Training a great team of content marketers doesn’t have to feel like such a challenge.
If you’re like us, hiring great people is just the first part of the battle when it comes to cultivating talent on your teams. Given the dynamic nature of SEO, it can feel especially challenging to train at scale when so much of the work we do is constantly evolving.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing, we’ve seen success with our training strategy — even as we continue to look for ways to improve the process with each new team member we hire. Based on lessons learned from hiring 50+ content marketers (and their insightful training feedback!), we’ve compiled tips for quickly training up new team members, no matter their expertise or skill level.
Read on for a close-up look at our strategy for how to train a content marketer — complete with a monthly overview of what training typically looks like during their first days of agency life.
COVID-19 Update: Listen to our Content & Conversation episode below on how we’ve modified our process to fit a fully remote team.
Before Day 1: Setting Up For Success
At Siege, our training strategy starts long before our newest content marketer even walks through the door. Once someone has accepted an offer to join our agency, we start thinking about what team and projects they’ll work on to set them up for long-term success.
When planning what the content marketer will work on, we consider multiple factors including:
- What does their existing skill set look like?
- What types of projects will foster streamlined and cohesive training?
- What team members beyond their direct manager can help grow their skills?
We typically have new content marketers work on projects in 1–2 industries during their first months at Siege. We’ve found that this helps them learn what works quickly on both the content creation and outreach side. When considering team and project fit, we think about what skills a content marketer is bringing into the role. We also aim to place newer and more junior team members on projects that tend to be straightforward, like infographics in the business space or wedding mood boards.
We try to match content marketers with industries that are open to pitches so that they have a great training ground to learn what works in the world of outreach. We typically avoid placing new hires on clients with intense feedback or on overly technical projects to facilitate a faster understanding of shareability and reduce edit rounds.
Determine Team Fit
When considering what team to place the content marketer on, we evaluate the expertise and experience level of the manager. A newer manager will likely have great outreach tips to share, whereas someone more seasoned may be able to help a content marketer level up on strategy and SEO best practices.
We try to assign each manager a varied client roster, whether that’s multiple industries or clients that have basic and advanced strategy needs. This assures that managers have a “training ground” client for new hires, so they have room to grow while still ensuring the team as a whole hits client goals and KPIs. It also provides growth opportunities within teams to help more seasoned team members level up their skills in new ways.
Plan for Training
Finally, prior to the content marketer’s first day we think about who on the team outside of their direct manager will play a role in training. At Siege, this usually includes:
- A director who will lead five high-level weekly trainings
- 2–3 seasoned content marketers who will lead outreach shadow sessions
- A seasoned content marketer who will serve as a mentor or buddy for quick questions along the way
- A copy editor who will provide copy feedback on their initial content creation efforts
- A graphic designer who walks the content marketer through how to give design direction
Month 1: Creating the Foundation
During month one, we prioritize hands-on training and frequent feedback to ensure the content marketer quickly learns the basics of the role and of our processes. Some best practices we’ve implemented include:
- Weekly 1v1s with the content marketer’s manager. Regular recurring touchpoints give the opportunity for the content marketer to ask quick questions, get feedback on what they’re working on, and fill in any gaps in training.
- Five high-level training meetings with a director. Topics we cover include outreach basics, content formats, SEO tools, and how to brainstorm.
- SiegeLearn lessons and tests. We use SiegeLearn to supplement our in-person training and to control for multiple learning types.
From the get-go, we expose our newest content marketers to the two types of projects they’ll be working on consistently at Siege: content creation and outreach. We find that onboarding new hires to both elements of the role from the first day helps foster understanding of our processes — while also encouraging understanding of what types of content will rank and generate links.
Email Drafts with Manager Feedback
During our initial onboarding, we have new hires draft emails before sending them in real-time. This allows the content marketer to gain outreach experience in a low-stakes environment, where their manager can provide feedback before emails are sent. After the content marketer has had a chance to draft 20–40 emails for their first project, the manager will go in and provide feedback on their personalization and prospecting.
We often share this checklist with new hires and recommend that they keep it open on their desktop when learning outreach to ensure that they are reaching out to sites that will be receptive to pitches.
Once the manager has seen that they understand outreach best practices, they start sending emails in real-time so that they can get direct feedback from the bloggers and journalists they’re pitching to.
Outreach Shadow Sessions
In addition to frequent outreach feedback, we like to match new content marketers with more seasoned team members who lead “outreach shadow sessions.” These meetings consist of the senior team member or manager actually running through a project and talking through their prospecting and personalization process in real-time. We then follow up via email with tangible tips that the content marketer can put into practice for future projects.
A recent addition to our training process is the “reverse shadow session” — a meeting in week three or four where the new content marketer walks through the project they’re prospecting for with the manager watching and providing real-time feedback.
To prevent awkwardness, we recommend structuring the reverse shadow session as a conversation and having the manager simply ask the content marketer to “walk them through their outreach process,” allowing the content marketer to ask questions as they come.
