Building an internal content culture


There’s a lot of advice out there about how to create effective content, including the advice we provide at Quantico CCIL workshops. Some of the biggest content challenges, however, aren’t about creating the content itself. They’re about internal organisational challenges. And that’s a tough obstacle to surmount.

We often talk about the idea of a ‘content culture’ at Quantico. What that really means, is a combination of priorities, principles, and infrastructure within an organisation that enables the effective creation of content in a sustainable and realistic way. This includes the shape of internal communication, which aspects of the content strategy are decentralised, which are centralised, where major content nodes are found, how to secure buy-in for content initiatives, how knowledge is shared and grown in the organisation, which aspects of content creation are outsourced, and how individuals and teams discuss content. An internal content culture is a complex concept, and the reality is, many organisational structures are set up for a traditional marketing culture but not for the type of internal content culture necessary for the storytelling and content needs of present and future audiences.

When content creation challenges caused by internal culture, one of the most effective ways to get things moving is to start small. Take note of everything you’d like to improve, then get to work on one or two things that you feel able to achieve. Do these effectively, and you’ll lead by example, and become known as a content expert within your organisation. When you’re asked for advice, be a teacher: start with what someone knows, and give them the tools to build on it. Share knowledge, empower them, and help them to become experts too. This way, you’ll slowly build a group of internal content advocates and educators.

Learn how to transform conversations about content from vague and subjective, to results-oriented. Avoid words such as “like”, “dislike”, “good”, or “bad” and use words such as “effective” and “ineffective” instead. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like this word / I don’t think this is a good photo,” try saying, “This word doesn’t seem to be effective for the specific goal we’ve identified.” Take this further by articulating your goal: “We want our audiences to realise how simple this process is, and we want them to click on the link we’ve provided. Using the word ‘execute’ is less effective in simplifying something, but the words ‘complete’ or ‘do’ may be more effective.”

When working with external agencies or content experts, think about what you’d like to achieve for your brand, in terms of specific results. Looking at samples of past work, or pitches, can help you understand what an agency has done, or what it could do, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to achieve this for your brand. Creative projects are most successful when a lot of the work is done at the beginning: a thorough understanding of the brand and its context, and plenty of in-depth, sometimes difficult conversations about the content, the business, and its challenges. The thinking behind content is more important than a set of deliverables and a schedule of costs, so prioritise these conversations, and ask questions that help you understand how an agency works rather than limiting the discussion to what the agency has done.

Creating an internal content culture is a long-term effort that requires time and patience. There are no quick fixes. It’s arguably the least glamorous part of the entire content process (with budgeting being a main contender for this label). It’s about laying foundations and building infrastructure. But we all know how important foundations are. We all know that an effective infrastructure is essential. The work isn’t sexy and it will often remain invisible. But for brands and organisations who recognise that content and community are defining the way we do business, spread ideas, and even run countries, the investment into building an internal content culture is non-negotiable.