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3 Ideas to Help You Build a Content Marketing Business Culture

I published the original version of this post a few months back over at the Content Marketing Institute. Based on some conversations I had at the Ohio Growth Summit last week, I wanted you folks to see it as well.
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For most companies, adopting the mindset of content marketing is going to require some level of a cultural shift within the organization. That can be a daunting task, especially for larger organizations with hundreds or even thousands of employees.

For organizations where policies and procedures that govern certain behaviors are the norm, change towards a content marketing mindset can be scary. Good content marketing promotes transparency across all levels of the organization, both internally and externally.

Here are three key ideas that will help you to begin to move your company towards a content marketing-friendly culture. Take them and use them as you wish.

Understand and respect the current culture

For me, one of the most intriguing conversations on organizational change and leadership took place between Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and acclaimed leadership pioneer, Dr. Warren Bennis.

The video runs about an hour and is littered with ideas on how the most successful organizations approach creating cultures that embrace change.  One of the most provocative lessons from the conversation is shared by Dr. Bennis as he recalls an experience during his first couple of years as the President of the University of Cincinnati.  He states:

It is disrespectful to think you are going to change a culture without really taking the time to deeply understand that culture on which the foundation has was laid.

Dr. Bennis later refers to this concept as “Contextual Intelligence,” again highlighting that to truly implement change, “you’ve got to know the territory.”

Marketers need to make the time and effort to understand the deeper history and traditions that anchor the current company culture. As change agents, marketing leaders should be willing to “celebrate and adhere to the symbols of the past” while inventing new symbols, artifacts, traditions and values that support and empower the transparency that content marketing programs create.

Be better change agents

In almost all cases, culture shift starts with a leader and their vision. As the recent B2B content marketing research found, one of the biggest differentiators between effective and less effective content marketers is executive buy-in: 23% of the least effective marketers cite this as a challenge whereas this is an issue for only 7% of effective marketers.

A strong leader has the charisma to set the tone of the company by tapping into all levels of the organization to create an environment where employees at all levels feel they have a chance to offer their ideas and be heard. Being heard creates a sense of cultural ownership that often takes hold at the middle ranks of the organizational hierarchy.  Savvy change agents, such as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, look for ways to practice humility and open communication across all levels of the organization.

Another example that I like to cite comes from How To Foster Honesty In Your Team by blogger Michael Hyatt, who is also CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.   He shares these four take-aways:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Be inquisitive
  3. Accept and agree
  4. Reward honesty

While the original post is focused on managing internal teams, Michael’s ideas seem to relate to Dr. Bennis’s as they provide a blueprint for tactics that marketing leaders can use to deeply understand the current culture by creating environments that thrive on open communication and flattened management structures.

Drive change from the bottom up

In an example that’s closer to my own work, Sam Falletta (a client) takes a unique approach to manage his direct reports at Incept, a conversational marketing firm that I’ve discuss here a lot.  At Incept, creating a culture that supports content marketing is critical in that content creation and online conversations are viewed as a core competency.

The bottom up management process looks something like this:

  1. Supervisors at all levels give each of their reports a specific list of desired outcomes to meet within a 60-90 day time frame.
  2. Each report is then empowered to spend time developing their own unique plan and processes that will allow them to achieve those outcomes.
  3. Each plan is required to include a list of resources and support that the supervisor will provide, to help the report meet their goals within the given time frame.
  4. Each party is held mutually accountable for delivering on their commitments, and meets weekly to have productive conversations that keep momentum going towards successful delivery of the desired outcomes.

Another way Incept empowers a culture that supports content marketing is to use their company Faceook Page to have internal conversations that are externally visible to clients, prospects and partners.  In essence, the Facebook page becomes the epicenter of conversations between all levels of employees.  Page Administrators focus on facilitating five different types of conversations:

  1. Acquisition – conversations related to acquiring new talent from participants in the fanbase that could potentially be a culture fit for Incept’s five core values.
  2. Appreciation – general kudos and thank you messages to employees who go the extra mile to achieve success, which are visible to the entire community.
  3. Retention – conversations related to uncovering and addressing employee questions or concerns in an open forum.
  4. Conversion – conversations related to giving Incept employees the opportunity to convert from one role in the organization to another.
  5. Reactivation – conversations related to reactivating employees’ interest in company conversations on specific policies or initiatives.

While no employees are required to participate on the Facebook page, simply providing the tool and encouraging new hires to use it has resulted in a 574.29% increase total fan base since March of last year. Currently, the number of engaged fans (measured by the number of non-admin distributed comments over the total fanbase) is holding at between 39.83%, localized to the surrounding areas of Canton Ohio where Incept’s offices are located.

What’s your take on struggling culture change? What challenges have you faced?