Since the dawn of humanity, we have looked for tools and techniques to make production processes easier. Even early farmers utilized plows, seeders and irrigation systems to scale harvesting. And Henry Ford leveraged assembly lines and specialization to ramp up production of the automobile. Without effective techniques and tools to scale production,production departments would have a hard time meeting consumer demand without sacrificing quality.
Today,one of the fastest-growing markets for consumer demand is digital content. In 2014, the average person spent 163 minutes a day using a tablet, 279 minutes watching TV, 134 minutes using a smartphone and a total of 159 minutes online. This astounding dependency on digital media shows how widely consumed content is on a daily basis.
That said, digital content still shows an excess of supply compared to demand. It’s estimated, in fact, that in 2014, every single minute, Facebook users used 2.5 million pieces of content, Twitter users tweeted 277,000 times and emailers sent 204 million messages.
That doesn’t even take into consideration the 86 million WordPress users who published daily blogs.
The message here is that no longer can you simply produce content for the sake of producing content. If you want to see results and have your creations stand out from the billions of other pieces of content being produced, you need to focus on producing high-quality content, and a lot of it.
Fortunately, there are techniques and tools that can help content marketers scale quality content production. Here are a few I've gleaned from my experience working at CopyPress and witnessing the results our clients have had.
1. Use creatives with subject matter expertise.
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to creating content is that "anyone can do it." Most companies try to crowd-source content creation to their internal staff. After all, who better to write about mechanical engineering than a mechanical engineer? Wrong!
Experts may be specialized in their subject, but that knowledge is not always easily transferred to an audience. To create high-quality content requires experts who can effectively explain topics in a clear and concise manner, preferably using one of three alternatives:
Find creatives with subject matter expertise.
Use the Internet and social media to find industry experts who are producing content that you enjoy and want to replicate. Once you know their names you can leverage tools like Rapportive to find their personal email, if you can’t find it on a website. Additionally, you can reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter directly to an expert and hire him or her to produce content for your brand.
Take experts and train them on effective communication skills.
This is probably the most difficult option and one that may result in a lot of push-back from the expert. Let’s assume you want your mechanical engineer to also write a handful of quality articles for the site every month. To make sure that that content has the best chance to succeed, you should provide the expert with proper training and resources. Here are a few places that subject experts can learn to produce quality content.
- HubSpot: Better Writer Training Plan
- Search Engine Watch: SEO Training Course Guide
- Udemy Courses on Business Communication
Take creatives and train them on your subject matter.
This is the alternative most widely chosen by companies. You can scour websites like Elancer, Odesk, Craigslist and other creative marketplaces online to find creatives that match the style and quality you want. Then, you can either bring them on full-time or work with them on an individual basis. There are pros/cons to each, but if you have the workload to bring the creative on full-time, you should.
Hiring creatives to work full time gives you more control and the creatives' commitment to learning the subject matter. If the creative is part-time or per-project basis, you may need to provide proper, updated training materials before every project. You should also anticipate losing creatives along the way if they are not receiving enough work or have other priorities when you reach out for new projects.
2. Create a communication plan.
Anyone who has managed a creative for the production of just one piece of content will tell you that communication can make or break that project. Now, extrapolate this lesson across mass production with several working parts and you’ll quickly realize that communication is really the most important element of the project.
If you want to scale content effectively, you need a developed communication plan that accounts for internal and external processes. Below are some of the more effective collaboration tools to look at if you are thinking about scaling content production.
Slack: Slack is an incredible platform that allows for instant communication. You can also easily search and share files in one place.
Trello: Trello is a project management tool that is very user friendly and can serve as the central hub for each content project.
Red Pen: If you are working visual projects, Red Pen is an excellent tool for collaboration among a number of different users. You can easily share files and make comments on visual assets.
Google Drive: Google drive allows you to upload and share documents, spreadsheets and other important files. You can upload them to folders, make in-line comments on documents and update sheets in real time.
3. Develop a quality measurement plan
While communication is important for scaling quality content, you also need a plan for measuring the quality of that content. This requires internal and external research and the creation of both a "brand guideline" and a project-specific style guide.
A brand guideline is an overarching document that outlines the voice/style and other general brand parameters that all content should fall within. When crafting the brand guideline, consider the themes and messages that resonate with your brand and mission statement.
The brand guideline should include general elements like colors, fonts and logos that should be consistent across all content; the guideline should also cover more pertinent information, like themes or topics that should never be used.
Project style guide
Each individual content project needs its own style guide, as the blueprint for the project. You can expect that the project requirements for producing animated videos would be rather different than for producing blog articles; and thus they should be treated as such.
The project style guide will not touch on the general brand requirements outlined in the brand guideline, but rather will be specific to the parameters of that particular project. i.e., the word length for every blog article, the themes to focus on, the number of blogs expected within each month and other concrete requirements.
Both the brand guideline and project style guide should go to every creative before the project starts, to provide a yardstick to measure the content against before the project comes up for final approval.
4. Assess, document and iterate.
Of all the steps in scaling quality content production, this one gets neglected the most. Undoubtedly, you will face issues while working with creatives: You’ll notice pitfalls with the communication plan, and you’ll certainly have discrepancies in content quality. So, you need to notice these issues and address them as quickly as possible. That could mean letting a creative go because he or she did not fulfill specified responsibilities. Or it could mean modifying the communication or quality plan based on changes in the company or industry. You need to iterate the project responsibilities throughout its duration.
Upon project completion, it is good practice to create a "lessons learned" report. Let’s say you've been working on a handful of animated videos and just finished the project. Make notes on what went right and what went wrong, including tips or advice for handling similar projects in the future. Even if you are not planning on creating animated videos again any time soon, this information could apply to similar projects down the road. Take every project as an opportunity to learn and to improve your ability to scale high-quality content.
Content supply and demand is going to continue to rise, and marketers need to address this trend by learning how to produce quality content on a regular basis. The techniques and tips described are a great start for learning how to scale content production without losing your focus on quality.
What other tools or techniques do you use during large-scale content projects, to maintain quality?