March 19, 2015
User-Driven Product at Stack Overflow & Stack Exchange
In this Heavybit Speaker Series talk, Jeff offers lessons from his experience building Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, and most recently, Di...
Earlier this year, Heavybit hosted DevGuild: Content Strategy, a half-day conference focused on helping developer facing companies build effective content strategies. In one of the talks Liam Boogar, Algolia’s Brand Director, outlined the 6 step process he built to source great content contributions from his entire company. He set out on this project with a goal of 50% of the company contributing some form of content, not a small feat with a then-size of over 100 employees.
Liam’s 6 steps to putting out more content without losing quality are: Opportunity, Interview, Storyboard, Draft, Culture, and Package. Let’s dive into each of these steps, so you can take some of his strategy and incorporate it into your own.
At Algolia, the content team “never tells someone what to write” says Liam, instead they’re always on the hunt for stories hiding in plain site. They’ll find story ideas during the activities their team is already participating in like all hands meetings, lunches, meetups, and especially in the team’s slack channels. No matter if you’re looking for technical content, marketing content, or sales content, look where those teams are most active for inspiration.
Once you’ve found a nugget of an idea, it’s time to set up an interview.
Often the biggest hurdle to getting someone to write for you is a lack of understanding. Your team may not understand how their idea can be translated into something valuable for your customers. As a content marketer, it’s your job to lead them down a happy path with their own ideas in a simple interview.
Liam was a journalist in a past life, so he runs these exploratory conversations like he would if he were writing a story about you for a newspaper or magazine. Your job is mostly listening since you’re trying to find the story, but you can help guide your interviewee with simple questions like ‘what are you working on’ ‘what gets you excited’ and ‘what have you learned’.
Liam looks for a spark in the eyes of his interviewees. He’s always looking for something that they’re passionate about, because passion is a really good indicator of an angle to take in a story. In his talk, he gives the example of an interviewee explaining an issue with Algolia’s docs by referencing the feeling you might get when you find yourself in a foreign country without a ‘local’ guide. These types of metaphors and personal connections are killer story angles, so keep your ears out for them.
If you’re like me and you’re not very good at taking notes while also listening and asking questions, there are lots of apps you can use to record your conversation, allowing you to stay present in the moment. My personal favorites are Just Press Record, Cassette, and Rev’s Recorder app. Each of these gives you easy access to transcripts (Rev being the highest quality since they have real people transcribing your voice) which can really speed along the writing processes to come.
Now that you’ve got an interview under your belt, it’s time to start writing, right? Not quite. We want to start even smaller, with a storyboard.
Liam says this step is about everything but the article itself. Almost everyone gets hung up when sitting down to write because they think they need to spill out a perfect article on the first pass. Don’t ask for two pages double-spaced, you’ll get nowhere with your team and your blog and customers will suffer.
Writing is an iterative process, start small and simple and refine from there.
After the interview, Liam makes a low-calorie ask of his interviewee: come back in a few days with answers to who, what, when, where, why (whichever are relevant, no pressure), along with simple bullet points that touch on the key items they might want a reader to walk away from this article with.
That’s it. Put a note in your calendar to follow up in a few days, and start looking for opportunities for your next post.
Once your interviewee gets back to you with their storyboard, it’s time to start fleshing it out. It’s up to you as content marketer to decide how you want to run this step of the process. You can turn the storyboard right back over to your interviewee and ask them to flesh it out even further, or you can take on that job yourself. This will depend quite a bit on how technical the topic matter is, and how thorough they were with their storyboard.
The process itself is straightforward. Liam says to “take each bullet point from your storyboard and turn it into a complete thought.” If the piece calls for an interesting story or technical example, find one and drop it in. By breaking the post up into small, easy to digest chunks, you’re making the writing process more fun and less stressful.
A very important part of this process for you as a content marketer is the feedback that you provide. You’re the expert storyteller, so it’s on you to help shape the post into a cogent piece of storytelling. Liam says the more feedback the better, just be sure to keep it civil and constructive. No one will want to write for you a second time if you leave them feeling crappy after the first.
One tip he shared is to always use the ‘suggestion’ mode in Google Docs. Suggestions let your guest author think about their own words in a new light without feeling that they’ve lost ownership. The end result, after suggesting additional perspectives, is always improved over what you or your guest author would have written alone.
This is a really interesting step in my mind, and something that I think a lot of teams may not consider. Every blog post, tweet, Instagram post, or tech event that your company puts into the world is an opportunity to express your brand values.
At this point the post should be fairly well formed and almost ready to move onto packaging, and it’s here that Liam suggests taking a wider view of the content. “How can we make sure that every post is fully embodying our brand?” Asks Liam. A few guidelines for Algolia include are we being humble enough, are we showing enough care, and are we being transparent.
What values does your brand hold? How can you tweak your piece to embody those values better?
At this point in the process, the post is complete and has been edited by someone on Liam’s editorial team and shared with others throughout the company to get even more input. Regardless of your team size, it’s always a good idea to pass your piece around to at least two other people for notes and feedback before publishing. Now it’s time to package the post for publishing and distribution.
Every blog post should have at least one accompanying image, and if it’s a longer form piece, I would suggest more than one. Animated gifs can be fun, but they can also distract from the real content or dilute your brand, so be very picky when it comes to adding them to a piece.
In addition to images, make sure your post has an easy to follow structure by using headers, sub headers, pull quotes, and list elements. Most readers, regardless of how great your piece is, will land on your article and quickly skim through before deciding to invest in reading the full piece. Providing clear and helpful style elements is critical to getting folks to read your full post.
Once you’ve got your formatting polished and your images looking sharp, it’s time to publish and distribute.
“One of the biggest things that people don’t spend enough time on is promotion, because if you create great content and you can’t promote it, did you really create the content? If nobody sees it, does it matter? No, it doesn’t matter.”
After publishing, submit your post to Hacker News, any relevant subreddits, GrowthHackers, Slack teams, share it on social, and email it to your subscribers.
You should be spending as much time on distribution as you and your team spent putting this piece together.
Finally, after all of this work creating and polishing, publishing and distributing, it’s time to celebrate. Liam makes sure to publicly acknowledge the hard work his team puts into content in a special #Celebration channel in their internal Slack team.
It’s a simple thing that pays dividends; your teammate feels great about their accomplishment, and others on the team see how great it can be to publish and get excited to work with you on their own content.
Opportunity, Interview, Storyboard, Draft, Culture, and Package. Remember these six steps to content contributions as you scale out your content marketing. Thanks for reading, if you have anything to add let me know on Twitter, and sign up for Heavybit Updates to get our content delivered straight to your inbox.