What to Do in the Debate Between Employee and Company Voice in Content Marketing

by Marcus Sheridan

writer's voiceAs I was teaching a follow up  content marketing workshop to an HR company near Washington DC last week, I was posed quite an interesting question, one that had come as a result of the company buying in to “insourcing” and having many of their employees produce content based on the questions they received from clients and prospects every day. The question of the employee went like this:

“Marcus, I know you preach a relaxed writing style, but when I try to write like that, it’s just not who I am. And whenever I send my articles in to the editorial team, I feel like they change it so much that it’s really not me on that page.”

Ahh yes, an interesting debate indeed.

The Two Souls of a Business: Company and Writer’s Voice

Just how much should a company’s editorial department change an employee’s “voice” to match that of the company?

At some point or another, every company that is leveraging their employees to produce content has run into this problem, which is exactly why I thought it was so important to address this subject today.

But to understand how to answer this question, it’s critical to realize every business has two “souls”—or identities—that will always be the guiding light to this question.

The first “soul” is that of the company itself. What does the company believe? What is their doctrine? What is their stance on issues, questions, products, methodologies, best practices, etc.? Once all of these questions are answered and understood, they are critical in the makeup of the company’s identity to employees and consumers alike.

The second “soul” is that of the individual employee. As we all know, everyone is different—made with unique voices, styles, skills, etc.

When great content is produced by a business—be it a blog article, video, eBook, etc.—each one of these “souls” should be clear and present.

To give an example of what I’m talking about, my response to the lady in the workshop went like this:

Me: You say you have a more formal communication style, is that correct?

Employee: Yes

Me: And is this the same style you use in face to face conversations with clients? In other words, is it normal for you?

Employee: Yes

Me: If that is the case, as long as you don’t disagree with the company doctrines and philosophies with your content, then I would say they should let your style basically be what it is, without much change and editing.

In this scenario, the reason why this lady’s blog articles and content shouldn’t be completely changed comes down to a critical key:

Her communication style is the same whether face to face with a client or putting words on a screen.

See what I’m saying?

Her voice is her voice, and she was hired to have that voice.

In other words, currently, her company pays her to do a job that includes a whole lot of communication with clients—a communication whose style is acceptable in face to face settings. And because it’s acceptable in face to face settings, the “standards” shouldn’t be changed when it comes to producing content for the company blog, otherwise, she is receiving mixed messages.

Furthermore, a great question any content marketing editor or staff should ask is the following:

If a reader met this article’s author in real life, would the communication “style” of the author match what the reader saw and felt on the screen?

If the answer to this question is “no,” then a change needs to be made.

When it comes down to it, doing content marketing really, really well is all about employee involvement. But in order to have great employee involvement, employees need to have a sense of ownership of the program. They should look at their published content with a smile and sense of pride—knowing it’s not just a reflection of the company, but a reflection of them as well.

Once this is accomplished, some truly amazing things will happen as a clear “culture” of teachers is developed and further leveraged to take the company’s brand and business to new heights of success.

Your Turn:

I’d love to know from readers what you’ve experienced with this topic. How have you balance individual vs. company voice when it comes to content marketing?

Mad Marketing Podcast

If you like the articles, you'll love Marcus' podcast and insightful tips on business and life.

Click to listen

Subscribe to Future Articles

Read Marcus' future articles and stay on the cutting edge of business, marketing, and life success tips!

Click to subscribe

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

computer tips November 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

Thank you

Reply

Adam Kielich November 25, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I generally agree with everything you wrote here but the caveat I would add is that the intended audience should also play a role in what voice communicates the content. Sometimes the way employees talk to business partners or established clients will not be an appropriate voice for new/prospective clients. If that’s the case then the employees shouldn’t be used to generate content and then have it rewritten by editors because, as you said, the employees will feel disconnected from their work. In those situations the employees should either be generating content towards established clients and let marketing/sales issue the content towards prospects.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan November 27, 2013 at 11:18 am

I think we totally agree on this Adam. One of the most important aspects of any communication, be it a blog article or a face to face dialogue, is the need for one to understand clearly who they are communicating with. As you already know, it’s called “personas” in the content marketing world, and it’s a big deal, as many don’t quite “get it.”

