Silo isn’t really a word we use in everyday life, in fact it is probably one of those corporate terms that people dislike using in meetings.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word silo, in relation to business as “a system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others.”Many people feel that a silo mentality presents issues within teams and businesses. As content professionals, it’s arguably more important than ever to understand where fantastic input, ideas and opportunities are hiding within isolated teams.
As a content strategist, copywriter or content expert in any role, the benefits of understanding where these ‘silos’ exist are plenty. Identifying the silos that hold back production could be the key to removing some of the headaches and bottlenecks. Most of all, identifying silos can help you improve your content. Here’s why:
Here’s the thing:Instead of content-first, we should be working towards collaboration-first.
Businesses need structure to function and that is probably why we develop silos in the first place.There are varying levels by which this can cause a silo mentality, but it’s often down to conflicting or isolated management and a poor flow of information. Couple this with a lack of resource and the ‘not enough hours in the day’ feeling that most of us have, and it’s easy to see how it happens.Once this culture exists it can become increasingly difficult to break down the barriers.Even if structure is vital to the business you are a part of, that does not mean we shouldn’t take steps to acknowledge and understand where a silo mentality is hindering productivity. The structure may not be going anywhere, but structure shouldn’t equal silo.A positive view is that isolated teams will undoubtedly contain expertise and new opportunities that can really improve your content. You just have to find a way in!
Creating a unified vision and working towards common shared goals is vital for content and content production.
Let’s start with the fact that it doesn’t matter where or how you work, you can stand to benefit from understanding and breaking down a silo mentality.In-house silos may be different to those experienced by people working with clients in agencies or freelancing. Here’s some examples:
These examples highlight that issues with communication underpin a lack of collaboration — how can we overcome these barriers?Obviously if you are in-house then getting up and speaking to a person face-to-face is a nice communication method to have. One which, by the way, can be drastically underused.Even if that is out of the question, communication can always be improved. Here’s some ideas to try out:
Overcoming siloed barriers is not an overnight fix. It takes determination and buy-in across the company to begin to adopt a collaborative culture.
Take small steps and figure out your priorities and quick wins. Brushing up on your people skills and the art of persuasion will always help, too.
Within marketing teams alone, where content teams usually sit, there can be areas or individuals working in isolation.SEO, paid advertising, social media, print collateral and PR are some of the areas of marketing which should effectively collaborate with the content experts.This is an opportunity to start with your own discipline and find out where people are working in isolation to the detriment of your content strategy. Let's look at some examples.
The content and SEO teams are working in isolation. The content team spend a month crafting a huge amount of content for a new website, half of which is already signed off. The SEO expert reviews this half way through the project and have questions about the keywords, suggested improvements and potential landing pages.
The content and SEO teams work on new website content collaboratively. There are plans to run PPC campaigns and social advertising soon after launch but at this point the paid search executive has not been involved in the website project.
With both situations many potential issues can arise:
By collaborating before this project began, any debates on the approach or execution of the work can be discussed with a unified goal in place. Processes can be signed off ahead of production and tasks can be assigned to the appropriate people.These examples could go on. Website content not marrying up with offline marketing collateral is another common one. Any of these examples can soon become a breeding ground for negativity and dispassion for the project.
Starting within your own umbrella of discipline can be the first stepping stone in collaborating more laterally, eventually. It is more likely that you will already know the people who you need to encourage to give up some valuable time a few months earlier than expected, with the view of saving time in the long run.Go ahead and audit the project in hand. Be ambitious in your plan to collaborate with more people, but also be realistic and prioritise who needs to be involved. One thing that you can do is invite all to a pre-project workshop. More on that later.
It doesn’t stop there, in terms of websites, content very much affects design and development. It affects sales teams, customer services, management teams and many more.Let’s take a look at the following common areas where collaboration could be key to your content successes:
This is an obvious one, and you would think that these areas would be synonymous with marketing in general but that is not always the case.There are issues with communication and collaboration that can stem from limited preconceived ideas about what design is and what marketing is. Sometimes, it can even be down to negativity about the other from either side.
Even with an increasing amount of ‘content-first’ website builds, are you still collaborating first, as well as you could be?The people designing or building a website, app or product are working on the functionality and usability. The people doing the marketing are working on the content, structure and the ever-changing nature of the search engines.
