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Guest post from Pat Owings
Outsourcing content is a bit of a secret among marketers. In an age where many of the industry thought leaders have risen to prominence through their blogs, no one wants to admit they’ve utilized a ghostwriter. However, recent studies from Content Marketing Institute indicate that all the cool enterprising kids are doing it.
44% of marketers are currently using some content marketing created by a third party, and 65% of large companies are utilizing outside resources. And honestly, the profession is much older than the Internet. Some of the world’s best-selling biographies and fictional series weren’t penned by the person credited on the cover. If you wonder how some thought leaders ever had the time to write that amazing book, whitepaper, or blog post, there’s a good chance they didn’t.
It’s more than possible to successfully use a third-party vendor to create blogs that convert leads and customers, but there are some best practices that will affect your success. Quality content creation takes time, and even the best writers can’t fulfill your vision in an informational vacuum:
1. Find the Right Writer
Virtually everyone is a content creator in the era of Twitter and Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that the first writer you sample will be the perfect fit for your company. Screen writers carefully in order to find someone empathetic enough to compel your customers, efficient enough to create the velocity you need, and familiar enough with grammar and sentence structure so that proofreading won’t take a lot of time.
Marketer Matthew Dooley recommends that you take your screening a step further even, and put potential freelancers on the spot: “[A]sk for some sample posts for your channels...because you’re handing them the right and responsibility to speak on your behalf.”
2. Give Specific Instructions
There’s not a content creator on this earth who can write relevant information without direction. If they can, they could probably make a better living as a professional psychic. Subject matter expert Steve Lazuka puts the necessity for instructions in perspective by writing, “If you want to create amazing content for your clients, you must provide amazing instructions to your writer.” At a minimum, the following areas of direction are helpful to writers. It’s definitely a time investment to compile, but the return in quality will be well worth your time:
- Tone: Does your brand personality dictate informal and conversational content, or more factually-driven information?
- Buyer Persona Profiles: Who are your customers? What are their demographics, pain points, and priorities?
- Citations: Providing fresh and reputable statistics will lend authority to your content. Suggest resources for your writers’ research.
- Writing Samples: Send examples of high-quality content you’ve published, or content that’s resonated well among audiences in your niche to provide writers with an idea of the depth and direction they should take.
3. Provide Abundant Resources
Many experienced content creators can write information that works well for both search engines and readers, even if they don’t have direct experience in the niche. However, you should invest in providing a crash-course in your industry and company structure. Describe your company culture, mission, and chain of command. Provide blogs and social media handles for industry thought leaders, to get your writers started on a path of self-education and research. If you build a long-term relationship with an outsourced content creator, giving access to your blog analytics will allow them to use the metrics for improvement.
4. Hire an Editor
Do you know what J.K. Rowlings, Malcolm Gladwell, and Salman Rushdie have in common? They’re all brilliantly talented, famous authors who don’t edit their own work. If that’s not evidence that every writer needs an editor, I don’t know what is. While the Internet has caused a lot of companies to break the traditional rules of marketing, I’m a firm believer that having a designated editor is a best practice that’s not going anywhere.
If you’re in a highly-technical field, or have sophisticated prospects, it may behoove you to hire a subject-matter expert who can also serve as a fact-checker. They won’t come cheap, but who can really put a price on professional credibility?
5. Leave Room for Newsjacking
While the overachievers among us would love nothing more than to have our content calendars published a full month in advance, this approach isn’t totally tailored to the way modern consumers ingest information. Your brand has the power to be a real-time publisher, and your best chance for creating something that goes viral could be by using the topics and events that are already trending.
Newsjacking, a concept named by David Meerman Scott, is when you “inject your ideas or angles into breaking news.” You don’t need to make the idea popular, you just need to cover it quickly. If you want to create content marketing that gets noticed and shared, you’ll need a freelancer or staff member who can stop, drop, and newsjack at a moment’s notice.
These best practices are by no means comprehensive, but successful outsourcing through an agency requires you, the client, to effectively communicate your brand, vision, and audience. Outsourced content should never seem like it was ghostwritten, but rather like a natural extension of your company’s online voice.