Fifteen years ago, there were three tech writers at Salesforce. Now, our team includes 250+ content creators, which consists of a variety of roles beyond writer.
Our diverse team consists of graphic designers, user researchers, video specialists, editors, and more. Our leadership team includes 25+ managers who work with teams worldwide in a company that employs 35,000+ people.
Attrition is low.
Morale is high.
Internal surveys prove those points.
How did this happen? By learning from our mistakes.
As we scaled our team, we explored every paradigm, every trendy process, and every hip productivity tool. But the fundamental principle that has kept us successful is acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them.
If you’re growing a content team, think about these lessons, which we learned.
People & Teams
1. Welcome transparency to foster trust and creativity.
Instead of operating like a military with a top-down structure, we switched to an Agile environment in 2006. The results were insightful. Retrospective meetings — where everyone, no matter their role or title — are encouraged to speak about challenging issues so that solutions can be found sooner.
Also, less experienced or introverted team members are motivated to contribute because they feel heard and have a stake in improving team health. Consequently, we tap into the talents and creativity of a large pool of people who trust management because suggestions are acted upon.
2. Create training to save time, money, and to strengthen your culture.
Instead of handing a new hire a laptop and saying, “Good luck,” we ensure that every person is formally on-boarded. Each person is assigned a seasoned Content Buddy as a mentor. Each person receives months of training that focuses on tools, standards, and our unique corporate culture. It’s an investment that pays off.
There are fewer mistakes in the long run. Everyone is aligned on expectations, what to do in each phase of a product cycle, and which specialist to ask for help when necessary.
3. Train managers because management has little to do with writing.
To paraphrase our manager training, “No matter how great of an individual contributor (IC) you are, you know nothing about managing people.” Each person in a leadership position is required to learn about management.
Helping, empathizing, and resolving conflicts for people is an entirely different skillset than content creation. If the greatest content creator in the world takes on a management position without understanding people skills, they may accidentally harm the team.
4. Define a clear career path to motivate everyone.
Originally, every content creator on our team had the same title. Yet someone with 30-years of experience has different perspectives, expectations, and methodologies for work than someone fresh out of school. To help teammates grow in their careers and identify a wide range of skills, we created new titles, roles, and paths, which increased overall motivation.
Tools & Content
1. Each time you double in size, reevaluate your processes.
The productivity needs, editorial requirements, team-wide meetings, and applications needed to produce content efficiently are vastly different between a team of 15 employees versus 30 employees. Or try 30 versus 60 employees. With massive growth comes a need to pause and reevaluate what is working and discard the rest.
2. When researching tools, think of scale, standards, and localization.
Before you invest in content creation tools, think of what will work when your team doubles in size. Also, are the standards in which your content is produced available across multiple devices, languages, or accessibility requirements?
As new technologies appear — as chatbots and voice-activated devices did — are your tools and content designed to support them? Ask your peers in other companies which tools they use and why, as it may give you new investment ideas or prevent disasters.
3. Align all teams with a shared taxonomy, metadata, and style guide.
To better curate and audit your content as your organization grows, it’s critical to have topics structured, classified, and unified by a common writing style. If 20 different people write in distinct voices, structure their content differently, or don’t have mechanisms to categorize their content by type or product, you will spend unbelievable amounts of time trying to add those things later. Plus, if a new team is brought into the fold from an acquisition or another business requirement, you will need mechanisms in place to order content — or face content confusion and chaos.
4. Imagine the future of your content from your customers’ perspective.
Your content may help or impress customers now, but what about in the future? What could your customers possibly need from your content in one year, two years, or five years?
Of course, no one has a perfect crystal ball. Forecasting the future is difficult.
But instead of thinking everything is A-okay with your content, visualize (and empathize) what customers might need and plan accordingly. Otherwise, there may be no customers or business to support.
Internal & External Marketing
1. Collect and share customer success stories based on your content.
To highlight your team’s business value, and clarify why your content is important, reach out to customers and track how they’ve used your content to accomplish their goals. Each customer’s success is a win. To give visibility to the importance of great content and how it helps drive business, share the success stories internally and externally.
2. Measure what you have to get what you need.
Whether it’s page views, customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) from surveys, deals closed with the help of content, customer support cases resolved by content — track it all. Metrics matter. Share the positive data. Executives who may not understand the business value of content can understand stats that prove otherwise. Furthermore, metrics and data can support requests for more headcount, new initiatives, better tools, and more.
The points above are a small sample of the lessons we have learned. Of course, we continue to learn more lessons as our content team expands. Concealing mistakes prevents the truth from surfacing, and it generates a toxic culture of concealment. As Ryan Holiday mentions in his book, The Obstacle Is the Way, “Failure shows us the way — by showing us what isn’t the way.”
What is the way forward for your team?
Gavin Austin is a Principal Technical Writer at Salesforce, where he’s been writing a variety of content for over 14 years. He helped Salesforce radically change its content strategy in 2015, and he frequently speaks about content at conferences and universities. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.