Technology is a mystery. Sure, we can manipulate our devices to make a call, send an email, or stream a show. But for something we all rely on so heavily, most of us have no idea how these critical, everyday tools function.
This is not an accusation. It is plain and simple fact. We come into work, sit down at our desks, turn on our various devices, and have every expectation that the required applications and tech gadgetry needed to do our jobs will work. When one of those devices stops working, we aren’t rolling up our sleeves and diving in to solve the problem. We are cursing under our breath, employing the tried-and-true turn-it-off-and-on-again method, and then running to our nearest digital team member with our hats in hand.
For digital content marketers, this is doubly true. Whether it is the building and maintenance of your content management system, integrating your content site with social media channels, or setting up the measurement pathways for our key performance indicators—we literally can’t do our jobs well without the ongoing support of our digital counterparts.
If you want your content initiative to have the best possible chance for success, you need to help your digital team help you.
You Don’t Have to Speak Their Language to Communicate
Pop culture depictions of surly tech guys guzzling energy drinks and religiously popping salty snacks, while hilarious (I’m looking at you, OG Jurassic Park‘s Nedry), are largely way off base. Whether we are conscious of it or not, this movie cliché tints our perspective when it comes to working with our digital teams. Impediments to cross-team success aren’t a product of their problematic demeanor or unwillingness to collaborate.
A Digital Project Is Still Just a Project
Digital project timelines and budgets have a bit of a reputation for being difficult to predict accurately. Michael Krigsman of ZDNet reports that, as it relates to technology projects, “Sixty-eight percent of companies are more likely to have a marginal project or outright failure than a success due to the way they approach business analysis.” While it might seem easy to chalk this up to the finer technical aspects of these endeavors, Bernard Marr of Forbes highlights that “54 percent of IT project failures can be attributed to poor management—while only 3 percent are due to technological problems.”
So what do these stats imply? Digital projects aren’t really all that different from any other business project—effective project management is key. Digital teams do, however, have to contend with one fairly unique barrier to effective completion: Most of their projects serve the interests of another group within the organization. This means that they not only have to deal with all of the usual potential roadblocks to success, they also have to navigate the demands and expectations of a completely separate business unit.
Image attribution: Seattle Municipal Archives
Control What You Can Control
To be a good partner in any collaborative business project, it’s critical to understand the other side’s process, team dynamic, and leadership structure. There are so many issues that crop up that can easily be avoided with a little bit of empathy and a whole lot of respect for the challenges the other team faces.
If you think your website ask is the only thing on your digital team’s plate, you need to take a step back. In today’s business environment, their department is basically a popular brunch spot where it’s constantly Sunday morning. There is always going to be another ticket waiting in their window, so you’d better be damn sure your order succinctly lays out everything you want.
Because there are two or more disparate groups working together to get most digital projects off the ground, there are things your content team, as the ticket-filer, can do to smooth out any rough edges before they have a chance to show. While it won’t be possible for your team to affect the trajectory of each and every potential problem, there are ways your team can work to set both teams up for success.
Focus on Strategic Outcomes, Not Intended Results
The content project that your digital request is attached to has a big reason “why.” You and your team know that this reason for being goes far beyond the line item the request is fulfilling. Your organization has made the strategic decision to invest in a long-term content initiative, and you need the technical support necessary to pull it off well.
But enhancing your website to support a CMS or integrating with a new software that will give your website the ability to become an everyday publisher will impact a lot more than just your team. Your content will be used to support your entire organization and will help propel your brand toward even greater heights. So why wouldn’t you share this vision with your digital brethren from the very start?
Providing this detailed context for why you’re making this request will make it clear to your digital team that they, too, have a dog in this fight. Making a concerted effort to explain this long-term strategic thinking will go a long way toward making this feel like a vital company-wide effort and not just another ticket for them to clear in the queue.
Image attribution: Giu Vicente
Design a Communication Model That Works (For Everyone)
Right now I am sitting in a café, waiting for my wife to come and pick me up. The reason I am sitting in this café writing at 7 p.m. instead of doing so at home in my office is simple: I forgot my keys in my jacket pocket at work. But when I discovered my error, I didn’t have to panic. I knew immediately that I had, at bare minimum, three completely distinct ways I could communicate my plight to her and facilitate my “rescue.” Knowing my wife would not check her email for some time that night and that she always has her ringer on silent at school, I chose to send her a text message. This would allow her to discretely check that message at her leisure during her meeting. I made this choice because I knew that this option would still fulfill my need to not spend the entire night at this café, while also creating the least potential disruption to my wife’s life.
This anecdote is meant to do more than give you a quick glimpse into my absent-mindedness. To me, it is a fantastic representation of how we should all look at interdepartmental communication. While it is always going to be easier to communicate in the way that is best for you and your team, by choosing to discover the communication preferences of those working with you, you have a much higher chance of creating a blueprint for a manageable workflow.
Maybe your team prefers to talk to each other constantly via chat and email or pop over to each other’s desk at various times throughout the day. That, however, does not mean that style of communication is going to work for your digital partners. They might prefer to have a weekly hour-long video conference where all questions can be answered in bulk, or maybe twice weekly phone check-ins.
If you want to have the best possible chance of creating a line of escalation that will be sustainable over the life of the project, it is incumbent on your team to ask them what they prefer. Then you need to do your best to stick to that through the duration of the combined project. They’ll feel respected and appreciate the consistency, and your team will know exactly what they need to do to get a direct answer to a question when something comes up.
See the Forest for the Trees
There will be those on your team or within your organization who might look at the guidance above, shake their head, and say “give me a break.” These people will more than likely say some version of “We have a job, and they have a job; submit the work order and tell them to ping us to when it’s ready to rock.” Your team is already busy enough. Why should additional time and energy be expended to sympathize and understand another team’s challenges?
To them I would say: I get it. I really do. I’ve developed enough content programs to know well that there is enough work for the marketing department to do on its own without also having to put in additional work on things like syncing up with the sales department, collaborating with the social media team, or interfacing regularly with the digital team. If you were trying to build a one-off sales development campaign or create a lookbook that supports a one-time marketing initiative, this degree of cross-departmental coordination would probably not be required.
But we’re content marketers, and we’re here to play the long game. Our content stream could potentially be the backbone of our brand’s identity. We can’t cut corners or assume it will all work itself out. We need to put in the legwork and homework necessary to make everyone involved feel like part of one, big, extended content team, ensuring our content initiative will have the best chance to pervade our organization for years to come.
Do you want to learn more about how to get the most out of the creative thinking and know-how of other departments across your organization? Stay tuned for Part V, where I will discuss the best ways to get ongoing support by proving content marketing ROI. And don’t forget to check out Part I, where I look at why it’s so critical to get your whole organization on board with your content program; Part II, where I discuss the importance of social media connections; and Part III, where I dive into the critical role of your sales department.
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Featured image attribution: James McKinven