Content marketing is a rapidly evolving and unsettled sector. Titles, job roles and responsibilities continue to vary widely, and teams often have a mix of full-time and freelance talent. As the industry figures things out, It’s the perfect time to learn how to manage a content marketing team.
We know building your content marketing team is only the beginning. Once you’ve set your strategy and put the right people into place, you’ll have to provide the resources and support they need to make it all happen. To help your team produce great content that furthers your organizational goals, your team will need effective leadership, communication and empowerment.
We continue to work in challenging times, and the latest uncertainty for many organizations is whether they have clear policies on working remotely, in a hybrid setup or on-site. Your team — and who they work with — likely includes a mix of these workers, each with different needs and expectations.
Of course, this isn’t new for many content marketing teams! We’ve long known that producing great work isn’t tied to being in the same location or even working the same hours. But not every organization has gotten the memo, and many teams are still struggling with uncertain policies and processes, all on top of the personal and professional upheaval we’ve incurred in recent years.
Your employees are also looking to grow, and if you can’t help them, they’ll find someone else who will. All of this makes it even more crucial that you lead with intention.
Here’s how to develop your content marketing team management skills.
Start With Communication
Communication is the key to managing a content marketing team. Just as you develop strategies to communicate to clients and customers, you need a strategy for communicating effectively with your team.
Set Clear Performance Expectations
The first rule of managing any type of team is alignment. If you and your team aren’t on the same page when it comes to performance expectations, content style and branding, or what constitutes quality content, then you’ll struggle to achieve positive results.
Alignment starts with you. If you’re frustrated that your team isn’t “getting it,” ask yourself: Does the team know what you expect of them? Have you communicated your expectations effectively on the front end?
Start by clearly laying out performance requirements in the role. Make this process collaborative: Invite employees into the conversation so you can learn what their standards are and where they’re coming from. This can help you anticipate and address potential performance issues before they arise.
Provide examples of content that exemplify your brand and voice. Your job as the boss isn’t to do the work for your team, but they need proper guidance and sufficient resources. Everyone benefits — especially team members who are remote — when they have the resources to produce high-quality work with less oversight.
“There is a high bar to overcome for content to stand out,” says Kim Courvoisier, director of content and customer marketing at Lob. “My team understands my expectations and shares the same passion for producing quality content.”
Incorporate Frequent Feedback
Frequent feedback helps employees gain an even better understanding of your expectations. Since content teams today are more likely to be distributed, frequent feedback helps keep team members and managers connected, informed and engaged.
Feedback is most effective when incorporated into the flow of work, such as when you’re reviewing blog post outlines or content marketing campaign plans. This gives the employee an opportunity to immediately apply that feedback, whether it’s correcting a problem or refining a key concept.
Feedback is more than managers delivering critiques. The feedback managers receive can help them learn what’s working and what’s not. One of management’s primary roles is to remove roadblocks for employees. Regular check-ins help managers understand the problems their team is facing and address them before they spiral.
Note that this type of frequent communication can be emotionally taxing, particularly because you’re often addressing team members when they’re at their most vulnerable. But there’s a big reward for sticking with it.
“If you’re accepting the emotional labor and being a great communicator — and giving feedback when it counts — you’re going to end up with some awesome people on your team,” says Lindsey Donner, vice president of member benefits at Community.co.
When you build a habit of frequent feedback with employees, you provide a solid foundation for a trusting relationship.
Establish Communication Guidelines
Have you ever been frustrated by a conversation where it feels like you’re talking past each other? Every content marketing team will benefit from collaborating on standardized communication guidelines and preferences.
Start with urgent communications. How should urgent messages be delivered? What platform is best, and what details are needed? Do you have a clear chain of command for escalating urgent issues? Every employee should understand how the team is structured and who to reach out to based on the type of questions.
Standardize delivery to avoid miscommunications. If the team decides that urgent messages should be sent via direct message, then team members will know to monitor those channels more frequently. Less timely communication can depend on the individual’s preference. Make sure each team member is aware of their peers’ communication preferences.
Communication standards can be instructional, too. For example, everyone benefits from clarity around when and how to use project and content management tools. Set guidelines on where and how to share content ideas, record conversations about each project or tag colleagues or clients into conversations.
