Published in Jan-Feb 2015
This is how a digital agency rep I was talking to, described his process for choosing talent to manage content. “We hire interns and ask them to do a Google search on the topic.” Shock and horror! It reminded me of a comic strip where the surgeon was performing a live surgery while learning how to do it on YouTube.
Thankfully content management is not surgery, but it does, however, require the right mindset, tools and skills. While most content managers ideally come from a communication, business or marketing background, developing certain skills trumps educational degrees. This said, it is beneficial to hire someone with a business background for the role.
What is the role of a content manager?
There are many different kinds of content managers; for websites, digital and social media. Here I will focus on online content managers, who typically would be responsible for managing a company’s content assets across all online channels.
Here is how Wikipedia defines what content management is and what it entails: “Content management (CM) is a set of processes and technologies that supports the collection, management, and publishing of information in any form or medium… Digital content may take the form of text (electronic documents), multimedia files (audio or video files), or any other file type that follows a content lifecycle requiring management. Content management is an inherently collaborative process. It often consists of the following basic roles and responsibilities.
i) Creator: Responsible for creating and editing content.
ii) Editor: Responsible for tuning the content message and style of delivery (including translation and localisation).
iii) Publisher: Responsible for releasing the content for use.
iv) Administrator: Responsible for managing access permissions to folders and files, usually accomplished by assigning access rights to user groups or roles (administrators may also assist and support users in various ways).
v) Consumer, viewer or guest: The person who reads or otherwise takes in content after it is published or shared.”
What is interesting to note is that thanks to the proliferation of automation tools, it has become possible for one person – the content manager – to embody all these different roles. The key word in the definition above is ‘collaborative’ and as we discuss the role further, we will see how this word plays a crucial role in determining who would be an ideal fit for this job position.
What attributes and skills does a content manager need?
In my five years experience of working directly with the content managers of companies such as LinkedIn and with startup entrepreneurs who need to get relevant content off the ground quickly, here is what I have learned about what makes a truly great content manager.
1 A nose for a story
The best journalists will tell you it is not the story; it is how you tell the story that matters. And this is what content managers do day in and day out. They are telling the story of their brand in a compelling way; they are creating content that drives decisions and managing content delivery in a way that impacts the right people. And at the centre of all this, they need to have the skills to tell the story in a way that makes people care. The audience is saying: Why should I listen to you? Why do I need to buy your product? How are you different? So every day content managers need to figure out to answer these questions with a story. This is why journalists have the potential to make great content managers.
2 Writing and editing
At the heart of it, content management involves writing and more writing, then editing that writing and rewriting again. Content managers have to create content across a range of writing styles; from blogs to newsletters, video scripts to press releases; style guides to training material and social media content. To do justice to all these they need to read and write every day. This is why you should hire people who are prolific bloggers and/or copywriters.
3 Be format agnostic
Since content can appear in so many different formats, content managers need to be well-versed in all of them. What if tomorrow your company decides to make a video as part of your video marketing efforts? What if you decide that some content is best explained with infographics? While it is okay to outsource or delegate specialised roles (such as video editor or graphic designer), your content managers need to be familiar with content creation across different channels and know how to optimise these channels for your brand.
4 Be people persons
It is a common myth that when people work online, they can hide their personalities behind their computers. In fact, the opposite is required of an effective content manager. You need to hire friendly, likeable people, because their offline personality will translate into their online persona. People are not stupid. They can tell when someone is tendering an apology because the social media crises guidelines say so, and when someone is sincere in their effort to put things right. The people in the latter camp will go the extra mile because it is the right thing to do, not because they are following instructions. These are the people you want to hire.
5 In love with analytics
I am not a data lover. Thankfully, however, there are so many data analytics and data visualisation tools available that make it easy to understand the numbers and what they mean. Making sense of data is a crucial skill for a content manager. When hiring, look for people who can find meaning in your Facebook insights and know which stats in your Google Analytics are the most important in order to measure your conversion rates. It is not the data per se, but what the data is telling you. A good content manager will ask questions such as: if your data is telling you that your audience is primarily on LinkedIn, why are you posting to Facebook every day?
6 Industry passionate
While great content managers can learn and apply best practices to any industry, they will only be truly effective if they also love the industry they are in. Hire people who either have experience in or a deep passion for your industry.
7 Abreast of trends
Content management is a fast-evolving field with many players introducing new tools and methods of doing business. Even the old constants, such as email marketing, are undergoing changes. So hire someone who not only stays abreast of technological changes in the industry, but can, to some extent, anticipate the direction they are going in. In this way you can be ready and primed to take advantage of trends as they hit their peak.
8 Creative thinkers
The ability to question, be curious and think creatively are essential qualities to look for in a content manager. This is because there is no one right way to present and disseminate content. And what works for the competition may not work for you. A good content manager will know how to select ways, methods, styles and formats that best fit your business. To do this, they need to be able to experiment and think creatively.
9 Project managers
From content creation to publishing, marketing, dissemination, analytics, monitoring and repurposing (and more) there are a lot of skills to master. Only someone proficient in project management will be able to do justice to the myriad tasks involved.
To recap, effective content managers are extremely likeable people with a pulse on the industry. They get things done and are disciplined about content creation and management. So look for these nine skills next time you are hiring a content manager.
Salma Jafri is founder and CEO, WordPL.net. firstname.lastname@example.org