My business, Hit Subscribe, provides content strategy and content. So it probably won’t shock you to learn that we frequently talk to people with the title “content manager,” and thus have a great deal of field experience when it comes to that role.
Today, I’d like to leverage that experience to talk about what that role in some detail.
If you’re here because you googled “content manager,” you’re probably not just interested in what the term means. I imagine that you’re also interested in knowing if the role is a fit for your organization and when to pull the trigger on hiring a full time employee.
So I’ll cover all of that. I’m writing this post from a founder and executive’s perspective.
I Get It, You Want Stuff on Your Company’s Blog Yesterday
As a business owner myself (and a blogger for 10 years), I understand your blogging efforts with utter empathy. In the early days, you’re the motor that drives your company’s content. Whether it’s a manifesto about why your deliverable exists, product marketing pieces about your value prop, or other miscellaneous thoughts you have, the company’s blog, initially, could just be your blog.
As the business grows and flourishes, however, that becomes tricky.
Your growing business occupies your time in a million other ways. The blog, then, morphs into a weird little ball of guilt and missed opportunity, criticizing your lack of commitment with its silence and inactivity.
You’re not blogging, and nobody is really picking up the torch.
Perhaps you encourage and exhort your co-founders, other executives, and early stage employees to blog. But the results are mixed, at best. In the end, nobody puts stuff on the blog because it’s nobody’s specific job to put things on the blog.
So, idea lightbulb! Make it someone’s full time job! Right?
Let’s come back to the wisdom of this a little later. But we’ve got the motivation, so let’s dive into the role that you’re researching right now.
Content Manager Role, Defined
I spent a good portion of my career occupying roles with extremely clear job descriptions: software engineer, software architect, CIO, management consultant. Because of this, the “content manager” role has always bemused me a bit. It’s comparably nebulous.
It’s easy to define the role in a vacuous sense: a content manager manages content.
But because organizations create so many different kinds of content—documentation, content marketing, product marketing, sales copy, case studies, videos, webinars, etc—the particulars of this role vary a great deal, situationally. The edges of the role also depend a lot on what other employees you have in place. For instance, if you have a dedicated sales copywriter and a dedicated product marketer, a content manager will act more in a supporting capacity for that type of content, and preside over something like the blog with more authority.
Let’s look at a generalized job description.
Here’s what a job description might look like:
The content manager is responsible for generating and curating a company’s public-facing content. This can include a diverse array of assets, including social media posts, blog posts, landing pages, multimedia, public documentation, and more.
The content manager should synthesize the company’s brand voice and ensure that all content conforms to that voice. But beyond simply overseeing consistent content production, the content manager should also understand the customers and become adept at speaking to them and interacting with them.
From a practical perspective, this should be someone deeply familiar with working with text in general, but also with leadership aptitude. The content manager role will need to grow from initially focused on creating content, to overseeing a larger and larger editorial operation as the business grows.
And, getting more concrete, here’s what you might see in the bulleted list of the role’s responsibilities:
- Create unique content across a variety of media.
- Work with other team members to produce content via interviews or ghostwriting as them.
- Establish and track content KPIs related to broader marketing goals.
- Create and administer a brand and editorial style guide.
- Set up and oversee an editorial calendar that can scale with the business.
- Manage the editorial calendar and any contributors.
- Edit content and sustain brand and voice consistency.
- Assist product marketing and PR efforts with supporting content.
And, finally, what might go in the skills and requirements section of a job description? Something like this:
- English degree or significant industry experience working with content required.
- Should have a ready portfolio of previous writing work.
- Must have experience creating and sticking to an editorial calendar.
- Experience managing freelancers a plus.
- Familiarity with basic SEO and copywriting best practices preferred.
- Should be savvy with social media, and a polished personal social media footprint is a definite plus.
- Must have experience with standard CMS, such as WordPress or Webflow.
- Ability to work at a basic level with CMS plugins and technology like markdown and HTML preferred.
- Excellent organization and communication skills, both written and verbal, an absolute necessity.
The Content Manager Role From a Business Perspective
Alright, so I’ve addressed the most basic aspect of the question here in detail. You now have a good working understanding not only of what the role entails but what you might throw up on Indeed or Glassdoor to actually hire one.
But what about the role itself, and how it fits into the business?
What you’re doing here is an inherently tricky thing, whether you realize it or not. There are two flavors of organizational risk at play:
- You’re hiring someone to start as an individual contributor/technician and evolve into a leader.
- You’re hiring someone to build a system and then execute that system.
I graduated from college with a computer science degree in a terrible economy, which prompted me to take a temporary job at Radio Shack while looking for my first corporate role. And Radio Shack had an absolutely codified organizational anti-pattern that led to staggering turn-over: they would promote people to manager based entirely on rewarding high sales commissions from individual associates.
