The Do’s and Don’ts of Setting up an Internal Content Creation Machine

You can probably imagine the faces of my colleagues when, a few months back we started talking about how to get more of our community involved in blogging. You’d have thought I’d proposed that we all eat steamed cabbage for the rest of the month, or perhaps do group swims in the frigid Willamette River every morning at 5am. It was that familiar look of “yeah, I know this is good for us, but C’MON, seriously?”

I get it. Not everyone enjoys the writing process or has time to muse about best practices. Yet content creation is a real challenge for rapidly growing businesses like ours at Idealist Consulting. We had to find a way to amplify our collective voice and expertise.

Well, one month in, I am proud to report that we’ve developed a scalable program that has worked pretty well for us so far. Here is what we learned about creating an internal content creation program – this could be adapted to organizations of any size who need additional contributors (either employees or volunteers) for any type of published content or social media.

Our approach

We went through several false starts before settling on a solid process, but as a technology consulting firm we are accustomed to an agile approach and made peace with the fact that we wouldn’t get everything perfect right off the bat. Initially, we were ambitiously looking at dozens of partner and industry newsletters where we wanted to make a splash. I started a massive Google spreadsheet listing the audience and potential reach of each channel, the possible blog topics, submission deadlines, and more. I invited all of our internal staff to add to it and was disappointed when almost no one did.

So, we pivoted and decided to focus our attention on motivation rather than outcome. We set up an incentive program with clear requirements and expectations and communicated this to our staff during our weekly meeting, then posted the process in Salesforce. Here are some of the cornerstones of our program:

  • Topics can be proposed by contributors or chosen from a list provided by our marketing department
  • Posts must be 500-800 words and have an engaging tone that is not too technical
  • Spell check and peer review must be run before submission
  • Marketing department has the right to ask for improved drafts or edits as they see fit
  • Each accepted post will result in monetary compensation

We launched the program and…nothing. For a couple weeks. But then one of our employees approached me with an idea for a post on how to be a great client. It was smart and included her expert advice based on five years working with a wide range of challenging clients. Best of all, it addressed a conversation that we’ve had often internally, when we’ve said “man, I wish I had a resource I could just hand people to help them work with us more effectively!”

Then a partner approached us for a technical review of their Salesforce solution, and because of our new blog program I was able to handily reach out to the specific employee who has the most experience with this application and quickly convince him to write this post. Having a solid process in place made this a much easier ask.

Here is a review of some lessons we have learned in setting up a blog incentive program:

Don’t

  • Over-engineer the process. It can be tempting to set goals and map out all possible content channels right off the bat. Don’t. Your time will be much better spent getting some early success and then fine-tuning the process in a few months.
  • Assume everyone can write. Not everyone can (or should). If you have a subject matter expert (SME) in a particular topic, your time might be better spent having a skilled writer interview him rather than making the SME write the post himself.
  • Force people to write about something they don’t know about. It is much easier to write about something you’re comfortable with – don’t force it.

Do

  • Set clear expectations. Think of how you want your blog (or social media, newsletter, etc.) to be populated and then set guidelines so submissions will fit into this as much as possible.
  • Give an incentive. If it’s valuable to you to have diverse content creators, you need to make it worth the writer’s time too. Even just $15 per post could make a difference in motivating new submissions.
  • Show what’s in it for them. Beyond a monetary incentive, blog posts will enhance the writer’s credibility as an industry thought leader and enhance their “personal brand”.
  • Set up a clear tracking system. We set up a custom object in Salesforce to track submissions and payments. Make sure you have a system in place.
  • Give public recognition. Every time one of our employees has a post published, we share it internally. Peer recognition is powerful stuff.
  • Be agile and willing to adjust. One month in, it’s clear that this program will need some ongoing love to keep it going. We’re considering setting up a Basecamp calendar to plan out future posts and other changes will undoubtedly be needed as well.

In summary, while it can take some work to set up an internal content creation machine to generate blog posts or other content, the benefit of having a fleet of content creators at your fingertips is likely worth the trouble and will help any growing organization scale their communications.

Have you set up an internal content creation system where staff or volunteers from various departments contribute content? Do you contract out for other technical writers rather than using internal resources? What has worked or not worked for your organization? Please let us know in comments.

Kirsten is the marketing coordinator at Idealist Consulting, a Portland-based firm that provides forward-thinking, approachable support to advanced technical solutions. Kirsten began her career in the nonprofit sector with AFS Intercultural Programs where she managed the national scholarship program for students to study abroad. She then pursued project management for several years in the private sector before returning to her passion of helping nonprofits work more effectively through technology. Find Kirsten on Twitter at @IdealistCons.

Kirsten Kippen
Marketing Coordinator
Idealist Consulting
Interested in CRM/Salesforce, Marketing, Writing, Alaska, Running. Not necessarily in that order.