Nature vs. Nurture: Finding & Keeping the Best Content Creators

By Monique Pouget

Most of our campaigns have always included some sort of content component, be it optimized site pages, blog posts or more recently, copy for Facebook Ads and special social media promotions.

But lately, content has become the anchor to every campaign. It’s how we grow relationships and where we showcase expertise to customers. Content gives us the opportunity to build trust or tell a story, and it keeps people coming back for more. Not surprisingly, it also takes a special kind of person to create it, and when you find them, never let go.

As the head of the Content Team at Thunder, I spend a lot of time managing freelance writers and in-house content creators. Unlike some of my favorite content conquistadors, I don’t have a Masters in Information Management, and I haven’t written a brilliant book about content strategy for mobile, but I do know a thing or two about a thing or two, especially when it comes to nurturing relationships with content creators. So, here are my 6 tips for finding and keeping the best content creators.

Spend Some Time Researching

Getting to know your content creators before working with them is one of the smartest things you can do early on.

When we’re looking for short term writers, the hoards of people that apply can get overwhelming, but there are ways to narrow the list of applicants down. If you’re working with freelancers, ask writers to submit three samples of their best work and answer a few questions prior to applying for your project or contracted position. The percentage of people that don’t follow directions usually fits with the 80/20 rule, meaning your big list of 100 content creators goes down to a more manageable 20. This test also foreshadows a writer’s attention to detail and affinity for good grammar, and both are important to the content creation process.


Image: United Soybean Board

I’d also recommend doing your own due diligence when researching a writer’s background. Think about the scope of the project, and the kind of experience this person needs to have. If the writer will contribute blog posts, make sure they have their own blog, or blogging experience elsewhere. If you’re looking for an experienced writer to create a technical piece, comb through their portfolio for longer, more structured work. If visualizing data is your goal, find a designer with marketing experience.

Stick to a Workflow

Anyone that’s ever executed on a content strategy knows that there are a lot of moving parts. Developing a workflow will save you from a lot of headaches. The process will be different for every organization, but there are a few basics that you’ll want to figure out sooner than later.

Start out by documenting everything. Research your audience and develop personas. Create a content strategy and a calendar to support it. Develop writing guidelines for contributors, and nail down a process for editing and optimizing content. How will you incorporate images, and where do you go for graphic support? You should even consider compensating your writers, since the person managing content might be the liaison between freelancers and Accounts Payable.

Content Workflow

Yes, this is more work upfront, but take it from me, a notorious (and recovering) “I’ll just do it myself-er”: Developing a workflow to support your content strategy will save you time in the long run. Not only does it get everyone supporting the campaign on the same page, but it also makes it easier to bring in new content creators along the way.

Stalk Friend them Socially

This next tip is borderline creepy, but I’m sharing it with you in the name of good marketing. Don’t judge.

When we work with freelance content creators, the relationship usually starts over email, and carries on that way for awhile. It’s downright easy to forget you’re actually interacting with a human on the other end, and they might feel the same way. If I’m trying to build trust with a content creator, I’ve had good luck connecting with them on other social media channels.

Recently, my network of choice has been Instagram, since it’s less noisy and I love ‘gramming in general. These days, most everyone has an account, especially the more tech-savvy writers we’ve been working with lately. I’ll follow them, and like or comment on their photos, and this usually helps me make a more authentic connection. I want to stress the word authentic. I’m careful about who I connect with, and I tread lightly with my interactions. The goal is to seem human and put a face to my emails, not blow up their feed with likes and mindless comments. You can even do a little qualitative research on what they like to do in their free time, which might inspire a new content idea or open doors for opportunities with other client content.

Here’s a recent example of said success:


I’ve also succeeded in connecting with content creators on Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, so find the network that works for you and make some new friends.

Speaking Works Wonders

Have you ever had a face to face with a client or coworker, and it’s worked wonders for your campaigns or projects? Suddenly, you’ve gained clarity and you’re ready to divide and conquer. The same can be said for speaking with your content creators.

Sometimes, there’s only so many ways to say “this idea isn’t a good fit for our content strategy” or “this doesn’t speak to our target audience” over email. Touching base via phone or better yet, in person, can lead to efficiencies and a better understanding of content goals, the audience, and schedules. For instance, one of our writers has a background in interior design, but we didn’t know he was also a fashion blogger until he suggested a series that pairs an outfit with an apartment home furnishing; genius!

Image: Shehan Peruma

Since we work with a lot of local freelance writers that we’ve never met in person, we’re even planning a meet-n-greet with our team and these content creators, so that we can get to know each other even better. We’re positive there are opportunities for collaboration between all of these creatives, and bringing everyone together for beers and brainstorming should be a blast.

Supply and Solicit Feedback

277490538_074d7d5b01_zAfter working with a content creator for some time, it’s easy to fall into patterns. This could come in the form of efficiencies, like nailing the voice and submitting content on time. And then there are those patterns that leave you pulling your hair out. You mean to tell me they thought *that* event was a good fit for the blog? They got their information from which source? How did they forgot to supply a meta description tag again? Preaching to the choir, I know.

Even if you’ve successfully followed all of my previous tips, the fact of the matter is that humans are human, and humans have the tendency to forget or overlook things. Giving your content creators consistent feedback will keep this under control.

Image: Kim S

As with all feedback, find a way to make it constructive. If you like an idea, but it’s missing the mark, offer alternatives to execution. If the topic isn’t a good fit, explain why. If someone is veering off the yellow brick road, tell them what you liked about a previous project and tie it into their current task. If it’s as simple as not following the rules, follow up with a friendly reminder and supporting documentation.

Also make sure that you are soliciting feedback from content creators as well. Is there something more you can do to help support their creative process? Do they understand the target audience, or can you explain it in a different way? Do they need to learn more about the client or your agency to understand the role they play? A simple conversation can make a huge difference, and it supports a long term relationship.

Separate and Start Over

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in managing content creators is that breaking up isn’t always mutual. Freelance writers come and go, and sometimes it’s out of your control. Whether writers give you notice or suddenly fall off the face of the earth, it’s frustrating and it usually puts a burden on your schedules or campaigns.

If the relationship is worth fighting for, try to figure out why they’re quitting, and see if there’s anything you can do to sweeten the pot or support them in their professional life. If you’ve tried salvaging the relationship and it’s not working, save yourself the “what did I do wrong” thoughts, and move on. There are plenty of other content creators in the sea. Besides, you never know when your old content creators will come back begging for work. How did this turn into a bad romance advice column?!

Image: Satish Krishnamurthy

No matter how you slice it, finding and keeping the best content creators is not a simple science, but it sure is fun. Doing the research, putting the right structures in place, building relationships and knowing when to move forward will get you started on the road to success, which is one of my favorite places to be.

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