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Break Through the Barriers to Enterprise Content Creation

barriers to content creationIf it’s becoming a challenge to get your C-level executive to write the thought leadership content you need for your corporate storytelling efforts, remember that, while some CEOs may love to write, nearly all of them like to talk. Try capturing their insight and ideas using a more conversational format; for example, interview them using Skype and record the conversation.

Your content editors can then turn the resulting audio (or video) and transcripts into multiple content marketing pieces (e.g., blog posts, white papers, etc.). Or, if the recorded content is high quality, you can even use it in its original format as the basis of a podcast. Even if your CEO isn’t available to be interviewed and is unwilling/unable to write an article, ask if he or she would be willing to answer a few questions via an email.

In other words, don’t block the content marketing process by trying to force your executives and staff members into doing something they aren’t comfortable with — there are plenty of other ways to generate effective content marketing.

For example, when you’re at industry events, be sure to capture photos and video. Then, you can splice and dice the footage with other pieces of content you have created (or curated).

Another option is to just sit down with the person and have an informal conversation. If, say, you have a product manager who is camera shy, or doesn’t feel like she can write 500 words on a particular topic, take her to lunch, ask her to answer a few questions, and then record or take notes on her responses. Again, the resulting content can be leveraged in various formats.

Help them tell stories

When talking with executives about writing and creating content, you have to begin by simply teaching them what the act of “writing” fundamentally is: a process for translating the ideas in your head into words that can be shared with others. As the famed sportswriter Red Smith used to delicately put it, all you have to do is “sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Of course the real magic of turning ideas into stories (or anything worth reading) happens in the editing process. Relieve your team of their worries by assuring them that the copy will be “polished up” during editing. Then get them rolling by offering these two tips:

  • Write it out: Just write blind — get all of your ideas out. Writers are usually surprised by how much structure and genuine goodness comes out by just opening up and not letting their mental “editor” get in the way. Tell your prospective contributors to just spend half an hour typing out their thoughts without restricting them in any way.
  • Storyboard it out: If they’re having trouble opening up or getting the ideas to flow, ask them to visualize what they want to say, and then write some key words, phrases, or concepts onto sticky notes. They can even draw some of their thoughts, if that’s helpful for them. This is a particularly useful technique for organizing ideas for use in longer-form content, like white papers or live presentations (mind mapping may help as well).

Using free writing to solve writer’s block

I had an outstanding conversation a few years back with Mark Levy (who, among other things, is author of “Accidental Genius).

Mark gave me a crash course in something called free writing. Free writing, also called stream-of-consciousness writing, is a technique where you write for a set period of time without regard for spelling, or even topic. Mark uses this technique with his clients to unearth the raw content at the heart of a creator.

From my quick conversation with Mark and some of my own research, I learned that free writing is a staple of creative writing programs around the world. According to Natalie Goldberg, author of the “True Secret of Writing,” the rules of free writing include:

  • Give yourself a time limit. Write for a set period and then stop.
  • Keep your hand moving until the time is up. Do not pause to stare into space or to read what you’ve written. Write quickly, but you don’t need to hurry.
  • Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style. Nobody else needs to read what you produce.
  • If you get off the topic, or run out of ideas, keep writing anyway. If necessary, write nonsense or whatever comes into your head, or simply scribble; just do anything that will keep your hand moving.
  • If you feel bored or uncomfortable as you’re writing, ask yourself what’s bothering you, and write about that.
  • When the time is up, look over what you’ve written, and mark passages that contain ideas or phrases that might be worth keeping or elaborating on in a subsequent free-writing session.

I recently took my first stab at free writing, giving myself a five-minute period to think about the idea of integrating content into the marketing process. Here is (a cleaned-up version of) what I came up with:

  • Problems with integrating content into marketing plan
  • How to measure content marketing as part of the overall marketing plan?
  • How do I integrate social media as part of the marketing plan?
  • What tactics work the best, depending on the buying cycle?
  • What internal resources are needed for content marketing effectiveness?
  • How do I tie in listening through social media with new content topics?
  • What department should oversee the content process?
  • How do I get the sales team to help develop content?
  • How much freedom should employees have as content spokespeople for our brands?
  • When should I outsource vs. insource content marketing? Is there an assessment?
  • What’s the difference between outsourcing $25 articles and $3,000 articles? Is there a difference?
  • How do I educate my CMO on the benefits of content marketing?
  • What if our CMO wants to sell too much in our content?
  • Should we start a blog?
  • How actively do we need to participate on other sites?
  • Do we participate on our competitors’ content sites?
  • What about content curation?
  • When do we decide whether to develop content ourselves or curate it?
  • How do I communicate what we are doing with our content across the enterprise?
  • Is there a worksheet that will help me construct my content marketing plan?
  • Is print still relevant in content marketing?
  • What’s the minimum amount I need to segment my customers regarding content?
  • Do I need buyer personas? For all my buyers?

What I gained as a result of this exercise is more than 20 possible topics for future blog articles. I’m sure I didn’t do it perfectly, but it was a great start.

So, the next time you, or your key content providers, get writer’s block, try this free-writing exercise. It could be helpful for customer service, sales, engineering, or any other customer-facing staff member.

Help employees become aware of content opportunities

At one of the technology companies CMI has worked with, much of the customer service process took place through email. When we did an initial content analysis, we realized that many of the conversations taking place through direct customer email could easily be turned into blog and article content. It took only one customer service rep to take notice of this before the entire organization started to look for content opportunities as part of their everyday business interactions. Now, their customer service reps and sales reps are more routinely prepared to develop their emails into a FAQ for their website or to expand upon them to create blog posts.

In my experience, sometimes getting an outside perspective on this process can really help the marketing department get pointed in the right direction… or sometimes it takes someone from the outside to back up an employee’s efforts to get C-level execs to open their eyes to the power of content marketing.

In summary

According to our latest content marketing research, B2B marketers list “producing enough content” as the greatest of their content marketing challenges. At CMI, we have consulted with well over 50 of the leading brands from around the world. At each one, the perception was that they had a lack of content material. That was never the case — they always had plenty of fodder for content, it just wasn’t always in story form.

The key is to capture raw content wherever stories are happening in your organization, in whatever ways you can. Then work with editors, outside freelancers, or content marketing agencies to align it with your content marketing strategy and shape it into something truly compelling.

Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. You can preorder it now on 

Cover image via Bigstock