It’s a fabulous time to be a content creator! As companies worldwide increasingly turn to creating content to generate leads and revenue, creating enough content has become a priority for most brands. Great news for content creators, right?
Right, until their first month on the job, and every piece of content is rejected, or worse -- gets published and falls flat.
What happened? Well, usually what happens is no one invested time in getting their new content creator up to speed. After all, you can’t just stick a new employee in front of a blank screen and expect them to pop out content perfectly aligned with your brand and content strategy.
One (or many) having the power to spread your messages with the single click of a button means each new piece of content can uphold -- or destroy -- your brand’s public image, not to mention unravel all the progress you've made with content 'til this point. So this post is going to give you the tools to get your new content creator up to speed fast, before you turn over the keys to your content.
Provide Buyer Persona Worksheets
The strongest writers are only as effective as their knowledge of their audience. In fact, there’s a lot of compelling reasons to develop buyer persona profiles, like, yesterday. Giving your new hire a comprehensive view of who you’re trying to acquire as customer is the best way to help them understand critical things like:
- Which topics will resonate with readers
- What content will address buyer pain-points
- What tone your reader prefers
- How long content should be
- What cultural references readers will understand
And many, many more things. Even if you already have buyer personas created, don't just hand them over and let your content creator do the reading. Walk your new hire through the personas, add a little color and some context from what you've learned along the way, and provide some examples of what types of content resonate the most (and the least) with your target audience. As your content creator learns what works and what doesn't for your audience, they'll be better equipped to make well-informed editorial decisions down the road.
(Note: If you haven't developed buyer personas yet, here's a free template you can use to get you started.)
Immerse Employees in Your Industry
Your bloggers need to know where your industry is headed, where it has been, and the key players they should be listening to. If your content creator’s only method for self-education is reading your competitor's content, they’ll struggle to pen anything that’s sufficiently unique to stand out. Training for content creators should encompass both the state of the industry, and the best resources for continuing education.
There's an entire blog post about how to get content creators up to date on a new industry -- check it out here -- but the best thing you can do for a new content creator is provide him or her with some reading assignments. When new content creators start at HubSpot, for instance, they receive a list of the blogs and websites they should be reading on a regular basis -- for news, for interesting industry insights, and for learning new trends. Making ongoing self-education an expectation of the job is key to long-term success.
Create a Style Guide
Even for serious word nerds, the prospect of writing a style guide can sound positively daunting. However, there’s a reason why style guides are status quo for content-focused organizations, from print magazines to creative agencies -- they’re dang helpful. B2B specialist Tom Mangan writes that “consistency greases the wheel for consumers,” and a comprehensive style guide will save your editors and blog managers significant time over the long term. Here are some tactics to ensure the tedious process of sorting your style preferences out isn’t any harder than it needs to be:
- Pick Your Style: Leverage the work that AP, MLA, and Merriam-Webster have already done on your behalf. These guides are the brainchild of some of the world’s foremost experts on writing well. Pick a single style guide and dictionary, and stay with it, using it as the one-stop-shop for content creators.
- Call Out Buzzwords, Jargon, and Acronyms: Well-defined rules on how to approach your industry’s unique language are the best way to ensure you write content in English, not gibberish.
- Create a User-Friendly Structure: Incorporate a table of contents, and use alphabetical organization, bullet points, and numbered lists to make the guide easy to search and scan during the content creation process.
Your style guide should be viewed as both a go-to resource, and a living document. Keep it fresh, and it will act as an invaluable tool for turning your entire company into valued contributors to your content culture.
(Note: If the concept of creating an entire style guide sounds like too much of a hassle, you can adapt this free internet written style guide. It's way easier than starting from scratch!)
Fully Define Your Tone
Whether part of the aforementioned style guide or a separate piece of documentation, somewhere you should have a written definition of your content's tone. Every writer has their own natural voice -- and that's great -- but it's critical they can adapt it to your brand's tone. As Elise Anthony points out, “brands stand out because voice and tone reflect the brand’s positioning -- the secret sauce of what makes a service or product different.”
A guide to tone should encompass all the details necessary to ensure your content feels like a conversation with one person. Does your brand talk in long sentences, or are you more to-the-point? Is your prose flowery or lean? Delve into defining your stance on humor, jargon, slang, and other factors which separate your company’s voice from competitors. If you can provide examples to your new content creator, even better.
For instance, you might show how one sentence could be written two different ways, to align with two different tones. Let's take the first sentence of this blog post as an example:
HubSpot Tone (Professional, but Friendly): It's a fabulous time to be a content creator!
Brand X Tone (Buttoned-up): It's a strong market for those seeking a career in content creation.
See the difference? They say the same thing, just with a different tone. Every business has their own tone, whether they know it or not -- be deliberate with yours, explain it to your new content hire, and give them examples of how they might emulate it.
Invest in a Lot of Up-Front Editing Time
There’s this tricky thing called nuance which even brilliant style guides, detailed buyer persona profiles, and the best writers in the world can't quite nail down on the first try. Your training shouldn’t begin and end with a week-long crash course in style, tone, and personas. Ongoing editorial feedback is crucial for developing your new content creators -- and they need to get it in the beginning. What happens if they don't get critical editorial feedback when they first join? Well, there are two possibilities:
1) They get no feedback, assume they're doing a great job, and develop some bad habits that are harder to break later.
2) They get no feedback, but know they're not doing well because you reject all their work. They end up frustrated, unsure of how to improve.
Your content creators are only as strong as their training. It's more efficient for you to invest time upfront on editing, feedback, and clueing them in on your content strategy.
MarketingProf’s Ann Handley strongly advocates for consistency in content, warning that your strategy could come across like “a brand performing random acts of content.” Your team of content creators don’t need to be perfectly uniform, but it’s critical to provide ongoing oversight to ensure you’re not missing any nuances. Assign team members to editing, provide constructive criticism, and act as a mentor until your new content creator knows your style and industry like the back of their hand.
Just Get Writing
Finally, there's no better way for a new content creator to get up to speed than just cranking on content. Have them write. Write. Then write some more. Not every piece will get published, necessarily -- but if you're providing critical editorial feedback, they'll quickly learn the nuances of writing for your company, and get over any of their initial content flops much faster.
Helen Nesterenko is the founder of Writtent.com, an on-demand content marketing solution for blog articles, ebooks, and more. She’s passionate about building solutions that scale.
Image credit: Horia Varlan