Why your next star blogger currently could be cleaning toilets

HTWB toilet rollI’m getting really, really fed up with reading pompous articles written by corporate wallahs in large organizations who try to justify their salaries by making their content marketing strategies as complex as space missions.

And what do we find when we blow away most of this jargon-infested smoke screen?

(For a list of the top 10 most helpful articles on blogging for business as chosen by our readers, click here)

The corporate wallah saying “hey, have a look around your company and check out where some hidden writing talent lies. It’s probably not a good idea to leave it to the monosyllabic 15-year-old work experience pupil, but don’t forget to check out the janitor and the cleaning ladies. They might just have the knack of writing blogs that will really enhance your brand!”

OK, I’ve got the frustration off my chest now. But for Heaven’s sake – especially if companies invest such a lot of talent and science into their content marketing strategies and structure – why on earth do they use such ridiculously random ways to get people to write the content? 

Dan Smith, SEO Specialist at Leighton, in a recent article on Business2Community warns against this and shares a telling example of his own, when in a previous role his dependence on various staffers to deliver appropriate blog posts wasn’t working out very well. Although his approach to finding good potential bloggers in house obviously did not involve talent spotting in the rest rooms or staff canteen, it was less than satisfactory as he explains…

“The main reason this was the case was I’d asked for certain people to provide content without first determining whether they were actually capable of producing it,” Dan writes.  “This didn’t have anything to do with dyslexia or being completely snowed under with work, but because they couldn’t determine suitable topics.  They couldn’t work out how to start the piece, or what the audience would want to be reading about.”

Aren’t you forgetting something here, Dan?

Before you can expect anyone to write worthwhile blogs and other content, they need to know how to think. And what to think. As my old friend and colleague author John Butman used to say, “if you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down.”

It is not difficult to show people how to think in order to write useful content; usually it’s just a matter of a little role play to get them out of their own heads and into those of the target audience – e.g. customers and prospects.

In three years of teaching people how to blog both in the UK and in Canada I have seen many, many lightbulbs flashing on over wannabee bloggers’ heads when they take a short walk in their customers’ shoes.

Is Dan’s recommendation enough to uncover writing talent in your organization?

At the end of this section of his (otherwise – sorry Dan!) excellent article, Dan recommends, “Before you assign content production requirements to people, have a chat with them first.  Ask if they’ve produced content in the past and whether they’d be happy to do so moving forward.  Some people may simply need a gentle nudge to persuade them, but others might not have the ability to provide the complete blog post expected.”

A chat just isn’t enough. You’re far better off gathering potential contributors together and giving them a half-day workshop where they role play and brainstorm blog topics together, all the time focusing on what the brand, the products and services and the content output means to readers – not to the company.

You’ll find you get a lot more effective contributions to your company blog that way, Dan. And the brainstorming of topic ideas will inspire and expand even a wilting content marketing strategy.

The mechanics of writing do not need to be an obstacle, either

Many of the people I teach have that awful fear of the blank sheet of paper or screen and say they can’t write. Usually I ask them if they can talk. Usually the answer is yes.

And thanks to technology even the most phobic of anti-writers can simply record themselves speaking a blog post to an imaginary typical customer, or do the same using voice recognition software. Then it’s a mechanical job to transcribe and edit that into a blog post that “speaks” to its readers.

So remember: don’t just invest in the technological and strategic side of your content marketing … invest as much or even more in teaching your people how to write content that will make the whole exercise gel.

Do you agree with me here? Please say!

photo credit: Kit4na via photopin cc

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Thoughts

  1. In a way social media has changed the P.R. game for companies, and not necessarily for the better. In the old days large companies employed experienced P.R. specialists who were trained to write, either as journalists, or because they had proven themselves as technical writers.

    Smaller companies engaged retired ‘hacks’, often on a freelance basis. They too knew how to spot stories, and write effectively to create attention for the business.

    Enter the age of social media – now anyone with a computer either thinks they can write, or is expected to write. Christ, in the old days even typing was a specialism.!

    I’m not claiming that all writers who lay claim to the title via the social media route are crap but simply that, unlike the print publishing industry, there are fewer editorial constraints – and that by and large isn’t such a good thing IMHO.

    • I know exactly what you mean there, Stephen. The fact that technology has made it so easy physically for anyone to produce written material, video, still photographs, audio, etc. has led people to believe that anyone can create the “content” to a similarly high standard with similar ease. Trust me, that notion has devalued the skills of professional writers, designers, photographers, videographers etc. etc. in recent years. Those of us who have managed to keep afloat during the changes have had to adjust our service offerings and many of us now teach our skills to these people. I do blog writing workshops; an ex-BBC senior cameraman I know now teaches people to make reasonable quality videos using their IPhones with a couple of low-cost accessories.

      There is an irony in this, though. I often find that people who have been on one of my workshops in which I have taught them how to write good business blog posts, come to me later and ask me to write for them, saying they haven’t got time to do it themselves but know that I’m pretty good at it because I taught them! Full circle, I guess… 🙂

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