The inclination to avoid worrying about good problems can turn small issues into real concerns.
A company blog that sees meaningful growth is one such discussion that can become swept under the rug—what do you have to worry about? At least you’re growing, right?
Wrong. Even the greatest publishing strategy runs the risk of being driven completely off course if neglected.
Here are a handful of growing pains we’ve identified. We have a keen eye on each, and we think you should, too.
Risks of ramping up publishing
When a company increases publishing frequency, there is a risk of the bar dropping lower than a limbo contest.
There is no substitute for more quality writing, but management and marketers often forget that great ideas need time to simmer. Cue the overzealous declarations of, “Sure, I’ll have something interesting to say four days a week!” Standards soon disappear just to get the calendar filled.
This leads to some peculiar behavior. The best publishing teams will avoid this stuff like the plague:
Single-mindedly chasing past hits. While looking at what’s worked in the past is certainly a great way to prepare for what’s to come, riding the coattails of your last viral hit doesn’t help move your content strategy forward.
Skipping the research required for validation. Writing something useful starts with knowing something useful. If you’re sharing what might work and not validating what actually works, are you educating or just posturing?
Copying what’s already out there. If you’re not out in the field, you won’t come back with any novel thinking. The only alternative is stepping into the echo-chamber, and that forces you to sound just like everyone else.
The struggle is balancing an ambitious schedule with the time needed to learn, grow, and refine your best ideas. Sorry to disappoint—there aren’t any easy answers.
But I do have some suggestions:
The perfect blend of strategy and variety
Give yourself room to breathe by defining a few consistently reliable themes. You’re looking for “repeatable, not repetitive.”
Every time I’ve seen an ambitious content marketing strategy fall flat, the company inevitably goes back to straight product updates, because those are reliable.
And sure, they’re useful when applied appropriately. We write them.
But there are more compelling topics to cover. Content does many jobs and shouldn’t be relegated to “what’s new.” Here are a few consistent themes we use at Help Scout:
Your bread-and-butter; far and away the most important topic. Nobody wants to be a camera expert—they want to be a great photographer. Success means helping customers become better at what they do. We want customers to be even better at customer support. Mastering styling, tone, and useful phrases is all part of the equation.
When I wrote Customer Support is More Than High Scores, it was built to serve as genuine advice. But another goal was to inform readers on how the new Satisfaction Ratings in Help Scout should be used. This approach gave more context for the feature than a basic update.
Sincere transparency is fascinating. Can sharing your processes help readers achieve similar results or show people what it’s like to work with you? Our marketer, Paul, shared insights from diving headfirst into support, and our CEO, Nick Francis, has discussed keeping our overachiever culture.
As a developer on our team, Brett explored front-end testing with CasperJS for fellow devs using Help Scout. As a content strategist, I sought to help our customers write better essays and updates by covering how to write with substance.
Nothing gives better validation for your product than letting your customers speak for you. We’ve shared success stories from Omada Health, Customer.io, and more, all to give our customers a platform to speak.
Requiring fewer raw hours than an essay, curation still demands thought and effort. Your goals are: 1.) Discovery for your old writing, 2.) Collecting ideas that will help customers, and 3.) Saying something about your company.
You’ll need to define what big, hairy objectives your writing should accomplish, but these themes will help you in the meantime.
One last grouping that matters comes from outside contributions. Guest authors are wonderful, but working with them requires serious commitment.
Know the commitment to guest authors
But there’s a sincere risk of underestimating the time involved with overseeing the writing of others. The best people are offering experience you don’t have; they’re contributing valuable thoughts and you need to ensure that working with you is enjoyable. They deserve it.
Guest authors bring unique experience to further empower your customers
You’ll have to carefully comb through their work like you would your own. You’ll later discuss revisions to better fit not only the voice of the company, but the voice of the writer. This stuff right here? Not easy.
It might seem a breeze to send out the call for guest authors—yet another case of writers finding a way to avoid writing.
But don’t be fooled. Ensuring only the best gets published means investing time into top-tier drafts and helping great writers communicate even better.
Outgrowing your old design
After publishing nearly 150 unique essays, it didn’t take long for us to realize that our old design was showing its age.
Discovery was difficult, navigation could’ve been better, and the archives were collecting dust. The current design was built around breathing life into a meaningful, still-relevant backlog of writing.
Our old look had six posts per page with details for each entry. That was fine for a while; when you publish infrequently, each piece can have plenty of time in the spotlight. When you publish more often, design around discovery and showing invested readers more of what they want to see.
Our current layout shows over a dozen essays and includes the ability to organize by category—a feature that will be getting an overhaul in the future as we cover more topics.
Remember that a new blog design isn’t just a new coat of paint. Identify and build around reader incentives and your most important objectives.
From marketing project to company platform
You enter interesting times when Whole Company Blogging becomes a real possibility. Having a platform gives voice to your team.
Since passionate people like working with passionate people, projecting craftsmanship, personality, and a healthy, welcoming environment is an irreplaceable touch-point and first impression. Done well, content doesn’t just transform marketing, it transforms hiring.
But with it comes more responsibility.
Drawing the line of commitment. Everyone contributes in their own way, so writing should never become a homework assignment. That said, a certain level of commitment is required—if you’re on-deck for an upcoming essay, there must be deadlines and accountability.
Speaking for the team. When someone writes for the blog, it speaks for the company. “Your opinion” will reflect on the team whether you want it to or not. That doesn’t mean stifling contrarian viewpoints, but recognizing how audiences view company blogs—as a collection of thoughts that the team (mostly) agrees with.
Avoiding the friction of editing. Candor matters, and when it comes to editing, it matters a whole lot. Having your ideas (even politely) picked apart can be disheartening. Writers are calloused shells forged hard by editing, but your teammates are not. You must make their writing better without any misunderstanding.
Over time you’ll gain unity on all of these concerns; no worries there. Once the ball gets rolling, publishing at your company takes on a whole new life.
Help Scout blog readers: Thank you for all of the support over these past three years. Here’s to many more!