This is a guest post from Ann Handley, CCO MarketingProfs
Businesses like yours have a new imperative these days: they must develop content that will draw people to their sites. The goal is to create and share content that your customers (and would-be customers) will find valuable, seek out and want to consume.
In a recent post on the 10 rules marketers can’t afford to break, Scott Maxwell wrote, “Your content is at the core of all of your marketing.” But that poses a tricky situation for a lot of marketers, doesn’t it? For many, things like content creator, writer and videographer aren’t business skills they’ve traditionally needed or nurtured.
So what should a business look for in a chief content officer—the key person responsible for creating, sharing and managing content for your site? First, keep in mind that the title of the position may vary (it could be chief blogging officer, content marketing manager, editor-in-chief, etc.). But whatever the title might be, what’s really important is that the candidate has the critical skills necessary to succeed in the role.
For example, Joe Pulizzi is currently crowdsourcing a chief content officer job description over at Junta42. The responses there outline necessary requirements like who the candidate should report to (someone in the C-Suite for sure), level of education, responsibilities and so on. In my contribution, I talked more about the skills—sometimes tangible, sometimes less so—that I think are critical for anyone creating content on behalf of your business.
The key skills to zero in on
There are a lot of things to look for in a content creator, but here are the skills I consider to be the most critical (based on what I wrote about in the book Content Rules, which I coauthored with C.C. Chapman).
1. Training as a print or broadcast journalist. Journalists are trained in the art of telling a story using text, images or audio, and they understand how to create content that draws an audience. Their innate understanding of an audience also gives them a critical outsider’s perspective — a nuanced perspective that marketers sometimes lack.
Like good journalists, the best content creators also have a nose for a story and instinctively know how to develop the content to make it human and interesting. (For example, is your candidate bursting at the seams with ideas for content your business might create and interesting blog post suggestions?)
2. Digital intuition. Rick Burnes of Hubspot says good content creators understand how the Web works. In a post on his blog, he writes, “The web is an ecosystem, and if you don’t intuitively understand the dynamics of this ecosystem—how Twitter can drive traffic to a blog; the kinds of headlines that attract attention; the simple things you can do to build blog subscriptions—you won’t be able to help your company attract online visitors.”
3. Business acumen. Unless you are a novelist or feature writer, content for content’s sake isn’t very useful. So can your candidate articulate the business goal of content? As Rick points out, “For businesses, content is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Every article, tweet and video is assessed based on its ability to generate visitors, leads and customers, not on any subjective judgment of content quality.”
I wrote about what it takes to hire a great editor for ClickZ almost 11 years ago, and what I wrote still holds true today: “Developing editorial product requires more than an ability to write and edit. It also requires some sense of the market and an ability to know what kind of content will help sell your product. What you are actually selling doesn’t matter; it could be physical product, consulting services, or ad space on the site. What matters most is that the content attracts the audience you need to attract to accomplish your business goals.”
4. An amateur passion. Look for people who are already online and creating content, even as amateurs. (Fun fact: the root of amateur is the Latin word for love.) Does your candidate maintain a personal blog? Create videos? Share photos on Flickr? Is he or she on Twitter? Obviously, your winning candidate doesn’t have to do it all, but those with a true passion for content don’t create and share it just because they’re paid to.
5. Social DNA. Is your candidate a social butterfly online? Does he or she enjoy interacting via social channels? This trait is also from Rick, who points out that the best content creators “promote their own content. They build and nurture relationships, and they know how to use these relationships to spread their own content, without abusing them.” In other words, look for folks who are social online, even if they may not be in the real world.
FINALLY: Strong editorial skills. This one almost goes without saying, but clearly you want someone with a strong editorial background.Can they write? Are they articulate? Can they communicate in a straightforward manner? Do they have a compelling writing voice? Do they have a strong sense of grammar and all that?
It’s a tall order to find someone who excels on all editorial counts, so also look for a willingness to admit what their weaknesses are and plan to hire accordingly. For example, copyediting is not my own strong suit, which is why I don’t copyedit.
By the way, it’s not by chance that editorial skills appear as the last item on this list. Someone who is both a good writer and a quality editor is a find, but the other points listed are equally important — and often overlooked.
Ann Handley is the uncontested first person in the galaxy to hold the Chief Content Officer title. She heads up Content at MarketingProfs and is the coauthor of the informative and engaging Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011). There’s also nothing more fun than following her on Twitter.