How to Develop and Maintain a Content Team

We’re all are aware that content marketing is on the rise. You can tell just by the number of buzzwords thrown around: sticky content, snackable content, engagement, content curation, etc. In the midst of such a popular marketing strategy, it’s easy to get swept away in the trendiness of it all. But let me make one thing clear: “Content” isn’t a buzzword, it’s the future of your business.

Not convinced? Then think about the fact that 61% of people feel better about a company that delivers custom content and are more likely to buy from that company, according to research conducted by the Customer Content Council with Roper Affairs.

consumers and content

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However, as content marketing rises, marketing teams and small businesses are struggling to meet consumer demands and produce high quality content in large quantities. Many businesses have decided to scale content by creating a content team—which is great. However, I’ve heard from several businesses over the last few months who have asked, “how exactly do we create and maintain a content team?” Well, there are generally four steps:
  1. Plan (define your goals and identify your strategies)
  2. Create a team
  3. Train
  4. Monitor and track

Define Goals and Identify Strategies

I cannot emphasize this enough: do not skip this step! One of my greatest beefs with brands is in all their enthusiasm to “create content” the process is often rushed, which results in companies producing content with no idea why they’re doing it, who their target audience is, or what that audience cares about.

So, before you create a content team, answer these basic questions:

  • What do we want our content to accomplish? (Goals)
  • How can we do that effectively? (Strategies)

What do we want our content to accomplish?

This isn’t a hard one—you want your content to get you customers, right? More specifically, you want your content to move consumers through the conversion funnel until they actually convert. That should be the underlying goal of any content strategy; but, of course, you will need to devise other goals specific to your business. Here are a few examples of goals you might have:
  • Grow your base of loyal/repeat customers
  • Grow your brand’s reputation as an expert in your industry
  • Build relationships and partnerships with industry influencers
  • Increase customer engagement
  • Attract new customers to your site
  • Decrease bounce rate
Whichever goals you choose, keep in mind they need to be measurable with either hard or soft metrics.

How can we do that effectively?

Obviously the strategies you implement will be specific to your goals. However, there are a few strategies you can use to achieve the one goal we should all have as content marketers: content should move consumers through the conversion funnel towards conversion.

Identify Your Target Audience

I talked about this a little more in-depth in one of my previous blog posts, but just for a recap, here are a few ways you can identify your audience and what they want/need/desire:

  • Ask for reader feedback in blog articles/blog comments and through your social media platforms
  • Send out surveys (old school but still effective)
  • Hang out with your target audience by going to networking events or conferences they are likely to attend
  • Check out case study reports your competitors publish on their audiences
When identifying your audience, be sure to ask:
  • What are are the general demographics?
  • What/who influences them?
  • What does your audience want/need? (basic information vs. detailed tutorials, etc.)
  • What are the problems your audience is facing? How can you help resolve those?
  • What questions are your readers asking and what topics would they like to see covered?
You should also create buyer personas, and, if you have the ability, use big data in combination with your personas—this will give you a very well rounded and holistic picture of who your audience is and how they behave online, which will help you create hyper-targeted content.

Create a Persona Funnel Chart

This step in the process will help your content team form an editorial calendar later down the road and will allow you to target a specific persona in each piece of content, with the goal of moving them further through the funnel.

Here’s what you need to do to get started: Create a chart with your buyer personas along the X axis and your funnel stages along the Y axis. Then, in each box answer the following questions to direct your content:

  1. What are the main issues and concerns your persona is facing at this stage?
  2. What questions does your persona have?
  3. What type of content and topics can you cover to answer those questions or address those concerns?
  4. What are a few examples of headlines or titles for that content?
All together your chart should look something like this (click on image for larger view):

matrix

Create a Structured Team

Now that you have goals and strategies in place, you’ve essentially created a framework and structure for your content team to work in and build from. So, now you actually have to assemble a team.

There are plenty of resources out there that have multiple structure suggestions for content teams. Keep in mind there might not be a perfect formula for your business, and you’ll likely have to play around with your structure and job responsibilities to find the right combination. Here’s the model that I’ve seen have the most success (click on image for larger view).

team structure

Content Team Lead

You might also see job descriptions like Senior Content Consultant, Chief Content Officer, etc. Basically this person is the head of the team or department and is responsible for overall strategy, budget, execution of goals, communication with the executive team, etc. This person likely won’t be very involved in the actual creation or editing process, but will likely be involved in brainstorming and customer feedback processes. On the Distilled Outreach team this role is filled by the one and only Adria Saracino.

Managing Editor

Other job titles might include Content Coordinator, Editor in Chief, etc. This person will play a crucial role in quality assurance and will ultimately be responsible for maintaining your brand’s voice and content creation process. It’s absolutely vital this person have a strong background in English, journalism, or writing, as the responsibility of brand storytelling will fall on this person. It’s also incredibly important that this person is organized (like obsessively so), because the managing editor will be responsible for the editorial calendar, scheduling, assigning jobs to content creators, consistency, and style/voice. On the Distilled Outreach team this role is filled by me.

Content Creators

Other titles might include Content Producers, Writers, Videographer, Photographer, etc. These are the people who actually create the content for the editor to review. Many times, companies outsource this work to a freelancer—especially for a more niche media like video animation. Since you’ve already identified the types of content you need to produce, you should look for content creators who specialize in that field and make them the backbone of your content production. That said, it is helpful to have a diverse team of content producers who are able to fill any niche areas you want cover.

