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How to develop an absence-proof content strategy

Empty Office

How to develop an absence-proof content strategy

I once worked somewhere where an employer, who happened to be the only person in the organisation who knew how to do a certain task, was asked “if you were hit by a bus tonight, how would your work be done?”

It’s a bit of a blunt way of phrasing the question, and shouldn’t be taken literally, but it’s the way all companies should be thinking. If someone isn’t here and can’t be contacted, is there a process in place that allows somebody else to do the work instead?

Some people proudly boast “when I go on holiday, my company can’t cope!” If that’s the case, then these people should ask themselves what they’re doing to help their colleagues out in times of absence. Are they actually team players, or do they have an idiosyncratic way of working that others can’t follow? Perhaps if they were as valuable to their company as they think they are, they would be able to leave their workload to someone else with clear instructions on how to do it, and be able pick up where they left off on their return.

Since I’m on annual leave for two weeks as of the end of today, this is something we’re thinking about right now at Engage Web. With content, it’s particularly important that there is a sense of continuity. Too often, content falls down because the writer is on holiday, or the usual editor is off sick. Such issues will always create challenges, but they’re inevitable, so they shouldn’t grind everything to a halt. What sets us apart from many content development services is that we have plenty of “safety nets”, with our team of editors and network of writers able to fill in for expected or unexpected absences.

Here are four steps we take at Engage Web to ease the stress of people simply not being around:

1. Develop clear content briefs

If your content has been written by the same writer for years, and they understand what you want inside out, then great – as long as the writer is here. However, we’re back to the “what if they were hit by a bus?” scenario.

Moving content from one writer to another is much less of a headache if they are working to a clear content brief. This is a document that outlines what the client wants and hopes to achieve from content. Details addressed in it might include:

– Types of articles (news, features, web copy?)
– Tone (informative, salesy, humorous?)
– How to refer to the client (first person, third person, not at all?)
– Target audience
– Suitable topics
– Any SEO keywords to be used
– Anything to avoid
– Useful sources (these can be added to the brief as and when you find them)

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and in content writing, the equivalent of a picture is a completed article. It therefore helps to have an example of a very good piece to refer to as a textbook guide to what should be written.

2. Make use of data

When we recruit writers, one of the first questions we ask is what their areas of expertise are. We can then search this so that if we’re asked to provide content about something unfamiliar, we can try to match it up with a writer who has a knowledge and interest in the subject.

For example, let’s imagine we’re providing content about plumbing, but then our plumbing specialist writer is “hit by a bus”. What now? We can search for another writer who might have experience in the sector. If we don’t have anyone, at least the content brief will include useful sources and examples of previous work to give the new writer a starting point.

Similarly, if content is geographically focused, it makes sense to give it to a writer from the area. We know where all our writers are based, and we’ve even created a Google Map as a quick visual guide. This is a big help when assigning or reallocating briefs that need geographical knowledge.

3. Create procedures for everything

Writing procedures is not very interesting, but without them, coming back to work after a period of absence might be a bit more “interesting” than you would like it to be!

For in-house editing, it’s important that we understand how each of our clients wants their content to be published, which content management system they use, whether they want images or links added, and so on. Again, it’s not really good enough to just have one person who knows all this – it needs to be written down.

Procedures should be written in a step-by-step way that makes them easy to follow, and should be as non-time-sensitive as possible. For example, don’t write “email it to Dave”, because Dave might leave the company. Instead, write “email it to the Managing Director”.

The file name for the procedures should include a description of what they are for, the date you wrote them and a version number. If you need to update them, create a new file with a new version number, and archive the old one for reference.

4. Tie up any loose ends

Of course, however prepared you are for someone being “hit by a bus”, something can always spring up. If you’re about to go on holiday, send a handover email to your colleagues that explains anything you need them to do in your absence, making sure they know how to do it.

If you need to leave something with someone who hasn’t done it before, make sure there are procedures, and if possible get them to test them before you leave. If they make a mistake, or your procedures are unclear, it’s better that this has happened while you’re around to look into what went wrong.

When I come back at the end of August, I hope to hear that the team managed fine without me. If they do, I won’t take that as a sign that I’m not needed, but that I have a process in place that can be followed by the rest of my team, allowing me to come back to minimal stress and my colleague to get on with their normal duties.

I’ll stay away from any buses, all the same!

John Murray

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