These things are all so closely linked these days that to build a new website without involving teams from both silos seems absurd. Yet I still see it all the time.Both sides will suffer because design and development may struggle to build a website that is fit-for-purpose, or should I say, fit-for-content. This in turn affects the content production and delivery.
All of these things will always be a moving feast and there will always be work to do post-launch. But if we we work together we can iron many things out from the off and avoid a lot of common inconsistencies.
You may very well spend time doing user research to inform your projects, but how many times have you spent time with the customer service department as a content strategist?
This has probably been one of the lightbulb moments in my marketing career and we’re all guilty of letting it be one of those tasks at the bottom of the list, or worse, not even on the radar.Getting to understand the customer, whether it is spending some time shadowing, getting involved with live chat or listening in on the phones. You can ask these valuable team members any questions you might have - they've often seen and heard it all.
Don’t forget that for most businesses with a dedicated customer service team, they will be scouring your content all the time to help them answer queries. Sometimes good content is just as useful for members of staff as it is for customers!
Sales teams generally have some very unique points to make about the website and it’s content. So many times I have heard clients say, “our sales team told us we need to change this on the website” or “the sales team made their own collateral”. Use this knowledge.If the sales team are creating their own content, questionnaires or customer profiles, absolutely use this to improve your content strategy. It could highlight regular questions that potential clients have, and answers to those questions.If the sales team can’t provide you with any information right off the mark, then why not use a surveying tool to ask them well thought-out and open-ended questions?
Management can be in a silo of their own due to a lack of time. It is usually important to ensure appropriate management figures are involved in the strategy process and in the sign-off process.Getting overall strategies, article outlines or early drafts approved means cutting out wasted time spent on something which later gets canned.
This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it is a good start. Think of product managers, external photographers, videographers, product designers, recruitment and HR.Sometimes you might even have very specific areas of expertise who need to be involved in the content process, for example, an educational provider may need need teachers or tutors to be integral to the content process.
So we've seen that silo mentality can have a negative affect on content production, so what can we do to collaborate with people within our own disciplines and beyond?
Here's five key ideas to take away:
Just don't wait until the project is mid flow.
Conduct an audit of the project in hand, find out who needs to be involved and invited. Here's some things to consider to get you started:
One key thing to do is to find ways to prove to different departments or ‘silos’ how giving up their time to collaborate you will benefit them.Ensure you know how you are going to measure success so that you can present it back to key stakeholders and all individuals involved in collaboration. This makes people feel positive about the project, promotes a culture of collaboration and encourages people to be involved in the future.
Hold a meeting or workshop and be the advocate of collaboration. These meetings should be an open environment that make it easy for people to give and receive feedback.Ensure it doesn't spiral into a counselling session on past projects, but utilise past failures to improve the workflow moving forward. These meetings should be forward-thinking and inspirational, a time to get key influencers to buy in to the content process.
Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.
Create a process that everyone agrees on before content creation begins — make it visual, get it signed off, ensure everyone knows what their responsibilities are. Check out the below example of a simple process flow and more of a detailed description for a specific project.
At this point you are probably thinking, well this all sounds great but realistically I can’t get all of these different people or departments to give up their time to help me do my job.
Each project will be different and it is important to understand where collaboration really needs to be inclusive across several areas or just a few. If you are unsure, try speaking to others to get an idea of scope.If you feel strongly enough that collaboration from a particular isolated team would benefit the project outcomes and their team in some way, then speak to them about it. Chances are, they will be flattered that you are asking for their help and grateful that you have their interests at heart.
Without adopting a collaborative and holistic approach, at best you will miss out on some great ideas. At worst, you will end up with content that is not fit for purpose.If we approach these issues head-on we can avoid extensive mop-up projects, surprising people with work they never saw coming and giving isolated teams a feeling of disillusion when it comes to content marketing.
The challenge is to take steps to understand the silos within your company, or that affect your projects. Never stop striving to encourage an open and inclusive approach to content strategy and production.
Kym is having fun working remotely on SEO and content at Jungle Scout. She’s passionate about content strategy, research and effective workflow.
When she's not being an SEO geek or crafting content, Kym can be found making friends with cats, taking photographs, cycling and travelling.