Using that team structure, your workflow might look like this (click image for larger view):

workflow

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Train Your Team

First off, it’s incredibly difficult to teach an adult how to write well or edit, so you should look for really high quality writers and fierce editors right away. If an applicant doesn’t have those qualities—it’s a no-go. Beyond that, how you train your team will largely depend on which structure you use and your goals. However, there are a few key elements you should have in place.

Stylebook

You should have an extensive stylebook that outlines your brand voice and standards. Here are a few topics it might include (and here’s a leaked copy of Groupon’s stylebook and here’s the University of Oxford style guide, both of which you can use for reference):
  • Strategies to achieve brand voice
  • Structure: including how to use subheadings, bullet points, lists, etc.
  • Link policies: are there sources you don’t want to link to? Do you want writers to link to only primary and secondary sources?)
  • Point of view to use
  • Grammatical preferences: are there industry terms you’re going to abbreviate? What about countries, currencies, etc.?)
  • Standard spelling: if you’re an international company which spelling will you use? (For example, Distilled generally tries to use U.S. English)
The purpose of a comprehensive style guide is to create consistency across all content, and it also gives writers something to refer to if they have questions (thus freeing up headspace for the editor and team lead). If you don’t have time to write up a stylebook, I would recommend purchasing a copy of the AP stylebook, which is the one all journalists use. If you’re writing your own stylebook, refer to Purdue Owl and Grammar Girl for grammar and formatting questions.

Writer Guidelines

One of the best things I’ve ever done at Distilled is create an extensive writer guidelines, because it outlines exactly what I expect from writers so there’s no miscommunication down the road. Here are a few topics I cover in the guidelines:
  • What Distilled expects from writers in terms of deadlines, plagiarism, quality of content, etc. (This is a very simple overview that outlines our most basic expectations)
  • Legal issues: who owns the rights to content, how Distilled is allowed to curate content, etc. (And yes, we did have an attorney review this)
  • Information on how exactly jobs are assigned
  • Editing policies: what I reasonably expect in the editing process (i.e. how many edits I typically ask for, what happens if I want the piece entirely rewritten, etc.)
  • My policy on deadline extensions and consequences if deadlines aren’t met
  • FAQs
Ultimately, your writer guidelines will probably have to be a living document that’s continually added to as new issues arise. Here’s a list of questions writers typically have that you can incorporate into your guidelines as a start.

Feedback

This is a very fundamental training tool, but giving a writer and editor feedback (and I mean extensive feedback) is absolutely crucial to training, continual improvement, creating a sustainable team, and ensuring long term quality and consistency.

If you’re the managing editor, you should give feedback to content creators for every single assignment they complete. Make sure to give feedback on what the writer did well in addition to any problems you saw. Distilled has a system in place where I rate articles on a scale of 1-5 and am required to give writers comments and feedback for every article submitted to me. I also regularly share edits, as I find that to be the most helpful form of feedback (a great tool for this, besides regular Google docs, is Draft)

If you’re the team lead, make sure to periodically review the content the editor is approving and sharing. You don’t have to review every single piece, but make sure you’re in the loop and give regular feedback (Pro tip: set up a monthly meeting with your editor to give feedback).

Monitor and Track

Like any marketing strategy, content marketing needs to be constantly measured to see what’s working and what’s not. So, what should you track?

Well firstly, you should track the goals you previously identified (which should be easy, because all of your goals should be in some way measurable). Beyond that, it can often be difficult to know what you should track. Content strategist Jay Baer suggests you track four categories of metrics:

metrics

  1. Consumption
  • Key question answered: How many people consumed your content, measured as page views, downloads, views, etc.?
  1. Sharing
  • Key question answered: How often do consumers of your content share it with others?
  1. Lead generation
  •   Key question answered: How often do content consumers turn into leads?
  1. Sales
  • Key question answered: How often do content consumers turn into customers?
I would also add a few more metrics you should consider tracking:
  • Bounce rate on your content pages: This is a very simple metric, but crucial in determining whether or not your content is up to reader expectations.
  • Are your customers moving through the conversion funnel? (See here and here) This will help you better determine whether or not your content is effective in driving conversions (which is the overarching goal of your marketing efforts).
  • Is your content attracting new visitors? This fits under the consumption category, but note this is for new visitors; of course maintaining repeat customers is absolutely crucial to your business, but you also want to make sure you’re expanding your customer base.
  • Are you producing enough content for each persona at each stage in the funnel?
  • Are your customers satisfied with the concerns and questions you’ve been addressing for each persona?
  • Has one type of media been more successful than others (i.e. video produces more results than longer articles)?
  • Are there any gaps in your content production process? Any inefficiencies?
  • What’s the ROI of your efforts?

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a perfect formula for developing and maintaining a content team. Your company ultimately needs to remain agile and adjust to changing circumstances or inefficiencies. But, to start you should follow the four steps we covered here:
  1. Plan (define your goals and identify your strategies)
  2. Create a team
  3. Train
  4. Monitor and track
Plan

Beyond that, I would emphasize two key points to anyone building a content team: 1) Make sure you hire people who are really good at writing, editing, or managing from the beginning, and 2) Make sure your content team is sustainable—not just for the next 6 months, but for the next 6 years, because you’ll be in content marketing for the long haul.

 

About the author
Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik focuses on content strategy, content marketing, editing, and PR in her role as Distilled's Content Coordinator. Kyra loves working with clients ranging from startups to some of the world's largest brands to help them create meaningful and...   read more