How to Build an Agile Content Marketing Team

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I’ve been speaking to a lot of people about content marketing lately.

A common theme I’m hearing is that folks have decided to execute on their content marketing goals, but they get stuck on the basic questions of how to start. Sometimes they’re not sure what the content should be, where to publish, or how often.

Solving those types of questions requires research into the size and nature of the opportunity, and the available budget.

Other times, they just don’t see how they’ll find the hours in the day to do the work. They have a subject matter expert (they may be that expert!) but the task seems insurmountable.

Today I’m going to provide 9 tips on how to build an agile content marketing team in a way that might just make the size of the task a lot more manageable.

Before we get into the 9 tips, let’s take care of a few critical beginning items …

Determine the scope of the content marketing effort

Putting together a content marketing team requires an understanding of the size of the task you want the team to undertake. Some of the questions you need to answer are:

  1. Will you have a blog on your own site?
  2. How much high-end guest posting will you be doing?
  3. What social media sites will you be active in?
  4. How much effort will you put into social media vs. writing?
  5. What role will giving interviews play in your strategy?
  6. How many conferences / speaking engagements will you be involved in?
  7. How much budget can you allocate to this effort?

These are all key questions, and the goal is to help you understand the size and nature of the work your team will have to do. You need a sense of the answer of these questions to ensure you build a robust enough team to execute the plan.

Who is your subject matter expert?

You must have a key internal person who leads the effort.

This person needs to be a subject matter expert (SME) on whatever your topic matter is — passionate about it, and personable. Your content won’t sell without this.

In addition, they must be prepared to commit some of their time and effort to leading the content marketing team. You can’t build a serious content marketing effort with only external resources. Don’t start until you know who the internal owner of the effort will be.

Part of what this person must do is be social. Content marketing is about building an audience that builds your business, and people like to attach to a person, not an inanimate corporate blog. Your SME is critical to getting an identity out there, and therefore winning fans, friends, followers, etc.

The next major question is how much time will your SME have available for this team? I really believe that a serious content marketing strategy requires that they have an average of at least an hour a day. If they have more than that, great! I know people that spend 4 hours per day, and that level of effort can drive awesome results. But, we can still make one hour per day work, by building the right support team around your SME.

Building a support team

The entire purpose of building a support team is to create leverage for the SME.

This is the reason we defined the scope and the person who would be the expert and their availability up front. Of course, in reality, this is often an iterative process, but know that you need all 3 pieces for this to work.

So let’s get to it. The first six are the ones that are the simplest to implement, yet they really help ease the burden of creating great content on a consistent basis.

Here are nine recurring tasks a support team can do that will provide powerful leverage to your SME …

1. Topic identification

You might think that this should be the sole domain of your SME, but if you are creating multiple articles per week — or in extreme circumstances, multiple articles per day — it is invaluable to have someone constantly researching the things taking place in your market. They need to find out what’s happening and what other industry people are writing about.

This research person can then suggest some things that your SME is qualified to write about that complement what is already out there.

Trust me, at times this can be a godsend. I’ve had mornings where I spent 2 hours trying to come up with a topic. Talk about feeling like your day got off to a slow start! Having some ideas sitting there waiting for me is invaluable.

2. Identify influencers

Having help identifying key people to develop relationships with is great too.

Your SME will already know many of the people of interest, but a researcher can help the SME understand the social opportunities in your market more completely.

In addition, they can determine how to contact the influencer (for when you are ready to do that) and monitor the content they put out and tip your expert off when there is something particularly interesting item to respond to or comment on.

3. Find guest posting opportunities

This is another area where your expert will already know some of the interesting places where you can guest post, but nobody can watch everything all the time, so some research help is often very useful.

When you first implement a content marketing strategy, it may not be easy to get published in the most high-end media sites, so hitting some targets one step down might be what you need to do first.

This can then give you the credibility needed to move up to the top rung. A skilled researcher can help map these opportunities for you and even review related articles published by target sites and suggest complementary article titles.

4. Graphic design

This item is pretty straightforward. Know that you need a picture of a cheering crowd with at least 20 people in it to include in your post? Have a designer or smart young intern go find it for you.

Have them find stock photos, create new images, put together appropriate screen shots so your SME does not have to.

