What is content culture – and how to establish it?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker is said to have quipped. And when it comes to content strategy, this holds true regrettably often. Not too many organizations have difficulty coming up with what kind of content to create. However, surprisingly often, organizations struggle with actually making that content happen. Brilliant plans are often left to rot on the servers if the staff isn’t committed to carrying them out. 

Content culture is a way to make sure that the community consistently and persistently implements the chosen content strategy. It is equally about determining who’s responsible for what, figuring out how to motivate and reward people as well as create workflows. Identifying your organization’s content culture and making it transparent can also help when discussing the creation of a fulltime content specialist’s role in the organization.

Content marketing is a long-term activity

Content- or service-based marketing differs considerably from traditional marketing, which is usually the responsibility of the company’s marketing department, which in turn delegates a big part of the activities to advertising agencies.

Since the most profound or customer-oriented ideas aren’t usually born in marketing, the entire organization needs to be committed to carrying out content marketing. Whereas the purpose of traditional marketing is usually just to dress up ideas so that they appeal to a larger audience, well-thought-out content culture ensures that the information is actually relayed from the expert’s mind to the customers.

Thus establishing a content culture is a vital part of a content strategy, particularly in an expert organization. Make it your goal that no good idea born in the organization is left hanging, but all ideas are documented and the best ones are boldly presented to the public.

How to establish a culture?

Each community is different. I doubt you could find a one-size-fits-all model of a culture, and you certainly can’t tell someone to make one up. There are, however, ways to make your community’s culture more transparent.

1. Find the right people

A good way to start establishing a content culture is by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the community.
Individual actions and examples help spread a culture. This is why the first step is to identify the people in the community who are best suited for creating content. The people who even in the midst of all the daily hustle and bustle have the patience to think about things in fresh ways and dare to express their ideas.

You can take your time when trying to find your content people. Talk to people, listen to their ideas and find out if they can take part in creating content. Some are great at throwing ideas around whilst others were born to star in a video.

2. Motivate

Why should a person who doesn’t work in marketing, sales or communications spend their precious time on creating content? That the company’s Facebook page or HubSpot automation needs content isn’t reason enough.

It’s easy to say that everything just works itself out when you have a common goal for creating content. But it’s a much better idea to simply establish a formal content team right from the start. Have a kick-off, give the team a name, go carefully through the strategy and maybe invite a consultant to give you a rousing speech or to organize a workshop.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with giving out prizes, even if it feels like cheating. This is what we had to resort to when our own content creation came to a halt due to a busy spring.

3. Reserve time

As tragic as it may sound, we’re all always busy. Seldom people volunteer to take on more work than they have to. Usually all extra assignments, such as writing the company blog, are first in line to be pushed to the following week when the calendar fills up.

You can fend off the effect of busy schedules by making content creation a more methodical process and a part of the job description. Your content people should get together regularly, away from more urgent matters. This way they can not only workshop new content, but also keep the content fresh in their minds.

4. Delegate

Designating an editor-in-chief is the most crucial part. You should appoint someone whose task is equally to make sure everyone sticks to the schedule and stays in line, as well as support, give advice and guidance. The editor-in-chief shouldn’t be afraid of making demands.

Secondly, everyone should know what is expected of them and when. Bullet points or an entire blog post? Fact-finding or thought leadership? Create a shared content calendar, so it’s clear to everyone when the materials needs to be ready. Determine where you need partners and what you can take care of yourselves.

5. Spread and cultivate

When your culture has been brought to life, you should expand it beyond the content team. Don’t be afraid to share your results (with your team, too) and learn from them for further development. The goal is naturally to make lightbulbs go off in the heads of more and more members of the community. This way, both the team and the content get richer.

At best, things happen automatically, at worst funneling the organization’s know-how into content creation feels just like training a puppy dog. Fortunately, even puppies grow up and communities can learn to create content that grows business and stems from the needs of the customer, as long as you don’t expect things to just magically happen.

The information architect Peter Morville writes about the relationship between information and culture in his book Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything.. I warmly recommend the book to anyone who wants to cultivate a content culture in their community.