Everyone can write. Not everyone can write well, but we can all do it. Moreover, we’re doing it all the time-in text messages, emails, Facebook updates, and Instagram hashtags. Even emojis (sort of) count as writing.
From the standpoint of a professional journalist, there’s enough content out there to drive you nuts. Quantity over quality everywhere you look. But from an executive’s perspective, this obsession with writing has opened up an amazing opportunity. The jump from user-generated to professional content is not as far as it used to be-and with the right prompts and guidance, you can direct all that writing energy to create a culture of content within your brand.
But the media industry has been in the tank for decades. Why, you might ask, would a brand that sells credit cards or software or widgets want to worry about content?
Well, here’s a list of reasons why:
1. Free Media
Every time someone at your company writes something, it’s advertising you don’t have to pay for. That includes bylines in other publications, LinkedIn updates, even tweets and Facebook posts.
2. Thought Leadership
Not just for CEOs and impresarios anymore! One of the things I find really silly is that only senior executives get to be thought leaders. I think at most companies, everyone — from management on down to junior employees — has a chance to be a thought leader in their respective fields. For instance, the junior sales rep who spends all day long discussing financial services content with banks and hedge funds. Why shouldn’t he be writing about it? Having his name out there as an expert is fantastic for the company.
3. Strategic Thinking
Executives have a lot on their minds, and their decisions carry a lot of weight, especially in a larger organization. Having them sit down and organize their thoughts on paper is a really useful exercise in determining priorities, and it also gets them thinking about their work in a coherent and strategic way. As an added bonus, you then have a (readable) document for everyone in the company to refer to.
4. Relevant Story Ideas
My current company has an in-house editorial team, but some of our best ideas actually come from our sales and accounts teams. And why shouldn’t they? Those teams are the ones out there interfacing with the market on a regular basis; they know better than anyone what people are worried about. When they pitch and write stories for us, not only do these employees get a piece of content that addresses a specific client concern, the edit team also gets a relevant article that drives traffic.
5. Smarter Junior Employees
Giving junior employees the opportunity to tell a good story helps those employees grow as we try to become a smarter and more agile company.
As someone once said to me in a previous job (it was construction, but still): “If you know how to do something, you’re always gonna have a job. If you know why something needs to get done… you’re gonna run the company.”
So how do you encourage this kind of thinking within your organization? The two keys in my mind are to have a communications team that understands the value of content and an executive team that encourages people to be ambitious.
Ideally your comms team is full of what I call “player-coaches”-people that are on the hook for content themselves, but are also encouraging people in other departments to write. And they’re not just encouraging-they’re also helping to edit, solicit ideas, and work to pitch those people’s stories to appropriate publications.
Executive leadership operates the same way. If a junior account manager has a good story idea, her boss will encourage her to write it herself, as opposed to telling her to get back to work dealing with clients.
It’s true that a lot of first drafts can be brutal-you don’t just wake up one day with the ability to turn your incoherent tweets into coherent blog posts and articles. But it’s amazing to watch people’s writing improve after working with an editor a few times. All of a sudden, commas wind up in the right places, dangling modifiers disappear, and company-wide emails even start to reader better.
The most important benefit of a culture of content is the sense of empowerment in enables. It’s a culture where everyone has the potential to be a thought leader, which makes for a smarter organization that is more flexible and forward-thinking.
Not everyone will have the ability to go pro as a journalist. But some people can become strong writers for your company-and the only way you’ll find out is if you give them a chance.