Build in Flexibility to Prevent Problems
Even in a world of deadlines and deliverables, things don’t always go to plan. Flexible content production processes can help your team manage any problems or delays that arise. An ideal team structure will include slack into workloads, assignments and deadlines to accommodate short-notice requests or projects that need to be reworked.
Create Processes You Can Adapt
We already know that standardized communication and expectations can be helpful for effective content marketing teams. But how people achieve the shared goals should be flexible. As much as possible, allow employees to work when, where and how they work best — as long as they’re meeting expectations and deadlines.
“You have to give your team the autonomy to work when and where they will be most productive,” says Foundation Marketing founder and CEO Ross Simmonds, “while embracing a process that ensures deadlines are met and quality is maintained.”
Don’t overcommit to one process or another: If something isn’t working anymore, you have to be willing to make changes. Team members themselves are a great source of ideas for updating processes to be more efficient and effective.
Remain Vigilant to Changing Needs
The needs of your clients are always evolving, and the way you work may have to change to meet those needs. The composition of your team may be changing, too, and as your team changes, so might your processes and documentation. Most content teams work with a mix of full-time employees and freelancers. Set triggers for when to bring on freelancers and when to keep content production in-house.
Even if your processes have served you well for the past few years, content marketing efforts and teams are always evolving. You have to be alert to changes so you can respond in a timely manner. Sometimes this means reacting to conditions, but be proactive about the bigger picture, too. Put aside time to think about how the world of business will continue evolving and how your content marketing team will adapt.
Help Each Team Member Shine
Content marketing teams are only as effective as their personnel. Are you giving each team member a chance to exercise and explore their unique skill sets? Here’s how to support them as they explore and discover their potential.
Foster Creativity and Experimentation
We’ve already talked about not micromanaging how your team accomplishes assignments. Go a step further by giving them additional knowledge that will unlock their creativity. One example is cross-training, which can raise awareness of how their work intersects with their colleagues’.
Everyone can learn from cross-training. A video editor can help a writer understand how to write for video more effectively, for example, which may spark ideas for writing for other multimedia content. And those colleagues might gain perspective about their roles, too. That video editor’s work could improve from understanding how writers research, write and edit.
Pay Attention to Individual Interests
Empower employees to express their interests, especially when they intersect with the topics and types of content you produce. A writer who is knowledgeable and interested in finance, for example, can advise colleagues executing projects for a client in that space. Similarly, a web developer interested in writing can take on small writing projects.
Knowing what your employees are interested in helps you define clear opportunities for them to grow and move within the company. “Some people like writing articles and blog posts, while others lean toward infographics, e-books or white papers,” says Danalynne Menegus, marketing content production head at Boomi. “And some are naturally more passionate about certain topics than others.”
Remember those frequent feedback conversations we talked about? It’s easier for managers to support employees’ interests when they’re regularly checking in about the work and how employees feel about it.
Empower employees to share their ideas for the content calendar, too: Their in-depth subject matter experience can help them identify topics and angles that will resonate most with the audience.
Give Team Members Room to Grow
Based on each employees’ interests and career goals, help them define career paths within the company. While managers frequently want to hoard their best talent, top performers will want to be challenged with new interests, assignments and stretch goals. Talent hoarding can frustrate those employees and increase the risk of them leaving the company.
When employees can see a clear path to becoming a content marketing manager or marketing leader, they’re more likely to remain and work toward those goals. That said, don’t dictate career paths — give employees an opportunity to set their own goals based on the business strategy. The ideal alignment is when employees’ personal goals also drive business results.
Keep Learning as a Manager
As with any new task, the best way to learn how to manage a content marketing team is to practice. Be deliberate in how you communicate with your team, what processes you establish and the opportunities you provide.
If something isn’t working, it’s not the end of the world: Ask for input from your team, tweak your approach, and try again. When employees see that you’re trying — and adjusting — they’ll handle your learning curve with grace and even help you through it.
And remember that it’s never too late to change. Even if you have a decade’s worth of experience in content marketing team management, be open to changes in how you work. Just keep your eyes on the prize: Producing unique, thought-provoking content that provides value to your audience.