5. Extract key points

I like to highlight key points from articles in pull quotes, a summary section at the start of the article, and in social media.

Your smart young intern can do the legwork of reading through the article and suggesting a dozen or so items that are worth the extra attention. This really helps promote the article.

For some practical help on this, study the art of writing bullet points that work.

6. Editorial review

Another braindead simple one.

Have someone else read your stuff. Great for finding typos and grammar problems, but also great to get someone else’s commentary if a particular point you are trying to make does not come across clearly.

This one’s not really a suggestion, it’s a requirement!

7. Drafting proposed social networking posts

Consider having an assistant send your expert a draft of suggested headlines for tweets, retweets, pins, and shares for their review.

The SME can then edit them as they see fit and have the assistant schedule those into a tool like Buffer.

8. Implementation of basic social networking activity

With some training you can get a smart marketing-oriented person to come up with suggested content to share, re-share, tweet, retweet, even without your review and input. This may sound risky, but it can be done quite safely if you set up the right parameters.

For example, is there a major influencer that you completely trust? Can you come up with some rules for how to make sure the content that someone might retweet for you is completely on point with your areas of interest?

For many, it is quite possible to do this. The key is to identify a short list of completely trusted people in your social networks and solid parameters for what you want to reshare. I know a lot of people do this on Twitter. The value is that the SME does not need to live on Twitter to provide real time response on everything they might want to re-share.

Obviously, do this with great care, and don’t let it become an artificial way of creating tweet/share volume. Make sure that the guidelines continue to reinforce the values and expertise of your SME.

9. Creation of draft posts (consider this one carefully)

You can also have your smart intern go ahead and draft actual posts for your SME.

To be clear, I am NOT a fan of pure ghost-written content. High-value, trusted relationships really are a result of exposing the heart and soul — the passion — of the SME. When an SME edits ghost-written content, you often lose that element of passion. The SME may make the content accurate, but it won’t be framed the way they would have done it.

This is more important than meets the eye.

Think about it for a minute. Facts are just facts, and anyone can assemble those. But knowing a set of facts is not what differentiates true industry leaders. Their differentiation comes from how they integrate and synthesize a collection of facts.

To do that, they need to truly own the content, not just provide expert editing of it.

Nonetheless, having your researcher dig up the article topics, drafting an article, finding interesting references and resources, and providing that to your expert can be a helpful head start. The SME should then ideally perform a substantial rewrite of what was provided to them. This allows their value to really come through.

This process will still simplify the task for the SME, as the initial draft will contain a lot of the raw information, and references to resources, that they need to pull together the post very quickly.

To sum it up …

A serious content marketing effort takes a lot of … well, effort.

You are not going to build a large, engaged audience without bring a lot of expertise and personality to the table. You need both. This is why your SME is a critical part of the picture.

However, you can support that person in a lot of different ways and provide tremendous leverage for that person while simultaneously expanding the reach of your efforts.

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Reader Comments (24)

  1. says

    You know what they say, two heads are better than one. Even if you’re not the go-to writer on your team you can still help your content marketing campaign in other ways. Keep track of ideas and be on the lookout for guest blogging opportunities; help promote and share the content within your own social network, follow up on replies/responses are more. This gives your writer more time to create more content.

    • says

      In this proposed system, is the SME the only one who actually writes content and then another team member edits it before publishing? What if your strategy demands more content (more writers), but you only have one available SME?

      • says

        I believe that the SME needs to own the content, but that they can get many helpers. These helpers can even write drafts, but the SME MUST make it their own, which involves a lot more than just editing the writing of others. They have to plan on rewriting it. Note, however, that the fact that other people come up with the topics, do the raw research, create drafts to look at, is a HUGE help.

  2. says

    That last point is critical and will deflate the best laid content marketing plans. Lifeless content–no matter how factual–won’t draw an audience. You’ll just have a wiki entry. Look at some like Avinish Kaushik. He’s not the greatest writer but his passion for web analytics (a sleeper topic for sure) is infectious. Same for people like Rand Fishkin and Gary Vaynerchuk (though most of his content was video).

