You work for a great organisation and it’s doing fabulous things. So wouldn’t it be brilliant if you could make sure that everyone – internally and externally – knew about all your wonderful thinking, activities, events and moves?
What you know you need to do is publish articles, videos, thought pieces and images via your website, social media or intranet.
But how? Where do you start?
You need an editorial strategy – which means you start to think of all the “news” and updates you want to publish in the same way that a newspaper or magazine thinks about all the stories and content that are available to it, or that they could create.
This post gives a top-level overview of how to create an editorial strategy, and highlights traps to beware of.
- Intro: Beware – content marketing and editorial strategy are not the same
- 1. Step one: Define your goals
- 2. Step two: Create an overarching editorial strategy
- 3. Step three: The pragmatics – what resources will you need?
- 4. Step four: Set up your editorial infrastructure
- 5. Step five: Who is going to be involved, and how?
- 6. Step six: Publishing – selecting, editing, writing and creating an ecosystem and legal responsibilities
Intro: Beware – content marketing and editorial strategy are not the same
In today’s digital world, where content marketing occupies so much of our brand, PR and marketing thinking, the art of editorial strategy has become a little lost.
With content marketing, the core purpose of the content is to entice customers to enter a sales funnel. You post content that’s brimming with words and phrases that people are likely to be looking for as they browse the internet – then as interested readers land on your site, you harvest their contact details and/or cookies. This allows you to keep contacting them and follow them around, reminding them of how great your offer is.
In the content marketing world, you’re constantly testing which kinds of content have the strongest pulling power, and you keep adjusting to match what potential customers find most attractive.
It’s a great approach for selling – particularly when it comes to low-consideration, impulse buys. For someone looking for a new shade of nail varnish, a good image on Instagram may be all it takes to have them dive headlong into your sales funnel. You can go from impression to purchase in a matter of seconds.
But this approach is not designed as a tool for informing, educating or updating. Editorial strategy, on the other hand, is.
The difference between selling and informing is subtle – particularly as “editorial” rather than “content” can also prompt a reader to form strong links with a brand or organisation and to buy from it.
But the difference is important – because it means the techniques you can use are different.
In content marketing, content is a means to an end. You use content in any permissible way to get customers to view your wares. The content has only succeeded if its consumers convert and buy.
In editorial strategy, the content is the end. It has succeeded if people read it and internalise it.
In the rest of this post, we set out the steps we take to make editorial strategy work for our clients. You can find out more about our approach to content marketing here.
Step one: Define your goals
We’ve all seen websites with randomly-constructed blogs. The company behind them sporadically publishes posts that by the end of the year read something like:
- We all brought our dogs to work today!
- Read our annual report
- XYZ Office Supplies Northampton is Named Regional Distribution Hub of the Year
- A giant cake for our birthday!
- Listen to our founder talk about the role of taxation in the modern economy
- National Bring Your Daughter to Work Day at XYZ Office Supplies!
XYZ Office Supplies knows it wants customers, suppliers and potential new hires to get a feel for the kind of company they are – but they’re trying to convey this without any kind of goal or plan in place. So what they get is an ad-hoc jumble of stories that have as much potential to confuse as they do to inform.
A better way for them to have started this process would have been by defining goals. Creating and publishing information does, after all, take time and effort. So make it all count.
Don’t know how to set a goal for your editorial? Then look to your company’s strategic objectives. For XYZ Office Supplies, they include:
- Becoming the biggest supplier of office equipment to medium-sized businesses in the UK
- Being seen across the UK as a great place to work
- Being known for bringing the most up-to-date products to market
These can simply be lifted over to become the goals of your editorial approach.
Step two: Create an overarching editorial strategy
Armed with your goals, you can now begin to build a strategy. This means knowing:
- What type of posts you will publish
- The balance of types of subject you will publish
- The channels you will use
- How frequently you will publish
What type of posts you will publish
XYZ Office Supplies wants to become the biggest supplier to medium-sized businesses – so it makes sense for it to publish information that showcases its relationships with clients. This could be in the form of case studies: stories outlining finer details of client relationships, which show clearly that they understand this particular marketplace.
