10 steps to creating a culture of writing in your business

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, gives us her 10 steps to building and maintaining a content-driven corporate culture in 2016…

 10 steps to creating a culture of writing in your business

Reading Sticky Content’s report on content culture in the UK, I was struck by how, now that everyone’s a publisher, everyone also has to be a writer – and a good one, at that. For marketing leaders, nurturing an environment where everyone can develop, write and manage great content is a real priority.

If you want to get everyone on your team – from designers to developers, as well as copywriters – writing for the company blog, or producing fantastic social content on the subjects they’re experts in, you’ll need to champion a content-oriented culture.

Building a company culture full of writers means that not only your content output will get better, but your internal communications could improve, too. It might even help your team become better thinkers.

Why do I need to create a culture of writing?

Good writing is a power tool we should be able to wield expertly, just as every respectable building contractor can use the saw he or she keeps in their truck. And if you want to be a thought leader in your industry, you need to write well.

Becoming a better writer encourages you to organise your thoughts with the reader in mind; in short, it’s the key to a customer-centric, intuitive, empathic point of view. Which, by the way, is what the best marketers need to have, too.

Creating a culture of writing doesn’t mean simply producing more blog fodder. It also means creating a culture of more efficient and effective communication. The better people can present their ideas or articulate complicated subjects, the more they stand out in a corporate environment.

So, here are 10 tips on how to create your own corporate culture of writing in 2016…

1. Widen out the definition of a ‘writer’

Let’s dispel the notion that some people write and some don’t.

We all write emails, post social updates, create content on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook. We write landing pages or blog posts or homepage content or product descriptions or memos to our teams.

It’s time to recognise all of that for what it is: writing. So why not encourage your team to think about themselves as writers?

2. Set aside time each day for your team to write

Writing isn’t a gift bestowed on a chosen few – it’s a muscle we are all capable of developing. And like a muscle, the more you work it, the faster and more efficient it becomes.

3. Ban self-criticism

Self-criticism breeds poor confidence. Here’s a useful approach to avoid that sort of thinking: just spool what you want to say onto the page, and then reshape it into something that benefits your reader.

4. Write badly. Then, fix it.

Few of us are great writers on the first draft, but good writers tend to be excellent editors of their own work. I call this process embracing The Ugly First Draft.

I live by this Stephen King quote, and maybe you will, too: ‘Write with the door closed, edit with the door open.’ In other words, write your ideas down without too much thought about the reader, then edit with the reader foremost in mind.

5. Don’t sweat the grammar

Well, not too much

That’s not because grammar or usage aren’t important. They are. But most people think that writing is grammar, whereas good writing is more about thinking, rewriting and keeping your focus relentlessly on the reader than it is about knowing your affect from your elbow (and your effect, too).

6. Create your own style guide

Start internally crowdsourcing tips and guidelines that together will begin to reflect your company culture and voice. Things like…

  • using ‘you’ instead of ‘the customer’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘the organisation’
  • paragraphs are always shorter than 4 sentences
  • front-load – put the most important words and thoughts at the beginning of a sentence
  • write as if you’re chatting to a colleague over coffee

(Or you might just start with how some words should be spelled and what words to avoid, eg, use ‘email,’ not ‘e-mail’; avoid ‘leverage’ as a verb etc.)

How to add substance to your style guide

7. Hire a dedicated editor

The best writers always have a great editor, who’s like a great coach or trainer – working behind the scenes to bring out the best in an athlete.

By ‘editor’ I’m not just talking about a proofreader – one who’s charged with checking facts and wielding a push-broom to sweep away minor grammar errors or misspellings and typos. I’m talking about someone who can give a piece of writing a higher-level read to help improve, expand, condense or rewrite.

8. Create a collaborative writing environment

Some teams edit and give feedback on each other’s work in a kind of buddy system. Buddying writers up has other benefits, too, including training and development, and it’s flat-out more fun.

9. Don’t think you always need to buy content expertise

Outside expertise can complement and improve what’s being done in-house. But fostering strong writers internally improves all your content in the way a great conductor improves an orchestra.

10. Invest in training

Actually, let me restate: invest in training that’s not boring.

The key is to seek training that takes a giant and potentially boring topic – writing – and makes it feel accessible, fun and exciting… rather than plodding and preachy.

Training shouldn’t feel like a slog – and neither, of course, should writing.

Ann Handley, of EverybodyWrites.com, is the author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content and Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs.