What if I told that you can rely on a team comprised of experienced writers? It’s true. Higher education content professionals can tap into a vast pool of untapped authors. A lot of university faculty are expert in their fields and also have exceptional writing skills. How can you get the best out of these experts and make them a contributing team of web writers?
In summer 2012 we launched a faculty blogger at Colorado Technical University. We encountered many problems during the blog’s initial stages. University staff had a common belief that we wouldn’t be able convincing faculty to write for the blog. After this victory, we faced another problem: The content received was very inconsistent in tone, quality, and required extensive editing.
We found ourselves answering the same questions that new writers were asking about how to get stared. Even after an author was published we had difficulty motivating them again to write for us.
We are publishing on average 3 to 5 posts per week from faculty writers and driving traffic to the site every single month, despite all these hurdles. Let me tell you about how we got to this point.
Our Initial Challenges
Here are some obstacles we faced, and how they helped us get to where today.
Uncertainties can be overcome
Our greatest challenge was to overcome uncertainty. Many of our faculty had never heard of blogging before. My team members and I explained that we aren’t looking for academic papers that have taken months of research. We sought blogs of 300-700 words. This is about the length of an email.
In fact, this tip was offered to you: Instead writing long emails, you could write a blog post
The comparison proved to have been a very effective way to communicate our faculty’s and leadership’s confusion about blogging. We often used the reference in our communications to university writers. I first heard one of our deans use the phrase to convince a colleague to write a post on his blog.
To kickstart our faculty author program we initially offered a $200 per published blog article payment to get it off the ground. This modest sum was sufficient to encourage initial efforts, and create enthusiasm. Our content team wanted a bigger program and to be able to operate it without financial incentives. So, we stressed the importance of our blog as a platform that could position faculty writers as thought-leaders.
As an aside, several faculty bloggers were contacted in newspapers, magazines, and radio shows by journalists to discuss their blog topics. The great thing about this is that these news outlets did not contact us to pitch the stories. They found their authors through organic searches and not PR outreach. These successes were however celebrated and shared with the university as examples for the exposure that blogging could bring.
As more and more people published their blogs, word quickly spread. The institution saw a shift in culture, and the financial incentive was no longer necessary. Staff and faculty became more interested in contributing to the blog. In an average month, 5 posts were written by new bloggers.
Our writers needed tools to support them as well as resources to coordinate and manage the editorial and coordination process. The author bios and headshots had to be written. It was important to review and edit new blogs. Our team now includes a dedicated coordinator (who plans blog calendars and routes blogs from writers through to editors and finally to the web team to publish), as well as a freelance copywriter.
As soon as faculty blog posts started arriving, we noticed a huge disparity in quality, length, and tone. Bloggers needed to be given guidelines and set parameters in order for their posts to be consistent. We were also regularly asked the same questions every time by new authors. We needed an efficient way to respond to their questions.
As a result, we designed a set of tools that would help bloggers. This included a content guide to assist in the formatting of posts as well as a document with best practices. As part of our brand standards guide, we even created a voice/tone guide to guide our writing style.
We created guidelines that address most common questions. They also outline the submission process, including how to submit posts, to whom and when, and when to expect an answer. We also created guidelines to explain the review and process for publishing a web page, including editing and reviewing for legal compliance.
These content tools significantly improved our processes. These tools enabled our writers to be more focused on their articles. We also spent less time editing posts or answering repeat questions.
Once we had established a group of writers we wanted to keep them motivated. We made a concerted effort for appreciation, starting with thank-you notes and CTU peer to-peer recognition awards. These awards show appreciation for our fellow employees.
We went one step further by creating a formal recognition program specifically for our blog. This was to both show appreciation to our regular contributors but also to encourage new authors. If a writer contributes at most three posts per year, they are officially “CTU Faculty bloggers.” This badge is exclusive to our blog and includes an email icon. Authors also receive a developmental credit toward their professional growth goals, which is a requirement of adjunct faculty.
My team has found our recognition system to be extremely successful. It gives visibility to regular contributors and stimulates healthy competition among other faculty looking to earn their own badge.
Here are Four Tips for Building Your Program
In less than a decade, we have had over 75 contributors to our site and published more than 200 articles. These are some useful tips to help you build a team for academic writers at the institution.
1. Set Expectations
Your blog may not reflect the definition of writing as used by your faculty. A journal article with 3000-words is more time-consuming than a blog post with 400 words. It is important to be specific and clear when you ask academic leaders or faculty members to dedicate time to writing original content for your university.
Parameters:Can you set a maximum or minimum number of words? What should the topic of the blog post be? You can share examples of what type of writing you are looking to find contributors to help them determine if they will have time to do the work.
Start from the top: If senior leaders show support and actively participate in your program, university faculty will be more likely to pay close attention.
Eric Stortz, vice-president of operations at CTU, was one our first supporters. He also contributed regularly to our blog posts and helped us gain attention from university leaders. Dr. Connie Johnson (chief academic officer, provost) was an early supporter of faculty blogging. Today, she is one of our most frequent contributors. This executive support was a major factor in the recruitment of new faculty bloggers.
Ask your university leaders and professors to be the first to set an example that others can follow.
2. Describe Value
Define the benefits of being a published thought leader. Show contributors how writing for your blog is a benefit to them. What will make it worthwhile? These are some of the incentives you might offer.
Make your resume more professional.Remind all writers that publishing a blog or whitepaper can bring you the rewards. A link to a whitepaper, blog or published blog will compliment their LinkedIn profile.
Make yourself a well-respected expert by using your distribution and outreach program. Contributors will get the PR and exposure they deserve for being experts in their field.
3. Make it Easy
The best way to ensure efficient and quick writing is to give your writers the tools they need.
Create content templates, and other resources As we have already stated, these tools simplify the process. They will allow your new writers to build and format posts. They also speed production and help you get to the final product faster.
Workshops:Workshops might be a useful tool in training a team. Ask an outsider to discuss the basics of blogging with you and to share your best practices. You could also use training as an opportunity for your regular contributors to get together and learn new skills.
4. Recognize your achievements and give rewards
Everyone wants to feel loved, and academic faculty is no exception.
You can hand-write notes Do your memories go back to the last time you received one? These thank-you notes are becoming more rare with the advent of digital communications.
Take full advantage of your internal opportunities. Share blog posts with senior leaders and encourage them all to share the posts.
Use formal acknowledgement programs: If you school has peer to peer formal recognition programs, make use of this platform to express your appreciation for your outstanding contributors. Perhaps you can create your own.
Your access to a network of highly educated subject matter experts places you in a unique position many corporate content marketers envy. You can have a successful content-development team with the right messaging, tools, reinforcement and support.