expertise, so you need to be careful that you don't publish articles on the same topic twice. Agree on a deadline to submit first ideas so that you can make sure there is no duplication of content, and you hit the right content mix.
Communication is really important for this project to keep all the moving parts (and people) organized. Since there are so many tiny factors and parts that you need to plan out with contributors, you should plan meetings and catch-ups in advance. Take your time to discuss the issues and let them talk you through their content in detail to ensure you won't be put in the awkward position of having to say no on the day they submit.
Staying in touch with everybody involved in this project builds great partnerships that you can potentialy leverage for future co-marketing campaigns.
Manage Your Expectations
It will not always be a given that your contributors have the same expectations that you have. This is your blog and they might not be as motivated and passionate as you are about your content.
In our project, we learned that it's sometimes hard to manage expectations on both sides. We originally planned that every contributor should bring in one additional expert into their week, but in the end this didn't happen. We know that content or interviews with experts are important to our readers, but our expectations were too high. After asking the contributors to bring in an expert to contribute to their week, they both said that this wouldn't be possible to manage.
It's important to know what you can and should expect from an external party, and not only manage their expectations, but your own, too.
3) Promote Their Content
For every piece of content you create, you should spend the same amount of time planning its promotion. Take that idea to your blog content, too, whether written by you or a guest contributor. There are lots of things you can do to get eyeballs on that content, so don’t just hit go, and then stop.
Lay out a promotion plan that you can refer to when the posts go live, and make sure that your guest editors know which hashtags or handles they should use so you can keep track of social engagement.
We decided to introduce our guest contributors at the beginning of each week, so we asked them to answer a few questions. Introducing our guest contributors to our readers the week before they took over created buzz and anticipation for the upcoming content. Here are some questions that we asked:
- Tell me a bit about yourself.
- What does your company do?
- Tell me about the state of content marketing in Germany.
- What are some of the challenges German marketers have with content marketing at the moment?
- How did you plan your guest contributor week?
- Do you have any special guests for us?
- What's one tip you would like to share with our audience to be more successful with content marketing?
Paid Content Promotion
If you want to make your content spread even further, you can use services such as Plista or Outbrain that distribute your content on targeted publisher pages. This is a great way to advertise your content in an indirect way, because the user will see your post as a suggested post underneath other articles from the site.
If you want to run this project with multiple contributors you might want to motivate them a bit. Running a friendly competition is a good way to motivate your contributors to deliver good content that gets a lot of traffic or leads. Think about an incentive that you could give away for the contributor that hits a certain metric. A little bit cheeky, but it works!
4) The Result
After our guest contributor week, we found ourselves in a much stronger position to take on the German market. Not only did we have a better understanding of our audience, we had also built some really strong relationships with our contributors for future collaboration.
As a continuation from the guest contributor week, we interviewed both agencies about where they see the German market in terms of inbound marketing. The insights that we got from this are really valuable and will help us in future content campaigns for the German market.
For instance, thanks to Ulf-Hendrik Schrader and Olaf Kopp (founders of the Aufgesang agency group) and Eduard Klein (editor and owner of content-marketing.com), we learned that often, content marketing in Germany is seen as an alternative tactic to SEO, as something to support social media marketing, or is mistaken for corporate publishing. We learned that many businesses don't know how to calculate the budget for a corporate blog. That we expect the demand for good content marketers to remain higher than the supply due to a stagnant number of universities teaching online marketing in Germany.
We got a ton of other insights, too -- and it's due to the guest contributor week. So -- are you planning on running a guest contributor week on your blog? Have you experimented with this in the past? We would love to hear about your experiments -- where they went well, and where they turned into a horror show. Let us know in the comments section below.