When you invite internal and external subject matter experts to contribute to your content marketing program, it’s important to have guidelines for them to follow. The less time you need to spend editing content and following up with contributors, the more time you have for strategy and optimization.
Think of your content contributor guide as a map for creatives to follow. Contributors can use the guide to navigate to their ultimate destination — successful publication on your blog, earned media coverage and online visibility. Creating a content contributor guide ensures that the assets you receive — no matter if they’re a one-time blog post, a series of videos or even a research paper — are consistent and follow the tone and style that you use on your blog. This greatly reduces the amount of time you spend editing and can make for a better overall audience experience.
Before You Start on Your Guide
First, it’s important for you to spend some time with your data and your stakeholders considering your content marketing program and its purpose. If it’s relatively new, your brand may not have found its own identity yet, so this discussion will set the course for the future.
Most successful content programs have a clearly defined scope. At Cision, we discuss earned media, identifying and building relationships with influencers, crafting campaigns and monitoring and measuring impact. By keeping our scope narrow, we can consistently provide resources for a very specific audience: those who run marketing and communications departments or otherwise manage marketing and communications tasks, from the CMO all the way down to the PR intern.
Knowing your audience is also key to a successful program. Know who you’re currently writing to, and who you want to reach, then impart that information to all your contributors as you create your contributor guide. Our audience is diverse, ranging from communications, PR and marketing professionals to technology professionals of all types.
If you’re considering adding external contributors to the mix (which you should, as its vital to add external, credible voices to the mix), it’s important to define your content parameters first. Will you accept content from anyone with a good pitch, or would you prefer them to be experts in your field? What if someone who works for a competitor wants to contribute? The more you understand about what you want in a contributor, the easier your guide will be to develop.
Before drafting your content contributor guide, look at the guides other companies have created and see if there are common best practices that you can implement in your own guide. Often you can get ideas for your own this way.
Now, let’s look at the sections you’ll want to include in your content contributor guide.
Overview of Your Company And Blog/Resources Sections
It may be helpful to include your mission statement, a brief description of what your company does and even links to some of your most pertinent content. This section doesn’t — and shouldn’t — be long. Most people will just skim it. The mission statement I developed for Cision® is as follows:
Cision’s content marketing goal is to highlight the importance, power and opportunity presented by earned media. To do this we want our content to:
- educate the industry, clients and potential buyers
- increase brand awareness
- establish thought leadership
- drive demand for all of Cision’s products and services by telling one unified global brand narrative.
It will reinforce Cision as the world’s best-in-class software provider of monitoring, targeting, creation, distribution and analytics services.
A potential contributor may have headed straight to your website and may not know your company well or understand your content marketing business strategy. And yet it’s important that they understand your brand identity before they can begin to create quality content for your audience.
Guidelines for Submitting
Here you can talk about the type of content you are looking for. You may be very specific in outlining what you’ll accept, like this:
- Best Practices
- How To
- Media Tips
If you have templates or examples of any of these types of content, link to them in this section. Also, list the topics you cover. Be very specific about what you want to be covered, and encourage contributors to first search to see if your website has already published content on a topic they want to address.
One of the jobs of a content marketing director should be to make sure all topics and stages in the nurture funnel are being covered with the content coming in. If you have specific gaps in your content library, it might be worthwhile to note that either in your guide or during the submission process.
Include directions on the submission process. Should a guest contributor run topic ideas by you? If so, do titles suffice, or should they include a summary or an outline of what the article will cover?
You’ll want to include as many details about the actual content as necessary, including:
- Content format (video, audio, text)
- Photo or no (and accepted resources to find photos)
- Headline writing tips
- Guidelines for author bios
- Social media content to promote the post
Once topics are approved, how does the contributor turn in a completed article? Word document? Google Doc? WordPress?
Here’s another important topic to address in this section: whether an article is original or not. In general, you’re better off requiring that any content you publish has not been previously published because Google penalizes duplicate content. It’s also best practice to stipulate that any article published on your site should not then be republished afterward elsewhere, or at least posted with a canonical URL pointing readers (and Google) back to the original source.
Finally, address links within the content. Many guest bloggers simply want a link back to their company within the body of a blog post, and again, Google isn’t a fan. So stress the fact that any article that contains a self-promoting link will be rejected. Guest contributors can, however, include a link to their website within their author bio.
Contributors should link to other sites to back up their written resources, so provide insight into the kinds of links you’re looking for.
While you hope that any potential content contributor knows the basics of grammar, it can’t hurt to include a few specifics in your guide, especially as they relate to your preferred style.
For example: do you prefer the Oxford comma, where there is a comma after each item in a list? Do you want the word “percent” spelled out or the symbol used? These may seem like trite issues, but realize that you will not be able to catch each aberration of the guidelines as you edit, so informing writers of the style you want content to follow will ensure more consistency from one post to another.
What does this mean? Your brand should be creating more video content, in a way that maintains quality and your brand essence. It also means that before you let your contributors off on their own making video content, you should provide them with some set guidelines to help provide a framework that will ensure a cohesive narrative with your brand. You also will need to provide some simple instructions to help them get started.
Cision’s video contributor guide hits upon these points and others. Here are some key elements you’ll want to include when crafting your own:
- Determine the types of videos the brand will make (screen capture product videos, talking head videos, thought leadership, case studies, animated videos, Facebook Live / Periscope videos, brand videos, and more).
- Understand basic camera tips and make sure you have the right equipment to get started.
- Offer detailed information for DIY videos, which will be the main types that contributors will participate in.
- Provide any other guidelines the contributor might need to know.
At the end, you may want to address frequently asked questions to cut down on what contributors ask you via email, like:
- How long will it be before my content is published?
- How frequently can I contribute content?
- Can I republish articles on my own site?
Alternately, you might include other tips (maybe a “what not to do” section) to further help contributors get it right with their articles. Just make sure than anything else you include in the guide has value.
This doesn’t need to be a long document, but it does need to be packed with valuable information that helps you get high-quality content on your website.
Having a content contributor guide provides structure for you and anyone who writes for it. It also can greatly reduce the amount of admin and editing time you spend on it.