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Marketing Content Strategy

Unleashing Creative Collaboration to Produce More, Better Content

6 Minute Read

He’s better known as an actor with credits ranging from the TV sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun to blockbuster hits like Inception, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt keeps himself busy with a project known as HitRecord.

The company, which he founded in 2004, can be hard to describe to the unfamiliar. While it facilitates the creation of original content, it can be more accurately described as a community of creators who find new creative partners through the website. Gordon-Levitt loves the creative collaboration that HitRecord fosters, and he sees it as much more than a way to create art.

In his view, collaboration is the key to a much better world: a new way of thinking about progress and creation, and about the people and companies we think about as our competition. At this year’s Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, Ohio, Gordon-Levitt was the marquee speaker, and he talked in greater detail about how HitRecord’s approach to collaboration is a strategy that can, and should, be replicated elsewhere.

Businesses have shown some interest in this creative model, but the results have been mixed. Open workspaces may break down walls, but they’re also full of noise and disruptions that can hinder the creative process. Meanwhile, marketers and content creators sometimes find collaborative strategies hard to apply to every discipline. When you’re writing a business blog post, only one set of hands can be doing the typing. So how can collaboration support this creative process to improve the company’s overall marketing product?

It’s easy to say, “Let’s do this together.” But in a business environment where there are deadlines and goals to meet, a vision of a better workplace isn’t enough. Practical changes need to be made to translate this strategy into a better product.

Changing the Competitive Culture

“They’re not working together,” Gordon-Levitt said. “They’re working against each other. What would happen if all these people could put their heads together in an organized way?”

Granted, this utopian idea isn’t going to convince Facebook and Google to start to work together, swapping secrets and ideas to make the world a better place. But Gordon-Levitt’s suggestion could be transformative within a corporate organization, especially if that culture is designed to breed competition among its workers. Sales can be a prime example: When employees have quotas to meet and everyone is ranked in order of their success, it’s easy to slide into a me-first mindset. Marketers can do the same thing when their managers are looking at recent performance to measure their contribution to ROI.

But Gordon-Levitt’s point is that this competitive nature is counterintuitive. He cites the space race to build a commercially viable space-transport solution: As companies compete against one another to win prizes intended to spur on innovation, the prizes themselves are their own hindrance to this innovation by pitting the world’s best minds against one another, instead of bringing them together.

A better solution, he argues, is to bring together talented professionals who can offer their own individual strengths while accounting for weaknesses or needs within the team. By fostering a culture of support and collaboration, individuals can be empowered by the assistance and teamwork provided by their peers, and the final product is far greater than what those individuals could achieve on their own.

This is the guiding principle of HitRecord, and it has enabled the company to generate more than $2.3 million in payments to its creative community, while inspiring countless artistic collaborations that range from graphic illustrations to live-action short films.

Gordon-Levitt has used this collaborative concept with the primary purpose of inspiring new art. But he says it’s applicable to marketing as well, and it isn’t just as simple as crowdsourcing ideas and content. Rather, it’s about leveraging relationships within an engaged, interactive community.

“The difference between a crowd and a community is that in a community, every member is a unique individual,” Gordon-Levitt said. “The strength is less about the quantity of the people than the quality of their interactions.

“We get called a crowdsourced production company, but I prefer a community-sourced [company]. It feels like I would be failing to acknowledge the unique human beings that make our company what it is.”

Image attribution: Climate KIC

Supporting Creation through Collaborative Strategies

Collaboration in content creation starts with executive buy-in. But it also needs CMOs and marketing managers to foster this collaboration through changes to the work environment.

Some businesses may choose to implement a large workflow structure to facilitate and manage collaboration. As recently featured on the Content Standard, David Beebe built a brand newsroom at Marriott to turn collaboration into a tool for accelerated content creation. With team members filling specific roles within a content creation process, the end-to-end workflow allowed for a variety of voices to be heard in the pipeline of turning an idea into a finished, published marketing asset.

In other cases, better collaboration likely means finding opportunities to involve other parts of your team. For company blog posts, videos, and other informative content, interviews with other team members can be a great start: software engineers can provide insights into how a new solution serves your customers, and sales personnel could describe the needs and challenges they see their clients trying to overcome. This is a simple way to create better content by picking the brain of someone outside of your marketing specialty. You can also go outside of your organization to interview influencers, especially if you’re hoping to use those influencers to increase your social reach.

Forbes also recommends creating cross-medium partnerships that create related but separate pieces of content. This is a great tool when you have a larger campaign or project underway: blog posts, infographics, videos, and other content can be used to inform and support one another, and can also be useful in the cross-promotion of different marketing assets.

There’s also value in using collaboration to produce better iterations of a work in progress. Creators working on projects by themselves can always benefit from sharing that content with a coworker offering a fresh set of eyes, in addition to a fresh perspective. Even when creative collaboration isn’t happening simultaneously, the involvement of other voices and minds will inevitably push content closer to realizing its potential.

It’s often easy for content creators to fall into a rut, especially when they’re using the same medium and revisiting the same ideas. Facilitating better collaboration will help set them free from these bad habits while using a little teamwork to make everyone’s work just a little bit better.

If you’re interested in creating a story-first organization in which collaboration on content ideas becomes second nature, read about IBM Mobile in this case study.

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Featured image attribution: Matheus Ferrero

Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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