Break Down Silos With a Collaborative Content Strategy

Co-authored with Christoph Trappe. If desired, read the original article here.

Silos have their place. We need structure to help define our unique roles and responsibilities within complex organizations. But, when teams begin to work in complete isolation of one another, silos create unnecessary confusion and thwart our best efforts – especially when it comes to content marketing and content strategy initiatives.

Let’s consider the impact of siloed thinking on these separate-but-overlapping disciplines, then look at the ways a collaborative approach can help mend barriers.

Tunnel Vision In Content Marketing

As a matter of definition, content marketing is the creation and distribution of high-value content intended to attract, engage and convert a target audience. This means sharing relevant content and stories to educate, inspire and, sometimes, to entertain. Content marketing strategies are an ongoing, long-term content investment that can include blogs, social media, e-newsletters, and even offline channels like print magazines.

Content initiatives get tricky when content creation and distribution isn’t clearly aligned across the organization – including marketing, social, interactive/digital, and communications groups. Adding to the complexity, individuals, departments, or product lines might elect to “do their own thing.”

Let’s walk through a scenario:

  • A story worth sharing has occurred.
  • The topic is educational, current, and, above all, of immediate interest to a key audience.
  • The product or service lead is excited about the story and engages an internal team member to work with the subject matter expert to produce a story for the department’s e-newsletter.
  • A communications writer approaches the same expert to get details and quotes for a news release.
  • A writer on the marketing team jumps on the story and plans to ghost write about it on behalf of the subject matter expert. This is the third time the SME has been approached about the story and is somewhat fatigued and less forthcoming.
  • Before all is said and done, three departments are working on the same story with different goals and ideas, tone of voice, and methods of distribution. Mind you, content attuned to various channels is good. That’s not the problem. The problem is the lack of communication and alignment across departments.

A fractured approach to content marketing competes with itself , wastes valuable internal resources and time, frustrates subject matter experts, and dilutes the message.

A Splintered Content Strategy

Content strategy is the way you will make your content work for your organization. It establishes effective management across the organization. From workflows to audits to content and governance models, an effective content strategy guides how you will create content to provide value to the user while, ultimately, serving business goals. In that order.

In early, vision-scaping conversations, it feels good to talk about working in harmony and creating and managing content that speaks to the heart of user needs and desires. It’s the right thing to do. It’s ultimately best for the business.

When “kickoff glow” wanes and the real work begins, however, sub-layers of resistance begin to surface. The insidious “yes, but what about ?” or “That sounds great, but won’t be keen to join. They work on their own.”

Our healthcare clients frequently share stunning examples of outmoded content architecture built on departmental dotted lines. If users do find what they’re looking for, they are often awarded with internally focused, definitions-oriented content that fails to answer the most important question: “but how can you help me?”

Getting Everyone On The Same Page

To begin to align your internal initiatives, you need a content strategy everyone can agree upon.

Start by articulating brand as a vehicle for active connection. What’s the nature and quality of the authentic human relationship you hope to foster with your consumers – and has this been clearly defined across the organization? Your aspirational brand underpins the standards, voice, tone and every aspect of content creation.

Next, clearly identify what content must accomplish, and for whom. A definitive intention will help create a stable foundation as you work to break down silos. It will also help you demonstrate success.

You will need a plan for who and how content will be assigned, created, distributed, and maintained. This is where content marketing and content strategy overlap. A strong content strategy helps prevent scenarios like the above, where departments all working on the same story at the same time ultimately work against one another. Build a repeatable, scalable plan with a clear communication map and shared governance.

It is helpful, and often necessary, to form a content advisory group with stakeholders from various departments and product lines to share advocacy in a centralized strategy. Train departmental contacts and keep them connected to that core vision. Hold monthly virtual (if necessary) summits, send weekly internal newsletters, set up quarterly check-ins and reviews to help keep their efforts aligned.

Winning Over The Rogues

Even in organizations with the most coordinated teams, there are the “rebels” and the “rogues.” These are the groups who do it their way and believe they are succeeding on their own (which may or may not be true). They can be tough to bring into the fold.

Instead of thinking of these individuals or departments as difficult, view them with a little understanding. It will get you closer to mending the relationship. Often, they are simply reacting out of dissatisfaction with the organization’s management of content authorship. Or they might feel the overall brand is light years behind a particular product or service.

Demonstrate ways the central plan will help them. Show them how internal efficiencies and streamlined standards can free them to focus on unique storytelling. Provide assurance that a core content strategy is not about control but, rather, about becoming powerful through collaboration.

The next best tactic is to expose the hard realities. Use analytics to shed light on obvious behavioral confusion. Among other convincing data, you can show how duplicate content dilutes search efforts and mars clear task pathways, and how parallel content efforts waste precious resources.

If you have past success stories to share, have them ready. Usher one or two resistant departments into a core strategy and, after those first few “pioneers,” the rest will fall in like dominos.

A Call To Action

Protecting our silos is a natural, almost instinctual human impulse. We guard what’s ours, and that helps us survive, or, at least, it did when we were living in the wild, faced with many more physical dangers. Today, safeguarding our perceived and real empires can actually impede success.

If a collaborative approach seems intractable at first, simply take a few small steps by identifying where the disconnects exist in your organization and try to understand how they came to be. Then, identify and reach out to the right people and start a conversation about the benefits of a cohesive, unifying strategy. It’ll be worth it!