Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
July 15th, 2019
When I first became a content manager many moons ago at Quintain Marketing, I was equal parts excited and terrified.
On the one hand, I was taking on a role that, at the time, was relatively unheard of for digital sales and marketing teams of any kind, agency or otherwise. That meant I got to build new processes from the ground up, have a voice in how the role could evolve across the industry, and I would get to be an educator for our team (and clients) in my personal area of expertise.
On the other hand... well, again, the role hadn't really existed before that point.
That meant there was no frame of reference for what I should be doing, no one I knew in the industry I could reach out to for advice, or a playbook of any kind for my job aside from the knowledge that I needed to keep the business blogging lights on. Needless to say, I was somewhat intimidated.
But a lot of has changed since 2014, and becoming a content manager is much more exciting (and a lot less scary) than it used to be!
Because, while the role of the content manager is still evolving, more and more business leaders are beginning to understand how critical that position will be to the success of their digital sales and marketing programs. Moreover, there are a lot more content management "elders" out there, like Kevin Phillips and myself, who are more than willing to mentor those who are stepping into content management shoes for the first time.
Which is why I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you the most important pieces of advice I wish someone had been able to give me when I first started out as a content manager.
1. Remember that when you're a content manager, you're also an internal relationship manager
Yes, you probably want to work at a company where everyone is likable. But the reason why we mention it as an explicit quality for a content manager is that you're going to be in the position of having to ask people to create content... which can sometimes feel like homework, even if they're "bought in" on the why behind your content marketing strategy.
You're also likely going to have lots of conversations with contributors on your team that involve giving challenging feedback, asking for revisions, and pushing for more from someone.
So, if you don't approach every content-focused interaction you have with a relationship-fostering mindset, no one will want to work with you.
As I've discussed at length before, you need to make time for face-to-face conversations when delivering high-level feedback that shows you're committed to helping someone be as successful as possible in their content. And you must understand that you can never be a faceless, transactional editor who hides behind the slashed-and-burned rough drafts of your colleagues.
Your team needs to want to work with you. And you need to consider how you're communicating an open posture as a content manager that's fair and works at a high standard, but also is approachable, friendly, and easy to work with through your actions and words.
2. Don't rely on a single content management tool or app to help you do your job
Given that you're probably the first and only of your kind as a content manager at your company, there's a good chance you're not only learning the role for the first time yourself, but also your team doesn't have a lot of insight into what tools you'll need.
Yes, you'll have your spreadsheets and your Google Docs, but you should never rely solely on those items to get your work done, and here's why.
Your job is not only going to involve getting content developed, drafted, refined, and published, you need to be prepared to be able to report at the drop of a hat the state of your entire content pipeline for your leadership.
So, you'll need a content calendar tool — if you're using HubSpot, they have a great one, which we use here at IMPACT — as well as a content collaboration platform.
For the latter, I can't recommend GatherContent enough. The cost is low, and it will give your leadership a real-time, always-up-to-date overview of the all of your content production in progress, as well as the status for each item, should they choose. As IMPACT VP of Marketing Kathleen Booth can confirm, 80% of the questions she asked me when I was a content manager back in the day were some version of:
"What's the status of X content piece?"
And my life got so much easier when she no longer needed to ask me that question. She could just go to GatherContent.
Also, GatherContent will save you from the h-e-double-hockey-sticks that is drafts being lost in email, confusion over versions, and no accountability around deadlines. Email inboxes are black holes where content dreams go to die. Don't learn that lesson the hard way like I did.
3. Never stop reporting on how content is helping you all achieve business goals
If a company hired you to be a content manager, they get how profitable an investment in content marketing can be if they stick with it. But don't make it easy for people at your company to take for granted all of the hard work you're doing, and how valuable the content you're helping to produce really is.
So, find a way to publicly report and celebrate wins for your business that were driven by content. Maybe that's a weekly staff meeting, an internal newsletter you send out, or a dedicated Slack channel.
At IMPACT, we have a weekly "all hands" company meeting. Every week, our team always reports on how content helped close a recent deal. We'll spotlight the contact in HubSpot and walk through each of the articles they read, as well as any premium content they downloaded or consumed, making sure to call out the names of those on our team who authored or helped create those pieces.
Additionally, we provide a weekly update on how profitable our pillar strategy is by sharing the updated "influenced revenue" number, which is a handy metric provided by the HubSpot campaigns tool. (Learn more about pillar content reporting.)
Again, your solution will be dependent on what opportunities you have at your disposal to share this news with your team, as well as the marketing and sales automation tools you have to report on this kind of data.
All that matters is that you have some sort of recurring time to keep content wins top of mind for your team.
4. Finally, put accountability measures for missed deadlines in place as soon as possible
Accountability is, by far, one of the most difficult challenges you will encounter as a content manager. Because, no matter how invested your team is, someone at some point will miss their deadline for some reason.
It may be a good reason or a bad reason. Regardless, whether that's an escalation procedure where managers are involved at a certain point, an internal tracking document, or something else, don't wait for people to start missing deadlines before you try to do something about it.
This is especially true if you work at a large organization, with lots of very busy people across different teams.
While you don't want to create a hostile environment, where folks feel negatively about your company's content program, you, as the owner, will be solely responsible for ensuring that your content publishing doesn't falter.
This is really hard when you're not the one doing the producing.
Instead, you're managing other people to do that for you. And if you don't have any sort of accountability measures in place — and a process that's defined and written down for when someone doesn't deliver as promised — you will be in charge of a mess.
You'll never be able to plan, you'll never get ahead, and you'll always feel like you're treading water.
I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but again, this is something I've learned from first-hand experience. So, if you don't have processes and procedures in place meant to ensure accountability and timely delivery of content in your hands, now is the time to create them. And then work closely with your leadership to communicate those processes and procedures to the rest of your company.