How to manage a remote content marketing team
Best practices from Lisa Oda, the Content Director at Upwork, the leading freelancing website
It’s no secret that content marketing is on the rise. It has become one of the most popular strategies used by startups and big companies alike—according to a 2017 HubSpot survey, 53% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority and nearly a third of B2B marketing budgets are allocated to content marketing.
Since it’s not easy to hire a full editorial team, many companies prefer to work with freelancers. Which leads to the question: How can you manage this remote team to create content marketing experiences that convert? We approached Lisa Oda, Upwork’s Content Director, to get her advice on how to manage freelancers, keep them motivated, and make sure the content they write is successful.
Have a process and plan in advance
For each quarter, I know ahead of time what all the topics will be, who is going to write them, and when everything is going to be due. By doing this, we’re able to see all the moving pieces and then adjust our plan if it looks like a deadline is too short or we know somebody is going to be out of town or something.
It took a while to get here. Now that the team has been working together for a while, everyone knows what to do and my teammates are good at taking the lead and making sure that all the content is produced, my function now is really the strategy.
Capitalize on different skills
The advantage of working with freelancers is you can harness the power of lots of different skillsets and passions. A lot of people think that all writers are the same, and that’s not the case. There are people who write business content, there are people who write technical content, there are people who write ad copy, etc.
So, I could bring somebody in full-time who write a little bit of business (B2B) and a little bit of ad copy, but prefers one over the other Or, I can bring a businesswriter on for 20 hours a week who loves every part of what they are doing. If I work with people who are doing something that they really like, it’s much easier to keep them motivated.
Using freelancers also gives us more flexibility. We are a small team, and our content needs shift so often. Today it’s a focus on tech articles tomorrow it might be something else, so freelancers give us flexibility when we need to changes things up on-the-fly.
Give everyone a job
If you want to build a strong content team, you have to make sure everyone is working well together and that they know how their contribution fits into the process. We’ve broken up our team into a couple of different groups.
There’s someone who manages the blog, then there are freelancers who report to the tech lead, and a group for operations who manage ad images and make sure that everything is polished and has the right tags and keywords and also manage guest posts. Operations are very important because, if you’re going to publish content at scale, you have to have people you can manage content production.
We also have core leaders who report to me and then manage our freelancers. For example, for the tech side we have an editor, and she’s got 3-4 tech writers who she delegates work to.
Because freelancers aren’t in your office, you have to find unique ways to keep them motivated. When I’m hiring freelancers, I look for people who have a drive to learn. Then it becomes less about constant check-ins, and more about providing them opportunity, helping them reach a particular goal in their career progression. It’s important to show freelancers how their hard work behind the scenes in going to pay off in the future, and how they are establishing their own brand outside of the work.
It’s also important to recognize what’s going on a person’s life. Our freelancers work anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week. If somebody is working 20 hours a week, then they obviously have a life outside that. I try to be aware of their motivation for freelancing. Maybe they freelance because they love it, or maybe they just do it because they need extra money. If you know that stuff, then you’ll be able to motivate them better. That contributes to the health and happiness of the team.
People have to feel responsibility in order for things not to fall apart. That’s why we have a short, full-team meeting once a week to go through tasks and look through the calendar so everyone can give an update on what’s going on. It’s critical to establish the plan so people feel like they are a part of something and not just floating on their own.
It’s similar for all the core team members: I meet with them once a week for a quick one-on-one. Once a year we bring everybody to the office to go through higher-level goals and objectives.
Make sure that you communicate the right thing and that you are consistent. I keep very detailed notes on every interaction with each team member. When I talk to somebody I always want to make sure that I know exactly what we’ve talked about. It helps me to be sure that I don’t tell one person something and then communicate a different tactic to another teammate.
We measure success entirely by conversion. Our goal is to get people to the website or blog and get them to take action there. We are fully focused on hitting those conversion goals, getting people to register or do something on our platform.
It’s really about looking at the whole content ecosystem. I don’t think that every single article has to have a specific success number—I look at the whole. Because you will often notice that some content provides traffic because it’s interesting and brings people to your site, but it’s not as strong at converting. If you know that, you can link this popular article to the content that can actually converts. At Upwork, operations team takes the lead here, making sure all of the CTAs are in the right place.