It also wants to be seen as a great place to work. Ideally, it wants to attract the very best people, who will then stay and develop within the company. For an editorial strategy, this means sharing stories that show: A great workplace culture, opportunities to develop, exciting things that people get to do at work.
It also wants to be known for bringing innovative, cutting-edge products to the market. So it can publish images and short stories about all of these products – possibly alongside reviews.
These are rich seams for XYZ Office Supplies. They’re all the stories they could – and possibly should – be sharing with the wider world.
The XYZ Office Supplies brand also needs to be taken into account. This will shape the tone and possibly even no-go areas for their stories. The company considers itself to be a professional partner to the businesses it works with – so it’s unlikely to publish deliberately offense or provocative material.
The balance of types of subject you will publish
Balance is an important thing to consider – and one that’s often overlooked. With three main areas of content – relationships with clients, great employer and innovative products – they are going to need to put in place systems that mean they’re talking about employment for no more than 50% of the time… or that their stories don’t become dominated by products, leaving little room for them to talk about their culture and relationships with clients.
The exact proportions are a strategic decision. XYZ Office Supplies thinks recruitment and client relationships are its priority – so it decides on a 40:40:20 approach. A total of 40% of their stories will be about working at the company, 40% will be working with it – and 20% will be about products.
The channels you will use
Channels are simply the platforms and arenas your company will use to publish news about itself. There’s a strong relationship between your channels and your readers/users.
For XYZ Office Supplies, it knows most of its clients check in on LinkedIn at least a couple of times a week – so publishing on LinkedIn makes perfect sense. They’ll also be using Twitter, so that’s a box to tick too. Its potential employees – especially for delivery and warehouse roles – might not use LinkedIn. So Facebook becomes an important place for XYZ Office Supplies to hang out and tell its story. And for its products? Instagram gives them opportunities to tell great visual stories.
There are other important channels too, like their own blog, newsletters, trade press, events, books, webinars and podcasts.
How frequently you will publish
To be effective, a company needs a regular publishing schedule. For XYZ Office Supplies, we’d advise that they publish something original at a bare minimum of twice a week. On top of that, we’d advise them to be tweeting and sharing information daily.
Step three: The pragmatics – what resources will you need?
If your resources are thin on the ground, you may want to look at this step before you decide on the breadth and scope of your strategy.
The skills you are going to need, at a basic level, include:
- Someone who can edit, write and evaluate stories
- Someone who can upload stories onto your blog and social media
- Someone who can keep on top of the schedule and plan ahead
- Someone who can come up with ideas for new stories
These could, in theory, all be the same person. In which case, XYZ Office Supplies might be looking at substantial part-time hours. Realistically, these aspects of publishing news for your business are likely to be shared between a number of people. Just make sure everyone has time set aside they need to devote to it.
Step four: Set up your editorial infrastructure
Strategy, roles and responsibilities and ideas for stories… they could all be as useful as a chocolate teapot if you don’t have processes and schedules in place.
You will need:
- Regular meetings – to keep on top of schedules and generate ideas
- Forms – to record information about ideas, alongside details of who is going to do what, where background information can be found – and when any conversations or interviews will happen
- An editorial schedule – a calendar setting out who is going to do what, when
- Editorial guidelines – what makes for a great story, what your categories of story are – and what to avoid
- Style and tone of voice guides – explaining the type of language you use and the way you spell, punctuate and present text
- Guidelines to help manage the document creation process – explaining how to input into a story while maintaining document integrity
It helps to keep all of these assets in a central place where everyone who needs them can access them easily. You will probably want to tightly control permissions around your editorial schedule.
Step five: Who is going to be involved, and how?
In every organisation that’s publishing news about itself, it’s helpful to have a core team of people who regularly look after the direction, collection and publication of stories.
But it can also be useful to involve the whole organisation in generating ideas – and even writing or videoing stories.
