What should a business look for in a chief content officer—the key person responsible for the content on your site, or the one charged with creating or sharing content for your business? That person might go by another title, by the way—a content marketing manager, an editor-in-chief, a chief blogging officer, or whatever. But whatever the title, what are the critical skills they need to succeed in the role?

Joe Pulizzi has crowdsourced a chief content officer job description over at Junta42. The responses there outline necessary requirements—such as who the job should report to (someone in the C-Suite, for sure), level of education, responsibilities, and so on. In my contribution, I talked more about the skills—sometimes tangible, sometimes less so—that I think are critical for anyone creating content on behalf of a business.

This is a subject near and dear to my own heart, of course—and not merely because of my role as the chief content officer of MarketingProfs, or because (and I'm going out on a limb here) I am the first person in the US world galaxy to have held that job title. But also because I've been banging this drum for a long time—well before "Content Marketing" became the newest and shiniest tool in Marketing's tool shed.

In a piece I wrote for ClickZ almost 11 years ago, I outlined what any online "publisher" should look for in a "site editor." And now that everyone doing business online is a de facto "site publisher," that piece has new resonance.

Here's what I'd look for in a content creator, based in part on that ClickZ article (and in part on what we write about in Content Rules), but updated for a newly social age.
 
1. Training as a Print or Broadcast Journalist

Journalists are trained to tell a story using text, images, or audio, and they understand how to create content that draws an audience. Good journalists' innate understanding of audience also gives them a critical outsider's perspective... a nuanced perspective that marketers can sometimes lack. They might be on your payroll, but they are better at expressing neutrality—a distinct advantage in creating content that resonates with your audience.

2. Nose for a Story

The best content creators are the ones who can smell a good story. They also recognize the bones of a story easily, and they instinctively know how to develop the content to make it human and interesting. Is your candidate bursting at the seams with ideas for content that your business might create? Does she think in terms of content? Do you hear her utter phrases like "that would make a great blog post!"?

3. Digital Intuition

Rick Burnes of HubSpot says good content creators understand how the Web works. In a post on his blog, he writes, "The web is an ecosystem, and if you don't intuitively understand the dynamics of this ecosystem—how Twitter can drive traffic to a blog; the kinds of headlines that attract attention; the simple things you can do to build blog subscriptions—you won't be able to help your company attract online visitors."

A shorthand would be to seek out those with ADOS*—which stands for Attention Deficit... Ooh! Shiny! These are the folks who have a passion for new digital tools. They are always looking for the newest and shiniest object: They always have (or covet) the latest gadgets, they are experimenting with the most cutting-edge technologies, and they have the coolest apps on their smartphones. They can be handy people to have on your team, because they can help you figure out how those technologies apply to growing your business. (*Thanks to Peter Shankman for this term.)

4. Business Acumen

Unless you are a novelist or a feature writer, content for content's sake isn't really useful. So: Can your candidate articulate the business goal of content?

As Rick points out, "For businesses, content is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Every article, tweet, and video is assessed based on its ability to generate visitors, leads, and customers, not on any subjective judgment of content quality."

And as I wrote on ClickZ in 2000: "Developing editorial product requires more than an ability to write and edit. It also requires some sense of the market and an ability to know what kind of content will help sell your product. What you are actually selling doesn't matter; it could be physical product, consulting services, or ad space on the site. What matters most is that the content attracts the audience you need to attract to accomplish your business goals."

5. An Amateur Passion

Look for people who are already online and creating content, even as amateurs. (Fun fact: the root of amateur is the Latin word for love.)

Does your candidate maintain a personal blog? Create videos? Share photos on Flickr? Is she on Twitter? Obviously, your winning candidate doesn't have to do it all. But people with a true passion for content don't create and share it just because they are paid to do so.

6. A Community Leader

If your editor is developing your content from scratch, or rehabbing it from the studs out, chances are she'll need to work a bit to develop the necessary contributor contacts, either inside your company or outside of it. This ability is especially critical if you can't pay outside contributors, but hope to attract them to write for you for the exposure, glory, and honor of it.

"It's one thing to develop the editorial at a site like Salon.com," I wrote in 2000. "It's quite another to schmooze contributors to write for a little-known site with only a trickle of traffic and no cash flow." That's still true today, even if the benefits are a little clearer these days.

7. Social DNA

Is your candidate a social butterfly online? Does she enjoy interacting via social channels? This point is also from Rick, who notes that the best content creators "promote their own content. They build and nurture relationships, and they know how to use these relationships to spread their own content, without abusing them."

In other words, look for folks who are social butterflies online, even if they may not be in the real world.

8. An Open Mind

Many of the journalists I've worked with would sniff at the idea of taking a corporate job. They think doing so is demeaning or equates to selling out, compromising themselves, marginalizing their talents, ruining their reputations, smiting their families, bringing shame upon them, or permanently installing themselves on the dark side.

The key is to find people who understand and embrace the fundamental thesis of Content as Opportunity: Businesses now have both an imperative and the incentive to produce top-shelf content. (Also, a side note to journalists who might be wrestling with the notion of "selling out": You'll make more money on the dark side. Just sayin'.)

9. Knowledge of the Industry... or Not

This is a tricky one. Although industry knowledge can certainly help, it's not going to make a content creator sink or swim. A bright person who's a quick and motivated study can swim, buoyed by little more than a floatie or two, despite no immediate knowledge of a specific industry.

I'd rather have a crack writer with sound business skills who's a noob in an industry (and can maybe lend a fresh perspective) over an insider who's intimately familiar with the subject. Why? Because the latter sometimes speaks the language of the industry rather than that of the audience.

Remember a fundamental rule of journalism: "No one will complain because you made something too easy to understand."

10. A Winning Personality

I'm only half joking. Remember that the person in charge of your content sets the tone for your site. It's her editorial voice, very often, that will speak the loudest to your readers. Hire someone with little discernable personality, and chances are their writing voice will be just as flat.

11. Editorial Skills

Oh yes, and then there's the small matter of editorial skill. Can this person write? Look for the ability to write circles around your competitors, attention to detail, and sound editorial judgment. It's a tall order to find someone who excels on all editorial counts, so also look for a willingness to admit where the weaknesses may be, and plan to hire accordingly. For example, copyediting is not my own strong suit, which is why I don't copyedit.

By the way, it's not by chance that editorial skill appears as the last item on the list. Someone who is both a good writer and a good editor is a find, true, but the other 10 points here are equally important.



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.