I recently submitted a piece of content that had met the client’s exact specifications. I knew it did, because we’d talked about the topic beforehand and followed a client-approved outline. We’d developed many pieces of content for this client before, so I knew that this piece would be one they’d like.
And then they didn’t.
In fact, they disliked the piece so much that they insisted we scrap the whole thing and write something else entirely.
Was there something wrong with this blog post that I had missed? No. Here’s what happened: Our contact showed the piece to someone else in the organization — someone who wasn’t involved in developing the topic list, who hadn’t seen the outline and wasn’t part of the research process, and who had no knowledge, in fact, of the company’s overall marketing objectives. And that person insisted the topic itself wasn’t right, after all.
This kind of thing happens a lot when people are brought in to review content late in the process. And I get that it’s tempting to get that additional feedback. What can it hurt, the thinking goes, to get an “extra set of eyes” on that thing? Hey, have you shown that travel tips blog post to Chuck? He’s a frequent flyer. Maybe Nancy ought to take a look at that financial services eBook. She’s a wiz at that stuff.
The decision to bring in a reviewer late in the process can cause big problems when:
Those eyes are attached to a person who has not been informed about what your marketing goals are with this piece of content, or with your content marketing program generally. Good content marketing must deftly balance audience education with the need to place whatever is being marketed in just the right light. One piece of content must also relate to others, including articles still in the planning stage. A person who hasn’t been educated about that process can’t be expected to understand it when they’re asked to review a single piece of content in a vacuum. So inevitably their feedback will lack that insight.
Your late-coming reviewer expects his or her feedback will necessarily be incorporated in some way in the final product. Things can get sticky if you ask Fred from accounting to review that post on tax filing tips, and then Fred discovers that the post went live without any of his suggestions having been made. Didn’t you see Fred’s suggestions? What was wrong with them? Why did you waste Fred’s time? What is your problem with Fred? When you ask someone for feedback, you inflate his or her ego. So when you proceed without incorporating that feedback, your reviewer’s ego can be bruised. Not the best way to win new friends. If you’re just looking for a no-obligation second opinion, make sure the person you’re asking understands that.
There’s an actual organizational expectation that your reviewer’s feedback will make its way into the product. Depending on your corporate culture and the person you ask for feedback, there may be actual negative repercussions for you if you fail to incorporate someone’s feedback, or at least fail to get his or her buy-in on your decision not to. Be careful about asking someone who is powerful, yet uninformed, for an opinion.
You’re seeking too many sets of extra eyes. This is the dreaded content-by-committee process, and it will kill good content surely and quickly. Do this, and you’ll soon find yourself trying to reconcile multiple sets of feedback — much of it containing conflicting edits or comments — without ending up with an incoherent mess. Good luck.
So what should you do instead? You do need feedback, of course. You just need to be sure that your reviewers know what they’re talking about so they can give you constructive feedback. Here are a few tips:
- Decide who your reviewers will be at the beginning of your content development process. Make sure they’re bought in on the topic and the outline, and involve them in the content creation process too, if possible. If they’re subject matter experts, use them as such by interviewing them or asking for their suggestions early.
- Make sure they understand why you’re creating this content. In addition to the actual topic of the content, they should know something about the marketing context in which you’re creating it. You can give them that insight without spending an hour explaining your entire content marketing strategy (and no doubt they’ll thank you for it).
- Set expectations early about how you’ll use their feedback. If you’re just looking for suggestions, tell them. If you need their approval, tell them.
- Clarify what type of feedback you want, and how you want it. Are you looking for their subject matter expertise? Then let them know they should focus on whether the post is accurate, relevant, and complete. If you just need a quick proofread, make sure they understand what they should be looking for and what they shouldn’t. Finally, should they use track changes (if so, make sure they know how), or should they just make comments in the margins? Or maybe you’re looking for a conversation to talk through the feedback. Whatever you want is fine; just make sure they know what it is.
Perhaps I’ve given you the impression that I’m anti-feedback. Untrue. Sure, I may sometimes wish I could just say and do whatever I want without giving a rat’s butt what anyone thinks. But I recognize that good, quality feedback makes good, quality content — and that’s what powers your marketing.