Really appreciate you stopping by man and hope you have a tremendous Thanksgiving.

Marcus

Reply

Jamesseochicago November 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Great stuff here. Our agency has started to delve more into the content marketing realm and we’re finding that keeping your own, branded voice parallels well with the company voice as well. Trying to match an individual voice with a corporate voice can sometimes result in diluted content. That is, the impact is far less and more forced.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan November 27, 2013 at 11:16 am

Great point James. I’ve found the same. Keep doing great work man!

Best,

Marcus

Reply

Jamesseochicago November 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Will do! And you keep up with the awesome posts, sir!

Reply

Frank Steiner November 26, 2013 at 12:51 am

Oftentimes, companies voice triumphs as they think it is more professional. I personally prefer to allow employees to do their own thing as they provide way better content.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan November 27, 2013 at 11:15 am

Yep, I’m with you Frank…and I wish more companies would have the belief in their employees that their voice *does* matter.:)

Reply

Britany November 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I try to consider the topic when working out the balance between employee and company voice. If the blog is a topic that relates more to the company that to the employee that’s writing, then the company’s brand should be clear within the voice of the piece. But if the employee is writing about something that they’re an expert on, or they’re writing about something that specifically relates to them, then their own voice should shine through.

Reply

Davina K. Brewer December 6, 2013 at 9:52 am

You know Marcus, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while – the close relationship of HR to PR, about how that impacts not just marketing but all aspects of biz. (and perhaps that’s a shift I need to make?)

Anyhoodle, it comes back to culture. Some companies are strong enough to let an employee even disagree w/ some policies and doctrines – provided they do so in a professional and mission-advancing manner. I mean, if every employee had to agree 100% w/ everything their employers did??! There’d be about 7 billion 1-employee companies out there. Alas many organizations aren’t this strong, panic at the site or hint or whisper of social backlash or – gasp! – independent, self-driven thought. ;-)

As to voice, I know I’m a little different speaking vs. writing. The written has more impact; it has more staying power. What we type, what gets sent or sees the “publish” button – it needs to be professional as it has that seal of ‘official’ approval to it. I think voice and personality are fine, but it’s only natural, appropriate to edit and filter accordingly. FWIW.

Reply

George Thomas December 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

Marcus,

Allow me to pour some fuel on the fire in a slightly different direction. I think employees would have more buy in if companies approached it in a different way. What are your thoughts on a content workflow such as this?

Instead of employees writing for the company blog the company asks employees to start their own blogs. That way the content being created actually belongs to that employee. This way they get fired up because not only are they helping the company but they are working on their own personal brand as well. The employee and company come up with an agreement as to linking to articles the company writes as well as a percentage of 75% of post industry specific and 25% personal branding… that is just an example of course.

Then the company can use articles on their own blog written by employees, but point back to the employee blog as the original source as to not get pinged by Google for duplicate content?

I am very curious your thoughts on this idea?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at 10:42 am

Well, in a Utopic society, that’s a nice thing George, but I really don’t see it that way.

As a business owner, the priority has to be revenue, which only comes from leads. And in the digital age, leads, as you well know, highly correlate with content.

Could the leads be the same if the content was spread out over many, many blogs? I’d venture to say “No.”

Furthermore, if I’m paying my employees to answer questions everyday (emails, phone, etc) of customers, what’s the difference in paying them to do the same with blog content? As soon as they’re being paid to do what they do, it’s the “property” of the business, in my opinion.

But to your point George, it would be nice that they could somehow repost their content on their own site.

I think what you’re saying is “nice,” just not realistic…but I could be wrong.

Reply

Denise Cooper January 14, 2014 at 11:08 am

I agree with Mark. The product, in this case blog posts, belongs to the company and is considered just like any other work product produced by an employee. But I can envision a twist like this. What if the employee is able to repost with a link to their company. In this case both win. Today, each employee is responsible for managing their own employability. And being seen in the broader world as an expert is an important aspect of managing your reputation/personal brand. With employee engagement numbers in the toilet (been around 21% of employees engaged for over 20 years) primarily because companies/bosses don’t care about the employability of their folks this could be a great way to increase engagement.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: