I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but us writers are so often misunderstood. When corporate America thinks of hiring someone to write blogs and copy, they have an image of an isolated freelancer sitting at a kitchen table in a one-bedroom apartment, sipping coffee and punching up stories that will eventually be emailed and published without much interaction. But the truth is that the best writing doesn’t come from an individual – it comes from a writer working with a team of fellow creatives who can help to make the content not good, but great. In short, though writers may be an interesting breed, they’re not lone wolves.
When it comes to consistency, we have found that content production truly works best when an experienced team of writers can support each other in a collaborative space. As a skill, writing is most certainly a trade, not unlike masonry or woodworking. But writing is, at its core, a creative process. And as creative writers, the input and guidance of likeminded peers is imperative to crafting the best possible version of any piece or composition. It’s been said that no one person is an island and any writer worth their weight in ink will tell you that the best work is the kind produced not in solidarity, but in a team-based approach.
Here’s why utilizing a team-based approach to your company’s content marketing efforts can make the difference between content that’s just fine and content that’s the best it can be.
Creative Writing Workshops
For those who studied writing in college, a writing workshop was an all-too common experience. For those not in the know, college and graduate-level creative workshops are a form of providing feedback to writers on a specific piece. The composition is copied and handed out ahead of time, giving each peer-reader a chance to review and make any needed edits and provide suggestions for improving the piece. In some situations, the original writer may be forbidden from speaking during the feedback session in order to prevent defensiveness and dismissiveness. Everyone in the class (or, in this case, company) is given a chance to edit and have a work edited. This can be a single round of revisions, or can be modified to have the writer share the updated versions with the class.
There are several reasons why this model works so well for sharpening writing skills in a business or marketing context. For one, it teaches how to accept and learn from criticism as opposed to ignoring it. This can be a very difficult process for anyone, especially creative-types who have poured a fair amount of heart and soul into a writing piece. But whether it’s in visual art, music, filmmaking, or writing, processing criticism is the only way to improve. It also teaches one how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. This can be something as minute as small grammatical errors, or larger issues like burying the lede and writing with too much complexity. Though it’s sometimes criticized as being a harsh and uncomfortable way to learn, the old adage of learning to swim by jumping in the water rings true.
The result for your marketing department? A team of writers who are more open to collaboration and feedback from key stakeholders.
The Content Assembly Line
It may seem overly simplified, but a team of talented creative writers can work best by breaking up certain tasks in the workflow of a specific piece of copy. The story starts with a creative director, who will work with the client to brainstorm ideas for content. Once a topic has been established, the creative director will also spend time providing guidance on each piece, usually in the form of suggested sources and an outline. From there, the topic is assigned to a writer. This may be determined based off of that specific writer’s skill set – for example, I tend to write a considerable amount about marketing and tech, whereas other coworkers at Metonymy Media have more experience writing about finance or legal issues. But for smaller writing teams with less people to pull from, these stories may be assigned at random and will simply need be coached by the creative director to ensure work is composed correctly.
Once the piece has been written, it then goes into the review process. Borrowing from the creative writing workshop model, the content ideally should be edited by no less than two people. This works best when it’s first assigned to another staff writer, who can provide lower level feedback and check for any misplaced commas or errant punctuation. Once the original writer has made those changes, it should go the creative director or another higher-up employee for a final pass. The director may choose to make line edits on the piece, or if they sense deeper and more fundamental issues they’ll send it back to the original writer for additional revisions.
Writers don’t have a magic wand enabling them to create perfect content, and a first draft is rarely – if ever – the final. These meticulous steps not only ensure a great piece of writing, but also improve efficiency and consistency. If this entire process were to be assigned to a single writer, it’s likely they’d either fold under the pressure or end up getting burnt out. This takes the weight off the shoulders of an individual and allows a team to carry the load.
Mixing Up Roles
In a creative writing team, one is forced to wear quite a few different hats. As opposed a newspaper staff in the heyday of print journalism, it’s unlikely many marketing departments will be lucky enough to have copywriters and copy editors in distinct roles. So, in order to keep things moving along, a team-based writing approach needs everyone to be comfortable switching roles from project to project. I may be the lead writer on a particular content topic on Monday, only to find myself rewriting and editing a team member’s piece on Tuesday.
The purpose of this mixed-bag approach is not one born only out of necessity; it also helps to break up monotony and power through the supposed curse of writer’s block. Additionally, it betters everyone involved. In baseball, there is a term called a five-tool player, meaning they can hit for power, hit for a high-average, throw for power, field with accuracy, and run the bases quickly. I can guarantee you that those players lucky enough excel in all five categories didn’t get there by skipping batting practice or playing one single position. In the same sense, a writer will only get better and blossom into an editor or creative director by having a chance to play every position in the composition process.
Your content is what drives people to your site and transforms casual window shoppers into bona fide leads and clients. To do so, your content must be consistently engaging and at the top of its form. If you’re relying on random freelancers or a single writer to take on the many tasks of the job, there’s a strong chance you’ll end up with lackluster writing or inconsistent work. Base your content production on this team-based approach, and utilize a robust voice and messaging guide—a brand standards document for content—to make it work. If you can’t build this from scratch, find someone who can (spoiler alert: it’s Metonymy Media).