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Conquering the Fear of Authoring

  |  December 24, 2003   |  Comments

Ten tips for motivating content contributors.

I have an amazing fear of flying. It is only cured by what my husband calls "white wine therapy," preferably administered intravenously (although I have yet to encounter an airline that will oblige with the necessary IV equipment). Nevertheless, I get over my fear and travel by air at least once a month.

But my own fears are not the subject of this column. It's about another fear -- the fear of authoring. Fear of authoring is a problem that seems to be rampant among otherwise rational adults. Just ask people in your organization to submit content for the Web site, and you'll see exactly what I mean. Individuals who normally have opinions on everything suddenly freeze at the mere mention of writing a few sentences.

In the old days, management hired writers to scribe the Web content. However, as Emily Avila points out in "What Cultural Changes are Required to Make Content Management Work?" (eHealthcare Strategy & Trends), with content management programs and the demand for more frequent updates, it helps to have several Web correspondents in the organization. Short of white-wine therapy, here are some tips for motivating contributors -- even those with an intense fear of authoring.

  • Make communication part of the job. Sometimes the word "mandatory" works wonders. If managers and above are required to submit frequent updates from their departments, it will get done.

  • Reward with incentives. Movie tickets, gift cards, and discounts for the company store are incentives, not bribes. The more frequent the contributions, the better the reward.

  • Reward through recognition. Post photos of contributors, along with their names and bios. They may feign embarrassment, shrieking, "Ugh I hate that photo!" But behind your back, they're proudly showing the site to relatives and friends. What's more, photos humanize the content for readers. Readers appreciate seeing the real people behind the scenes.

  • Make it easy. A content management system that's easy for the Webmaster is great. A system that's easy for contributors is essential. Your content management system should make contributing to the site as effortless as possible. Don't require contributors to spend a day in class learning something they're not thrilled about doing in the first place. Have trainers go to the contributors, sit down with them, and provide a quick one-on-one session.

  • Avoid inbreeding. Don't assign contributing duties to just the marketing or IT teams. Get some folks from finance or operations to dance their fingers across their keyboards. The result will be more varied content and greater internal enthusiasm for your site.

  • Have a schedule and stick to it. Humans like structure. We say we don't, but deep down we have a basic need to know when and where we're supposed to show up or complete a job. When asking for "regular contributions," make sure you specify the scope of work and the deadline. It doesn't hurt to send friendly deadline reminders before the work is due. That's what ClickZ does for its authors... and believe me, it helps.

  • Provide writers' guidelines. Publish a style sheet that details your site's rules on capitalization (department names, titles, etc.), terminology ("website" or "Web site"?), and preferred format. If the site is for consumers, include basic instructions on how to keep writing punchy and easy to understand and emphasize the importance of avoiding industry-specific acronyms.

  • Offer editing assistance. Fear of authoring is usually synonymous with fear of criticism. Adults don't want to be told they can't write or their ideas are drivel. You can ease contributors' trepidation and ensure better copy by appointing a tactful, nonjudgmental editor to assist with "fine-tuning."

  • Share successes. Let contributors know when their content elicits a positive email or results in a new customer. Better yet, communicate the success story to others through your employee newsletter or intranet (it could inspire more to contribute).

  • Listen to contributor feedback. Keep in touch with contributors. Ask them how you can make the writing process more satisfying. Survey them on content changes they hope to see in the future. Chances are your contributors are among your most loyal site visitors.

Motivating others to write -- despite all the best technology in the world -- is an age-old challenge. Every author has her idiosyncrasies. Perhaps one or two of the tips listed above will help in dealing with them.

That said, by the time you read this column I hope to be taking off for a much-anticipated vacation in Italy. And yes, I'll make sure the plane is well stocked with those lovely mini-bottles of California white (we all have our ways of coping). Happy holidays!

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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