Content Tactics: One Person will Write. Two People will Stare At Each Other.

July 20th, 2010

Topics: About, Digital Marketing, Social

Tips for Content Creation

I’m not sure that content creation falls into any categories that our blog readers care about, but as a marketer, creating content is one of those things that’s more art (read: “smoke and mirrors”) than science. Having properly lowered your expectations for this article, here’s a few tips for getting other people to write for you. After all, if your company doesn’t generate content, you won’t have any data to analyze.

As I’ve been trying to ramp up the blog at Webtrends, one of the things I have to do is shoot out ideas to people and ask them to write something. Often, there’s more than one person who could write it.

Groups Never Work. Ever.
What I’ve found is that sending one email and cc’ing multiple people routinely fails at generating anything. They all stare at each other and assume someone else who is less busy will take care of it. And after all, it’s just the blog. It’s not like the earth will stop turning if we don’t post something.

Oops, You Made a Committee
Worse, cc’ing people can turn your request into a committee.

  • “Should we be talking about this?”
  • “Shouldn’t we do more research around this?”
  • “Perhaps we can come to consensus. Let’s call a meeting.”

Bang, your blog post is dead. Get out the shovel and bury it. Good luck cleaning up the bloodstains.

(I should, I suppose, defend the honor of my Webtrends co-workers; this rarely happens here. Mostly because I don’t cc people on emails like this any longer.)

Individuals Do Things
The more successful route to content creation is to send a very similar email to one person at a time, asking them to weigh in. In it, I usually emphasize a few points:

  1. Minimal effort: “I just need a paragraph response. I’ll handle the rest.”
  2. No writing: “Maybe just swing by my desk and we’ll write it together.”
  3. Flattery: “You said something about this to me earlier that was BRILLIANT, but I can’t get it quite right. What was it again?”
  4. Secrecy: “I’m working with a few other people, but I’m really interested in YOUR opinion.”
  5. Leverage + Flattery: “I talked to your boss, and s/he couldn’t say enough about how much you totally understand this topic.”

The problem with this route: Sometimes you’re fishing, and the person maybe isn’t the best resource. And they forward the email to someone else you’ve already sent it to. If you’re fishing for a source, a phone call or personal visit might be in order.

(It helps that I believe Webtrends houses some of the smartest, most innovative minds on the planet. I really have the easiest job in the world. Sometimes.)

Content Doesn’t Write Itself
Content creation for a medium as free-flowing and loose as a blog can be relatively easy. But it’s precisely that “easy” factor that tends to let people off the hook for NOT writing. As a marketer, you can only dedicate a portion of your time — personally, I spend about 10-15 hours a week on it — cajoling people into writing for you, so use your time wisely: Don’t ask a group; ask a single person.

  • http://www.socialmarketingdynamics.com/ Social Tool

    Definitely, writing, even the smallest of blurbs is not an activity meant for clumps of people. There’s ego involved, and more or less a lazy bone or two every few minutes. When you want a written report done in record time, you should set assigned topics or detail an outline and let one person handle it one at a time, and then regroup and reflect.

  • Thom Schoenborn

    Another comment I heard verbally was, “are you showing your contributors too much about how you make the sausage?”

    In other words, by telling people how I do this, will it stop working?

    I am not disingenuous when I flatter people or seek our their opinion. I just wear it on my sleeve. I genuinely care about people’s ideas, especially at Webtrends. We’re lucky to have such smart people.

  • Thom Schoenborn

    People want to get on a train that’s moving, not one where we talk about where it might be going. So getting the blog train moving *is* the strategy.

    So I agree with you in theory. But “community” with “discussion areas” are passive. An email to multiple people is an ad hoc community. As such, it’s easy to ignore — I consider those the empty spaces.

    Because in reality, I’m asking people to do more than their job. And these days, most people’s jobs have grown in scope. So they’re busy and distracted. Worse, writing for a public audience is scary to most people. To cut through that, it requires me (or someone) going forth and actively making “ongoing discussion.”

    I am lucky to work with incredibly smart and innovative people, and I LOVE listening to their ideas, and helping them get published.

    My wife tells me frequently that happiness in a job comes from fulfillment, fame, and money. Or at least 2 of the 3. Writing for a blog rarely makes anyone rich (see the “Dooce Exception”), but I can remind people that they’ll feel fulfillment by moving the conversation forward and making the writer more well-known.

  • Teresa

    Talking at people never works, agreed. But usually these dark holes in communications are found around the empty space in an organizational communications gaffe. If the strategy isn’t there, neither is the structure. There should be community with ongoing discussion areas to “listen to” internally. If not, there is a lot of value escaping into space.