This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Carrie Hane Dennison, on Santa’s list of 2013 gift posts.
As many blog posts as I’ve written, I can’t say that content ideation always comes naturally to me. I spend days, even weeks, thinking about what I may want to write about. Then I rethink based on my audience and how many links and social shares it may or may not generate and decide if it’s even worth my effort. This is all fine and well when I’m thinking of posts I want to author myself, because I want to be proud of my work and I don’t mind putting in the extra time if I need to, but this can be a serious problem when trying to populate an entire calendar with various authors writing on all different topics.
Is editorial calendar maintenance even the job of a content strategist? Sometimes as I’m assigning dates and coming up with ideas I feel much more like a project manager than anything else. It makes me realize that when I approach content this way, I’m doing it wrong. Coming up with a great idea for one post instead of thinking of it as part of a whole unified strategy is just not having optimal impact on the company, the blog, and the target readership.
When I assign blog posts with general categories like today is “social media” and tomorrow is “SEO,” I’m doing a major disservice to the practice of content strategy. It also explains why it’s nearly impossible to come up with awesome ideas on a consistent basis. Sure I’m creative and I’m a writer but how can I inspire others to write something magnificent when I’m giving them nothing to work with? I need to drill down into this higher-level concept of balancing themes and authors by really getting cohesive and discovering how all these ideas work in conjunction with one another.
Thinking about how posts fit together in a sequence and how the contrast between different lengths, styles, and topics balances out… that works infinitely better. And while it puts the right amount of control in my hands as a strategist because I can dictate guidelines and offer up suggestions, it gives my team enough room to get creative and put their own spin on what I’ve thought up. The key to achieving this type of team work approach only happens during real life content meetings when we all sit down and shout out ideas and nitpick through the details later. It doesn’t happen over email or on Trello cards or in G-chat conversations. Face to face interaction, back and forth feedback in real time, that’s where the magic happens.
Then come the guest posters. How do you inspire people whom you’ve never met? And at that, inspire them in a direction that fits with your brand?
When a complete stranger wants to guest post and asks me for a topic it just doesn’t seem right. Yes, I will stalk you on Twitter and read all the posts you’ve written elsewhere for the next hour or so. I will try incredibly hard to get a solid read on what you’re good at and what you enjoy writing about. Then I’ll take those concepts and match them up with topics that haven’t been on my blog lately, along with hot topics that everyone is talking about, plus let’s not forget seasonal themes, and then try to fit all of this into five nice ideas that I can pitch back at you. You hopefully pick one and then I pray that when I get it back as a draft it somewhat resembles what I’ve imagined in my head for this post to be. Could this be right?
It seems completely backwards to me to tell someone else what he or she should write about without having had a single conversation with him or her. I bet you could read through my Twitter right now (if only you knew who I was) and you could comb through my blog posts across various blogs, and you still would not know what I do on a daily basis. You wouldn’t know what I like best, or what I find most challenging, or have the slightest idea of what inspires me.
So why do the people who manage content calendars put up with this workflow? They paste some guidelines and maybe a submission form or email address on their contact page and ask for guest posts. And then they’re upset when what they receive isn’t high quality or on topic. Unfortunately, no matter how clear to you the overall message, voice, tone, concept, goal and purpose of your blog is, not every person looking to guest post is getting all that and figuring out how they can fit into the equation correctly.
Let’s try something new. We all tweet each other and email and, yes, our jobs exist because of the Internet but why is that now the be-all and end-all of our communication? Let’s pick up the phone. Let’s have Google hangouts. Let’s actually get to know each person who wants to write for our site and let’s have those people get to know us right back.
“But this will take extra time! So much extra time! I’ve got none of that,” you say. Nope. No way it will. Because all of the time that you spent at your desk and on the train and in the shower agonizing over what ideas to pitch to each and every person for every day your blog needs a new post will significantly get cut down. You’ll spend less time wondering and imagining and more time productively making a plan of action that works for both the writer and you, the strategist.
Experts in our field have stressed that content strategy involves a team effort from multiple disciplines and that communication is key in countless books and blog posts. One person should have the final say but they should not also have the first and only word as far as what content will be created. In 2014, let’s not look to one person for inspiration; let’s inspire each other.