Rare was the Radio Shack employee that entered as a slick sales person and then seamlessly transitioned to being a good people manager.
With the two risk flavors in hiring a content manager, you’re actually compounding that dynamic by demanding skill at four things disparate things out of a single, (initially) non-leadership hire:
- Creating content.
- Managing people.
- Constructing business systems.
- Operating business systems.
In your hiring process, you’re going to swing for the fences, hoping for all 4. But what you’ll probably get is someone skilled at 1, maybe 2, of these things, and “meh” at best with the rest.
Mitigating the Risk of This Hire
How, then, do you mitigate this risk? Well, from an org design perspective, what I’d most recommend is that you deconstruct the roles. Here’s what I mean.
- Creating content—transactional, individual contributor, full time, part time or contractor can do.
- Managing people—ongoing, leader, likely an FTE sooner or later.
- Constructing business systems—one-time, specialized, the right new hire can do, but consultants potentially a better choice.
- Operating business systems—ongoing, organized leader or individual contributor—probably FTE sooner or later.
Interestingly, when you look at this, what should jump out is that content creation and constructing a content framework are pretty transactional, in that they’re both easily outsourced (or in-sourced, with content). So if you remove those and assume that an able people-manager and business system operator can preside over the content production of others, you have a much different, less chaotic hire to make.
Your ideal content manager is, of course, content-savvy and perhaps comes from some kind of journalistic or editorial background. But really you want a skilled people manager that can execute, assess, and tune a business system.
Of course, your mileage may vary. You might find a unicorn with all four skills, or maybe you know someone that’s a great system builder and executor that you want to hire. The hiring process will, of course, be dictated by the humans involved.
But to mitigate the risk of this hire, understand the four things you’re seeking and realize that the odds of one person giving you all four are low. Then plan accordingly.
Other Content Manager Hiring Pitfalls and Considerations
Before making a playbook recommendation for this hire, let me enumerate a few other potential pitfalls, or at least things to consider. Beyond the four main skill sets I listed, content manager, as a role, fuses marketing, writing, editing, and knowledge of your domain as well. Just in case you needed a little more complexity in your day.
So when you’re conducting your hire, understand that these respective backgrounds will color how the candidates approach the role. And they might cause suboptimal prioritization, left unchecked.
Specific Hiring Concerns
- If you hire someone with an editorial or journalistic background, you’ll hear a lot about style guides, the importance of polished prose, and journalistic integrity. But, say your main focus is generating traffic and MQLs, for instance. This can exhaust writers and mire the content creation process in the weeds.
- If you hire a marketer (especially a product marketer or someone coming from a PR background), you get the same dynamic, but the weeds are the nebulous idea of “brand voice,” rather than Oxford commas and split infinitives. And if you’re a founder, you should be especially sensitive to this consideration, since you will view the company’s content as a reflection on you, personally, making this “brand voice” hand-wringing a particularly attractive nuisance.
- If you hire a skilled and successful writer, you’ll likely get someone who tries to scale up a content program in their own image. I’ve written an entire blog post about this dynamic if you’d like to read more.
- If you hire a data-driven marketer, that’s probably your safest business bet out of anything I’ve mentioned here. But what you’d want to watch for here is the production of what I’ll call “soulless” content that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. And, while it’s hard (and usually ill-advised) to argue with financial success, I’d keep an eye on the content to make sure you remain comfortable with it.
But Concerns Aren’t Deal-Breakers
Now, I want to be clear.
None of these considerations are deal breakers for these types of hires. Indeed, the person you hire will likely learn and overcome these things with time and do a great job.
But seize on what they know in the early days of employment, looking to impress. So beware of these tendencies in order to manage them.
Getting it Right: How and When to Hire
Let’s close with a specific suggestion for approaching the hire of a content manager. Here’s what I’d suggest.
Hold your horses on just throwing somebody at the blog and hoping for the best. Instead, work with a consultant to set up a content program and to help you use folks on your staff to generate content and run a few pieces through the system.
This lets you knock out concerns (1) and (3) from above and focus your efforts on finding a good people manager and system executor. And having the system already in place will help you narrow down the field. Look for people that buy into the system.
And before you think that style of consulting doesn’t exist, I assure you it does. Our business, Hit Subscribe, would advise in this capacity. (And this isn’t a sales pitch, since we’re not a consulting agency—I’m just offering the most definitive proof I know that you can find someone to offer this advice.) So you will be able to find someone.
A content manager is an important hire, and content is an important investment. So improve the odds by understanding the complex array of things you’re going to be asking this person, and then taking a little off their plate to give them the best chance at success. You’ll be happy about it in the long run, when you’re efficiently producing content that generates inbound, qualified leads.