“Peek behind great content marketing efforts and you’ll nearly always find a driven, well-organized team.”
I adore this sentiment from Cameron Conaway because it succinctly illustrates the power of your content marketing team. Regardless of how much content marketing know-how you ingest, here’s the dirty little secret: Those ideas only work if you have the right people on your team to implement them.
In short: Your success (or failure) in large part depends on your team.
Of course, the question looms: How do you put a team together for content marketing? This was a question I grappled with a lot after CMI founder Joe Pulizzi asked me to put together a presentation at Content Marketing World about building the ultimate team.
The request seemed simple enough – I’ve played a lot of roles on teams and hired many people. But, when I sat down to develop a presentation applicable to a wide audience, I was stumped.
First, our B2B content marketing research shows that marketers are at different stages of content marketing maturity. About one-third of content marketing programs are in the young and first-steps phase, another third are in the adolescent stage, and a third are in the sophisticated and mature stage. Depending on the stage your program is in, you’ll need different people (which is something I recently discussed in depth).
Another issue is that content marketing teams sit in different places in the organization. This fantastic report from Conductor, The Anatomy of a Modern Content Marketing Team, shows the dispersion.
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all model for every scenario.
Enter the content marketing team framework
Because no model exists, I set out to create a framework:
Initially, this framework was based on the T-shaped professional model that Moz, Buffer, and many others have published. If you aren’t familiar with the T-shaped professional, it is an approach that suggests you hire individuals who have a basic breadth of knowledge of many skills (the horizontal line of the T), and an in-depth knowledge in one area (the vertical line of the T).
The idea is that when everyone on your team can speak the same language, you’re able to move more efficiently. As Moz’s Rand Fishkin writes:
As Daniel Pink notes, human beings need three things to be happy in their work – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. A marketer who’s constantly shifting gears between surface-level tasks in multiple practices never has a chance to develop the mastery that a T-shaped marketer can earn. The growth to attain mastery and to earn the recognition that comes from expertise helps with loyalty, commitment, and an ownership mentality – all critical elements of great team members.
While I found professional models or frameworks for other fields in marketing, I could not find one specific to content marketing.
Breaking down the framework
Ultimately, instead of looking only at skills, this content marketer framework is built on three dimensions:
- Content marketing mindset
Let’s look at each of these areas.
Of course, you need to hire for skills. In a recent post, I detailed the ones I consider most critical for any content marketing endeavor:
Skills needed when growing programs:
Aspirational skills / skills needed for sophisticated or mature companies:
On a basic level, skills are simple to grasp and understand, but here is where things get nuanced: You shouldn’t hire for one skill, but rather you should hire people who have skills in complementary areas.
In The Creative Group 2017 Salary Guide, the authors explain:
Creatives with skills outside their specialty are highly marketable. In addition, digital proficiency is becoming a prerequisite for many traditional roles. For example, graphic designers now need to be familiar with web layouts or social media, and copywriters must have knowledge of search engine optimization. Expect this pattern to persist as cross-departmental collaboration becomes the norm.
Another level of the new content marketing team framework focuses on cultural fit. During a #CMWorld Twitter chat, I had the pleasure of having a conversation around content marketing teams, which I used as fodder for my presentation. Not surprisingly, I saw many tweets like this one from Sue Duris:
Sure, skills are important, but culture should never be overlooked. We’ve all experienced working with people who know the job inside out, but if they aren’t a fit for the business it will never feel quite right.
Every company has its own feel and culture, but as you put together your team, it’s key to identify those cultural characteristics imperative to your business. For instance, these elements could include:
- Ability to remove distractions and focus
- Outside passions
- Figure-it-out attitude
- Ability to work independently as well as collaboratively
- Curiosity and love of learning
- Acceptance of feedback
- Willingness to not know the answers / be uncomfortable
I personally love this last bullet: willingness to not know the answers and be uncomfortable (and hat tip to CCO editor Clare McDermott who shared this observation with me). The content marketing space is not a “known” space per se. As the industry evolves and more emphasis is placed on hybrid team members, it’s imperative to have people willing to shift and adapt.
Content marketing mindset
I’ll be honest that I thought the framework required only two dimensions of content marketing: culture and skills. But then I was a guest on a podcast in which the host wanted to cover the topic of experimentation (I had just written on our experimentations at CMI). I thought the topic slightly narrow, but when I talked to the host, she explained that her journalism background meant experimentation was not in her DNA.
What a lightbulb moment.
Many of us come to content marketing from different paths, and each of us usually gets aspects of content marketing but needs to learn other parts.
For instance, if you are a fantastic writer but you don’t have an audience-first mentality, it will be difficult for your writing to connect.
While everyone’s definition of what a content marketing mindset is will differ, these characteristics are most important:
- Empathy / audience-first mentality
- Importance of mission / differentiated content
- Understanding of how content marketing moves business forward
- Ability to experiment
How to use this framework
The framework is intended to help you think differently – or perhaps more holistically – about who you hire. Here are a couple of use cases based on where you might be in the process.
If you are restructuring your team
If you are looking to move your team into a content marketing model, ask each person on your team (or work with them individually) to map their skills – and what they want to do.
You’ll see where you have depth of knowledge and where you have gaps. You can either train people to fulfill those gaps or hire others to fill them.
When you shift your team, it’s critical that everyone has the same mindset about what content marketing is – and how it differs from what you were doing. In this case, it’s especially important to map the section on content marketing mindset and make sure everyone is working from the same understanding.
In general, you’ll be less concerned about culture as the people on your team (hopefully) are a cultural fit.
If you are hiring new people
The framework also works well if you are hiring new talent. As mentioned for the previous group, it’s important to use the framework to figure out your gaps so you can hire to fill those areas.
If you have a limited budget for hiring, it makes sense to hire for depth in the skills identified as essential. This is your solid foundation from which you want to build.
Additionally, remember that it’s a great idea to hire hybrid individuals who have skills in multiple areas. You can put together custom job descriptions by mining the responsibilities section for each skill (as discussed in depth in the post called, Building Your Content Marketing Team? 14 Skills for New, Growing, and Mature Programs.
Beyond skills, it’s imperative to hire for both culture and content marketing mindset. Below are some interview questions to better qualify people (several are courtesy of people on the aforementioned Twitter chat).
Questions to determine cultural fit:
- Describe a time a project you worked on failed. How did you react? What would you do differently?
- How did you handle a difficult situation? How did people react? (Source: @maureenonpoint)
- Describe your ideal job in detail. What type of work would you be doing, what type of org, what type of team?
Questions to determine content marketing mindset:
- Pick one of your most successful pieces. Tell me the story about its creation. (Source: @pisarose)
- How would you describe the value of marketing to the company? The value of this position?
- What makes content successful? (Source: @pisarose)
When evaluating skills, you often need to rely more heavily on something that person creates for you (I’m a huge proponent of a paid test – compensating a candidate to create something for your platform; portfolios and samples can often be misleading). This question suggested by @pisarose also can prove telling: “What are your impressions about our content? What do we do well? Where can we improve?”
Bringing it all together
I would love to get your thoughts on the content marketer’s framework. Is it helpful to look at your team in this fashion? Are you able to identify gaps and opportunities? What’s missing?
Want to view Michele Linn’s full presentation on building a content marketing team and learn from hundreds of other Content Marketing World presenters? Sign up for CMW video on demand.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute