How to Write Great Contributed Content
Contributed content can be a great avenue for brand awareness, establishing expertise or getting out a point of view or mission to a larger audience. What is contributed content? Simply, it's content that's written by a non-journalist (that'd be you!) and published somewhere other than the person's own platform. It differs from, say, a freelance article in that it has a definite opinion and POV and typically isn't held to the same journalistic standards of neutrality.
Some of the most prestigious outlets--particularly online--accept contributed content. Great examples include Entrepreneur, Inc., Business Insider and the Harvard Business Review. For many smaller companies, local papers are often looking for columnists. This can be a great way to establish expertise within your community. Each outlet has different guidelines for accepting pieces, from asking for a short pitch to asking for an entire complete piece to consider - and some are looking for regular contributions while others are OK with one-offs. Some have you go through a full editing process while others allow you to essentially self-publish.
We'll cover a bit more around how to find the best outlets for contributed content and how to weigh whether it's worth writing a contributed piece, but today we're getting down to basics: how to write a great contributed piece. As a consultant, I review and edit a lot of contributed client pieces to make sure they're best representing the client and providing something great to the outlet--something they'll want more of. Here's what I look for:
No Press Releases or Overly Promotional Content
While promotion is certainly a large motivator for providing contributed content, overly promotional or press release style content likely won't ever get by an editor--and even if it does, readers won't buy it. Instead, write something entertaining, useful, helpful, smart or funny. Let the promotion come naturally, in a short bio paragraph or link back within the piece that people won't be able to resist clicking on because it's just so good.
Perfect Spelling and Grammar
I try to hold contributed content up to the same standards that editors at my old newspaper jobs would have. Spelling and grammar errors will cause you to lose credibility as a contributor with the publication as well as with the readers. I highly recommend having someone you can trust to look over any contributed content you submit.
Useful, Organized and Succinct Content
Part of the trouble with contributed content is it typically is not coming from a professional writer. For many, writing doesn't come naturally. The best thing you can do is create an organized and succinct article, and if that doesn't flow from your fingers (it doesn't for most of us!) start with an outline and bullet points. Fill in the info from there and make sure it all makes sense before submitting it for publication. If the reader doesn't understand what they're reading, your work will be lost as they click tot he next article.
An Interesting POV
The proliferation of content from every corner of the universe also means that your topic of interest has likely been covered before. So what can you say or what perspective can you bring that's different? For example, if I see one more article about how the most successful people wake up before 5 AM, I will lose my mind. If a client suggested submitting that, I'd suggest brainstorming other ideas. For example, how to maintain energy levels when you wake up early, how to work in the fringe hours of the day, what to do if you're NOT a morning person (can you still be an executive power house if your best work is done at 1 am?).
Bring fresh content or an interesting POV to an overdone topic whenever you can. While overdone stories are obviously working well in terms of getting eyeballs, readers will space out quickly if you're simply providing info they've already heard.
It can't be overt, but we always make sure that the brand messaging is on point in a contributed piece. This means that the writing is consistent with your values as a brand. It means that the bio paragraph includes a relevant and interesting tidbit that relates back to the article and includes a link back to the site. It means that, while you're not doing a sales pitch, you're also not shooting yourself in the foot.
A Second Set of Eyes
If you work with a marketing or PR consultant or agency, absolutely have them review your contribute piece before you submit it. Barring that, have a trusted third-party to give your piece a read to ensure that there aren't any glaring errors, and to hopefully give you feedback in the other areas touched upon in this post.
Look for more info on contributed content, including how to decide whether a contributed piece is worth writing and where to find placements, coming soon on the blog!