Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
To grow your business you need more online content to get people talking about your products, your services, and your company. (You could definitely use the SEO boost, too.) And you want to better engage your customers and hopefully even create a community.
Though you could outsource to freelancers -- and maybe have tried that already -- they don't really know your company or your products. And where engaging your customers is concerned, authenticity is everything.
Who can engage your customers in a genuine, authentic way? The answer is right in front of you: your employees.
I talked to James Paden and Lee Jorgenson of Compendium (now part of Oracle) a content marketing platform that let businesses create, capture, and manage content on their own branded hubs, for tips on making employee-generated content work for your business:
1. Don't try to force a style or "voice."
Different people engage different audiences, but no one engages with corporate speak. Don't try to force a particular style. Let your employees communicate in their own way.
Real people want to engage with real people-make sure your employees communicate professionally, but otherwise let them be real.
2. Don't limit the playing field.
Many companies "let" the CEO communicate. Some extend the privilege to marketing. Why not open participation up to other departments: customer service, engineering, tech, product development? Different people have different interests.
The more people who participate-and the broader the range of functional areas participating-the more chances you have to meet different needs and engage different audiences.
3. Be gentle with editing.
Many people say they've never felt more valued than when they were asked to write about their opinions and perspectives; they feel they play a key role in benefitting the brand.
Set some ground rules and then step back. You can still approve content before it goes live, but generally speaking show your appreciation for your employees' efforts by protecting their message and respecting their content.
You'll be surprised by how professional your employee authors will be, especially if you...
4. Highlight and promote individual authors.
Display author names, titles, and photos. Help give them exposure and build their individual brands. Make your employees stars and their visibility will reflect well on your company.
And their visibility will help them care more about creating great content, because it's theirs.
5. Ask authors to tie their social accounts to the content marketing platform.
ExactTarget, an interactive marketing software company, has almost 70 active authors. They share ExactTarget content with their personal connections, using their own social networks to expand the company's social reach. (ExactTarget's blog is a great example of a diverse collection of employee-created content.)
Encourage your employees to share. They have their own social networks-take advantage of them.
6. Take advantage of Google author rank.
Let individual authors tie in to their Google profiles. That may improve SEO results through contextual relevance for different topics and help broaden your overall reach.
7. Share results.
Good content marketing platforms track individual statistics, such as visits, comments, social traffic, and search traffic. It's a great way to give feedback to the authors and unleash their competitive juices.
8. Think beyond marketing.
Your blog can also be a great recruiting tool. Employee content can highlight your culture, your facilities, outside activities, and community efforts. Cultural fit is extremely important, so let prospective employees see ahead of time whether they'll fit.
Plus, employee blogs are like a digital extension of a rsum. Allow employees to create content and you implicitly show you want to help them build their careers.
9. Give up command and control.
Employee-generated content makes the "one voice" approach to communication impossible.
And that's why it works so well. Sometimes an author's unique style can become a huge voice for the company-authenticity, not corporate speak, results in real credibility and a real connection between an author and an audience.