If you’re thinking of doing this, make sure you have the infrastructure in place to:
- Support people in creating content
- Empower others to chase and maintain deadlines – and edit
Essentially, you want to set up an expectation that just because someone has an idea, does not mean that it will be acted on. And just because someone submits an article, does not mean that it will be published verbatim.
XYZ Office Supplies can’t publish a 2,000 word blow-by-blow account of a regional bake sale. This is because that wouldn’t support its strategic editorial goals of gaining market share and attracting and retaining top talent. What it can do is tweet a nice picture of a cake stall with a single line that says: “Who wouldn’t want to work here?”
Managing expectations is absolutely vital. Of course, you want to encourage your teams to be involved. But you want them to know that you’ll treat their submissions as source material – and that although their ideas might be brilliant, they might not be quite right for what you’re trying to achieve this quarter or year.
Step six: Publishing – selecting, editing, writing and creating an ecosystem and legal responsibilities
Time to set up a system for sharing your company’s news stories is time well spent. Once you have process and infrastructure in place, you will be able to concentrate on generating news stories and sharing them with the world.
If you’re having monthly meetings to generate ideas, this could be a good place and time to select which make it through to publication. Keep a long list of ideas – but be focussed when choosing which you use and when you use them.
There will be a degree of seasonality to your choices. Around holiday times, you may want to add a little festive flavour to your content. And of course, if there are events and times of year that are relevant to your business, then it would be useful to schedule them in.
XYZ Office Supplies, might, for example, decide to run a series of articles through spring on keeping desks clean. Or through the summer, it may decide to publish information on keeping offices cool and workable.
It may also report back from design fairs and exhibitions, and even modern art galleries.
Plan, plan, plan – these scheduled stories will become the backbone of the news you publish. And then when things happen out of the blue – opportunities for you to seize, or news that you need to respond to – you will have the bandwidth to take on the odd extra story.
For example, the team at XYZ Office Supplies wakes up one morning to the news that bad backs are contributing to growing rates of absenteeism in the UK. It responds that day, publishing a guide on how to set up your workplace ergonomically and promote back health. The story wasn’t on the schedule, but because the schedule is there, the 40-40-20 balance is maintained and the additional piece feels in-the-moment and relevant.
Writing, creating and editing
Try to make sure that the stories you publish all feel like they come from the same organisation. Use your company’s tone of voice and style guide.
Remember to write for your audiences. You don’t want your stories to all seem inwardly-focussed. For XYZ Office Supplies, an inward focus isn’t going to help them improve market share or attract new talent. Whatever your goals are, an inward focus is unlikely to help you achieve them either.
If you don’t already have professional writers and communicators in your team, it can be a good idea to recruit some. Or you could get support from an external agency – or you could train your teams so that everyone can write better.
When it comes to editing, remember your goals. Your aim is not to be loved by all your contributors; it’s to be loved, remembered and recommended by your audiences. Find out more about editing and proofreading here.
Create an eco-system
When you’re planning your stories, don’t just think about your blog or your LinkedIn page. Think instead about having a blog (or LinkedIn page) as a hub, and then creating a whole ecosystem around it – made up of tweets, newsletters, posts and shares. Catch your audiences wherever you can.
Remember, if you’re publishing, you have legal responsibilities
XYZ Office Supplies is always going to adopt a professional tone – because this aligns with its brand. But even with a professional tone, there may be occasions where they might decide to have little jibes at competitors – or even at celebrities.
But remember, those competitors and celebrities can sue you if what you’ve published is defamatory. So if you suggest that a company’s business is suffering, or that it has cheated or lied – they can sue you. If you suggest that a celebrity was drunk, unreasonable or unprofessional, then they can sue you – and you will be forced to prove that you were right.
So if XYZ Office Supplies ever considers a tweet saying: “ABC Office Supplies lies about its delivery times!” it needs to consider how much it would be prepared to pay ABC, just to keep out of court.
Editorial process and strategy involves a number of inter-related skills and approaches. It’s no wonder really, that some organisations don’t quite get it right.