Write content like Intercom: Their Managing Editor on how company culture drives results

This is the Part 1 of a three part series with John Collins, Managing Editor at Intercom. We chatted with John to learn about the topics that he knows best — managing content at a SaaS startup. You can listen to the entire conversation on the What I Know Best podcast, be sure to subscribe to learn from other experts across the Quibb network in coming weeks.

Ask a tech person which startups’ blogs they read religiously, and Intercom will be near the top of most people’s’ lists. Inside Intercom (and the other content produced by the company) is notorious for helpful, in-depth content, and their commitment to educate and grow their customer base by producing great content has been a fantastic success. This success is due in no small part to the work of John Collins over the past 2 years, in his role as Intercom’s Managing Editor. The level of excellence that John has brought to this role is admirable, and his experience instilling a culture of high-quality content creation at a startup is informative for anyone looking to do the same.

A shared perspective on content

Creating content to drive new and existing users to your product is a common startup marketing strategy. At the same time, it’s a bit of a dichotomy as startups are run on speed and results, meaning most companies don’t have the ability to truly commit to content marketing. It takes years to build a stellar collection of content similar to the array that Intercom has produced, which is what’s required to get the full ROI that content marketing can offer.

How has Intercom managed to bridge this gap, and continue to create top-notch content that industry insiders enjoy reading? John believes that one of the keys to this success has been Intercom’s culture. The company fully believes in the importance of everyone across the org sharing what they learn directly with users. None of this was by chance either. If you look at startups with great content that’s driving traffic and conversions, every single one of them has a deep commitment that starts with the CEO, and resonates throughout the company. Intercom is no different, through the passionate commitment of their CEO Eoghan McCabe in creating content that he himself would want to read.

McCabe’s creation of a culture of collaboration throughout the company is also reflected in the structure of the content team. John is Managing Editor at Intercom, as opposed to something like VP of Content. Everyone in the company writes, and his role is to act as any Managing Editor does, guiding the company to create content that matters.

“People block out time in their diaries to write for us. It’s a company-wide goal. Teams will say, we are going to produce 2 blog posts this quarter. People get recognized for it internally. It benefits your career at Intercom if you produce content.”

Everyone is a contributor

This way of thinking about content is part of Intercom’s secret sauce. Contributions aren’t just considered a “nice to have”, nor are they sidelined by subject matter experts to a quick 10 minute interview with a writer. The shift in attitude that Intercom has caused is how they’re able to create such amazing, high-quality content. They’ve managed to encourage people across the company to actually write down what it is that they’re learning and building everyday, and additionally create the space and time for people to do that.

That’s really the point — sharing knowledge outside the walls of the company, directly from the people who do the work. As John says, “We’re not the subject matter experts. The reason our blog and our podcast and our books are successful is because the people who are the experts in the area are effectively writing the content and working with us to create the content. We have product managers, designers, researchers. We basically work with them to shape and edit and produce our content. They’ve got the ideas.”

This is straightforward, but also revolutionary: Most startups don’t approach content in this way. The standard process is for a Content Marketer or Writer to ask people across the company to write something about what they’re currently learning or doing. Writing is a lot of work however, and that approach often fails as it’s perceived to take time away from what thinks of as their ‘real job’. Writing a great blog post for a company blog requires doing some research, and saying something both novel and meaningful that the author is willing and excited to stand behind. Many people are held back because of their belief that they aren’t a good writer, one of the reasons it can be so hard to get people in other departments to contribute. This can sometime lead to people writing content on topics that they’re not expert in.

Content experts as experts on content

This is where the content team can be supportive, and why John’s role is to help everyone across Intercom with their writing, to help tease out interesting ideas and knowledge, to instill confidence, and to revise the work of people contributing so that it reads as smoothly as possible. Their focus on content means that every employee knows that when they contribute, their work won’t be published unless it’s excellent — and John and his team will help them get there.

“I could probably sit down and write a bunch of posts about product management just from being immersed here, but there’s no way that’s going to have the depth of understanding. It’s just not going to resonate with people who are doing that job day to day in the same way that Des Traynor, who pretty much was the blog for the first 2 or 3 years here. He’s done the job. He’s done it for years. He’s worked with close to 100 startups as a consultant and things before Intercom, and on his own products. When you have that kind of depth of understanding, you’re going to get content that resonates with people.”

It’s a smart approach, taking advantage of the hard won knowledge and experiences that already sit inside of the walls of Intercom.