Publishing Is a Team Sport

Gregory Ciotti | September 22, 2015

Writing is a deeply personal and often emotional process, but publishing is a team sport.

You’ll see this play out as your company blog develops from a marketing pet project into a team platform. It will happen much earlier if you’re invested in strategy.

Involving the team can be an interesting challenge. While there is impending friction to avoid, there’s also much to be gained when the entire team contributes to publishing’s success.

Let’s start there.

Defining the why

The golden rule is that contributing to the company blog should never be seen as a homework assignment. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, there’s a difference between writing when you have something to say and writing because you have to say something. Stick with the former.

You want to encourage, not pester. Start by defining why “Whole Company Blogging” is worth the effort. Your reasons are your own, but here’s why we believe team contributions are worthwhile.

You can meaningfully share more

In the pursuit of variety + quality, there is no substitute for having multiple viewpoints from multiple people. Writers have hard limits when it comes to depth of experience; you can’t expect a single person to publish original ideas on everything.

Your team, however, is diverse, talented, and can offer a wide range of perspectives. Shouldn’t your publishing reflect this? Better yet, this is a huge opportunity. Content builds connections with customers by giving voice to who you are and what you’re about.

To highlight the potential, fly under the banner of “Do things, tell people” (borrowed from Carl Lange). What if publishing meant nothing more than sharing what you’ve been working on or learning about? The world has enough think pieces; go with the project case study.

The above image from designer Joey Roth captures the mindset to have. Be proud of your team, be proud of your work, and be excited to tell the world about both.

Your team becomes more likable

It’s almost odd how many names I know on the Wistia team. The reason is simple: everyone makes an appearance in their publishing. Whether through video, the blog, or Community posts, you get the full picture of who the team is and what it’s like to work there.

Remember that “being liked” isn’t marketing fluff; it’s a genuine advantage. People who like you are people who listen to you, support you, and buy from you. They also want to work with you.

Content is a recruiting strategy

Content is absolutely a recruiting strategy and often a first impression. Whether they’re introduced to your company through the blog or they’ve learned about how you work via pieces included in your job postings, curious candidates want to find out everything they can, and they’ll do so with what you publish.

But transparency isn’t so compelling when it’s only coming from the marketing department. What does the rest of your company look like? Writing lets the world know.

Why is this an incentive? Because everyone wants to work with great people, and writing gives you influence. There are few things the team cares about more than the future of the team.

You collectively form the ‘writer’s ear’

A content culture doesn’t mean everyone needs to write, but it means that everyone sees publishing as a valuable asset to which they can contribute. Improvements in communication are a noticeable side benefit when this belief is in place.

Example: Someone on the support team implements a new process for proactive customer outreach. Woah! The results were way better than expected. Nicely done.

But it shouldn’t stop there. Because this person on support has the writer’s ear, she instantly recognizes that what she’s learned would make for a great blog post. Whether she writes the piece herself or helps provide an outline of what went down for the publishing team, she’s helping in a big way.

You’ll experience fewer siloes, more sharing, and better results for your readers when everyone takes notes.

Make it easy to contribute

I’m often asked about the best way to “get” the team to write. If you want enthusiasm and authentic ideas, you don’t “get” them to do anything — you explain the opportunity and tear down barriers so the process is frictionless.

Here are important points you must address:

Outline how it all works

A long while back, I asked my Help Scout teammates what would be helpful to cover in a few internal docs. One of the responses I received asked about how submitting to the blog actually worked. Whoops. For the longest time I was the only writer; I hadn’t considered the benefits of mapping it out.

Don’t make the same mistake. Step-by-step instructions will make the entire effort more approachable. Here’s how our process works:

1.Begin with an idea.

To help, I’ve outlined example posts I’d personally love to see in every department (ex: for engineers in leadership roles, what was the transition like?). You should do the same.

2.Send over your outline or “skeleton.”

Once a teammate has an idea in mind, the first step is to send a bare bones outline via email or Slack. Here’s where we challenge early ideas, throw around a few angles, and discuss what this thing looks like in the end. A quick video chat often saves many keystrokes.

3.Set a tentative date for the first draft.

Deadlines are like WD-40 for to-do lists. Although this isn’t an iron-clad submission date, we set a deadline in Trello for the first draft to help everyone stay accountable.

4.Complete your first draft.

You’ll now finish writing your awesome first draft. I will only excitedly check in with you over email, like, twice. Tops. Maybe three times.

5.Send your first draft to our editor.

Your post will go to our talented editor, Ashley, for some polish and a fresh perspective. You're welcome to have as many back-and-forths as you need to get it to greatness.

6.Confirm that the outcome is what you want.

You’ll do one final check to make sure the post says what you want it to say and that it’s reached the standards we’ve set as a team. Our VP of Marketing, Ivana, and our Managing Editor, Jason, both have great insight and are our current gatekeepers—candor matters a lot because making exceptions to “just get this published” turns into a slippery slope.

Help overcome writing anxiety

Publishing can be nerve-wracking. You’re expected to proudly sign your name to thoughts made public for all to judge. Your team could use a little help getting past this fact.

Here are some common sources of friction and what to communicate instead:

Start small. We should be selfless enough, as developer Shubham Jain says, to write little things, too. Your contribution needn’t be a 2,000-word behemoth; excellent work can come at any size.

Encourage early feedback. Writing is improved by being broken down and rebuilt. Maybe I’m getting too poetic, but I find Kintsukuroi to be a fitting term:

Feedback is key, and the earlier you get it the better. Encourage people to submit a “grocery list” first—it’s a skeletal outline on what the post will be about. Better to change course now than later on, when six hours have already been spent on a first draft.

Establish writing as a high-value activity. No one will spend the arduous hours necessary to write something great if the effort won’t be valued. Worse yet, nobody will find the time if they think they’ll be penalized for spending it on writing. There are obvious limits, of course, but rarely does the pendulum swing into “You’re writing too often!” territory.

Reduce FAQs with internal docs. Documenting your publishing strategy offers a two-fold advantage: planning/direction become crystal-clear, and your team has an easy reference for how things work. A style guide is a smart place to begin, but there are plenty of ways short internal docs help reduce confusion. Here’s an example: although great writing isn’t confined to categories and personas, it’s helpful to outline the recurring themes in your publishing, why they exist, and how they relate to your customers. Don’t overwhelm with excessive information; keep it light and interesting.

Share a few team examples. If you've had a few team members already step up to the publishing plate, celebrate their success and showcase their work as examples of how to do it.

Writing = growth

The hurdles of team publishing are worth it in the end, because writing = growth. It helps grow the business, it helps grow the team, and it helps grow the individual — you don’t know what you know until you try to write it down. So when we say publishing is a team sport, it’s meant on every level.


About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.