For content marketers building out a new team, one of the greatest challenges is vetting content writers to gauge who would be a solid fit for your content needs.
Sure, all the writers on your roster may have a background in say, insurance, the automobile industry, or personal finance, but which ones are best for particular types of assignments? Some writers may be aces at data-driven articles, others skilled at tactical, informative pieces, while others excel at personal essays. Blindly assigning stories to writers could lead to less-than-stellar results, additional rounds of revision, and annoyance on both sides.
Therefore, it’s imperative for marketing leaders to develop a strategy for evaluating which types of stories creators are most passionate about and what pieces they can be relied upon to generate the most value. By setting these expectations, your marketing team can avoid frustrating fluctuations in quality and instead feel confident that you’ve built a workflow of continuous, compelling content that keeps your brand moving forward towards its greater goals.
Here’s how content managers and those at the helm of content operations can go about deciding what kinds of content are best suited for their freelancers.
Marketers understand the importance of customer personalization and the importance of speaking to the specific passions, challenges, and goals of a target audience. Why then, do so many marketing teams fall back on generalizations or one-size-fits-all approaches to working with content creators?
“Too many editors treat freelancers like robots or vending machines,” says Sara Wildberger, a veteran freelance writer and content strategy consultant. There’s a lot to be said for someone to whom you can throw a pitch line and three sources, and have them deliver a ready-to-post piece of content. But if that’s all you do, you’re missing the value.”
She continues, “Part of the reason you use freelancers is to open the door to ideas and worlds you can’t encounter with staff resources alone. The freelancers who ask questions, bring info and ideas, and bring value to the business are worth trying to get more money for.” Instead of distributing your content ideas at random, get to know your content creators and what their strengths are. In doing so, you’ll have a stronger idea of what type of articles to assign them, and you’ll help them produce their best work.
Start by understanding the kind of people and ideas that your brand is looking to work with and communicate your expectations clearly during the evaluation process, says Cat DiStasio, a freelance writer and editor with experience hiring and working with a team of ten freelancers.
“Once I decide to onboard a new freelancer, I typically talk with them briefly about the types of stories they are most interested in pursuing,” says DiStasio. “I balance their input against the types of work I have seen in their portfolio, along with my gut feeling about what they might be able to handle. And oftentimes, that’s all it takes to make the call.
Once you’ve found candidates who you trust will be capable of speaking to your brand’s content needs, you can start to brainstorm specific ideation areas by taking part in some tried-and-true social listening practices.
Image attribution: Kyle Gregory Devaras
Beyond conversations and emails, get to know what your writers are most passionate about by looking into the kind of content they’re already sharing on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Not only will this give you some insight into what creators may be able to boost your engagement or serve as influencers for their own content, you can also read through comments on their past works to see how audiences are responding to their ideas.
“Checking their social media profiles gives me a good idea of what they’re doing on social media as well, and how involved they are when it comes to the vertical they are writing about,” says content expert Claire Tak.
If your brand is known for coverage of a specific topic area or industry niche, consider starting new content creators off with a practice piece in this area. A test assignment is not only a great way to see how well they’ll do on a particular type of story, but it can also give you and the content writer a chance to test out your working relationship.
Make the test assignment an article that isn’t as high of a priority to see how well they perform before assigning something of greater importance, suggests content director Jeffrey Trull. “For example, I’d have them write a piece for the company blog and see how it goes before assigning them an important guest post being published on a big-name publication.”
By assigning the writer something that doesn’t require a quick turnaround, you have more time to familiarize content creators with your overall brand strategy by going into your team’s revision process and crafting detailed, specific feedback that will help them better represent your brand voice once they start putting together real assignments.
It’s important to challenge writers who are interested in expanding their abilities, and provide the support and feedback they need to build a more diverse skill set, says DiStasio. “Sometimes you have to take risks in order to do that.” As a content writer, I always appreciate the opportunity to explore a new topic or try something that’s outside my wheelhouse.
It may feel dicey from the managing editor’s side—and subsequently a greater investment of time—but the gain is that you can offer similar assignments to a content creator you’ve already established a relationship with, and freelancers certainly value opportunities to grow and expand the range of their work.
Image attribution: Andrew Neel
Look to see what the writers pitch and what they’re most excited about. “Writers generally pitch things they want to write, and article types that may be easiest for them given their skill set,” says Trull. “I do put some stock into the fact that if they’re pitching it, there’s a better chance they’re going to do a remarkable job on it than something I randomly assign, which they may or may not be truly invested in writing.”
Allowing content creators to serve as co-creators in the ideation process both lifts some of the burden from your marketing team and encourages a more diverse, wide-reaching range of content.
Once you’ve assessed the initial pitch, it’s helpful to ask for an outline for a story before the first draft is submitted, especially if you’ve just started working with a freelancer, suggests Bethy Hardeman, a personal finance expert and marketer. An outline can be as basic as bulleted points, or it can include links to secondary sources and ideas for experts to potentially interview for the article.
This not only helps you assess whether the content writer is a good fit for the story, but also if they have a grasp around the topic and have the sources and research in place to provide a high-value piece of content. “Of course, I work this into the contract and pay them for that time, whether or not I end up moving forward with the story,” says Bethy Hardeman. “Once I’ve worked with a freelancer for a while, an outline isn’t necessary, since they’ve built a portfolio of content for me.”
Finally, marketers should reference performance metrics to get a more in-depth look at what content is actually performing well over time and where each creator should focus their efforts in order to best connect with your audience.
If you’re using an article to accompany an email campaign, you might rely on how the campaign performed overall to assess whether or not to move forward with another piece.
“If the purpose of the content is for SEO, you could typically use analytics to see how the article is being discovered—all the while remembering that SEO is a long-term effort,” says Hardeman. “If the content is to convert more users or subscribers, you could look at ways to attribute new conversions to the content.”
Consider social shares on past articles and organic search traffic, says Trull. “Was the post widely shared? If not, was there something the writer could’ve done to make it more shareable, like writing a better headline or tweaking the angle such that it’s a more shareable piece?”
Engagement metrics should also play a part in the evaluation process.”If it’s an important piece, such as something that cites original research or big rock content, you can also look at the time readers are spending on the page and scroll depth to see how far they’re read,” says Trull.
Are visitors reading the entire article? Or are they landing on the page and leaving after reading just a few paragraphs? These metrics help you determine the success of different types of articles, and whether you’d like to assign the same type of story again to the writer. Technology like Skyword360 allows marketers to access a wide range of metrics to better understand how people are experiencing all of their content, including page views, bounce rate, and session duration.
By understanding what your freelance writers excel at, you’re able to best harness their talents and skills to create compelling content that serves your brand’s editorial objectives and hits business goals.
Skyword360 technology enables marketers to put together a unified content strategy and ensure that everyone, from the CMO to content creators, is working towards the same brand vision. Learn more.
Featured image attribution: Katy Belcher