How do you keep your content consistent when many different writers and editors with unique voices and perspectives are working together? Setting editorial standards and defining a voice for your brand is one thing, but making sure that all of your content sticks to those standards is hard work.

I asked two managing editors how they’ve built a cohesive community of contributors — and how they keep all of the content consistent. Here’s what I learned from Julia Kortberg, membership and marketing coordinator at Small Giants, and Jimmy Daly, former managing editor of the QuickBooks Resource Center and current marketing director at Animalz.

Set a Content Strategy and Be Ruthless About Implementing It

Small Giants is a community for companies that follow the six core values of a “small giant”: purpose, leadership, culture, finances, relationships and community. So, Julia says they model their content on those same six values.

“Be honest about who you are and your purpose,” she says. “Be okay with saying no to something that doesn’t align with who you are.”

This advice really hit home for me. When you’re running a site that’s open to contributed content and you’re asking people for pitches, it can be hard to say no. But a managing editor’s job is to guard the brand and create the best possible content for readers — which means turning down content that doesn’t fit the bill.

Share Clear Editorial Guidelines

Once you’ve set your content strategy, share it with your contributors.

In his tenure at QuickBooks, Jimmy Daly worked with a network of the company’s partners to create content. He created clear guidelines for QuickBooks content partners to fill them in on the content strategy. Here’s an excerpt from those guidelines:

We are an entrepreneur’s copilot. We are optimistic and encouraging. We understand that business can be stressful, so we never play down the challenges of starting or running a business. We are experienced and eager to help.

The guidelines also show writers how to apply that strategy to their content, with some simple dos and don’ts. For example:

Don’t use jargon. Remember, we are the copilot. We earn trust by sharing knowledge in a way that’s easy to understand.

If you’re building editorial guidelines, tell your contributors:

  • What core topic areas you’re interested in.
  • Who your audience is.
  • What style preferences they need to know. Do you use the Oxford comma? Do you follow AP style?
  • Important ground rules, like whether you accept previously published content.
  • What they can expect from your editorial process.

Providing even basic guidelines can make a big difference. “When we wrote guidelines for our partners — with a style guide and examples of articles that have done well — the quality of the content they submitted greatly improved,” Jimmy says.

Tell Potential Contributors Exactly What You’re Looking For

Small Giants developed a process for managing content submissions that guides potential contributors on exactly what makes a good fit for them. They built a web form that takes about 15 minutes to complete. Instead of just asking for content, the form walks you through Small Giants’ content guidelines. Here’s a bit from the form:

We love storytelling, so both written content and speaker sessions should include stories/case studies about challenges you’ve experienced in your company and how you and your team have overcome them.

And to avoid sounding pedantic, the language in the form is friendly and funny:

If you break what we call the “selling” rule, lots of tomatoes will be thrown at you and we just can’t protect you… BYOP (bring your own poncho).

After contributors read the content guidelines, they choose the Small Giants value they want to explore and select which content format — blog post, podcast, webinar or live event — is the best fit for what they have to share.

  • A: I feed off the energy of people (yes, even virtually), I’m game to do an interactive or discussion-based Fishbowl!
  • B: I love sharing my wisdom and lessons learned in writing. I’d like to write a blog or have one written on my behalf!
  • C: I’m a Small Giants Leader with a great story to tell. Let’s rock a long-form, Q&A interview with Paul Spiegelman’s Podcast: “Growing with Purpose.”
  • D: I feed off of the energy of people and want to share my story or skills at the #SGCSummit2018.

Play to Each Contributor’s Strengths

Small Giants doesn’t limit their contributor pool to strong writers. By offering other content channels beyond writing an article, they open up their content universe to a broad range of contributors.

Here’s the lesson: Get creative about content formats. Not everyone is a skilled writer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. Even if someone isn’t a good fit for writing blog posts, they might be a skilled speaker. You could interview them and share their ideas in a post that you write. Or, you could include them on a podcast episode or on a panel discussion at an event. Your goal is to build friends of the brand and share the best ideas you can find with your audience.

What have you learned about managing contributors? Share your advice with us on Twitter @ManagingEdMag.