The power of contributors: How to double down on content

Content production is a major initiative for most B2B marketers today, but it’s challenging to find the resources to produce consistent, effective content. This is apparent in a recent study by CMI, where nearly 2/3 of B2B marketers name “producing engaging content” as their top priority for 2016, while also naming it their biggest challenge.

Each new piece of content requires a strong understanding of the subject, sufficient research, and a few rounds of writing and editing. When faced with limited resources, content teams may struggle to produce enough engaging content to meet larger company goals, like lead generation and traffic growth. They may resort to dropping high-quality projects in favor of quickly producing lower-quality pieces. And without the help of anyone outside the content team, they may have trouble scaling their efforts.

One way to increase the volume of content creation without endangering the quality—or to jump-start an ambitious project that’s been put on hold—is to put your network of experts to good use by finding new content contributors.

You can tap into the knowledge of your colleagues and industry contacts to get sources for fresh, new content beyond the occasional blog post or guest appearance. Most importantly, the output of new content can be greater than the input of your content team’s time and effort. Done thoughtfully, collaborating with experts can give you more great content—blog posts, webinars, eBooks, presentations—without doubling down on production time.

Find out what your colleagues are doing.

To quickly produce more content, start chatting up your various internal departments. What are they working on? What do they find really interesting? What events are they attending?

For example, let’s say you’re working for a product company. You have a backend PHP engineer who has been contributing to an open source decoupled project in their spare time using Angular. In addition to recruiting them to blog about PHP development, you can ask for their expertise on broader topics like website security, DevOps or hosting. Or, find commonly asked questions on Stack Overflow for the angularjs tag (ignoring anything too old or now irrelevant):

Screencap of search results

Find out what people want to know about your topic.

Give them a handful of options to choose from each time, then ask for a rough draft of an answer. You can use that answer to create a blog post, post the answer directly to Stack Overflow, and answer the same question on other forums.

Here’s another example. We worked with the Pantheon team to create a microsite on how to grow a digital agency. Since they’d just brought a successful previous agency owner on board, we sat with him for 2 hours one day to outline the entire agency growth cycle—that 1 session turned into the basics for sections of the guide, plus 2 blog posts and multiple contributed articles. We saved hours of research on information he pointed us to in minutes.

flowchart of content

1 speaking submission can turn into a full-blown campaign if orchestrated well, with weeks of content for social media and amplification platforms.

While you’re meeting internally, look in unlikely places. Marketers often overlook the fact that sales and customer service teams have a lot of their own material that never gets shared. For example, a sales team will know every one of their leads’ problems, and each of them could be addressed in a blog post. They will also know which publications and websites their prospects use. Customer service will be talking to customers every day—ask them what they’re helping customers with. Ask if customers get confused or stuck in areas consistently or what they don’t like about your competitors. This information can be used to quickly produce content that’s valuable to your core audience.

It’s helpful to hold regular brainstorming meetings with your chosen core group of contributors.  Even if it’s just once a quarter, get people excited about new topics to cover and how they will coincide with things like new product rollouts or industry events. Kapost sums it up nicely with this quote:

“More than 9 out of 10 marketers say that a constant, steady stream of ideas is crucial to effective content marketing. And when you break down the stats for B2B marketing specifically, B2B marketers need 67 ideas per quarter to be successful.”

(From The Go-To Resource for B2B Marketers)

Create a master calendar.

Once you know what people are up to, update your master calendar. Include all relevant industry events you plan to sponsor or attend, as well as any speaking submissions—both accepted and not—by your team members. Add product launches, paid and unpaid marketing campaigns, partnership announcements, and internal training (often an untapped gold mine for content). This post will help you get started on creating your master editorial calendar.

Find people with a vested interest in your topic.

Once you’ve worked your internal team into your editorial calendar, cast your net further by identifying customers, partners, companies and other influencers who will benefit from collaborating with you on content. Their involvement should give them a platform to be discovered by people who are similar to their target audience.

You can find these people by searching for the topic you want to write about. Take note of widely followed or respected sites that show up, reaching out first to people who have already published something similar. The more comfortable they are with the subject matter, the more easily you’ll convince them to join forces with you.

screencap of event speakers

Looking up speakers for relevant events, both past and present, can give you and idea of who’s influential. This one is from WordCamp US.

Once you find your experts, you should approach them with an ask that includes reasons they’d want to participate. Here are a few things to include in your initial message:

  • An idea for a piece of content that’s flexible enough to include their input
  • A brief explanation of what they would need to do
  • A promotion plan to give them visibility through backlinks, traffic or publicity
  • A request to know if they have any additional goals—an upcoming presentation or event related to the subject matter, for example
  • An offer to send additional questions as a writing prompt or set up a call that you can record and transcribe later

When working with external contributors, it’s often helpful to give them as much creative control as you’re comfortable with. They’ll be more likely to help if they can be confident in the final product.

Make it as easy as possible to participate.

Usually, the biggest barrier to getting help from others on content is your contributors’ time and effort. The easier you can make the process, the more likely you’ll have a finished piece by your deadline.

A couple of years ago, I was managing a blog for a supply chain technology provider. One of our initiatives was to include more guest posts. Hundreds of supply chain executives were daily users of the platform, so I figured it would be an easy task to get them to write guest posts regularly. When I reached out to some, over half agreed to submit posts by a certain date. I reported my success to the team, scheduled them promptly and waited for the posts to roll in. However, I hadn’t anticipated the percentage of people who would actually stick to their deadlines—it was less than half. I spent the next month frantically writing supply chain-related blog posts to make up for my poor assumption: that if someone said they’d write something, I could sit back and wait for it to come.

The following year, I was working with Pantheon’s marketing and product teams to come up with content for an agency product launch. From those sessions, we decided to focus on influencer outreach, where I interviewed 2 people with a strong background in agency growth and technology. I set up phone interviews with them and sent a list of questions beforehand to set the direction of the conversation. Leslie and Paul were both insightful contributors who made minor edits on my drafts and shared our content in many places, leading to 2 of the top few blog posts in terms of traffic that year. They also drove a good number of leads from the “Sign Up” CTA we added to the right sidebar of each post.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from experiences like these that can make collaborative content successful:

  • Provide your contributors with an outline or draft, even if you don’t think they’ll use it
  • Suggest upcoming events or campaigns you’ll use to promote the piece
  • Let them choose the workflow they like best—a phone interview, written Q&A, or a collaborative doc where you can write together
  • Be flexible and ready to jump in at any stage
  • Stress the point that their draft doesn’t have to be perfect—you’ll help them edit
  • If you find things stalling, offer to help with part of it

If a contributor goes silent or misses an important deadline, make sure you have a Plan B ready to go. Write up a replacement blog post or article before you need it. Have a few people you can call on if you ever need an extra panel member, expert quote or interview subject. Be prepared and graceful if your contributor backs out.

Celebrate wins by your content contributors publicly.

Repay your contributors for their efforts by sharing on appropriate platforms, thanking them in front of the entire team, and congratulating them when they hit high numbers on site traffic, shares or likes. Internally, it can help to create a friendly competition around blogging and content creation. For external collaborators, let them know when a piece they participated in performs well. Be sure to track them on social media and help promote their own content from time to time.

A content team doesn’t need to work alone. When you get people around you involved in content creation and give them incentives to promote it, you can amplify the effect you have on your brand’s marketing strategy and its long-term success.

About

Laura Dambrosio is founder of content marketing agency RedBar, where she spends her coming up with killer content strategies and writing about business and technology. Follow her on Twitter @ledambrosio.

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