Content marketing is a rapidly evolving industry that must keep up with changes in how people buy and what channels they prefer. While job titles, roles and responsibilities continue to vary widely, learning how to manage a content marketing team remains a constant.
Every team needs the right structure, strategy and resources, as well as a leader who can direct, guide and inspire people. Great leaders help brands produce great content that meets and exceeds organizational goals.
Learn how to build a content marketing team and improve your management skills by defining roles, improving your communication skills and helping each employee to shine.
Define Everyone’s Role
Building great teams starts with knowing you need and what role they play. As Jim Collins writes, “If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
Once you know who belongs on your content marketing team, align your team by helping everyone understand their role’s contribution to the overall success of your organization. People who can connect their work to the bigger picture are more likely to be engaged and productive.
Content marketing teams vary in size and structure, but they commonly be thought of in terms of these core functions.
Content creation includes anyone who is making content on your team. Content your team creates includes written documents like blog posts and ebooks, as well as images, graphics and other forms of multimedia. Content creators include writers, editors, videographers and graphic designers, among other job titles.
Content distribution is the process of making sure people see your content. After all, your content can only deliver results if your intended audience can find it. Common forms of distribution include websites, social channels and podcast feeds. Distribution can also be thought of in terms of owned media, earned media and paid media.
Content distribution tasks fall to social media managers, email marketers and communications specialists, among other titles. Don’t forget to include your employees in brand content distribution.
Content planners organize your process. They decide who will create each piece of content and when it will be created. They maintain your organization’s content calendar and ensure that you’re looking beyond today or this week. Don’t underestimate them: Content planners can be the difference between a smooth process and chaos.
Content planning can fall under a number of titles, including dedicated project managers or content managers.
Content managers ensure the right content gets made and distributed on time. This role’s importance may seem obvious, but it’s even more apparent when you’re creating content for internal or external clients. A mistake can cause damage beyond your team.
Content management roles are often filled by content managers and managing editors.
Content marketing strategy is why you’re making all this content to begin with! List content marketing goals in a short document — five slides or one page — that aligns to your business value proposition and specifies which business problems you’re trying to solve.
Beware of confusing content strategy with planning or management. Strategy is about why you’re doing the work, not the process of doing that work efficiently.
Large content teams may have a dedicated content strategist. In smaller teams, that responsibility may fall to someone with other duties too.
As you might have guessed by now, each role in a content marketing team is essential for your organization’s success. Smaller teams might have one person addressing multiple roles, but all must function at a high level if your content marketing team is to succeed.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to define each role and make sure your team members know which role or roles they’re responsible for covering.
Lead With Clear Communication
Everyone has different communication needs. Just as you develop strategies for communicating with clients and customers, you need a strategy to communicate effectively internally. Here are some ways you can practice good communication habits inside your team.
Set Meaningful Performance Expectations
Alignment is foundational to good communication between managers and employees. Teams should be on the same page with performance expectations, work processes, company values or what constitutes quality content. When they aren’t, you’ll experience poorer results and weaker relationships.
Gallup research shows that managers are the biggest single factor in positive or negative team engagement. 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?
Ideally, your job descriptions were clear about the job role’s requirements, expectations and duties. Regardless, consider a refresher with your team that starts by laying out performance requirements for each role.
Make this process collaborative by inviting employees into the conversation so you can learn how they see the role and what perspective you might be missing. Getting their viewpoints helps you anticipate and address potential performance issues before they arise.
Expectation-setting also includes setting standards for the content you produce, the processes you follow and the values you espouse. For content production, provide examples of writing, video or audio that exemplify your brand and voice.
While your job isn’t to do the work for your team, you should provide guidance, sufficient resources and regular check-ins to gauge progress and address any issues. Everyone benefits when they have the resources and autonomy to produce high-quality work.
“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 follows up on your initial expectation-setting. Regular check-ins and feedback help any content team but can especially benefit distributed teams who don’t have in-person touch points.
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, refining a key concept or incorporating specific knowledge.
Augment feedback in the flow of work with regular check-ins, which help managers and employees alike share how things are going and get ahead of problems. Check-ins are also a prime opportunity for managers to receive feedback from employees. This exchange can help managers understand the concerns employees have and adjust their personal approach to maximize connection.