    Now, get a great writer who is passionate about the topic and your content will sing. I’d rather give a SME writing lessons than hire a writer to write about a neutral topic. But if you have someone in your ranks who can write and his passionate about the topic–let him loose. Nothing says that the CEO needs to be the voice of the company. Hubspot is a classic example. So is Best Buy (who lets about 3,000 employees tweet).

    • says

      Agree with you. The passion is something very big in Internet marketing in general and content marketing in particular. Without passion, we can still make good things, but not long and solid great things. And the next important is teamwork. This is a hard part, since working with people always requires the common goal and sympathize among each other in group.

  3. says

    Hi Eric,
    This article is GOLD for do-it-yourself bloggers like me who do everything on their site. The advice about delegation is wonderful! It’s never been one of my strong suits for sure.

    Thanks a lot for the great ideas!! Much appreciated!!!!

    Best Regards,

  4. Jenni says

    As a content marketing consultant this is extremely useful for helping a client understand how I can support their team and just how much work there is actually to be done. Unfortunately too many people think writing and managing social media/content should be “easy” – they have no concept of the time actually required. Re #9 – my clients are excellent SMEs but not the best writers. I have them write the draft and and I edit it, preserving their voice and passion but making it accessible and effective.

  5. says

    I agree that it’s better and easier to find an SME who is an actual expert and passionate about a topic.
    However, if someone is a good writer/marketer, I also think it’s possible to discover what makes other people passionate, put yourself in their shoes, and let it come through in the content.

    What’s more important expertise and passion or writing skills and an understanding of the audience? Obviously all four would be best – but if you had to choose…

  6. Kevin Hisel says

    What qualifies a person to be an SME? If you are not currently an SME how do you manage to become an expert?

    • says

      Excellent question. I look at this as a make or buy. If you don’t have an SME you need to plan on getting one. Can you have some learn enough to become an SME? The web is a wonderfully rich source of information if you have the right person invest time into it.

      Or, can you rent or buy one? Bring one on as an advisor (rent)? Hire one?

      It is my belief that you must solve the problem of having an SME or else a serious content marketing strategy is not in the cards for you.

  7. says

    The big Catch-22 of getting content out of Subject Matter Experts (SME) is that they did not usually become SMEs by spending time developing other skills such as writing (unless that’s their area of expertise). And, because of their status as the organization’s SME, they are usually swamped in the matter of their expertise.
    We built a company out of the need to extract content from SMEs in an efficient manner. Yes, I said extract. If you can get the SME to give you an hour to develop a year’s worth of topics (we have a free exercise for this) and then commit to a single hour-long recording session each month, you can use a professional radio broadcaster to record top-quality interviews on those topics and turn them into written (and podcast) content for your web site. It works very well and makes everyone happy.

  8. Kelley says

    Eric, good article, but you may want to comment on the tools a content team needs to look at to keep organized, e.g. Hootsuite, content curation tools, managing drafts, edits, and metrics/conversion dashboards. Thanks.

  9. says

    This is one superb article! SME’s are a must. I believe that inorder for one to write good content, he/she must be very much interested in the topic he/she is writing about. Your post will inspire content marketing teams to organize their team structure and produce better and more stunning contents.

  10. says

    Honestly, sometimes it feels like it takes too much effort. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one working, and that I wish there were about 30 more hours in the day for me to get everything done that I need.

  11. says

    I can’t figure if I think this article is great or irrelevant. Lots of great tips in here, mixed with lots of stuff that seems either excessively specific or unnecessary to the overall effort. It’s also odd because it’s about creating a team, but most of the focus is on steps rather than people. Might have been better organized around the people on the team, rather than the steps on the content marketing effort.

    In case, the gems outweigh the odd elements. :)

    • says

      Hi Frank – appreciate the thoughtful comment. The main reasons I did not specifically define the people on the team is that a key step is to figure out which of the above activities the SME will value. Each SME is different, and if they don’t want someone to do something for them, that activity will never succeed. Building a team requires an understanding of the types of opportunities as defined above, having the SME decide where they would like the help, trying it, and then evolving the process as you learn more. It ends up being a very personal thing!

  12. says

    Great article and a great framework. I often work with much smaller teams so its helpful to think through the different roles, both to secure more resources, but also to think through the actual process. Thanks! Another spin on this article is how to use the same framework for micro-teams, or individuals. For example, proper networking could help with task delegation.

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