I have a friend who is the Communications Director for a large Atlanta-area nonprofit. As we sat over lunch at Chick-Fil-A a few weeks ago, we discussed the benefits of content marketing and the power it has to impact lives far beyond the local community typically served by their organization.
They have a very wise, very talented staff of leaders who have great thoughts to share. I was hoping to convince him to start a blog–not only for the benefit of the members they serve, but for people nationwide and even worldwide who follow their organization and are influenced by it. For them, maintaining a regular blog and pairing it with a great email marketing campaign is just a no-brainer.
My friend smiled and nodded his head, agreeing as I spoke. Then, when I finished my point, he raised a single objection, “Yeah, but have you ever tried to motivate a team of people like mine to sit down and write? It’s impossible. We’ve tried it and it failed miserably.”
“Illegal” Ways to Motivate a Team
If you’ve been responsible for a team of writers, you know my friend’s problem is not uncommon or even unusual. Managing a team of writers has often been compared to herding cats. Writers want to do their own thing and sometimes may not appreciate deadlines the way you’d like them to. So there you are, in a pinch. You need content from your people, but how to do you get it?
Sure, you could try a few illegal tactics like the threat of physical force (let’s face it…you’ve probably been there). But while pummeling something would probably assuage your personal frustration, it probably won’t bring great content in the door any faster. Of course, there are less physical forms of disincentive. I once wrote for a team where the editor threatened to withhold half a day’s worth of salaried pay if a post was late. While that was motivating, it made everyone on the team feel like we had a gun to our heads.
I’m calling these types of motivating tactics “illegal” because, in addition to being tacky, they just aren’t necessary. Leaders only sink to these types of tactics because they feel out of control and don’t have any better ideas. I am of the persuasion that if you’ve done your job to assemble your content A-Team, due dates become a mere logistical issue. On the other hand, if your team is filled with a bunch of half-hearted, pie-in-the-sky, artsy freeloaders, motivation may not be the real issue at play there.
“Legal” Ways to Motivate a Team
So with that said, let’s talk about more healthy approaches that will benefit your team and your sanity.
1. Share Your Mission and Vision
The best place to begin motivating your team is to simply make sure they know why they are part of your team. What’s the mission, here? For my friend’s nonprofit who is in the business of changing lives one at a time, their writing team would have an enormous opportunity to be heard by tens of thousands of users worldwide. Who wouldn’t be motivated by the opportunity to have an impact like that? So be sure your team understands why your blog exists and where you want to take it.
2. Assign Posts Ahead of Time
If you hate situations where content isn’t delivered until the night (or the moment) before a post is due, do yourself a favor–implement a better workflow. When you assign content well before it’s due, your writers have more time to assemble their thoughts and find motivation for a topic. Not only will their posts be better for it, but you will gain some much-needed control as you carefully plan out your content.
3. Keep a Content Schedule or Editorial Calendar
Some people are just visual in nature, so seeing when their posts are due on a calendar is incredibly beneficial. In this age of smartphones, iCal, and Google Calendars, keeping an editorial calendar of content pieces and due dates is a powerful way to keep a writing team organized and to keep communication clear.
4. Use Tasks to Create Assignments
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Well, I didn’t know I had anything that was due.” Yes, I’ve been there and have uttered those words, myself. I can’t be motivated to write if I don’t even know when I’m supposed to be writing. This is where it’s important to have great tools to help with your editorial workflow. A tool that allows you to create tasks and assign them to team members will keep team members in the loop and on task.
5. Keep an Ideas Bin
One of a writer’s biggest fears is writer’s block. Sometimes, as a writer, I sit down and the ideas and the words just don’t come. One thing we’ve found incredibly helpful is to keep an “ideas bin.” I used to keep new post ideas in my Notes app on my iPhone. Now, I just create a post in CoSchedule and move it to the “Unscheduled Drafts” bin. However you do it, keeping a running list of topic ideas is a great way to keep your team writing. Whenever inspiration gets a little dry, a list of ideas can kick a team’s creativity back into gear.
6. Allow Creative Freedom
Probably one of the best ways to keep your team motivated to write is to always allow them the creative freedom they need, both in terms of content, style, timing, and even where they write. Allow them to choose topics that serve your needs, but are of interest to them. When you edit, let their unique voice shine through. Give them a reasonable amount of time to put words to the idea they’ve been assigned. And keep in mind that while you may be fine writing in a fluorescent-lit office cubicle farm, to someone else, that may be quite nearly the least inspiring place on earth.
Your Team Needs You!
Finding the motivation to write can sometimes feel like trying to death grip a bar of wet soap: regardless of how hard you try to make it happen, it proves ever-elusive. So, your team needs you. Make the writing process as easy as possible for your team, and you will find that you, your content, and ultimately, your audience, reap the benefits.