Content & ExperienceHow to make collaborative content work for your brand

How to make collaborative content work for your brand

A guide for brands to make the most of collaboration from a strategy and process point of view

30-second summary:

  • If you aim to get more quality content targeted toward attracting and satisfying customer needs, a collaborative content strategy is a way to go
  • Collaborative content is similar to user-generated content (UGC) in which customers may take part in the process
  • However, the differentiator is that it goes further to involve employees and those not traditionally involved in digital marketing as well
  • This guide helps brands make the most of collaboration from a strategy and process point of view

A collaborative content strategy is one that involves more people (team members, customers, and/or influencers) in ideating, creating, and promoting your content.

You may already have it going for your brand, but creating a strategy around the concept will surely make it much more effective.

Collaborative content is similar to user-generated content in that customers may take part in the content creation process, but differs in the fact that it goes further to involve employees and those not traditionally involved in digital marketing as well.

As practical examples, collaborative content may come in various forms:

  • Turning customer emails into articles or social media updates
  • Employees contributing to your blog
  • Re-packaging reviews into blog posts
  • Turning customer photos into a public on-site gallery

Why collaborative content?

A collaborative content strategy has lots of benefits, including:

  • The more people participate in your content strategy, the more diverse, creative, and refreshed it will become
  • Involving your employees in planning, creating, and promoting content means keeping them more excited and motivated
  • Including your customers in content creation and re-packaging means making it more relatable
  • Finally, influencers can make your content more trustworthy and shareable (which results in higher conversions and more diverse backlinks).

There are solid SEO benefits too. The kind of low-effort, high-volume, relevancy-focused content from collaborative efforts will address the long-tail and the growing number of searches seen daily that Google has never seen before, and also falls in line with voice search (where queries are significantly longer).

This kind of content allows you to cast a broader net online and satisfy the needs of more customers while also leveraging the power of stories and insights from those outside your own company as social proof and support.

How can my brand take advantage of collaborative content?

While the content itself might take “low effort” to produce, putting the proper people and processes in place to make collaborative content a reality is anything but a low-effort undertaking.

1. Get used to the idea of surrendering control

It’s challenging enough to get professional copywriters, journalists, and content creators to adhere to a style guide and learn your brand’s voice and tone.

Getting customers and the average employee to stick to the program is essentially impossible. When you open up the doors to contributions outside of a professional sphere, you need to do so knowing that you are giving some degree of control over the messaging and content.

That doesn’t mean you take your hands entirely off the wheel though, which brings us nicely to our next point…

2. Find a great editor

If copywriters, journalists, and designers are the heroes of long-form content, then editors and curators are the heroes of collaborative content. If you have any ambitions of creating a huge volume of content without steering your brand straight off a cliff, you need a very busy someone to sit in the editor’s chair.

To be clear: Trying to produce TONS of low-effort content without embarrassing your brand, falling afoul of low-quality content updates, or letting something awful slip through is a daunting, time-consuming, high-effort task.

You need someone to rely on and delegate to. The ideal role here is something of an editor, coordinator, and curator. They need to be able to draw the line between enforcing a style guide and keeping content from outside sources natural, they must know how to work with a large team of amateur content creators, and they must know how to create and enforce processes throughout your content marketing workflow.

Also interesting is that much of collaborative content will be incidental—a specific question asked by a customer triggers a blog post, and a specific customer using your services triggers a review or photo. As a curator, your editor will need to determine what is relevant, what stays, what goes, and how it is all applied.

You can’t just flip on the “collaborative” switch and hope for the best.

3. Build your toolset

Tools make collaborative content doable.

You’ll need tools to collect insights, re-package them into different formats, organize everything, encourage contributions, distribute content, monitor and analyze your progress, etc. In other words, you’ll need tools at every step:

  • Automation will make your team more productive allowing them to focus on more creative tasks
  • There are lots of plugins making it possible to easily curate, organize, publish and analyze content
  • Content optimization is important for any content, and collaborative content is no exception. Make sure your editor has access to SEO tools and know how to use them
  • Brand monitoring will alert your team of active conversations to participate in and allow them to curate more social proof to turn into content
  • Content creation and re-packaging tools will allow your team to produce more diverse content that will fit more marketing channels, like TikTok and Instagram. 

There are free and freemium tools to create images, including those powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

4. You’ll need to get customers on board

Some forms of collaborative content use customer insights without needing customer involvement—emails from customers triggering new content, for example. But other forms, like reviews and stories, require that your community actually wants to be involved and will share this content with you when asked.

In that sense, collaborative content requires some degree of community building. You’ll need to learn the essential building blocks of establishing and growing a community of advocates.

5. You’ll need to get employees on board

You can ask your sales staff politely if they’d blog the questions they get, and they’ll probably write something once or twice out of obligation, then conveniently forget to follow up. 

Your content aspirations are competing with what they see as the core of their job – helping customers – and to get them on board, you’ll need to prove the value and give them some sort of incentive to get involved.

Getting employees on board means a few things:

  • Management has to be “all in.”
  • There must be a catalyst employee (like the editor I just mentioned) in charge of organizing and maintaining the process of content creation and the culture behind it.
  • You’ve got to allow employees to produce content in their preferred method and style.

You’ll need to introduce a culture of idea sharing, set expectations, showcase a precedent, and encourage your staff at every step of the way. You’ll also need to make it easy, which brings us to…

6. Infrastructure and processes will be critical

From the technologies and software you use to collect customer stories, reviews, questions, and photos to the internal systems and processes necessary to take conversations and transform them into digestible content, you’ll need to set up the necessary infrastructure to make collaborative content not only possible but brain-dead simple.

Long before you launch your collaborative content strategy, you need a well-defined system for intake, evaluation, refinement, and publishing that makes the entire process seamless.

A documented process will make the knowledge transferable throughout departments and to new staff. There are quite a few productivity tools that will make it possible.

7. Organizing everything is going to be a serious challenge

Here’s the thing: “huge amounts” of content might sound like a positive, and if that content is useful and relevant, it certainly is.

But how should this content be organized and presented? Is it wise to have 5,000 blog posts jamming up your blog, creating a whole lot of noise? And given how much content is being produced, how will you decide which pieces to promote and which pieces should sit passively, attracting long-tail traffic?

From a content strategy standpoint, collaborative content could quickly become a serious headache as you struggle to keep architecture manageable, messaging clear, and content consistently useful.

You also need that content to be accessible in multiple formats so that you can deliver it to the right customer at the right time. That may mean incorporating this content into emails, blogs, microsites/guest posts, social media, and so on. This requires some form of organized repository you can easily access, search and execute on.

Is collaborative content going to work for your brand?

There are quite a few considerations for integrating collaborative content as part of your strategy, and it’s not as “cheap” or “low effort” as it might appear.

To be successful, collaborative content requires a carefully thought-out process, buy-in from your team, infrastructure to accommodate customers, and perhaps most importantly, an internal editor/curator with the experience, time, and space to handle the job well.

But while the collaborative content approach of high-volume, low-effort pieces may seem counterintuitive given the current focus on beautiful, “great content” and the tremendous importance of quality (which absolutely still applies, regardless of the smaller investment into production), collaborative content is not at odds with smart content marketing. It, in fact, complements the overall goal of giving customers exactly what they need, when they need it to win their trust and secure the sale.

Collaborative content just might be the next piece of the puzzle for those trying to attract and win over a broader audience; so long as you take the time to do it right.

Ann Smarty is the Founder of Viral Content Bee, Brand and Community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She can be found on Twitter @seosmarty.

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