Recently, I wrote an article about the importance of building relationships for content marketing success. In that article, I focused mainly on relationships outside of your company, but the same logic applies to team members across different departments within your own offices. Collaborating effectively across departments is a critical component of any company’s content marketing strategy. If you don’t have a cohesive effort that crosses departmental boundaries, you risk running into a number of problems.
Developing cross-functional teams is a highly effective method of coordinating content marketing initiatives across an enterprise in a collaborative way, rather than having each department creating its own content in an isolated fashion. No matter what the task, a silo mentality can be detrimental to an organization’s ability to accomplish its overarching business objectives, and this is particularly true when it comes to content marketing projects.
Content marketing should be a shared experience that spans the boundaries of all departments. Undoubtedly, there are brilliant content marketing minds in every corner of your company — you just need to seek them out. Here are a few bits of advice to help you break down the silos and start organizing cross-functional teams for content marketing success.
Round up a variety of expertise for projects
Let’s say you are dealing with a total revamp of your company’s website. It’s not as simple as bringing in a web designer and handing her or him the keys to the kingdom. Yes, the person will likely design a really pretty site for you that’s visually appealing and functions properly, but what about the content, SEO, user experience, social media, and other considerations that also require attention? It’s likely that you don’t have an expert grasp on all of these concepts, so why not create a team of people whose expertise spans these areas?
Before you start any project, break down the various components of that project, and develop a list of the different types of expertise that might be useful. For example, an SEO expert would certainly be helpful in ensuring that your new website is optimized for search. If the new site will have an ecommerce aspect, consider bringing in someone from accounting and customer services to make sure the site is set up properly from their perspectives. Recruit writers to make sure the content is tight; grab someone from human resources to help avoid any issues that might arise from messages that conflict with hiring best practices; ask your graphic designer to sit in on the meetings to make suggestions for visual aspects of the site (where does the logo go, etc.?)… you get the point: It takes a village.
Once you understand the pieces that are necessary to complete the puzzle, you’ll need to make sure that the team members you select are the ones most dedicated to promoting the success of your company and your content marketing. To be sure you have the right people, the next step is to start identifying evangelists.
Pinpoint your evangelists
The people in your company’s marketing department aren’t the only ones who care about the brand messages you send. If you’ve been in any type of marketing role for any significant amount of time, you are well aware that there are plenty of other stakeholders across your organization that are eager to voice their opinions on whether or not a marketing effort meets their standards. While you can’t please everyone all of the time, you can learn from the feedback that they provide. Instead of taking offense, consider that you may just have uncovered an evangelist that can help you achieve your content marketing goals.
Aside from listening to feedback from your team, here are a few other ways you can pinpoint these evangelists:
- Gauge team members’ interest by checking out their social media accounts. Are they passionately discussing your industry and other related issues, or are they busy posting photos of their cats or their last vacation? I don’t think I need to explain which of those two you should target.
- Schedule a meeting to discuss the direction of your company’s content and then send out an email inviting anyone in the company to attend. People are busy, so the ones that show up are most likely going to be dedicated to your cause.
- Talk to departmental leaders to get feedback on which team members they feel are truly dedicated to moving the company forward and sending the right messages through the content you create.
- Send out a survey to uncover any hidden talents that are just waiting to be discovered. We’ve found photographers in our writing team, graphic designers in our message board team, and content strategists in our human resources department. Ask around. You’ll be surprised what you find.
- Pay attention at company-wide meetings. Who asks the most questions? Who offers the most creative suggestions? It’s likely that their passion and interest will carry over into your content marketing efforts. But don’t ignore the wallflowers. Use the other steps I’ve offered above to identify those quiet geniuses within your organization.
Using these tips, you should be able to compile a pool of evangelists that you can go to when your next content marketing project presents itself. The next step, then, will be to figure out how to organize those evangelists to use their talents and zeal in the most effective way possible.
