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5 Ways to Vet Content Contributors

July 11, 2017 - influencer content marketing, influencer management -
By: Chris Riley

At Fixate, we have interviewed around 150 contributors. About 50 have produced one or more pieces of content for Sweetcode.io or our vendor blogs, and about 15 contribute on a monthly basis. Our current network is around 65 contributors, but it is those elite 15 that make the foundation of our content volume and quality. Getting to that 15—roughly 10% of the whole— takes a lot of work. The following are five things you can do to fast-track your vetting of contributors.

  1. They want a personal brand: It is actually best to find someone who does not yet have a following but wants one. You can identify this in interviews with them when they describe why they are interested in writing. Money is one thing, but if they are looking to stand out in their jobs, find paths into speaking at trade shows, or want to give back to the community, then they are a great fit. Because they have written for Fixate, four of our contributors have made notable impacts on their personal brand that have resulted in regular invitations to speak at large industry events, job promotions, and a large social media following.
  2. Their imposter syndrome is manageable: It is likely that if you are a practitioner with an interest in blogging, you are fearful that your peers might be critical of what you write. This is the imposter syndrome. Nine times out of 10, this comes up in interview calls, and the talk track to overcome it is always the same—“There is someone who can learn from you” and “As long as what you write is rooted in reality without making any presumptuous claims, you’re good.” There will always be opposition, but that is not a bad thing. The first time a contributor overcomes an objection with clear logic, they feel their power. However, it needs to be determined quickly if this is going to be too much to handle. If insecurity defines a practitioner, even if you get content out of them, their lack of confidence will become obvious, because they will be unwilling to write too specifically about anything.
  3. They are good and enjoy what they do: We are not looking for English majors or professional storytellers. Our gauge is a practitioner’s depth on the topic. Frankly, we value their ability to get down into the metaphorical weeds. We are happy to train our practitioners on language use, and we leverage our awesome editors to clean up the rough edges. The only way to write in-depth is to know your field very well, and practice it everyday. I’m not talking about people who have been in the industry for 15 years. I’m talking about people who can discuss in detail even if they have to do research to figure it out. That is why we focus on influencers who are practitioners. When we interview contributors, we make sure they can speak in-depth about what they do, and enjoy it. Enthusiasm is easy to gauge in a short conversation, and by simply asking, “What excites you?” But determining whether contributors have topic expertise requires an editorial team with technical depth. For example, the Fixate editorial team has real-world experience in DevOps, SecOps, Pure IT, and Big Data. We know that in order for us to vet contributors for other markets, we must acquire knowledge for that market.
  4. They have strong interests in relevant topics: When you talk to contributors, they should have an idea of the types of things they want to write about before you say anything about topics. It should be clear to them that they are writing out of their own interest. Content produced just because they were told to usually does not turn out well. Thus, they should not be asking, “What do you want me to write about?” Instead, they should be asking your permission to write about specific topics, or describing something they have been wanting to write about.
  5. Give them a trial run: The effort cost of on-boarding a contributor is very low for us. But the cost of assigning them content, and it not turning out well, is pretty high. Writing tests, however, are a bad idea. There’s no better way to put people on the defensive than with a test. Yet you really don’t know how talented a contributor is until they put something on the screen. This is one of the reasons we created Sweetcode.io, and are developing other media sites. We have a unique opportunity to use a strong source like Sweetcode.io as a lower-risk, lower-cost forum to test the depth of content a contributor creates.

Here are some common mistakes that a company new to enlisting the talent of practitioner influencers for content may make:

  • Assuming the best contributors already have a blog. You can’t assume a practitioner does not want to contribute content. Personal blogs are often graveyards. People know that. It’s a lot of work, and they may just want a coach. And if they have a blog, there might be little reason to write for you.
  • Looking primarily for good writers as opposed to deeply technical adequate writers. Finding freelance writers is the easiest thing in the world. You can throw out any topic and they will have something professional written for you in days. That feels satisfying. But their content is not going to hold the same credibility or value that practitioner-created content will. Copyediting is much easier than producing in-depth content.
  • Making it seem like a privilege. A few companies, mostly those in the Silicon Valley, well funded by a popular VC, see contribution to their blogs as an anointed privilege. This strategy works in the short-term, but not in the long term, because you end up alienating good contributors. There are just not enough people that put your product on a pedestal the same way that you do. A milder version of this mentality is to solicit blogging from your entire contact database and hope that the contributors come to you in the masses. This can work well initially, but because it is not tailored to the needs and desires of each person, it can have a negative impact, and ultimately turn people off of your product when they see somewhat generic email. It also is not a sustainable way to attract contributors. You will get periodic bumps in content volume, but not steady ones.
  • You over-edit. Contributors may walk away when they see their first post is unrecognizable after overzealous editing. If you are concerned about every word, not only are you wasting your time and their time, you will find it very hard to maintain any volume. Content should be written so it’s defensible, not perfect. Don’t over-edit your contributors’ work and upset them. (Please.)

 

At Fixate, recruiting and vetting contributors is a dedicated effort. But because we do it all the time, and have worked with so many, it’s become very natural. Your volume goals, which should not be less than two blog posts a week, will determine how many contributors you need to engage. Vendor contributors have an average lifespan of two blog posts. This means that while augmenting an internal volume of posts about your product and brand, you would need about eight new contributors a month to keep up the volume. There is a science to it, and it needs to be a deliberate effort. When you put some intention into creating your practitioner network, you get enthusiastic contributors who create in-depth, useful content at a sustainable, meaningful volume.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.