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What to Do When Your Staff Won’t Blog

The simple truth: You cannot force your staff to blog. Content written out of obligation is usually bad content. So what do you do? Joel Klettke has answers.

staff blog

“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:

The dream:

  • 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!

the reality:

  • 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.

29 responses to “What to Do When Your Staff Won’t Blog”

  1. Cory Collins says:

    The advice in this article definitely hits home for me. I spent the better part of a year harassing my production staff to blog more with almost nothing to show for it.

    Recently I gave a speech at a company event about why they should be blogging, why it matters, how it can help the company, and more importantly help them. I’ve been blown away – suddenly people are contributing left and right.

    I think the real answer is encouragement and making the process of contributing as painless as possible. I wish there was some secret formula but in the end you just have to care a hell of a lot, and make other people care too. Forcing it will never work.

    • Joel K says:

      Cory – interesting to hear how they responded to your speech; I wonder if it’ll last. Have you done anything procedural to help keep momentum going? I still think it’d be tough to get people who don’t like writing to take up arms and start producing, no mater how much it matters.

      • Cory Collins says:

        I have my own doubts about how long this new wave of contributions will last. But the fact that it worked at all is what interests me – now I know something that will actually drive participation.

        In regards to procedural, I’ve (as much as possible) given these internal contributions my focus when they come across. I already have procedures in place for how contributions are handled, but I work to expedite the entire process and move from start to publish as quickly as feasible. That way there’s a lot of reward, and hopefully less work. I then make sure to vigorously promote their work internally, so their colleagues are both aware of the fact that they contributed and they receive praise publicly.

        This is all for people who can and (in theory) like to write, by the way. Although I’ve definitely had contributions from people who wouldn’t self-identify as a writer, I mostly focus on those who have displayed an interest in writing in the past. I’ve found that getting contributions is hard enough even from those who have a natural bent toward writing in some regard. Although I would say I was surprised after the speech by a few people who contributed – I wouldn’t have guessed they’d be interested.

  2. ronellsmith says:

    Joel,

    I wonder, though, if we aren’t asking folks to do what doesn’t need to be done. When I worked at an agency, I saw up close the difficulty of getting folks to blog, even under a mandate from the CEO. Now, as a consultant, I see the same things daily.

    My question: Why should your employees blog when no one reads your site and no one shares the content on your site? Also, will blogging really–really–move the needle for your brand?

    Let’s face it, even the biggest and best agencies and brands have sites that are veritable deserts. No one reads, shares or engages with their content.

    My advice:

    1. Fix the crappy web pages – 99.9% of the companies I’m asked to look at don’t need blogs or any other pieces of content yet. They need to fix their crappy webpage copy and their woeful landing pages.

    2. Focus on earned media – Do work online and offline that generates attention for your brand. You’ll likely garner links, social mentions, traffic and be able to discern what to create content around.

    3. Focus on big content – blogging won’t win the day. Targeted big content pieces can generate traffic and aid conversions.

    4. Tell the stories of your users – This is the real sweet spot of worthwhile content marketing. This is also why most blogging by brands is worthless: No one cares to read about your company or your products.

    • Joel K says:

      Ronell my man! Yes, you’re right – not everyone needs to be blogging, though this blog post is built on the idea that the company has already determined that it’s an important part of their strategy. Unfortunately, not room to talk about everything in one post, but your points are well met.

      I think there are definitely scenarios a blog makes a whole lot of sense for companies – and others where the tactic should be abandoned altogether in favor of a different or better content approach.

      One thing, though – the “Big Content” idea is a good one, but I don’t know if I agree with the order of operations. If a company puts a whole lot of time and effort into making a big splash with a big piece but hasn’t been building up a community over time that will be there to receive it, then they’ll be fighting a long, uphill battle to make that big content idea pay off. I think you can take smaller steps towards making big projects viable – or at least use the big content piece for repurposing into more pieces for more avenues.

      🙂 thanks for commenting, friend.

    • joshgates says:

      Good stuff here Ronell. I am battling this at my agency job and like to see what you’ve prescribed here.

  3. lorenbaker says:

    I see blogging as being one form of content, but not the only form to focus on, and sometimes harnessing that content and transforming it into the written form is a great way to initiate blogging.

    Case in point, years ago I was working with a company that did gutter guards. They installed caps on gutters so leaves and crap don’t fall into them.

    So, I was doing their PPC and then started on their SEO from there. Part of my plan was to do a gutter blog. All about gutters, gutter care and how home care all starts with gutters.

    Great idea, problem is I got a ton of pushback from their traditional marketing team because they had no one internally who could blog.

    Ironically enough, the guy who gave me the pushback would also call me every morning to talk about leads and everything they were doing with their offline marketing. He would also call me and talk about gutters.

    He’d talk my ear off about:
    > The amount of people who fall off their roof every spring cleaning gutters.
    > The amount of injuries from people who fall off when hanging Christmas lights on their roof.
    > The kind of gasses that spread due to rotting leaves that clog up gutters.
    > The cool shit his crew would find when cleaning gutters.
    > That they would pull databases of neighborhoods with pools because people who own pools clean their leaves out every day (and use the pool to gutter comparison with door to door sales)
    > They would buy lead lists from people who did tree work or sold leaf blowers

    I found all of this amazing, but what I found most amazing was that he would call me every day and talk my ear off about this, yet he thought that it wasn’t the kind of product that someone could blog about.

    So I started recording their phone calls (with permission) and taking notes, then sent to a writer. Next thing I knew, we had 8 to 10 blogs posts worth of content JUST from 3 phone calls in one week.

    My point is, content is everywhere. It’s happening at the table next to you in Panera when 3 accountants are talking tax loops… it’s happening when SEO’s are shooting the shit at the bar.. it’s happening when a sales dude is calling you to bitch and complain about his door to door gutter sales team.

