Today’s topic is one that plagues B2B technology marketers everywhere – how to get meaningful content out of engineers/developers/subject matter experts. More specifically, how do you get these content experts to contribute to a corporate blog?
The blog content problem
If you’re trying to feed a corporate blog, you’ll need contributions from the technology experts – whether they’re developers, rocket scientists, engineers or other specialists. Depending on the individuals, you may run into resistance for several reasons:
- The subject matter experts don’t have the time.
- English isn’t their native language, so writing a blog post is a larger task.
- They simply aren’t comfortable writing – they still harbor bad memories of freshman writing classes in college.
If you want to tap their expertise, you have to lower these barriers. You shouldn’t expect ready-to-publish blogs (although you may be surprised). You will probably have to edit – and in some cases you’ll need to do the writing. It’s worth the effort if the results are good.
[Disclaimer: Many developers/engineers/etc are perfectly good and prolific writers; I don’t want to stereotype.]
As a little background, I’ve been working with variations on this problem throughout my entire career. In my first job as at technical writer, I had to get a number of system programmers to review what I wrote.
I tried cajoling, nagging, guilt and humorous emails. (Direct marketers could learn a thing or two from writers desperate for a review.) I tried bribery with baked goods. Once I taped a pleading note to the outside of a reviewer’s window, so they could not easily toss it aside. So these tips are the result of many years of fine-tuning my techniques.
Here are a few strategies that work for me.
Get a whiteboard talk.
Give an engineer a white board and a dry erase marker, and be ready to take notes. Better yet, record them using your laptop’s camera or a simple video camera. (Don’t try to set up lights and cameras – aim for simple and unobtrusive to start.)
You might get the core content for 2-3 posts or a longer white paper from this type of interaction. If you take pictures of the white board, you’ll have the basis for a graphic or series of illustrations to accompany the post.
If your engineer is particularly well-spoken and the recording quality good, you might be able to edit a video and publish it as a ‘chalk talk.’
Give them targeted topics or questions.
When you ask someone for a generic ‘blog post’ you leave open the question of what to write about. For some people, that’s a show-stopper. It’s better find a specific topic that will trigger your target’s response: ask them about a common misperception about your industry or solution area, where they see the industry heading, or what’s the most exciting new feature that they’re working on.
Ask for stories.
Tap into the hidden storyteller – most of us have one. Ask your content experts for the craziest application of your software that they’ve ever seen, or the most dramatic turnaround. Maybe it’s the largest log file or the longest running process – and then figure out its broader implications. Be careful about getting permissions if you’re using an actual customer name.
Write/edit with the individual’s voice in mind.
Chances are that you’ll either need to edit the contributions or write the posts yourself based on your conversations. The trick is to retain as much of the authentic voice of the person while making the post read fluently and easily.
Fix grammar, spelling, and any corporate naming, trademark, and proprietary information issues. Aim for readability as well. You might keep key phrases but restructure how the sentences are put together.
If you’re writing/ghostwriting, use your notes or recordings to find the individual’s key phrases and terminology. The contributor should recognize the content as their own, even if the structure, wording and presentation is something that you’ve put together.
If all else fails…
If none of these strategies works, you may have to go back to incentives. Bribery is not a good long-term strategy. But Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us suggests that the occasional gesture of appreciation goes a long way – so there’s still room for providing people with pizza, baked goods or beer.
Have a better strategy? I’d love to hear it!