By now, many social media managers have realized a hardnosed reality: Most subject matter experts within the corporate walls don’t have time (or the skills) to blog. So you have two choices:

  • Write/edit their blogs for them (and give up the rest of your life since writing is very time consuming)
  • Hire a specialist or “real writer” to write for them.

That would be a journalist or professional business writer. (I use these interchangeably, even though there are some solid business writers who were never journalists.)

Hiring a good journalist has huge advantages — this is what they do. Journalists are trained to research, report, and write. They’re skilled in the art of connecting with targeted audiences with compelling, relevant content-and they’re storytellers which separates them from the rest of the corporate pack.

Writing

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But the key is you want to hire the right writer, one that will deliver solid, compelling content and is a good fit.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, in senior editorial positions hiring writers for big tech companies, and more recently, developing content for corporate clients as an agency. My first advice: look before you leap. A weak or ill-fitted writer, or one just learning the corporate ropes, can slow you down. They can even wreak havoc, forcing you to spend extra time managing them and cleaning up their messes.

In most of these cases I’m talking about typical corporate bloggers (vs. senior executives) who just need a writer or editor’s support. They’ll spend the time to share their detailed thoughts with the writer and work closely with them on story angles. The final result should be their “voice” even though it was written/edited by a professional. This isn’t that far from speech writing, but for some reason the social media purists have a problem with ghost writing for corporate bloggers.

So look for the following when you go to hire a writer:

  1. Solid industry experience - They need to have a record of solid achievement. Check their references. What subjects do they write best about (industry expertise)? Did they deliver on time? Were they reliable, accurate? And if there was an issue, did they quickly take care of it? Would their former bosses hire them again?
  2. Good fit - You don’t want a fashion writer writing about high tech. Still, a good writer can quickly adapt as long as they have solid business writing experience. Better to focus on getting a great writer than the perfect specialist, which is nearly impossible in some B2B and niche areas.
  3.  Editorial skills - Blogging is a different style of writing than magazine or newspaper writing. Can they write in short bursts? Is it catchy, engaging? Are they good storytellers? How do they develop their stories (through use of personal anecdotes, etc.)? Don’t forget the basics either: They need to be very detailed in checking their facts and very accurate. If a blog blows up, it’s likely going to land in your lap.
  4. Web knowledge - Good writers know the online world and how to connect with key audiences, but some are better versed than others. Query them about how their web knowledge and how they write to connect with their audiences. How do they do their research (Google alerts, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, etc.)? Are they socially active?  Do they have a Twitter following, are they active on Facebook, Google+, etc.? None of these are mission critical, but certainly can indicate how much lift you may get from their connectivity.
  5. Communications skills - Journalists are trained to question the status quo, look under rocks, charge ahead in the pursuit of truth, etc. This often goes over like a lead balloon in the corporate world, so look for a well-rounded writer who is comfortable in this environment and knows how to work closely with your key stakeholders and bloggers.
  6. Proactivity - You want a writer who’ll not be just an order taker. They need to proactively come up with story ideas and fresh angles to help you feed the content machine. Before you hire them, ask for some suggested topics: “How would you handle this subject?”
  7. The “right” personality/attitude - This can be tricky. Like any other profession, some writers have better personalities and attitudes to fit the job. They need to be able to “sell” themselves and their ideas, and be versatile. Amazingly, some writers push back on doing multi-revisions and/or resist on being heavily edited (personally, this was beat out of me years ago at Business Week). Set expectations early on with agreements over how many revisions can be expected and what type of blogs the writer will be dealing with. If you have one that’s particularly difficult (i.e., multiple rewrites), put it on the table. In fact, setting clear expectations across the board on deadlines, quality of writing, meetings and so-on is critical.

Personality and values that sync with yours can be as important as editorial skills and experience. Once when I was at Intel, my partner and I hired a writer to help us ghost-write our family computing book for a division of Random House (referred to me by a personal friend). The guy had some decent clips, but turned out to be difficult to manage and would go off for days following different research trails. The result was mountains of barely relevant material we’d have to sort out. Even worse he was stubborn and wouldn’t listen to directions, even arguing with us. We finally let him go.

