By Nate Riggs published September 24, 2010

3 Strategies for Changing Your Company Culture To Support Content Marketing

For most companies, adopting the mindset of content marketing is going to require some level of a cultural shift within the organization. That can be a daunting task, especially for larger organizations with hundreds or even thousands of employees.

For organizations where policies and procedures that govern certain behaviors are the norm, change towards a content marketing mindset can be scary. Good content marketing promotes transparency across all levels of the organization, both internally and externally.

Here are three key strategies to help you to begin to move your company towards a content marketing-friendly culture.

Understand and respect the current culture

For me, one of the most intriguing conversations on organizational change and leadership took place between Tony Hsieh and acclaimed leadership pioneer, Dr. Warren Bennis.

The video runs about an hour and is littered with ideas on how the most successful organizations approach creating cultures that embrace change.  One of the most provocative lessons from the conversation is shared by Dr. Bennis as he recalls an experience during his first couple of years as the President of the University of Cincinnati.  He states:

It is disrespectful to think you are going to change a culture without really taking the time to deeply understand that culture on which the foundation has was laid.

Dr. Bennis later refers to this concept as “Contextual Intelligence,” again highlighting that to truly implement change, “you’ve got to know the territory.”

Marketers need to make the time and effort to understand the deeper history and traditions that anchor the current company culture. As change agents, marketing leaders should be willing to “celebrate and adhere to the symbols of the past” while inventing new symbols, artifacts, traditions and values that support and empower the transparency that content marketing programs create.

Be better change agents

In almost all cases, culture shift starts with a leader and their vision. As the recent B2B content marketing research found, one of the biggest differentiators between effective and less effective content marketers is executive buy-in: 23% of the least effective marketers cite this as a challenge whereas this is an issue for only 7% of effective marketers.

A strong leader has the charisma to set the tone of the company by tapping into all levels of the organization to create an environment where employees at all levels feel they have a chance to offer their ideas and be heard. Being heard creates a sense of cultural ownership that often takes hold at the middle ranks of the organizational hierarchy.  Savvy change agents, such as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, look for ways to practice humility and open communication across all levels of the organization.

Another example that I like to cite comes from How To Foster Honesty In Your Team by blogger Michael Hyatt, who is also CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.   He shares these four take-aways:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Be inquisitive
  3. Accept and agree
  4. Reward honesty

While the original post is focused on managing internal teams, Michael’s ideas seem to relate to Dr. Bennis’s as they provide a blueprint for tactics that marketing leaders can use to deeply understand the current culture by creating environments that thrive on open communication and flattened management structures.

Empower change from the bottom up

In an example that’s closer to my own firm, Sam Falletta (a client and partner of my firm) takes a unique approach to manage his direct reports at Incept, a conversational marketing firm that I’ve mentioned here before.  At Incept, creating a culture that supports content marketing is critical in that content creation and online conversations are viewed as a core competency.

The bottom up management process looks something like this:

  1. Supervisors at all levels give each of their reports a specific list of desired outcomes to meet within a 60-90 day time frame.
  2. Each report is then empowered to spend time developing their own unique plan and processes that will allow them to achieve those outcomes.
  3. Each plan is required to include a list of resources and support that the supervisor will provide, to help the report meet their goals within the given time frame.
  4. Each party is held mutually accountable for delivering on their commitments, and meets weekly to have productive conversations that keep momentum going towards successful delivery of the desired outcomes.

Another way Incept empowers a culture that supports content marketing is to use their company Faceook Page to have internal conversations that are externally visible to clients, prospects and partners.  In essence, the Facebook page becomes the epicenter of conversations between all levels of employees.  Page Administrators focus on facilitating five different types of conversations:

  1. Acquisition – conversations related to acquiring new talent from participants in the fanbase that could potentially be a culture fit for Incept’s five core values.
  2. Appreciation – general kudos and thank you messages to employees who go the extra mile to achieve success, which are visible to the entire community.
  3. Retention – conversations related to uncovering and addressing employee questions or concerns in an open forum.
  4. Conversion – conversations related to giving Incept employees the opportunity to convert from one role in the organization to another.
  5. Reactivation – conversations related to reactivating employees’ interest in company conversations on specific policies or initiatives.

While no employees are required to participate on the Facebook page, simply providing the tool and encouraging new hires to use it has resulted in a 401.43% increase total fanbase since March of this year. Currently, the number of engaged fans (measured by the number of non-admin distributed comments over the total fanbase) is holding at between 12 to 14%.

What’s your take?

Is your company using any of the three strategies mentioned here?  How are they working?  What challenges have you faced when moving toward a content marketing-friendly culture?

