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

Image Source

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

Image Source

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.

 

Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik focuses on content strategy, ideation, writer management, and editing in her role as Distilled's Content Coordinator, where she gets to embrace her passion for writing, content...   read more

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26 Comments

  1. This is a truly wonderful blog post Kyra. It is very relevant to myself and some of your tips are invaluable.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge a content team will face is turnaround time vs. quality. As turnaround times need to be decreased, or deadlines met, certain stages of your ideal content creation process may be skipped. It's important companies and teams do not do this. It is more valuable to have a piece of content that will convert and engage the reader a day late than a piece of content published sooner with no impact.

    J

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    • Kyra Kuik

      Thanks for the kind words, Jakk. I'm glad you found it helpful. I agree, content teams have to balance quick turn arounds with quality, but quality should always win. Your content won't do you any favors if it's poorly written or unable to convert.

  2. Very good post,Kyra.. It clearly proves your hypothesis about benefits being more powerful than others.

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  3. Very detailed article. In fact it makes me think where is all this headed? I mean if we keep creating all this content wont it just become lost?

    Yes content can drive engagement but when content is created just for the purposes of driving engagement is it a little contrived?

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  4. Wonderful post Kyra. I especially enjoyed that you talk about training, the use of a stylebook, and tracking.

    I actually took a swing at a closely related concept, scaling a content team, which I think your post is complimentary of, diving into the nuts and bolts of how to develop and maintain your resources for both quality and production.

    Cheers!

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  5. Don

    Great post Kyra. It was such a informative read, thanks for sharing!

    reply >
  6. Spook SEO

    That's why having an editorial calendar is very important. A common mistake that SEOs do is set-up a blog for the sake of making the site fresh and search engine friendly without carefully planning how their blogs ideas will flow.

    Through editorial calendars, you message to your readers become consistent, and will have a clear transitioning form one related idea to another.

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  7. Solid article! We are doing it right. yay! :)

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  8. The style guide is something I have never really thought of. Most content is generally written in the same style without a guide, but I still think it would be great to have when adding more writers to the team. Great post!

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  9. Kyra,

    I'm convinced the struggle to produce consistent, compelling content arises from content marketers placing far too little emphasis on content strategy, which must begin the process.

    I get why this is happening.

    Real, true content strategy is hard, time-consuming and requires the breaking down of silos. That's a tough task for most businesses. It is, however, a necessary step if the goal is producing meaningful content that resonates and results in conversions.

    Without sound, thorough content strategy, content marketers are just guessing.

    RS

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  10. Kyra, thank you so much for this amazing post. Do you have any tips for small companies who also want to create and share content? How would you adjust your guideline to companies who don't have a large budget to finance a team?

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    • Kyra Kuik

      Thank you for the kind words. For smaller companies with little budget, I would suggest using high quality freelancers until you grow enough to bring content creators on full time. You'll still need a managing editor, but you can have an editor that serves as head of the content team--effectively creating a one-person team with the help of freelancers.

  11. Jeepers creepers. This is awesome Kyra.

    We're building up a content team over the next few months. Thanks for the blueprint. :)

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  12. Oh - on the topic of style guide and writing guides - check out Mailchimp's www.voiceandtone.com - such an awesome structure for guiding large teams of writers. Their fluid HTML implementation of the guide is pretty flippin cool too.

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    • Kyra Kuik

      Thanks for sharing that, Andre. That's a really interesting structure--especially for large teams since it's more engaging.

  13. Excellent information what most strikes me is the planning and that's why I'm a total mess, never plan anything and why things never work out the way I wanted.

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  14. Any thoughts on bringing this down to the Small Business level? I've unsuccessfully been using external contractors to write content. Maybe my expectations are too high. I think a great article would be to cast this for the small business (e.g. ecommerce businesses with 1 person devoted to maintaining and promoting the web site).

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    • Kyra Kuik

      High expectations are a great problem to have. In my experience, contract writers can be very successful. However, that process does take a significant amount of back and forth and communicating expectations. I would highly recommend sending your contract writers a style guide and writer expectations (I would also recommend using 2-3 consistent writers). Then, I would create a standard "brief," which should include all information about the article (title, outline, suggested articles for research, similar articles, tone, etc.) and any expectations (word count, depth, etc.). I would suggest having contract writers email you an outline and encourage them to communicate any problems or questions before they begin writing. Also make sure to talk about expectations for edits (for example, can you both agree you can ask for one round of edits without further pay?).

  15. Very good in-depth advice Kyra! We are just in the process of implementing a content marketing strategy for our business and I got even more useful tips from your article.
    Content marketing is definitely a long-term process and will not have immediate effect, so I believe many business owners and marketers might wonder how long does it actually take to see the first results when doing it right?

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  16. Great article. Thank you for structuring the process of content development and managing a team. We do this at my company as well, but it's nice to have something that's well-written and structured to share with the team.

    I believe another good article idea would be on 'how to manage multiple clients and their personas, while creating awesome content'. This is a struggle that we have dealing with dozens of clients each month, especially when the client industry vertical is dry or boring, it tends to be more challenging.

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  17. Following you from MOZ blog and it really worth reading it. Just find out what flaws are in my content management. Really appreciate your efforts.

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  18. Ayi

    Very helpful post, Kyra. Very timely as we're figuring out the creation of a team to focus on content. Thank you for this.

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  19. Wow. I'm so glad to have found this post. I've read it twice now and plan to keep it handy to help others understand what is involved in content marketing. Isn't it great how a single goal can drive every decision you make? Makes marketing so much more straight forward.

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  20. you have done a great job .. it's really wonderful article and also you have to define very detail that's the beauty of the post .. thanks for share i have get some valuable information ....

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  21. Good post. I certainly love this website. Stick with it!

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  22. Thank you for this article. It gave me a lot of ideas on how to present the idea of good content to my potential, and current clients. One of my best practices is to identify recurring questions consumers have about a product and service, and then to craft an article that clearly articulates the answer that shines a positive light on the product/service, without it looking like an article written to that point.

    reply >

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