Structuring your cross-functional teams
Once you’ve found your experts and evangelists, and you’ve gathered a pool of talent from across a variety of functions, the question becomes how to organize your cross-functional groups when projects come around. You’ll need to be selective to ensure that you have the right talent in place to handle different types of projects. Here are a few tips for selecting the right team members for each content marketing project:
- Write down what expertise would help make each project component a success.
- Make a list of the team members that fit each area of expertise. It’s a good idea to select two or more people for each, just in case your first choice isn’t available to take on a new project.
- Make sure you’ve received approval from each team member’s manager. If you don’t take this step, you’re likely to crush your cross-functional content marketing team initiatives right out of the gate and burn a few bridges in the process.
- Once you have approval, choose the team members that fit the components of the particular content marketing project you’re working on from the list that you created earlier. (For the sake of time here, let’s assume they’re all available when you need them.)
- Now is the time to schedule your project’s first meeting. Pick a boardroom or another venue with ample space for comfort. A dry-erase board would be good to have so you can jot down ideas as the meeting goes along. Maybe even supply lunch or snacks to show team members how much you appreciate their involvement.
- If the team members have never met, or haven’t worked together, start the meeting with introductions. Once everyone is familiar with one another, you’ll want to cover the following:
o The scope of the project
o What each team member’s role will be
o Key deliverables
o The project’s purpose
o The expected outcomes
- As the project moves along, make sure you are hosting periodic meetings to help keep everyone on track and to work out any inevitable kinks that might pop up. Keep the lines of communication open in between meetings through email, instant messaging, message boards, collaboration tools, or whatever works best for you and your team.
- Account for file sharing. Some of the content your team creates may be too large to send via email. Consider setting up something like a team Dropbox to enable easy file sharing throughout the process. Google Docs is a good option, too.
- Once the project is complete, host a post-mortem meeting to cover what went right, what went wrong, and discuss the overall project and how it was handled. This will help solidify any bond your newly developed cross-functional content team will have formed, as well as help you be more efficient when the next project rolls around.
Each project will be different, so use the above as a template for structuring your cross-functional content marketing project teams, and adjust as necessary to suit your specific needs. And remember, after each project comes to a close, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and keep everyone involved. Content creation can come from any department in your company, so make sure you keep in touch, and let everyone know how much their help means to you, so that when the next project comes around they are eager to participate.
Share the success
Nothing can put a stop to a successful team quicker than a person who steals all the credit. While you may have led the team, you likely were only able to accomplish your goals because of the team’s efforts.
If you want to see similar success in future efforts, make sure key stakeholders and others are aware of how valuable their efforts were. Here are a few ways that you can make your appreciation known:
- Send out a company-wide email expressing thanks to the team for its help. Mention members by name, and note that the project would not have been a success without them.
- Stop by each team member’s desk and thank each individually, in person. The personal effect of face-to-face contact will never be replaced by any kind of digital messaging.
- Reach out to team members’ managers and let them know about the value the team added to your project.
- If your company has a bulletin or newsletter, contact those in charge of it and ask them to add a section about the project, calling out the contributions of the team members.
- Take the team out to lunch to say thanks. There aren’t too many things that are more appreciated than a free meal. Get to them through their stomachs.
These are just a few suggestions. The point is to make sure the team members are aware of how much you appreciate their hard work. If the project was a success, chances are you’ll want to work with them again. Don’t burn bridges by failing to show appreciation.
My hope is that this article will help organizations grow their content marketing efforts, as employees form tighter bonds across departments and realize the importance of cross-functional collaboration.
Start by venturing down the hall to the next department over. Strike up a conversation with someone with whom you’ve crossed paths in the halls before, but to whom you’ve only ever muttered a halfhearted “How ya doin?” or “Hey there.” If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, there’s a good chance you can find common ground talking about something like sports or the weather. It’s not important how the conversation starts, it’s just important that it gets started.
I’d love to read your comments on cross-functional teams and how your organization has used them or plans to use them in the future for content marketing projects. Leave your comments below.
Looking for more advice on how to organize your content marketing team for optimal collaboration and productivity? Read CMI’s eBook:Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Internal Processes and Content Marketing Strategy Tactics.
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