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.
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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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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