I’m a southern girl through and through, so putting a premium on good manners is just part of my DNA. If my kids forget to include “ma’am” or “sir” when addressing an adult, they’ll immediately cut their eyes in my direction, knowing I’ll be shooting them “the look.” And don’t even think about forgetting “please” or “thank you.”

But when it comes to business, being overly worried about accidentally offending someone can hold people back from saying what needs to be said. Especially when the person you’re worried about offending has control over your income stream.

What’s that got to do with content marketing? Well, there might be a lot of things going through your writer’s head that they’re reluctant to say — and that goes double if you’re outsourcing, because you don’t get the comfort level that comes from day-to-day interactions. So let me give you an insider’s view of what your content writer really thinks:

How well do you know your…stuff?

We all know that plenty of people assume anybody can write. And surely anybody can pick up the phone and let a writer know what the marketing department wants…right? Maybe. But the corollary is that the person who’s the contact between the marketing department and the writer could be a pro with 30 years of writing experience — or he could be an intern. The contact could know the industry inside out…or he could be an administrative assistant who just came over from the not-for-profit side. Your writer doesn’t want to talk down to you or tell you things you already know — here in the South, we call that “preachin’ to the choir” — so they’re probably going to keep quiet and give you the benefit of the doubt. But that can cause problems.

I’ve mentioned before that I had a client ask for a post on how to prepare for an OSHA inspection, not realizing that OSHA inspections are unscheduled. I’ve never shied away from taking on the “devil’s advocate” role, so I didn’t hesitate to point that out. But a lot of writers would deliver what was ordered — a well-written post on something that doesn’t make sense. To do anything else is to suggest that the client’s contact doesn’t know what they’re talking about — a move that’s almost always risky.

However, it’s equally important to remember that most writers couldn’t care less whether you’re an expert or an amateur. They just want to know so they can do their jobs.

I’m not an idiot, but I’m not a mind reader, either. Just tell me what you’re trying to accomplish.

People who aren’t writers themselves often think it’s unnecessary to tell a writer the purpose of a piece of content. But they’re wrong. If you ask me to write an article about the different types of sunscreen and the active ingredients in each — I can do that. It’s easy. And that’s fine if your goal is to educate people about different sunscreens. But if you’re switching to a vendor that uses different ingredients and are worried your long-time customers will balk — that’s an entirely different article. Sure, the facts are the same, but the way I present those facts would be drastically different. Not telling your writer what you’re trying to accomplish with a particular piece of content is like telling dog owners not to chew gum without telling them that one of the ingredients in sugarless gum can be lethal to dogs. Purpose matters!

Did you really think this through?

This one’s about the law of unintended consequences. The chorus of voices insisting that you have to choose blog topics based on keyword research is hard to ignore. But it’s important to remember that, in most business cases, the goal isn’t just to draw people to your content — it’s to accomplish a business objective. If a piece of content has tons of page views and shares, but drives undesired behavior, it’s bad content, no matter what the metrics say. I recently had a client request a blog post about the best time to get a certain service performed. My first thought was, “Well, if you’re trying to shift traffic from a busy time to a slow time, I need to know what those times are.” But they weren’t. They just wanted an informational article. Well, I’m not arrogant enough to think that my blog post could transform the traffic patterns for a whole chain all by its little ol’ self…but what if it did? Inventory might be off. Staffing would definitely be off. And there are probably other possible consequences I haven’t thought of yet. Or, let’s say you own a restaurant, and you publish a blog post extolling the virtues of grass-fed beef. Well, do all of your beef dishes use grass-fed beef? And, if they don’t, how will your servers respond when a customer says, “The meat in this spaghetti sauce is grass-fed, right?” And would focusing on grass-fed beef violate any vendor agreements with suppliers whose cattle aren’t grass-fed? If you’ve got a good writer, I guarantee you they’re wondering.

Is anybody backstopping me?

Most writers harbor a secret fear that you’re just putting stuff out there without a thorough review. It’s not that we expect you to catch our typos (although we appreciate it when you do!); it’s that we aren’t you. There are so many reasons that the content I submit might not be what you had in mind — some my fault, some not — that I would never want you to press “publish” without reading it with a very critical eye.

Is this based on data…or supposition?

A lot of content is designed to solve a particular problem. But knowing what the problem is and what’s causing it are very different from thinking you know. So if you ask me to write a blog post touting the value of your product, and your reason is that people aren’t buying it because the price is too high, I’m going to be wondering, “Do you know that’s why people aren’t buying your product? There are so many other things it could be. Maybe there’s just no demand for it — it sound cools, but nobody needs it. Maybe your website is too slow or too hard to navigate. Maybe your returns procedures are too cumbersome. Or maybe your customer service just stinks.” Most writers really, really want to produce content that matters — which is why they hope you really know what matters.

The bottom line is that, if you’ve got a good writer, you’re probably not even close to tapping their full talents. Make sure you’re not wasting a valuable resource.

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