Another time several years ago we hired a senior writer to work on a four month editorial project for us for an ample fee. He did a good job. But when we came to near the end of the time frame, we’d exhausted the budget but still had several loose ends we needed help on (mainly proofreading materials, double-checking facts, etc.), basically asking him for a favor. He refused to budge, arguing he’d used up his hours, and we were out of money. We scrambled to get it done and meet the deadline. Writers have to make a living, but much of business is about being flexible and bending a little to help the client and get the job done; but this writer wasn’t into trade-offs or building good will. Needless to say, we never used him again.

The point is a good writer needs to have more than strong editorial skills. They need to be able to navigate through the corporate jungle and deal with various personalities. You’ll never find a writer with 100 percent of all of these qualities. If you do, send them my way. A good writer is hard to find, even today.

What about your perspective. Have you hired writers or bloggers for your company? What else would you add? Tell us in the comments.

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About Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://metromebel.com/ Chandra

    Good share!
    thank you for your information

  • amy

    Can we also please add “listen to your writers and respect their opinions and thoughts?” 

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Yes! (I couldn’t agree more) 

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: February 2, 2012

  • http://www.caitlinkelly.com/ Caitlin Kelly

    I’d like to start finding some of that work, as a veteran business writer. What’s the best way to do so..cold-call communications/PR heads at various companies?

  • http://twitter.com/JessKupferman Jessica Kupferman

    I’m surprised that you thought poorly of a writer who was being paid hourly and didn’t want to work for free. Why should he help you finish a project that took longer than you had anticipated without compensation? Unless it’s a small company or it was his fault that the budget was over, it seems to me the money could be found to finish the project correctly, including paying your vendors to do it. I’m also surprised you would advise other people to look for someone who would do “companies a favor” by giving up billable hours for good will. Good will is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

    • http://www.exceptionalexpression.com/ Michelle Kulas

      Yes, I agree with this. If I were to set an hourly fee, then I would not put in extra hours because the client went over budget. I set a fee by the project, though, to avoid these types of situations. I speak to the client first to be sure that we are on the same page as far as how much work the project should require, then I get back to him or her with a quote for the entire project, including a couple of revisions. The key to satisfaction on both sides is to iron out all of the details beforehand, and to know what is expected from both parties.

      • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

        Yes, iron out details beforehand–and continue to communicate and set expectations, as needed. Don’t expect the corp client to do this all the time; they’re too busy. The writer needs to take the initiative.

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Valid points, and I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I didn’t explain this case completely. It was a little more complicated than just per hour job. The writer estimated he could do the project for $x total, working at $x/per hour. It was a pretty big job over several months,and when we got near the end he said he’d exhausted his hours. We argued that there was still a little work to be done for completion, and asked him to complete the job It’s all about communications throughout the project. It’s a balance-you need to carefully estimate your hours and be firm when needed. But my philosophy is I have to be willing to work with corp clients at times, within reason-all about building long term relationships. The good clients will  pay me back many times over. 

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Valid points, and I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I didn’t explain this case completely. It was a little more complicated than just per hour job. The writer estimated he could do the project for $x total, working at $x/per hour. It was a pretty big job over several months,and when we got near the end he said he’d exhausted his hours. We argued that there was still a little work to be done for completion, and asked him to complete the job It’s all about communications throughout the project. It’s a balance-you need to carefully estimate your hours and be firm when needed. But my philosophy is I have to be willing to work with corp clients at times, within reason-all about building long term relationships. The good clients will  pay me back many times over. 

  • http://twitter.com/Ayo_Oyedotun Ayo Oyedotun

    From my experience, many managers do not communicate clearly to their writers; and the managers shouldn’t be blamed for this because of their very tight schedules.

    I would suggest that you give enough samples of your previous blog posts or contents to your writers and ask them to produce something similar. One of the clients I recently worked with  did that, and we had a great working relationship.

