“write a blog post,” they said! “It’ll be fun,” they said!
One of the most common recommendations out there for organizations trying to create a steady stream of content is to look inward for contributions.
After all, who knows your business better than the people who work at it every single day? And what could be more cost-effective than having the people you’re already paying transform into your own personal content squad?
It all sounds so easy—just ask staff members to submit a blog post once per month.
But This approach rarely works.
Outside of marketing agencies and related niches, virtually every businessperson I’ve talked to who has tried to get staff members blogging on a regular basis has failed miserably.
From lawyers and insurance brokers to software companies and plumbers, the “get the staff to do it!” approach continues to disappoint, as staff members either blog incredibly infrequently, relatively poorly or not at all.
I outlined the specific pitfalls of this approach in a post on three bad business blogging strategies that most businesses are probably using (and you should read it), but I can sum it up this way:
- Your staff loves blogging! They’re all practically Wall Street Journal caliber writers, and getting them to post regularly is easy because they’re all so excited about the impact they’re having on your business.
- Your blog explodes in popularity and you improve sales by roughly a billion dollars. GO CONTENT!
- Management or marketing announces a blogging initiative, to apathetic shoulder shrugs and worried looks from the staff.
- If the organization is a bit ahead of the game, someone will hastily be put in charge (we’ll call them the “curator”) of collecting and editing the content (in addition to that person’s regular workload). In some cases, the manager will haphazardly assume the role.
- The due date for the first post arrives. The staff member responsible for it either completely forgot about it, or confesses to not “having any ideas to write about.”
- In an eleventh-hour effort, the staff member puts together a half-baked, 350-word post that is written in English, but only barely.
- The frustrated curator frantically tries to edit the post before pushing it live. It’s at this moment that the reality of “not everyone can write” starts to sink in.
- This pattern repeats for the first few weeks, with the curator pulling teeth to get posts from their herded cats. A few team members really enjoy blogging (easy billable hours!), but most of the staff would rather be doing their actual jobs than writing posts they derive no joy from. Posts are almost always submitted right on the due date, and heavy editing is required to go live.
- After the first few weeks, posts are barely trickling in. The posts that do come in are written in so many different voices and tones, and with so many errors and edits, that the curator decides to plan a six-month sabbatical.
- Management desperately tries to resuscitate the effort, but to little or no use. Publishing is infrequent, the curator slowly stops curating, and publication grinds down to a halt.
Sound familiar? If it does, let me illuminate one simple truth:
you cannot force your staff to blog, and if you do, your blog will be awful.
You can set quotas. You can threaten. You can offer incentives. It doesn’t matter.
If individuals on your staff do not enjoy writing or do not consider themselves strong writers, there is nothing you can do that will make them want to take part in your push to become the web’s best blog for ankle sock manufacturers (or whatever it is you do).
Salespeople want to sell. Support teams want to support. If you find someone in that mix who also loves to blog, that person is a gold mine—but it’s not a passion you can fabricate. Content written out of obligation is bad content.
What to do instead:
1. Collaborate on ideation.
If your people don’t want to produce the content, that doesn’t mean you must write them out of the process entirely. You can still bring the different disciplines and roles within your company to help generate ideas for content, and when it’s a group endeavor, it feels much less intimidating and far more productive than one person trying to create content on his or her own.
Stacey Cavanagh presents a brilliant means of generating content ideas in her MozCon presentation from last year (start on slide 37): The 6-3-5 method where six people can easily produce more than 108 ideas in just 30 minutes.
Focus your discussion on client pain points, procedural advantages and timely topics of interest. When many collaborate, it becomes much easier to populate an editorial calendar.
2. Bring in outside help.
With your ideas laid out, it’s time to either allocate the posts to those who love to write internally, or bring in a content creator who loves to blog and can transform ideas into posts.
Now the first objection here is going to be cost. But consider the cost of having your staff agonize over writing and procrastinate until the last minute, only to have your curator spend hours editing the post until it’s presentable. That’s time you pay for—and the end result is probably not nearly as good as if someone who actually enjoyed writing took care of it.
Consider establishing a long-term relationship with a writer instead of firing out one-off projects. The longer a writer works with you, the better that writer get to know your business, customers, voice and style.
The second objection is that someone from outside of your business can’t possibly know the language, pain points and nuances of your business as well as a subject matter expert like someone from the inside. And you’re right, which is why we can combat that with number three.
3. Make your staff your knowledge base.
Hiring a subject matter expert to write all your content can get pricey. But you may not need to.
What you can do instead is hire an inquisitive copywriter or journalist with some interview skills who knows how to ask the right questions. If they’re not confident in their writing ability, staff members are much more likely to be receptive to putting together answers to questions, rough outlines of ideas or even conducting an interview than they are to publishing a piece with their own names on it.
You can also create a big repository of information, where staff can go to post rough answers to questions, inquiries they get from emails and other useful insights for coming up with blog posts or solving customer pain points.
Give your hired help the inroads they need to get the information necessary to write in a compelling way; then have your curator act as a fact-checker (instead of a cat-herder and editor).
4. Embrace new mediums.
Your staff may not like writing, but maybe they wouldn’t mind doing an on-camera interview or podcast? Perhaps you could interview them and transform their quotes or ideas into infographics and quote images?
If you want your team to be involved in the actual creation process, you need to do it on their terms. Discover which staff members enjoy writing, which like speaking, which don’t mind being on camera and which would prefer to just be part of the knowledge base. Then, cater your approach to where they’re most comfortable. Written text isn’t the only way to reach a customer.
5. Give the gift of time.
If content is a priority for you, you need to give your staff the ability to handle content in its own time instead of tacking it on to their already busy schedule. Look for ways to free up hours without overwhelming them. Transfer work around if necessary; just be fair about the way you approach this.
For content to work, it has to be seen as a critical, profitable business function—not a frivolous marketing add-on.
Share the impact; showcase the outcomes of everyone’s efforts and make it tangible. People are willing to use their time, so long as there’s a net positive outcome.
You can lead your staff to wordpress, but you can’t make ’em blog.
“Make everyone a blogger!” is bad advice. It will alienate and frustrate your staff, and the outcomes won’t be nearly as positive as you’d like them to be.
Instead, make blogging easier for those who want to participate; have a process, document your approach and empower them with the time needed. Know when to call in outside help. Wasted internal time is still a cost you’re absorbing, so it’s probably worth the effort to get help.
This content stuff can be tricky. Don’t force it.