Outsourcing vs. hiring decisions are tough for any company across any skill set. In particular, engineering and content creation are two areas that companies in our ecosystem constantly struggle with (we are a San Francisco-based start-up). I want to spend some time talking about the latter, and shed some light on how companies here in the Bay Area are thinking about outsourcing content creation.
Identify your content needs
Not only are companies realizing that content marketing is an important part of customer acquisition, but different types of content marketing are emerging that can help organizations succeed in other areas. For example, emerging tech blogs, such as Pando Daily, are beginning to use eBooks effectively, and established start-ups like Hootsuite are using white papers to market their products.
Different content types require different skill sets, so even if you have a fabulous writer on staff, if that person doesn’t understand the finer points of writing the white papers you need to create as part of your marketing strategy, you’ll need to outsource. Having different writers for different content types is essentially the equivalent of having a baseball team — where different players’ strengths make them better at playing some positions compared to others. It does not matter if you have a great hitter — that person cannot play first base, shortstop, and catcher at the same time. For example, your in-house writer may be great at writing press releases, but not have the SEO knowledge needed to write content for the internet or the marketing experience to write Facebook posts and sales brochures.
Manage your time
This might strike you as obvious, but even established companies screw this one up: If your team doesn’t have time to write the content you need, it is a no-brainer to outsource. Just one short blog post can take several hours to complete when you consider writing and editing time. Factor in the research time that some content requires, and one piece can take a couple more additional hours. If your company needs multiple blog posts or other content written, there is a good chance your in-house team won’t have the time to get it done.
Content marketing is something that has to be attended to on a regular basis. For example, my in-house team wasn’t able to keep up with all of our own content needs, so we outsourced our blog to outside writers who were able to post entries on a regular basis.
Another great example of a content company that outsources effectively is BleacherReport.com. They produce some of the best sports content on the internet and not only is the writing completely outsourced, so is their entire editorial process. The BleacherReport.com staff is able to focus on the future direction of the company, while producing the sheer volume of content they need on a daily basis by using outsourced writers and editors. Take a minute to think how amazing that is — their entire product is content, and yet they managed to outsource it, and maintain high standards in the process.
Identify a provider
Rather than being self-referential (we are an outsourced content provider, after all), I wanted to speak more generally about how you should think about providers. There are quite a few options, but I would avoid the trap of going with the lowest-cost providers (unless it is the only viable option you have). There are a few reasons for this:
- In general, low-cost providers frequently use non-native English speakers to fulfill their writing assignments.
- You may have to invest the time to re-work the entire piece yourself to check for plagiarism, fact check, fix grammar issues, and meet your company’s style guidelines when using low-quality providers.
- The writers may not have actual knowledge of the subject before they take on your project.
Do not be penny wise and pound foolish. On the other end of the spectrum, do not overpay for providers who claim their quality is higher by virtue of their prices being higher. Look at a writer’s or content provider’s clients and writing samples to determine the real quality of their work.
The trend these days seems to be measuring Klout score, but I would argue that Klout score is generally irrelevant if you want to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns and the like. Instead, you should be focused on real numbers: number of tweets, number of FB posts, and your own internal analytics. Are you putting out enough quality content to gain a larger consumer base? It takes a mass media marketing campaign to reach your target market and get ahead of your competition. In-house staff may not have the time to create and update posts and the knowledge to adapt to the internet’s ever-changing environment. By hiring experienced content providers, you can get the quantity and quality needed to make your mark on the internet. Here is what you are measuring with regard to effectiveness:
- Amplification: How large an audience does your post/article reach?
- Action: Does your content actually lead to conversions (registrations, purchases, or whatever you are tracking)?
For the former, though there are tools that claim to measure actual amplification, you are better off keeping your finger on the pulse of social media conversations yourself to gauge quality. This is a young and burgeoning space, and providers such as 500 Friends will come up with a way to measure true social amplification/effectiveness. With regard to action, simply setting goals in Google Analytics, and tracking links on content into conversions is the way to go.
Last, measure the effectiveness of your own writing against the outsourced provider – that, in combination with the above factors, will help you determine whether it is worth outsourcing content creation or not. Does your in-house team have the experience writing the content you need? Remember the baseball analogy I talked about before. Is your in-house writer a pitcher, when what you really need is a great catcher? Your in-house writer may be able to draft a contract that only the Incredible Hulk can break, but can he write sales copy that will start a frenzy over your new product? In some cases, you may be your own best weapon, but in other cases, it’s better to outsource.
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