Author: Nate Riggs

Nate Riggs is the Founder and CEO of NR Media Group, a Columbus, Ohio-based marketing agency that works to change the way businesses use digital media to connect with customers, earn their trust and win their business for life. Nate will be releasing the Video Engineering Playbook early in 2015, and you can download sample chapters for free.

Other posts by Nate Riggs

  • http://mikewhaling.com Mike Whaling

    I think your point about fostering an open environment is huge, Nate. Especially in larger organizations, I find that most people tend to think “CYA” first. There’s an internal editorial process (sometimes written, but very often not) that ends up discouraging people from suggesting new ideas. Specific to content creation, this editorializing prevents employees from suggesting ideas for new content. Instead, they leave it to the PR or marketing team … it’s “not my job.”

    I don’t know that everyone wants to, or needs to, be a change agent within an organization, but they can be taught to identify good opportunities for content. That conversation about the latest production technique: good opportunity for content. The same question that your customer service reps hear 20 times a day: good opportunity for content. Once team members are taught to recognize those opportunities as such and encouraged to share them with the content producers, it’s amazing to see how the wheels start turning and the suggestions start pouring in. In most organizations, the content is already there … just waiting for us. It’s up to us to reinforce that with our teams.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      That’s really the essence of a human business team. Content needs to come from all departments and at all levels within the organization. Humanizing business is what drive customers do develop deeper relationships with any specific brand. The challenge today, which is highlighted by some of the research that CMI and Marketing Profs did is that a large majority if companies want to outsource the production of that content. Outsourcing the support of that content creations suddenly becomes a n attractive option.

      That also makes sense to me. Most businesses out there would not name social media or content marketing as a core competency. And, to make it a core competency requires dollars, people and most importantly, time and a learning curve.

  • http://twitter.com/CherylHarrison Cheryl Harrison

    I love the Incept management style as a way to adapt a company’s culture to content marketing and the social web. Giving associates a sense of ownership of their responsibilities and, subsequently, the company, puts that associate in the mindset to a) feel like they are able to talk about their company and, more importantly, b) WANT to talk (positively) about their company.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      Employees at all levels of the organization want to feel empowered to have a voice. It’s amazing what can happen if you give them that chance…

      • Sam Falletta

        Cheryl, thanks so much for the kind words, and Nate, I couldn’t agree more. Most employees desire to be successful and have an impact. One additional study that impacted the way we manage culture was a fascinating presentation by Dan Pink. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc)

        For us, information like this confirms that getting exceptional success from employees is much less about creating a brilliant plan, but is actually about defining the goal and getting out of their way. Using online tools only assists in making that culture more tangible, especially to Gen Y employees who use that as a significant part of their daily interaction. Great post!

        • Rebecca Weiand

          Thank you Cheryl and Nate for your kind words!! We want our employees to feel empowered because without them we wouldn’t be the success that we are! Working here has been the best experience!

  • http://desaraeveit.com/ Desarae A. Veit AKA DesaraeV

    I love this quote, “It is disrespectful to think you are going to change a culture without really taking the time to deeply understand that culture on which the foundation has was laid.” It’s so true and can be said for any type of change in a company, culture, or friendship. You need to understand why things are done and not just charge in with a head full of ideas that may or may not be well respected without first respecting the original processes. I just got a new puppy and can also say your thoughts on the reward system are as good for humans as they are for animals. Everyone responds better to guidance and a reward system vs. a demanding and confusing back order system that leaves everyone scared in a corner. Great post Nate. Always love reading what you are up to.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      What’s interesting is that not many companies today follow that type of bottom up management mindset. The ones that do seem to be doing really well across the board. It’s a paradigm shift, but well worth it in results. Thanks Desarae.

  • http://www.InceptResults.com Sam Falletta

    Nate, another great post with some very good thought starters in it.

    A colleague of mine always used to say, “In today’s day and age, with technology changing so rapidly, international outsourcing options, etc…..the only thing a company will have that cannot be copied is their culture”. I think leaders like Tony has shown that culture CAN be a business driver and more and more people will begin to invest in it as they do “traditional” business units.

    The use of online tools and teams can be a great way for companies that adopt this quickly to gain competitive advantages.

    • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

      One of the things I’ll keep top of mind this year was the idea that Tony shared regarding that “Your culture is your brand”. I like that because it puts the focus on the leadership and keeps organizations honest.

  • Byron

    Spot On.

    Another spin to consider is the notion that content marketing may in fact be the breeder for a new culture in the workplace. Community rules and tribal guidelines may replace employee manuals. Sales reps may focus less on “cold calls” and more on building a “fan base” for growth. Accountants may stop mailing invoices and ask a question wall to wall. Membership may replace the notion of employment. And membership might have many new rewards.

    Hang on. I think this is happening. And thanks Nate for the inspiration to make it happen.