Companies today are content machines. And I'm not just talking about the marketing department, although they have their content work cut out for them with their blogs and their YouTube channels and their podcasts and apps and games, not to mention their Facebooks and Twitters.
No, the product groups, customer support, the sales team, the engineers, technical support, investor relations along with the operational departments—finance, hr, IT—all produce their own healthy share of content.
What's more, this content needs to take multiple forms and be deployed across a range of media (video, audio, charts, manuals, decks) and devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones).
In other words, there is no question that the content needs of the entire organization have grown and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.
The real question is: Should your organization be expecting and relying on internal staff to produce all this content?
The answer is: Absolutely not.
Why Not Do It All Yourself?
At the core of all content, regardless of the final form that it may take, is the written word. In fact, when people talk about "content production," they are primarily thinking of written content.
Unfortunately, very few people are actually good writers, and I say that based on my personal and professional experience teaching writing and, for the last couple decades, fixing the writing of others. The best people in your organization may be gifted managers, awesome salespeople, talented designers, or brilliant engineers; chances are they are not also great and compelling writers.
Taking this inconvenient truth a step further, you will also have to admit that your core employees are probably not film makers, video editors, curriculum developers, game designers or public speakers either.
On the other hand, there are people who actually do these things really well. And some of them, in fact, are already doing it in your industry, creating engaging content that your customers are paying attention to.
In short, since content is so critical to your ongoing success, shouldn't you leave its creation to these pros?
The Power of Independence
People develop audiences, even fans, because they have distinct, entertaining, informed and sometimes controversial points of view. Having a unique and independent point of view, in fact, is one key to successful content.
This can make creating your own great content challenging because it is often difficult for full-time employees, who directly represent the company after all, to voice opinions that may rile some of your audience or, even worse for the employee, internal constituents.
To give you an example of what I'm talking about, several years ago I was hosting a podcast devoted to cloud computing for a large software company. On a show focused on cloud security, we had a guest say, "Whenever anyone says, 'PCI compliance and security,' God kills a kitten."
As esoteric as this opinion may be (get in touch if you'd like me to elaborate), it made for a lively show. On the other hand it's hard to imagine anyone who had to run their content by legal to say anything close to that.
You just can't expect someone who has to report to someone else to speak publicly with complete candor. And it is no accident that when you do find someone willing to speak their mind in intelligently provocative or irreverent ways, that person is either a business owner or a solo practitioner. Nevertheless, even headstrong CEOs generally need some assistance when it comes to putting their thoughts in written form and getting them out into the world.
Still, You Have to Produce the Content!
All of the above notwithstanding, you can certainly hire full-time staff who are proven content producers. For example, you could hire trained journalists and editors to take over writing chores within your company. You could hire radio producers, videographers and illustrators. You could even go so far as to hire someone with influence and audience in your space to begin producing content on your behalf full-time.
Of course, to do any of the above will require a willingness to commit to and invest in developing content creation as a core competence. Not every company will have the stomach for that.
If you are hesitant about taking that particular plunge, you could instead contract work from professional writers, agencies or professional pundits in your industry. You could underwrite the content of people already talking to your audience (as L'Oreal did with Michelle Phan). Or you could rent pre-existing content from analyst and research organizations and thus avoid the need to manage and edit your contractors (and, frankly, even the pundits will need editing!). This latter move is a tried and true lead gen approach in the B2B world: the analysts provide the insights and opinions and you provide the lead collecting gate.
Most of these tactics can be expensive and difficult to scale, however. For this reason, some companies outsource content production entirely to "content farms" or, if they want to maintain more direct control over the content produced, rely on agencies, like Aquent, that provide content producers at scale and as needed.
Doing It vs Getting It Done
It's easy to feel that you have to produce all your own content. You are the expert on whatever it is you do, after all. Finding other people who get it or who can produce work with the voice and intent you desire isn't easy. Why not simply stick with homegrown talent, assuming you have it?
Secondly, there is so much talk of "transparency" in business today, it can feel like a "cheat" to hire external resources and put them in charge of representing your company's values and perspective.
Finally, going outside your organization for content can, as I mentioned, be expensive.
In an ideal world, I suppose, everyone would and could produce their own content. The subject matter experts would be interesting and engaging communicators and the business leaders would be articulate advocates of the company mission while leaving others a free hand to express their views or put their direct stamp on outgoing content.
In this world, however, companies need to get used to the idea that, if their content is to be a meaningful part of their business, if it is to be produced professionally and work with the audiences for whom it is intended, then it needs to be created by people who are skilled and focused wholeheartedly on content production.
And unless you are in the business of producing great content, those people will either be working for themselves or someone else.
Image Source: Marc Falardeau.