Basic Skills For Content Managers

Look, being a content manager is a lot of work. (I know this from personal experience.)

There are obvious day-to-day challenges of managing competing deadlines, balancing lots of different personalities, and having a job centred around the one thing a good number of people at your company would probably consider “homework” they don’t want to do.

There actually is something more satisfying than hitting publish on something I’ve worked really, really hard on to produce, that is empowering someone else to do the same with a piece of content or a project they’re really, really proud of.

If you aren’t likeable, no one will want to work with you, and they certainly won’t give a damn about any deadlines you set for them. And if you don’t understand what makes people tick, you won’t be able to motivate or inspire anyone.

But if you were to ask me what gets me out of bed every morning excited, it’s seeing my contents on different platforms fruitful to the users, and that moment when someone gets to the end of a big content project with me and says, Wow, we really created this. And I am really proud of it.” And then most importantly, When do we get to do that again?”

Not only do those moments give me joy, I know that person has put a piece of content into the universe that’s really going to have a bottom-line impact… and they’ll continue to work hard to do so from that moment on.

If you want to be an unstoppable and indispensable content manager, this is the mental posture you need to adopt when you wake up every day to do your job. (And if you’re hiring for one, this is what you need to look for.)

But I’ll be the first to admit that this ingrained “content manager altruism” still takes work, which is why I consider it as much a skill as it is an innately-possessed quality. You can have that natural drive to see others be successful that can’t be taught and still fail to deliver in the ways that count.

That’s because it’s kind of like a muscle you need to work and strengthen over time with practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Here’s how and when you practice.

 Editing & Giving Feedback

On the flip side of this equation, if someone gives you a draft that needs a lot of work, you need to go the extra mile to deliver that news. Particularly if it’s the first time you’ve handled work from that individual.

If you see you’re about to absolutely demolish a draft with edits and comments, you need to have a face-to-face chat with someone to walk them through what needs to happen. I would even let them guide that discussion by asking them how they felt about the draft they gave.

The goal of the conversation in these scenarios is not to simply take someone through the edits, line by line, as you would have given them via suggested changes and comments, but rather to have a dialogue where you make it clear that you’re invested in helping them become successful.

Still, be honest in your feedback, because this is not in any way about coddling or treating someone with kid gloves.

You need to create space for them to learn — so they (hopefully) don’t make the same mistakes again — while also making sure you’re not creating a scenario where they feel like you’re making them publicly walk the plank with you, as a penance for creating a sub-par draft.

There is also a third scenario in which I would recommend making the face-to-face (or, at the very least video call) effort — when the draft is solid, but you either need to take out a personal story that someone clearly put a lot of effort into or you plan to restructure a large part of it.

Using the personal story angle as an example, I often coach people who learn from me to put themselves into an article by sharing experiences and going out of their way to use their conversational tone.

Most of the time, it works, but there are occasions where it doesn’t.

That’s true of anyone, though. There are times where I re-read drafts of my own, only to realise a great memory I was sure would work is the “odd man out” in my introduction, or wherever I happened to place it. I want someone to continue to take risks, so having that quick touch point will help them understand what needs to change and why, in addition to making them a part of the decision-making process. And, most importantly, they won’t be discouraged from pushing themselves to be more personal and conversational in their work in future.

 Have an “Open Door Policy” of Some Kind

What form this takes for you will depend on your preferences, but you should clearly communicate, both explicitly with regular reminders and through your approach that you are always there as a resource to help people with their content questions, large and small.

Unlike the nuances of handling the certain cases in the editing process, this is a fairly straightforward recommendation of how to be that most sort after content manager. Your clients need to feel like they can access you, and that any questions they have will not be rejected or considered obvious, silly, or dumb.

Using myself as an example, I’ve made it clear that I am always available for specific questions or to help clients walk through vague ideas they need help crystallising. (Additionally, if I see someone struggling who I think needs help, I’ll say, Hey, let me know if you need someone to bounce ideas off for you, if you get stuck.”)

Some people simply need a sounding board to get that quick mental outline for a topic where it needs to be or they need someone to ask a few clarifying questions to make sure they’re pointed in the right direction before they get down to work. By being there for someone in this capacity, you can help them solve a content challenge that would have otherwise taken them hours (potentially) of stress in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Again, how you manage this kind of availability with your team is entirely up to you.

I can’t tell you exactly all what’s right for you but you can create office hours, or whatever you think works best for you and your team. Although, in my experience, office hours sound nice in theory, but clients will rarely proactively take advantage of it. Typically, some blend of adopting an approachable posture, explicit announcements and reminders that bring people to you, and one-on-one outreach seems to work best.

No matter what you do, you need to create a culture where people instinctively feel as if you are there to help and, most of all, that you genuinely want to do so.

 Recognise the Quality of Work Being Produced

It’s no secret that one of the ways to keep your people engaged is to help people see how their content is contributing to the larger whole of what you’re doing with inbound marketing. Specifically, in terms of helping close deals, generating lots of views, etc.

But, as a content manager, I am challenging you to take that one step further. 

Yes, continue to do all those things; recognising deal-closing content, etc. But also occasionally weave in public recognition of someone who went above and beyond in the quality of their content. Often I’ll do this before someone even goes to publication.


 Don’t Be a Pushover

This may sound contrary to the “Be their champion!” advice I’ve been giving you up to this point. But the reality is that someone will only consider you their champion if you push them to higher standards.

Be fair. Be honest. Be consistent. Have standards for the work you want to see others produce and then stick to them.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to never diminish your standards of quality for the sake of making someone feel “empowered.”

Your people will only feel like your affirmations matter when they feel like you thinking something is good is actually a big deal.

Finally, You Can’t Fake It.

Here’s the thing — if you take all of this advice to heart, but you know that (deep down) you’re faking it when it comes to genuinely wanting your people to be content rock stars themselves, they’re going to know.

That’s why, when we tell people what to look for when hiring for this role, we tell them to be on the look out for specific people focused soft skill that someone either has or they don’t. So, for those of you reading this, you either genuinely (as part of who you are as a human) have some part of you that wants to lift people up and see them just absolutely crush it on their own or you don’t.

There is no in-between.

On the flip side of that coin, I want to leave you with one important note of clarification. The ways in which you “practice” as I’ve outlined above are (a) based on my personal experience and observation, and (b) can quickly become an emotional drain if you think I’m recommending these practices for every single interaction you have.

For instance, most of the editing “transactions” you’ll engage in around a single piece of content with a contributor will likely be fairly unremarkable and won’t require setting aside time to talk with someone face-to-face about their work. You won’t be perfect every day, and that’s OK. You won’t always have the limitless time to help people as you may want to at first, and that’s OK.

What really matters is that, as a content manager, you understand you are the leader of the content culture at your company. And if you lead with a mental posture that communicates, “You guys have no idea what kind of amazing stuff you’re capable of creating, and I’m your champion in helping you get there,” you’ll get results in more ways than you thought possible.

And the people you work with will thank you for it.


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