I have spent the last year interviewing marketing people who, like you, often fight a common foe as they try to communicate with audiences through digital content: compliance.
The stories I’ve published have been from the community of independent artists, marketers, fundraisers, publishers and educators who may have to adapt their strategies to their clients’ compliance rules, but are not in the hot seat to the degree in-house employees are.
I talk to these folks, too. They often ask: How are we supposed to do creative, useful, engaging content marketing when we feel like the compliance department is stifling us at every turn?
Below I share some of their stories. Unlike other stories I’ve published this year, I won’t name these individuals or their organizations.
Why? Compliance! But that’s okay.
Here are three lessons I learned from our (anonymous) compliance-challenged friends.
LESSON 1: PROTECTING THE SECRET RECIPE
“I’m sorry, he said no. Why would we reveal the secret sauce?”
I wanted to interview a friend of mine about his journey with content marketing, from the perspective of someone who had kinda been thrown into it.
He did not consider himself a marketing person when he was asked to take on social media and relationship building. His was a great story about doing research, asking good questions, connecting with smart people and ultimately creating a successful strategy.
We both thought the story would make him and his organization look good, but more importantly, would help those reading it get ideas for how to overcome similar obstacles.
Then he showed the story to his boss. In retrospect, we should not have been surprised by the response.
It was chock full of information about the strategies the company employed to get an edge on the market. Sharing them with the world posed a common sense risk. The thinking was, Why on earth would we hand our competitors our secret recipe?
What I Learned
All it takes to prevent this particular roadblock is to look over your idea or outline twice before moving forward. In the first look, ask yourself, “If I am my audience, does this benefit me?” In the second, ask, “If I am my competitor, does this benefit me too much?”
Don’t overthink it. If you worry about it too much you’ll be paralyzed. But if you want to get through compliance, you need to consider the benefit to the folks down the street who are trying to take your customers from you if you publish. If that benefit seems too high, move on to another idea.
LESSON 2: DEALING WITH INADEQUATE TOOLS
“You can’t do that. Or that. Or that. Please use the approved template.”
When I offered to help a friend put together a content marketing strategy, she warned me that I wouldn’t get far. She said her company pays for programs through which she must submit content for her compliance department to even consider publishing it.
She showed me how little wiggle room there was in the available templates for email and social media posts. A lot of what I saw wasn’t even templates. It was pre-packaged content she had the option to post as if it were her own.
I contacted the appropriate representatives on my friend’s behalf. I asked a bunch of questions like, “Can I use this program to create longform content? Can I add a CTA button? Can I create a landing page?”
If you’re guessing the answers I got took a lot of the wind out of my sails, you’d be correct.
What I Learned
While many of the answers I got essentially amounted to “Nope!” I did learn about some changes on the horizon. Not everything I hoped for was coming, but some new pending functionality (such as downloadable content) would allow me to put more pieces of a robust content marketing plan together.
If compliance isn’t providing the tools you need, push them on it. Create demand! But don’t spend too much time on this. I went back to my friend and proposed a significantly stripped-down plan that fits within the current rules. You gotta start somewhere, but you can keep pushing for more.
LESSON 3: WHEN IT’S JUST TOO SLOW TO BOTHER
“It’s only a few days, but that makes it easier to let it slip when you’re busy doing your main job.”
In the not-for-profit world, it’s pretty common for content marketing (or social media management, or really all external mass communication) to fall to people who can’t focus on it. They are just too busy fulfilling the mission.
I spoke with someone in just that same position. She is client-facing, has reports to file, meetings to attend, but has a desire to help build her organization’s audience. To get volunteers, you need awareness. To create awareness, you need to tell stories.
The last thing you need is a compliance department rejecting the stories you’ve used your precious time to put together. This is why it’s so hard for not-for-profits, which arguably have the best stories to tell, to get them out into the world.
It’s also hard to feel a sense of urgency about content when your volunteer numbers look pretty good this quarter anyway. My friend gets that it’s not about this quarter. It’s about the next, and the next. It’s just extremely difficult for her to think ahead when she’s in the trenches.
What I Learned
In her experience, the best content to share is commentary on national news stories that are relevant to what they do. If you work with families, for example, it makes sense to comment on the effects of family separation at the border, or about PTSD after wartime, or other issues you’re already reading about.
Your compliance department is actually very useful as a sounding board for commentary. Their job is to make sure your comments are not a knee-jerk reaction, but match your organization’s mission. In this case, you might as well appreciate how the process helps focus your content and make it more effective.
- If you look over your content concept from the perspective of a competitor, you can red flag content before you even begin. You’ll have a much better chance of getting through compliance.
- If you push for better content development tools, you may get them. In the meantime, make the most out of what you have.
- If you don’t have time to tell stories, comment on ones you’re already reading and discussing. Then, enjoy the benefits of compliance as they focus your commentary on the mission.
Don’t let compliance bog you down, friends. That’s my secret recipe.
Was this helpful? Want to get more FREE insights into how to win with content marketing? Click the button!