As content marketing types, we’ve all been there. After all that ideation and PM and creativity, it turns out that just getting your content reviewed and approved can be the hardest part of the whole process.
Check out these tips for herding your stakeholder cats…
Marketing professionals cite ‘chasing feedback’ as the biggest barrier to getting content live, according to our most recent survey of the UK’s culture of content.
But when it comes to engaging with those all-important content stakeholders, common sense, courtesy and dash of kidology can get you a surprisingly long way…
Don’t see stakeholders as the enemy
It’s tempting to demonise your content reviewers and approvers, to see them as heartless crushers of creativity and editorial intuition. But they have a job to do, and often a very important one, like preventing your company being sued, minimising product misinformation or protecting the brand.
Seeing these people as colleagues or collaborators in the content process is a much more constructive mindset.
See them as users or customers instead
Learn to live with the idea that your stakeholders are one of your audiences. This means understanding how they tick and what their needs are.
It doesn’t mean you start writing everything in turgid compliance-speak or non-plain legalese, but it does mean realising that if you need someone’s approval of your 30-page product microsite, expecting them to turn that round in half an hour on a Friday afternoon is unrealistic and possibly even a tad disrespectful.
Work out your stakeholder journey map
Apply the idea of customer journey mapping to your internal sign-off process.
Look back at the last substantial piece of content that you got signed off, and work back through all the interactions with stakeholders that were required to get it out the door.
Where were the inefficiencies? What could you have one differently? What can you learn for next time?
Establish your critical stakeholder set and sign-off path
When you plan your next piece of content, work out who actually needs to see it and sign it off – not everyone who might ‘have a view’, but everyone who has to have seen the content on a business-rule basis.
Then it’s worth spending some time at the outset with these people understanding what they need from you to help make this happen as smoothly as possible.
What sort of timeframe do they need? Can they review raw content or do they need to see final proofs? What are the key issues they’ll be looking out for?
Q: Which of your stakeholders has the most negative impact on content quality?
Bring your stakeholders on the journey
It follows from the above that there’s a lot of value in engaging stakeholders up front, getting them up to speed at the outset about the idea behind what you’ll doing. This often works much better than just throwing them content executions for review at the last minute, when they have little context and time is pressing.
We’ve also found that stakeholders often have valuable insights at the outset about what is likely to be a sticking point and what will sail through, so saving lots of time and effort further down the line.
And marketers are sometimes pleasantly surprised in these conversations to find that some things they’d assumed would be a problem, actually aren’t.
Have a clear, well-documented brief
Early stakeholder interactions are important. But it’s vital too that you’ve circulated a detailed brief explaining what you’re aiming to do.
Getting feedback on this doc and making sure that all key stakeholders have seen it helps to crystallise all that initial goodwill that comes from proactively engaging with reviewers and approvers, and it can of course avoid a lot of misunderstandings later on.
Tell stakeholders it’s OK to find nothing wrong with the content
Sometimes reviewers add stuff because you asked for comments, and they feel they’re not doing their job if they don’t find something to say.
But you can use those initial engagements to explain that the content you’ll be presenting them will be in a finished state, not a work in progress, so unless there’s something essential it’s more than fine if they have nothing to add from their side.
Also, make it clear that you only need people to speak from their area of expertise – the legal person, for instance, doesn’t need to weigh in on use of commas or tone of voice (unless these have legal ramifications).
Stop asking for feedback
Rather than apologetically asking, ‘Please can I get your thoughts by Thursday?’ – thereby implying you expect there’ll be loads of things that need changing in your work – present your work with pride and confidence.
Tell your reviewers you’re very happy with it and you’re looking forward to seeing it live. If they have any comments, give them a realistic but strict deadline when you need to hear back from them.
Says Sticky Content founder Catherine Toole:
Watch the wording of your cover emails carefully. Tell the stakeholders you are satisfied with the quality of the content, that you have checked it and think it ready to go live. (If you aren’t, don’t circulate it.)
Ask stakeholders to sign off, not just comment. In one example we know of, a content professional working in a large, hierarchical not-for-profit was able to reduce amendments by 80% by following this simple advice.
Offer some education
Sometimes things don’t get signed off because reviewers don’t get why you’ve done something in a certain way.
A heading feels prosaic to them but to you it incorporates a valuable keyphrase, for instance. Or you’ve stripped back the language because you’re thinking about optimising for mobile.
Or you’ve highlighted benefits (not features) using bullets and bold because they’re a proven aid to scannability (and because users tend not to care about features).
Because they come from very different domains, stakeholders may very well not be aware of the nuances of digital content best practice. But they’re often keen to find out more and grow their understanding of what everyone understands to be an essential area of business knowledge.
We’ve seen some great results – in terms of both positive sentiment and streamlined sign-off processes – from running initial digital best-practice workshops designed to give stakeholders a better idea of what good looks like here, and so help make sure that their feedback supports rather than fights this.
Image credit: Rich Bowen on Flickr.
Dan Brotzel is Content Director at Sticky Content.
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