By Jay Acunzo published August 7, 2013

Scaling Your Content Marketing Team: 3 Lessons From the Field

time to share-content marketing teamsMaking sense of a career in content marketing has never been easy: It’s media, but it’s marketing; it’s art, but it’s science; it’s about quality and audience, but it’s also about quantity and company metrics. Let’s face it: It’s exciting (yet scary) to create content for a living while simultaneously navigating an ambiguous career path.

Yet, sooner or later, if everything we all believe holds true, content marketing teams will explode everywhere and go the way of sales, HR, or development, becoming established teams that function across the business enterprise. In other words, our teams will start to scale. And when that happens, to quote Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold onto your butts.” 

Several people (who are a lot smarter than me) have peered into their crystal balls to articulate the evolution of the content marketer, from Doug Kessler’s notion of the Center of Content Excellence to Joe Pulizzi’s list of 10 Marketing Roles for the Next 10 Years. And while we should all be thankful people like Doug and Joe are looking ahead, I firmly believe instances of scale exist today, in practice and in businesses that don’t necessarily have the brand clout of Coca-Cola or Red Bull. If those of us experiencing the early signs of scale can share loudly enough, then perhaps we can turn the great promise of content marketing — a world built on content people actually love, rather than on interruptive ads — into a reality. So…

This is a call to start a loud conversation, sharing the good, the bad, and the unavoidable, oh-so-important ugly that come with scale.

From the field: Three lessons on the scaling of content marketing teams 

Within the past few years, I left a position at Google (where everything down to the sticky notes is done at scale) and built a small start-up’s content team. Based on conversations I had around town about content careers and best practices, I also co-founded a content community group for content marketers in the Boston area (Boston Content), and began hosting quarterly events. Thanks to the efforts of the Boston community, we grew to 300 members, each of whom had experienced similar problems to those of my start-up job at the time: understanding, adopting, and finding initial success with content marketing.

But stepping into HubSpot earlier this year to lead its content team, I noticed some stark differences and obvious signs of scale. By sharing, comparing, and contrasting them here, I hope to accelerate the discussion of where all this content marketing stuff leads. Based on my experience working with the HubSpot team and the Boston Content community, here’s what you might expect as your content team scales:

1. You will remember that content is for resonance, not just reach

You start to increase your focus on what C.C. Chapman calls the “soul” of your content. These are the words, or the video footage, or the audio where real conversions happen, and where your audience actually chooses to spend time. It’s, you know, content. Unfortunately we get caught up in things like headlines, SEO practices, social sharing, and email — all are wonderful distribution mechanisms, but content is about resonance, not just reach. Something great has to happen after the click, so if your content mission is to “get eyeballs,” you are overlooking the fact that you’re targeting real people who have thoughts, emotions, nuances, and biases.

One way we’re tackling this issue of what resonates, in addition to knowing our audience and having conversations with them, is by installing a content-specific Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey that readers can fill out. NPS is a survey used by thousands of companies to measure audience approval. The survey asks how likely you’d be to recommend something (a product, service or, in our case, content) to a friend on a 0-10 scale, with 10 being the most likely. By calculating the difference between your “promoters” (9-10) and your “detractors” (0-6), NPS helps you create a benchmark score for your organization to measure month-to-month progress with audience favorability.

By adding the NPS survey at the end of our longer-form content, we’re starting to measure sentiment and gather feedback about our content. Does it resonate? We aim to find out, and then make improvements in the name of resonance.

2. You’ll develop niche playbooks to be able to move more quickly and create content with purpose

Over the past 6 months, our content team has quickly added head count and responsibilities, and we’re set to grow even more in the coming months. Faced with balancing more people, better quality, higher volume, and the needs of a company that’s now much larger overall, we’re constantly looking for ways to grease the wheels and keep our content marketing machine moving as quickly as possible.

While a small, emerging content team might only need to have a single content publishing “playbook,” or approach to content creation, our team has found itself with a dire need to create multiple playbooks, each addressing a different strategic goal, in order to scale elegantly.

For instance, let’s say a company’s major product launch required the creation of a large volume of awareness-stage content. Our content team goal would be to hear the words “product launch” and “awareness” and instantly understand the exact types of content we would then need to create — and to be able to apply the same content processes to the next product launch. The narrative and “soul” of the content might change, making it wonderfully unique to the audience, but the way we execute should be sustainable and scalable for the long-term.