    The challenge or goal is collecting and documenting it, then transforming it into entertaining nuggets of info for all to enjoy, share and index.

    • Joel K says:

      Collecting and documenting is definitely the key here; when you have the information, translating it into writing becomes the easy part. But – for that, you need someone who likes writing. I loved this story and like the approach!

  4. Damon Gudaitis says:

    I’ve been through these exact same struggles with the exact same results and came around to treating coworkers (I work in-house, not agency) as subject matter experts rather than writers.

    My job, when working with the experts, is to recognize the good ideas that can be turned in to blog posts and write them up. Then the expert looks over the post and makes any fixes.

    It’s worked very well for me. The writers are minimally disrupted and the content is regularly shared by commission sales staff with six-figure prospects.

    • Joel K says:

      Treating coworkers like SME’s is a smart move; that’s the whole “knowledge repository” I was talking about. Instead of forcing these folks to write, pick their brains!

  5. tejones says:

    Awesome post, great insights here! I like the repository of ideas from the staff. I’ve seen the issue here as well, and their is a myth perpetuated that blogging is easy. Hardly. Those that do it well are very talented and put in a lot of hard work and know how to optimize for the web. Great job!

    • Joel K says:

      Thanks, really appreciate you taking the time to read. Ideas take longer and are harder to come up with than I think most people give credit for.

  6. Lisa_Barone says:

    I love everything about this. Thank you for aggregating it so I have something to send my entire team. 🙂

    • Joel K says:

      Awesome, Lisa! Thanks for spendin’ some time reading it. I’m hoping this helps quell the epidemic of failed internal blogging attempts.

  7. William says:

    Very nice article, helpful blog engagement tips.

  8. Amanda King says:

    I’m one of those that usually needs motivating – at least within the company. 😛

    Shared this internally with the team in charge of the motivation – some good ideas here for sure. (Though rarely would I ever call your ideas crap – the published work, at least). Thanks Joel!

    • Joel K says:

      hah! Thank you, Amanda. I try to keep from publishing crap, but if I ever do, you are more than welcome to call me on it 🙂

  9. Sarah El-Atm says:

    Great article Joel.

    We started our company blog last year and have encouraged our entire team to write articles. We talk about writing for the blog as a way to promote their personal brand and help build awareness for the company. It has dual benefits.

    It was great to read the realities you’ve mentioned and also your insightful tips.

    • Joel K says:

      Cheers, Sarah – Emphasizing the personal branding angle can help for sure, but some people aren’t all that interested in personal branding and would rather just be a workerbee – or they’re worried that their writing is poor and will damage their personal brand. Have you found resistance there? How is it working for you guys? Awesome to hear you’re undertaking the initiative!

      • Sarah El-Atm says:

        Hi Joel,
        It’s been a big learning curve for us. We’ve brought the team along on the journey and that openness seems to be encouraging the team rather than discouraging them. We’ve had some reluctance – though I don’t think I’d call it resistance in our case. I think it’s more a lack of confidence that can manifest into reluctance. Once we find common ground like a specific topic or relate the idea of writing an article to an event or something familiar to the person then attitudes definitely change. The personal branding angle works for some people but the other approach of helping to increase the awareness of the company and make the business better is one that has broader appeal.

  10. Andrei says:

    This is a struggle at every organization with a blog. Best sources of content ideas come from within. Everyone has a story to tell and knowledge to share.

    There are challenges, as you’ve described in your post, but here’s a way we’ve overcome some of them, especially not having time or being distracted by daily responsibilities: http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/15000-words-11-hours.html

    In a nutshell, blog together at a designated time and place.
    Doing it collaboratively you can churn out a ton of content, quickly – and it’s fun.

    • Joel K says:

      Andrei – cool idea; I wonder how feasible it is for some businesses/niches/business models, but it’s a creative solution. Have you applied this to your own business/your clients? What was the experience like?

      • Andrei says:

        We did exactly that, and we still do. We meet every two weeks for an hour of writing. No distractions. Actually, it feels like an exam. Everyone sitting there quietly working towards the same goal. From my post linked in my earlier comment:

        “It’s an hour of blogging, and blogging only. It’s an uninterrupted hour of creative thinking and writing. Its a quiet session where everyone has the same goal: to create content. Some will produce a full blog post, others will have a draft and sometimes there will only be an outline. The whole purpose is to get started and dedicate our focus and time to producing great content.

        In addition to providing writing space and time, the group has also been effective and generous at providing topic ideas, feedback, and even an editorial direction.”

        • Joel K says:

          But – have you made this model work with a client? I have a hard time imagining a law firm sitting down to do something similar, for example.

          • Andrei says:

            Not that I know off. This idea was introduced to me in another company I worked at, and I’ve brought it over to my current job. I think to make it truly work, is the people that join the blogging group already have to be passionate about creating content. Blogging group is a tool for enabling creatives to create. In this case for writers to write.

          • Joel Klettke says:

            Totally – I think that’s the challenge for most businesses – the people are passionate about their jobs, and not so much creating content. What you’ve outlined is an awesome process once you’ve identified your creators – but as far as getting staff to get involved, I think it’d still be a challenge!

  11. Joe Flood says:

    One trick I’ve used is rather than asking people to write content, I ask them to fill out a worksheet. I write down the questions I want answered and get the subject matter expert to fill it in. I do not tell them that they’re writing but just answering questions. People get hung up if you tell them that they’re writing but if it’s just answering questions in an email – they do that all day long and don’t have any problems.

    • Joel K says:

      That’s a clever way to collect information for a post, definitely – would give a writer a lot to work with 🙂

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