How to Build a Culture of Content and Transform Your Marketing

Anyone can produce a few pieces of content, but if brands want to succeed as publishers long-term, their commitment to storytelling has to start with their company’s culture.

The question is: How do you accomplish that?

Altimeter’s new best practices report, “A Culture of Content,” written by Rebecca Lieb and Jessica Groopman, provides a framework for how organizations of any size can establish, evangelize, and foster a culture of content. Let’s take a look at the most important takeaways.

Establish a unified vision

Since your content helps establish your brand’s voice so you can build meaningful relationships with your readers, you need the right people championing your values. But before you can begin to find the best people to create your content, it’s crucial that you establish a content strategy to guide your future team of writers, editors, and strategists.

There must be a single, shared purpose that unites company members and everyone involved in creating content. This commonality will also help each person understand how their day-to-day tasks impact the big-picture business goals of your company.

The brand vision can be spread throughout the company with training and evangelism—more on that later. And above all, this unified brand message provides an editorial game plan. Creators should only produce content that supports this vision.

Invest in people and creativity

Not everyone in your company will be a content creator, but each employee can still contribute to the cause. Content marketers often receive tips and ideas about potential story ideas, strategies, and pain points from customer support and sales teams.

For example, here at Contently, we noticed clients were expressing interest in paid social distribution, so we launched the “Distribution 101” series, which serves not only potential clients but also readers of The Content Strategist who may be fortifying their own content operations.

At Wells Fargo, the marketing team noticed some employees were working on inspiring projects during their free time. Wanting to celebrate and share these good deeds, the marketers launched Wells Fargo Stories, an online multimedia magazine that highlights how team members are positively impacting communities across the world.

In a similar vein, quite a few companies, such as IBM and Airbnb, invite their employees to blog regularly.

Fill your company with these kinds of people—doers, makers, inspirers—and you have an internal pool of engaging stories ready to be mined for publication. In order to create this type of altruistic culture, qualifications for new hires will be less about aptitude and more about attitude. In order to contribute, company members must have a passion for participating in the brand storytelling operation.

Evangelize content

Company-wide enthusiasm for content marketing doesn’t materialize overnight—it requires constant communication and reinforcement. And this reinforcement is crucial because in order for a culture of content to thrive, each company member must play a part.

This responsibility generally falls on what the report calls the “Content Leader.” I’m more comfortable using the term “content team,” because, as the report also notes, there is much debate among companies about the definition of who the Content Leader is and how far that person’s authority stretches. At Contently, our content team consists of a chief creative officer, VP of content, editor-in-chief, associate editors, assistant editor, and a badass intern or two.

As the report notes, whoever leads your content operation should be responsible for proving the value of the content, creating and employing a strategy, coordinating across departments, and nurturing the creative talent. For us, that’s our VP of Content, Sam Slaughter.

Senior leaders, meanwhile, won’t necessarily implement the content, but their support is crucial to its implementation. They need to be on board with the marketing efforts in order to fund projects and back ideas that might go against the status quo. For us, that’s our CCO, Shane Snow.

How can the content team make this happen? “By providing metrics of actionable results,” the report states, “and proving that building a portfolio with small, well-performing projects over time can lead up to a larger, more ambitious campaigns.” If you can prove your content campaigns lead to increased sales and brand lift, how can any executive possibly say no? More importantly, why would an executive want to say no? That’s the challenge for us, just as its the challenge for every content team that’s telling stories on the business side’s dime.

The content team must also be sure that customer-facing groups within the company (support, sales, subject-matter experts, IT, researchers, legal) are a part of the process. Check out John McRory’s “How to Get Legal to Say ‘Yes’ to Your Content Marketing” for more on this.

How can the content team motivate these groups? Mainly by tying content into each department’s objectives and developing metrics everyone can easily use and follow. This is all much more effective than just saying, “Hey, can you do us a favor?”

Once the content team has the support of internal departments, they must get external partners involved in the culture. Homegrown content can be crucial to effective outreach, but sometimes in-house resources aren’t enough to scale an operation. Many brands are partnering with agencies, content services, and analytics platforms to build out their brand newsrooms.

Getting everyone involved in the culture of content will require certain education and training. Anyone who holds a stake in the company’s well-being has to understand the importance of content in order to support it. At Contently, we hold “Lightning Talks” during lunch on Fridays, when company members and departments can share their latest project developments or expand upon industry-related topics of interest.

For more on how to evangelize content, check out “A 4-Step Guide to Evangelizing Content Within Your Brand” by Natalie Burg.

Set up a system of communication

Once everyone is well-acquainted with the advantages of a culture of content, it’s time to integrate the operation across the company. A system of governance must be set into place, establishing who does what and when. It’s crucial that the content is accessible company-wide.

Make it clear all employees have the potential to be publishers. Each expert in his/her field can write a thought leadership piece exploring the nuances of their overarching responsibilities. Experts can’t just come from the marketing department. One of the best examples of this is IKEA’s “Home Tours” campaign, which assembled a squad of employees from IKEA stores around the world to visit their customers’ homes and document their experiences.

Make sure all technology is streamlined for communication throughout the company. Set up an editorial calendar everyone can view so employees know when case studies and ebooks will be published and can be distributed to potential clients.

Final thoughts

A culture of content will benefit everyone. It will make the customer experience richer, flesh out the roles of every employee, create smoother channels of communication, pull in better engagement statistics, and convey a unified brand voice. Departments and specialists shouldn’t be duking it out for control of content. Instead, they should be combining talents and working together toward this common goal.

With 2015 being the year of owned media, it’s time to make your content count, make your voice heard, and make sure the voice people hear aligns with your brand’s values and your customers’ needs. If you create a culture from the ground up, your content will succeed organically.

Image by Mo'men Saleh

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