3. You’ll start to specialize and hire complementary team members

With scale often comes specialization, as well as the need to work smarter against specific goals, not just really hard against every goal (though the hard work never goes away). Some of the personalities or areas of specialty that will likely start to emerge include:

“The optimizer” - As your content team’s “asset” grows, whether it’s a blog or a centralized content library comprising many content formats, you’ll need someone to focus on content as a unit, and optimize it accordingly. His or her projects aren’t as day-to-day as a writer’s work, but rather would help move the team forward in larger leaps and bounds.

“The creative energy” - Whether you designate it as a senior or junior position, it’s critical to have at least one person on staff who isn’t afraid of the crazy idea. These people come at content marketing with an earnest giddiness for creation. They may never look at analytics reports a single day in their life, and that’s okay. Their gut feelings and understanding of how to produce ideas that will resonate with your audience make them incredibly valuable.

“The machine” - There are, indeed, people in this world who are happy to just put their heads down and write like the dickens. Or just write like Dickens. (There go half my readers. For those still with me, sorry for that pun…) These hires usually come from journalism or freelance writing backgrounds, and I recommend starting to work with them on guest posts or contract work at first to feel out the relationship before hiring someone to play this role on a full-time basis.

“The sprint manager” - I mentioned HubSpot’s specific playbooks above. We tend to create in sprints, or short bursts of production that center on telling the same story across multiple formats, perhaps with a flagship piece of content at the center of it all. One of our team members is insanely good at running the entire campaign: organizing, people-wrangling, some production, and post-campaign analysis. Having this person on board, again, greases the wheels that let us move quickly, hit specific goals, and understand how we performed — and how to improve. And yes, he or she may create content, too, if needed.

“The sprinter” - A more junior role, this person gets handed a flagship piece of content (e.g., a manifesto or deep analysis of an important industry trend) and helps turn that one piece into an entire sprint. He or she creates blog posts, checklists, and other content formats, and generally extends the life of an important narrative or single pieces of content that required a heavy initial investment.

What changes have you observed as content teams start to scale?

Ultimately, the robots haven’t replaced the writers. We still need great people, with great ideas and skills, to create great content. And as teams scale by adding these people, we need to all start talking loudly about what we are learning, what’s working, what’s not, and how we can ensure that, 20 years from now, we will look back at 2013 as the year our industry really took off in the right direction.

We’ve all bought into the need to plan, produce, distribute, and analyze content. And, sure, most of us aren’t Red Bull. But who’s to say we can’t start adding a little energy to the content marketing world and do something huge too?

For more insight on the future roles that will lead content marketing to new levels of success, join the CMI team at Content Marketing World 2013.

Author: Jay Acunzo

Jay Acunzo is the director of platform and community at NextView Ventures and co-founder of Boston Content, the area’s largest content marketing group. The former head of content at HubSpot and Dailybreak Media, Jay started his career as a digital media strategist at Google. His personal blog, Sorry for Marketing, explores and celebrates quality and creativity in content marketing. Connect with Jay on Twitter @jay_zo.

Other posts by Jay Acunzo

  • nathanjoynt

    Great post Jay. Scaling has been an ongoing challenge for our content team and we’ve always known we are not alone. Perhaps the challenge will always be there as a part of content marketing. You offer great advice about how to organize production and resources. HubSpot has always been a source of inspiration for us.

    Regards,
    Nathan

    • http://jayacunzo.com/ Jay Acunzo

      Appreciate it, Nathan! Happy to chat anytime about the challenges you guys face. I honestly don’t think anyone has it totally figured out – we certainly don’t, I’d never claim I do, and I don’t think huge brands who appear to like AMEX or Coke do. Gimme a shout @jay_zo anytime

  • MaireadRidge

    Great post. Thanks Jay. Where do designers fit here? Do you see it as a freelance role, part of the content team, or a separate function entirely?

    • http://jayacunzo.com/ Jay Acunzo

      Thanks! That is an EXCELLENT point. Designers, developers, videographers – basically, those who can help content teams attack weak “markets” much like entrepreneurs attack weak markets. Ebooks are saturated, so go after another area – but that may require another skill set.

