By Rick Allen published January 11, 2012

Content Marketing: Customer Relationship Management Begins at Home

When we talk about content marketing and relationship management, we often think customers, and rightly so. Customer relationships are a cornerstone of content marketing, especially when we implicitly partner with our customers to create great content. They tell us what content they want — directly or indirectly — and we aim to publish useful, relevant content that meets their needs. But customers aren’t our only stakeholders. If you’re developing a program of successful content marketing, relationship management needs to start at home.

It takes a village to raise a content marketing strategy (that’s the saying, right?). Content marketing is only as effective as the internal community that supports it, and that community is bigger than just the marketing department. The most valuable marketing content often lives outside the marketing department, in the hands of content contributors and subject matter experts.

Creating and sustaining quality marketing content within your organization requires strong internal relationships; these relationships inform content requirements and customers’ needs while providing valuable sources of content.

Communication goals: Breaking down the silos

So what gets in the way of internal relationships and great content marketing? Politics. Organizations have many internal stakeholders — such as product developers, customer service representatives, business managers, and creative directors — with many different objectives. With competing priorities and different points of view, how can organizations collectively create content that supports marketing? How do we tell a consistent story through countless content sources and delivery methods?

To ensure content educates and informs, rather than confuses or misleads, break down the silos and get everyone on the same page. This means you need to understand your internal stakeholders as well as you understand your customers.

The good news is there’s common ground. All these seemingly competing priorities are supporting the same business objectives — just like your content marketing program. (Well, hopefully.)

Invite internal stakeholders to join the party. Work with them to define their communication goals so they understand how the content they inform or create supports their work along with larger business objectives. Stakeholders will step out on the dance floor if the beat is something they can move to.

Assign ownership: Getting stakeholders involved

Just as you need to work with your customers, you need to work with your internal stakeholders. Involve them in the process. The more stakeholders can take ownership in the process, the more invested they will be in its success.

From my experience, marketing teams are easily frustrated by the lack of participation from stakeholders. I’ve been there. “Why is the product manager’s contact information out of date?” “When was the last time the customer service team updated their blog?” However, I’ve found these problems are not always due to a lack of interest but rather a lack of guidance.

Most people in your organization may not think of themselves as publishers or know what it means to be one. But if they’re informing, creating, editing, approving, or sharing content, they are publishers and need to think differently. It’s our job as content professionals to educate stakeholders and enable collaboration. As Erin Kissane recommends in The Elements of Content Strategy, you can start by introducing internal stakeholders to common publishing tools and processes, such as editorial workflows, editorial calendars, and “content that is custom-tuned for specific channels and audiences.”

Some stakeholders will readily welcome being part of the publishing process, while others will require coaxing. You may need to buy the first cup of coffee, but it’s worth the $1.50.

Education: Creating a content marketing culture

Though most people don’t see themselves as publishers, stakeholders at every level of an organization are content creators. Photos, videos, white papers, blogs, tweets — it’s all content that contributes to your brand’s story and shapes customer perception. But not all internal stakeholders understand their audience and communication goals, which is vital knowledge if they are going to create or contribute to content that is valuable and purposeful.

Guide your brand. To help content contributors better understand their audience and to communicate clearly, include brand messaging and communication goals in your editorial style guides. Offer practical examples of how to convey your brand through content. The folks at MailChimp — a company well known for its casual, playful brand — accomplish this through a working voice and tone style guide. They also prove editorial style can be as fun to use as it is to read.

Build a content network for sharing and learning. Content marketing is a long-term commitment. Constantly publishing great content is tough, but you can find support in a content network. This effort starts by inviting internal stakeholders to share ideas and expertise. Create a contact list for your network of content contributors and partners. Encourage collaboration through regular meetings or use an internal wiki to share ideas. Who knows? You might just find a great content idea (or someone new to join your Friday night poker game).

Demonstrate the value of content. It’s important to communicate the relevance of your content marketing program to your internal stakeholders. They likely already know that content can attract, engage, and retain customers, which is great, but they should also know the specifics of how it achieves these goals. Is its main purpose to improve communication? Support customer service? Enhance brand awareness? Whatever the goals are for your content marketing program, you need to communicate — and demonstrate — them in order to foster true understanding of content marketing throughout your organization.

To demonstrate your content’s value, start by identifying relevant metrics that convey how content supports your business’s communication goals. For example, if your organization wants to be seen as dedicated to community building, track metrics of how frequently members of the target audience comment on blog posts and socialize your organization’s content on Twitter or on the company’s or employees’ own blogs.

It’s easier to gain internal stakeholder support when you foster an organizational culture that understands the value of its content, and can see evidence that it is working. Who knows? With clear results on the table, maybe a colleague will buy you the next cup of coffee!

Putting relationships to work

With strong internal stakeholder relationships and a content strategy, a content marketing program has the foundation it needs for success.

With better collaboration, you can:

  • Align content creation with business objectives and communication goals
  • Ensure consistent voice, tone, and brand messaging across content delivery channels and among diverse subject matter experts
  • Discover opportunities for repurposing shared content in order to meet new needs for customers and your business
  • Create listening posts within your content network to better understand customers’ needs and pain points
  • Establish guidelines and best practices, including those for editorial, SEO, social media, content formats, and delivery methods
  • Share relevant sources of content to support marketing initiatives
  • Identify subject experts to respond to or inform responses to content feedback
  • Share success metrics — including those for business, usability, and SEO — to improve your content marketing program

How do you manage internal relationships in your content marketing program? How do these relationships benefit your content and customers? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject in the comments.

Author: Rick Allen

Rick Allen is the principal of ePublish Media LLC, a content strategy consultancy based in Boston, MA. He is also the co-founder of Meet Content, an online resource dedicated to higher education content strategy. Rick writes and speaks on a "content first" approach to the web in support of marketing, communications, and on-brand user experience. You can catch Rick on Twitter at @epublishmedia.

Other posts by Rick Allen

Join Over 150,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program FREE!

  • write essay for me

    Very nice!

  • Jane McMurry

    Very insightful information that validates that the adoption of a Content Marketing approach needs to begin with internal collaboration. 

    • Rick Allen

      Thanks for the feedback, Jane! Indeed, collaboration is key.

  • Robin

    Nice depth and detail on this article – Rick!
    So many people forget it is as important to sell an idea to internal stakeholders, just as you would your customers. By clearly presenting the scope, benefits and then discussing what their expectations of the project are – you give people the chance to contribute and build the idea (rather than just by presenting what will be happening on your project).

    If you can market your ideas to them internally, then the idea has a solid foundation to build on.

    I recently attended a meeting where the presenter updated everyone on what they would be doing around a new project. The decisions had been made without any input from the attendees whose job it was to implement the changes.
    His opening gambit was about how ‘this was the new way of doing things’ – which visably resulted in 75% of the people switched off their attention – as they were being ‘told’ (not ‘sold’) on the new ideas.
    Suffice to say he made his job soooo much harder to implement as no-one bought into what he was saying.

    So your right to bring up the information above – Think relationship – Not dictatorship!

  • Anonymous

    I have thought about setting up a content network with a few other website owners. It can be a great way to keep fresh content coming for several different sources.
    Nice article, Thanks.