    Like Jessica mentioned, the “hours” of a writer should also be respected by managers. One of the critical lessons I learned as a writer is that my income is directly related to how much time I can create.

    Lastly, writers should be complimented for good service from time to time. A writer’s job involves creativity. As such, commendations lift his or her spirit and help produce good thinking.

    — Good Thinking, Good Product —-

    I hope my suggestions are valuable.

  • http://twitter.com/Ayo_Oyedotun Ayo Oyedotun

    From my experience, many managers do not communicate clearly to their writers; and the managers shouldn’t be blamed for this because of their very tight schedules.

    I would suggest that you give enough samples of your previous blog posts or contents to your writers and ask them to produce something similar. One of the clients I recently worked with  did that, and we had a great working relationship.

    Like Jessica mentioned, the “hours” of a writer should also be respected by managers. One of the critical lessons I learned as a writer is that my income is directly related to how much time I can create.

    Lastly, writers should be complimented for good service from time to time. A writer’s job involves creativity. As such, commendations lift his or her spirit and help produce good thinking.

    — Good Thinking, Good Product —-

    I hope my suggestions are valuable.

  • http://www.communicationartistry.ca/ Marnie Hughes

    Thanks for a great list, Mark. Will forward to my network and reinforce why they should hire me :)
    I think one of the key things to avoiding a lot of revisions is for the writer to ask enough questions that make it clear who the target audience will be. Once you know that, the tone and message should come naturally.

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Great points, illustrating where the breakdown often occurs-on the front end. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/GenuineJT Jim Turner

    Let’s not forget about that company called Bloggers For Hire.  All very great points and well done Mark.

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Mark,

    I’ve hired bloggers many times to work on different projects for me. Recently, I hired 15 writers to work on a massive Careers and Industry Guide project. They weren’t exactly blog posts but we approached each article as if it was. I learned a lot and am happy to share those tips.

    1) Anyone with a journalism background is going to be a big help. One of the best people I found was someone I had read in a print newspaper. He didn’t have a web background but wanted to learn. Because he had the rest down – storytelling, research, good writing, attention to detail, citing references, deadline compliance, etc. – getting him up to speed on the web part was relatively easy.

    2) Delivering tight blogging guidelines is key to reducing editorial time. Print magazines are really good at this but in the blogging world, not so much. My guidelines are prescriptive where necessary. If a post comes in without links, keywords and references, I can easily send it back. It takes the guess work out of it for the blogger, too.

    3) Talent and rates do not equate. In a devastatingly disappointing experience, I had a hotshot writer commanding a big rate. My feeling was he would do the heavy lifting on a couple big sections and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Just the opposite was true. The guy couldn’t string a sentence. Moral of the story, ask for a sample post before you start making assignments. I also found a few gems from  university students that wanted experience and didn’t expect much pay.

    4) Different writers have different strengths. It pays to have a couple different people on your books depending on what you want to get done. If I have a press release I need regurgitated into an engaging story, that writer is usually different than the one who’s going to bang out evergreen content on things like careers advice. If I need a series of posts based on a government or industry report, that writer is a different animal altogether. 

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      I agree with everything you said-great points. #2 is critical-you must have an editorial calendars and publishing type processes (deadlines, etc) to impose order and drive toward consistently, high quality blogging. 

  • http://samuraiwriter.com/blog samuraiwriter

    I wonder how much that senior writer who argued “he used up his hours” gave up in future income?

    Yes, good will may not pay this month’s bills but an experienced writer should be savvy enough to invest a percentage of time in “good will”, and reap the interest later…

    • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

      Agree.. Yes, he lost quite a bit of potential income because we had a string of projects coming down the pipeline. Much of this is about trust-on both sides. 

  • http://www.socialdon.com/ Social Media Analytics

    Its such a helpful tips, great to read about positive points to know about hiring a content writer for a blog. Thanks for such a useful advice.

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  • http://twitter.com/eileenludwig eileenludwig

    Great article with good tips for all

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