      I didn’t want to pigeonhole any of the functions above as “writers” or “designers” simply because 1 skill set is no longer an option, or at least not an option at scale. I’ll give you an example: because we organize around production sprints, we need to create 1 awesome, flagship piece and many smaller or different pieces. That inevitably means, even if your first piece was an ebook, you’ll branch your work off into mediums that require elements of design, maybe even video.

      So, that’s a long way of saying I’m putting my money on jacks and jills of many trades to slot into any of those roles. But 200% yes to designers in that world!

  • Sue

    Hi Jay.

  • jcrowe_openview

    It’s really interesting to get a peek inside how you organize your team and approach your projects/campaigns there at HubSpot. At OpenView, we’re currently a team of three people falling primarily into the following roles:

    Director of Content Strategy: directing overall campaign strategy, creation of flagship content (ex: eBooks)
    Managing Editor: orchestrating production of day-to-day content (both stand-alone and supporting flagship content)
    Content Marketing Specialist: owning content distribution (social, etc.)

    It’s working well for us now and there definitely seems to be some overlap with the roles you’ve described. But one of our challenges (and I think it’s one that might be magnified at scale) is constantly maintaining alignment and ensuring each of our efforts is helping us to (just as you put it) work smarter against the same strategic goal. Throwing more people into the mix can obviously help boost production, but it also has the potential to make maintaining focus and efficiency tough.

    How do you see the organization of HubSpot’s content team changing as you scale? Are you focusing on adding particular roles from your list?

    If your focus is synching up around flagship content, one possibility might be creating multiple groups of small teams (each with a sprint manager, sprinter, creator/”machine”) with a higher strategic role managing/directing from above. Does that resemble what you’re doing now in any way?

    Thanks again for the post. Looking forward to hearing more!

    • http://jayacunzo.com/ Jay Acunzo

      Thanks for the comment. We’ve thought about the pod structure (for instance at Google the sales team uses pods well, where 1 client list, which is usually divided by vertical, has an account exec, an account mgr, an analytics person, etc., all with specialty areas focused against the same thing). That pod structure could work well at MASSIVE scale, where a brand has core stories it’s trying to tell or topic areas to cover. If it’s HubSpot, for instance, maybe social media topics is 1 pod, and the pod contains someone who’s “a creative,” another who’s focused on data, another who’s a researcher, maybe an editor straddling a bunch of pods (or researcher straddling there), etc….

      It’s all very hazy to look at in the future, and that’s why it’s a fun time to be in this niche :)

  • Ayushma Pandey

    Very interesting piece. I really like your idea of “content for resonance, not just reach”.

  • Laleh Farrah Hassibi

    Jay, this is very helpful. One observation is that many traditional (even new-traditional) marketing roles have completely blurred together in the quest to create a content based marketing approach. Not only is this true within a small content team as I have, but especially tricky is differentiating where “Content” ends and “Demand Generation” begins as our content team is often coming up with the ideas and plans for the actual content promotions, including how to roll up campaigns for tracking and where to promote content (typically a demand gen role).

    • http://jayacunzo.com/ Jay Acunzo

      Definitely. We see that too. The person who wrote the ebook thinks about the subject and the work for so long that naturally creative ways to promote it crop up (and the person is also likely creative themselves) so that makes sense. Let’s say the organization and the team are both huge: there are likely certain launches and certain things published that are JUST to be handed over for another team to run with, while others are more integrated and require thinking through something else, which might involve a lot more people.

      The first stuff is “feed the machine” type stuff, whereas the others might be more canonical works you create to back large company initiatives.

  • rogercparker

    Jay, congratulations on the “human side of content” and your profiles of the major players in Step 3, “Complementary team members.”

    This is the first time I’ve seen the topic addressed so nicely, in terms of personality types and roles. Very helpful.

    Any recommendations for URLs to see NPS scoring in action or learn more?

    Roger

  • Stef

    Jay, thank you for posting this amazing article! Even more, thank you, and everyone who commented, for expanding on this topic through the great dialog! Such great insights into how we are all going about getting it done in the fast changing, exciting world of content marketing. Good to know we are all going through similar challenges and thank you for sharing how you are solving for them.

  • Ryan King

    Jay, thanks for this article! It’s awesome to think about the evolution of content marketing and how finding the right team can exponentially improve your impact.

    Any thoughts on how you take that first step? A lot of organizations have people writing content as their “side job” while working on other efforts. What role do you put in place first to start establishing a team?

    Thanks!

    Ryan
    http://www.marketingminute.co