Note that this type of frequent communication can be emotionally demanding and potentially stressful, especially when tough conversations are needed and people are feeling 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 Teamwide Communication Guidelines
Content marketing teams are working in a variety of formats and might be switching software platforms throughout the day. It’s easy to get confused about who to contact or which communication channel to use.
Every content marketing team can benefit from creating standardized communication guidelines and preferences.
Start with urgent communications. What does “urgent” even mean? How should urgent messages be delivered, and what information is needed? Do you have a clear chain of command for escalating urgent issues?
For less urgent requests, consider a decision tree that outlines common situations and how employees should communicate. This could cover:
- Who to contact: Your manager, a project collaborator, etc.
- How to prioritize: What constitutes an emergency? What are your working hours? Is your team primarily asynchronous or synchronous?
- How to communicate: Email, project management software, phone call, etc.
If your team decides that urgent messages should be sent via a direct message in chat, then team members will know to monitor those channels more frequently. Less timely communication can often be left up to individual preference, as long as everyone is aware of those 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.
Even in a world of deadlines and deliverables, things don’t always go to plan. Flexible content production processes can help your team manage problems and reduce delays. An ideal team structure builds slack into workloads, assignments and deadlines to accommodate short-notice requests or projects that need to be reworked.
Create Processes You Can Adapt
As much as possible, allow employees to work when, where and how they work best — as long as they meet 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.”
Some processes are nonnegotiable, but if something isn’t working anymore, you have to be willing to make changes. Your team is a great source of ideas for updating processes to be more efficient and effective.
Remain Vigilant to Changing Needs
Your clients’ needs 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, requiring you to onboard people who are just familiarizing themselves with your processes and documentation. Personnel changes are even more likely when your content team is a mix of full-time employees and freelancers.
Even if your processes have served you well for the past few years, content marketing is a developing field. Make sure you’re periodically thinking about how your business is changing and how your content marketing approach needs to adapt.
Schedule Around Ebbs and Flows
Content teams often contain full-time, part-time and freelance employees. With all those employee types, managers have to juggle a variety of workloads and schedules, including with remote workers who might be in different time zones.
Having a team with a variety of available hours can be challenging to schedule, but it’s also an opportunity to meet client needs in a variety of ways. Let technology help you: Invest in time-tracking and project-management software to better understand your team’s working habits and how those align with peak workloads and client needs.
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 set? Here’s how to support them as they explore and discover their potential.
Foster Creativity and Experimentation
Good leaders know to communicate frequently, train their staff and give them autonomy. 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. 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.
Pay Attention to Individual Interests
Empower employees to express and explore their personal interests, especially when they intersect with the content you’re producing. For example, a writer who is knowledgeable and interested in finance can advise colleagues working on projects for a client in that space.
“Some people like writing articles and blog posts, while others lean toward infographics, ebooks or white papers,” says Danalynne Menegus, marketing content production head at Boomi. “And some are naturally more passionate about certain topics than others.”
Give Team Members Room to Grow
Based on each employees’ interests and career goals, help them define career paths within the company. Unfortunately, some managers hoard their best talent. The best leaders, by contrast, know that creating opportunity for top performers keeps them engaged and loyal while creating goodwill.
When employees see a clear path to becoming a content marketing manager or marketing leader, for example, they’re more likely to work toward those goals. That said, don’t dictate career paths — give employees an opportunity to set their own goals that line up with the business strategy. The ideal alignment is when employees’ personal goals also drive business results.
Keep Learning as a Manager
Practice makes perfect. Be deliberate in how you communicate with your team, what processes you establish and the opportunities you provide. Learn from each experience and apply it to the next.
Formal professional development can also help, whether with online courses, in-person training, networking or other opportunities.
Content marketing teams learn from what works and improve on what doesn’t. The same goes for how you should manage your team — and yourself. Ask for input from your team, manager or HR, especially when you see room to improve. When employees see your effort to grow, they’ll handle your learning curve with grace and support.
When you learn how to manage a content marketing team, you’ll improve your team’s performance, improve their engagement and develop yourself as a person and leader.