Jason Keath is CEO of Social Fresh, a social media education company. Their next social media conference is Social Fresh EAST on February 6-7 in Tampa, FL featuring speakers from RadioShack, Pepsi, Nordstrom, and Scott Monty of Ford. (and Jay Baer)
I remember making a handmade magazine when I was eight years old. Crayons. Magazine cutouts pasted onto pages filled with penciled in copy. I even folded pages and stapled them at a crude attempt at laying out content.
Looking back it was pretty clear I was into publishing. Since then, I have worked on over a dozen publications, enjoying the role of editor for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and corporate blogs over the course of 15 years.
Today I am the main editor for SocialFresh.com, a blog that has welcomed 150 contributors over the past three years. Learning how to manage multiple contributors, from a handful inside our company to dozens of industry thought leaders, is helped greatly by a few key tools.
There are three core ingredients in the special sauce that is a multi author blog: contributors, content, and editing. Let’s go over the tools that will allow you to manage these important blog elements.
1. Contributor Plan
Your first challenge is finding people to work or volunteer as contributors.
Ensuring quality across all your content starts here.
If you don’t have time for a long back and forth editorial process to train writers, then you need to look for good writers from day one. Or maybe you are focused on strong stories from customers. Understand the content you want out of these contributors and you will understand who you need to target.
Identify Ideal Contributors
You want to put together two lists for this.
First write down a list of target traits. This could be product knowledge, social networking presence for promoting content, authority in the industry, cost of their time, etc. Are they employees, customers, industry leaders? These traits will differ wildly depending on your situation.
Second, write down a list of actual people. If you had your way, who would be helping you today as contributors on your blog? These examples will help you start to attach faces to the roles you need filled.
Some of these contributors you will know by name and some will fall into categories or specialties you want to represent. Find people online that are already talking about the topics you need contributors for. Look at forums, other blogs, and websites where conversations happen, like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Quora.
Once on Social Fresh we even reprinted an answer to a Quora question in full, about Twitter Influence. (With David Armano’s permission of course). Social networks are overflowing with people saying interesting and relevant things about your industry. Give them a place to say a little more.
Contact Those Contributors
The key here is to have a plan in place about how to get in touch with contributors that are right for your blog. A couple tips:
- Understand your offer. Tell your potential contributors what they get. Employees might want to know the CEO reads the blog. Outside contributors might want to be paid depending on your industry. Or they might be happy with a link back and getting in front of the 10,000 monthly readers you have.
- Make it easy for them. Suggest a topic if they can’t come up with one. Ask them to write about something they already care about or are already talking about online. Give them a word count. Give them a clear deadline. The more vague you are, the less likely someone will be to commit to or complete content for you.
Make sure you give some love back to your contributors when you can. Thank them. Celebrate them. Link back to them. Tell the CEO who your best contributors are inside of the company. Pay them on time. You get the idea.
Have a plan for this and recognize what is valuable to your contributors. On Social Fresh we create author pages, allow them a link back to their site, and prominently feature Twitter follow buttons for them above each article.
2. Editorial Guidelines
So, you have your brilliant writers all lined up and waiting for orders. Like soldiers off to fight the most verbose war of all time. No, we aren’t arming a militia here, but your contributors need a general and they need a code to fight by.
Ensuring consistency in tone and topic across all your content starts here.
Guidelines also save you time and help you scale your ability to manage multiple contributors without sacrificing quality.
Make It Easy
A big piece of the puzzle is making it as easy as possible for your contributors to give you the kind of content you want. This means keeping your guidelines as short as possible. If you hand out the AP style guide to every employee blogger and expect them to read it, you better be paying them something extra. Stick to one page if you can.
No one wants a manual in order to help contribute to your blog. So try to focus on the pain points. Spell out the most important things your new contributors need to know.
- Platform – How are blog posts submitted? Through Google Docs? WordPress? Spell out the process to eliminate questions.
- Structure – How should your blog posts look? How many words, how many images, bullets, sub headings, etc.
Tone – What is the tone and goal of the blog? Give them a quick sentence or two to make sure they understand the big picture.
- Links – Can they link out to any site? Are they encouraged to link in for SEO? Can they link to their own blog repeatedly?
- Media – How should contributors handle images and video? Do they need to add images? Are Youtube videos allowed?
- Language – If you are going by AP style say so. If there are 7 industry words your contributors always spell wrong, list them. If there are 7 “colorful” words you would like some bloggers to stop using, list them as well.
- Examples – Point to blog post examples that will give them strong guide posts, something to shoot for.
The other key here is to make this a living document. Add more guidelines if they can improve the process as common issues or time sucks come up. And remove something if it becomes less relevant.
At Social Fresh we have a simple Google Doc that we use for our editorial guidelines and every new contributor gets this doc as a first step.
3. Editorial Flow
Your editing process can be very simple or quite involved. The larger your contributor list becomes, the more pieces involved, the more you want to detail out an efficient editing process.
Think about who your contributors are. That will guide your editorial flow. Here is a typical example:
Assignment >> Draft >> Feedback >> Rewrite >> Publish
The bold items are editorial staff tasks, the italics are contributors. Apply this flow to your contributors, your guidelines, and your blog. Every process will be different.
Think about the process from both sides.
- How will an editor approve or give out assignments?
- How will a contributor receive edits? Or with they?
Think through the technology around this process.
- Will your editorial flow happen on an intranet, through email, or through your blog software?
- Write it down, include it in your editorial guidelines, and make sure it is easily understood.
There are plenty of tools that can help with an editorial process. Google docs allows comments and multiple user access. You can email Microsoft Word documents back and forth with changes tracked. Even Evernote has nice sharing features.
But the best tool is the WordPress plugin Edit Flow. Obviously you need to be using WordPress for your blog to use this tool. If you are not using WordPress, and you are serious about building a blog for your business, you need to switch. I see no way around it.
Edit Flow is a very professional plugin and very good at what it does. Be prepared to customize it to your needs. Here are a few of the key features it provides for an editing process.
- User groups – It allows you to define your hierarchy, for instance: writers, copy editors, section editors. This is important to define who does what and has access to what features in WordPress.
- Custom statuses – Define the status of your blog posts along the way: Assigned, Draft Submitted, Needs Copy Editing, etc.
- Editorial calendar – Allows you to see all the content you have available in a calendar layout.
- Editorial comments – This allows you to send an email reply to a contributor with editorial instructions while documenting your comment on the post edit screen. The contributor can do the same.
- Editorial metadata – This allows you to quickly assign articles, give details about assigments, and even customize quick instructions like “Needs a better headline” or “Needs a photo”.
Bonus: Good People Are the Secret
At the end of all this, technology, planning, searching for contributors, the one key to the process is good people. You have to be true to your plan and you have to include others that will uphold the quality you are after. Don’t be afraid to give people a chance, but don’t be afraid to be picky about who becomes a regular part of your blogging team.
Look for writers and copy editors and editors that will help you produce the best product the most efficiently. And when you find them, don’t let go.