Though these meetings can be a little intimidating a first for the new hire, we get frequent feedback that the reverse shadow session really helps the outreach process “click” for our content marketing team.
Teaching Outlining and Shareability
For the first couple of weeks, we’ll have the content marketer’s manager create outlines for their projects to foster an understanding of shareable content. To facilitate an understanding of shareability, we refer back to the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. method when brainstorming and editing content and teach these principles to our teams.
We also recommend explaining “the why” when giving outline and writing feedback and we frequently highlight what types of content different outreach markets appreciate. For example, the business market loves data-driven pieces, so we’ll often remind content marketers to add more statistics to back up the tips in an infographic.
Once the content marketer has a solid understanding of how to structure content with shareabilty in mind we have them own that part of the process, providing feedback as needed along the way.
Understanding of shareability usually continues to grow with time, as content marketers start to see what works when promoting pieces and make mental notes to recreate or incorporate these elements into future posts.
How Hands-on Should You Be?
A common question we receive from newer managers is how hands-on to be with training to ensure we’re setting up the content marketer for success. While we aim to remain flexible with our style to match what works for the person we’re training, we recommend providing frequent feedback on areas they are working on to facilitate learning.
When thinking about how hands-on to be, we think a lot about the level of the content marketer and the specific expectations for their role. Junior hires will often need the most oversight and clear guidelines for projects, while a more senior content marketer may be successful with a few examples of past projects to work off of and one round of feedback.
To ensure the content marketer and manager are on the same page from the get-go, we also go over an “expectations doc” during one of our first 1v1s that maps out what they’ll be working on for the next 2–3 months and what success in their role looks like. This document includes expectations for conversion rates on outreach projects, an overview of what training will look like, and how quickly we expect the content marketer to ramp up on account management tasks like scheduling content and managing client communication.
By the end of month one, we expect to see the basics coming together, with the content marketer showing an understanding of the outreach process and creating high-quality content each week. We also usually start to get a sense of natural areas where the content marketer is excelling and any existing gaps in their current SEO and outreach knowledge that we’ll want to focus on building upon during month two.
Month 2: Building on the Basics
Once we’ve built a foundation of the basics during month one, we focus on finessing the content marketer’s skills during month two — all while they juggle a weekly outreach and research project. Because every content marketer enters the role with a different skill set, we aim to remain agile with training to ensure we’re meeting people where they’re at and helping them continue to grow.
Check-in on How Things Are Going
Month two is a great point to check-in on how training is going and what could be improved. Some questions we like to ask during 1v1s to drill into areas where the content marketer needs more guidance include:
- What projects are taking the longest?
- What tasks feel most confusing or complex?
- What areas do you feel like you need more guidance or training?
- Does my feedback feel constructive and match how you prefer to receive information?
Leverage Supplementary Training As Needed
Based on feedback from the team member and what we’re noticing from working together, we’ll include supplementary training on an as-needed basis. However, if the content marketer is excelling, don’t feel like you have to force extra training. Giving people the space to figure things out for themselves can also be a great way to instill confidence and help them grow.
Additionally, it’s important to note that not all of the training needs to come from the content marketer’s direct manager. We recommend getting multiple team members involved in training to expose the content marketer to multiple points of view. Sharing training tasks amongst the broader team won’t just free up your own schedule — it will also help you grow the leadership skills of some of your most senior individual contributors!
Celebrate What’s Working
In addition to growing the content marketer’s skills with constructive feedback, we also like to focus on what’s already working. If the team member has great writing skills, let them know. Amazing attention to detail? Praise them during a team meeting. Did they earn their first link placement? Give them a shoutout via Slack or email. We like to celebrate the milestones along the way — big and small — to grow our team’s confidence in what’s working while also striving to keep getting better.
Month 3: Looking Ahead
During month three, we typically expect our team members to start operating with less feedback and manager oversight. While the manager may continue to provide frequent feedback in a few specific areas, at this point we look to our teams to start owning their projects fairly autonomously. This is also usually the point where we’ll have content marketers begin account management tasks like client communication, scheduling content calendars, and providing design feedback.
When considering whether someone is ready for these tasks, we look to their email conversions and the quality of their writing. If we’re seeing a solid conversion rate on outreach projects and frequently receive content with minimal edits required, it’s usually a good sign they are ready to take on more micro-tasks to keep their accounts running smoothly. We typically consider a content marketer fully ramped up in the role once they are able to manage content creation and outreach along with these project management tasks.
While we consider the bulk of our initial training done by the end of month two, as content marketers we’re never done learning. If you manage a content marketer, it’s your job to continue to prioritize identifying challenging projects to grow the skills of your team and strengthen their understanding. With a strong foundation of outreach and writing in place, you can continue to build your team’s skills by throwing them more complex projects like challenging content formats, keyword research, and reporting and analytics projects.
These types of skills take time to master, so expect training to be an ongoing process as you work with your team to continuously level up their skills. Since content marketing is an ever-changing discipline, the best thing you can instill in an ambitious content marketer is a love of learning and an appreciation for honest feedback.