The Rise of the B2B Citizen Content Creator

Quick Summary:

Increasingly, experts take the opportunity to create and publish their own work-related content to enhance their roles, effectiveness, and contribution within the business. In doing so, they also enhance their own personal brand. There are significant upsides, but also serious downsides to this approach.

Availability and cost-effectiveness of new content creation tools is driving a new form of content creation – Citizen Content Creation. What was previously the exclusive domain of the company is now transcending to the individual.

In this article, we explore the benefits and downsides of Citizen Content Creation from the view of the Citizen Content Creator and the Company. We also provide recommendations on how to manage the undoubtedly positive impact, as well as the serious consequences, of an approach that is still developing.

For the longest time, content creation was the domain of companies. Not anymore. We are seeing the rise of the B2B Citizen Content Creator.

Corporate content, whether in the form of reports, whitepapers, videos, webinars, or graphics has traditionally been controlled by companies. Even corporate blog posts would mainly be ghost-written by a corporate communications team on behalf of executives and published in their name.

The tools, insights, and research required to create these different content formats was often only available to companies, not least because they were cost-prohibitive to individuals. But there was also a consideration of controlling the narrative, which organisations preferred in order to avoid publishing content that may be misaligned with the company’s core messaging and vision.

The cost of a webinar platform, a creative design software, or video editing tools would either be too high, or the tools were not easy to adopt unless you were using them in your day-to-day role. The barriers to entry were not worth the effort, because even if you did manage to create something of value and interest, you either lacked the permission or the stage to distribute it to a wider audience.

So, what has changed? And why are we seeing a rise in B2B Citizen Content Creators?

Over the past few years, we have seen a lot of innovation on the part of SaaS companies which led to easy-to-adopt solutions that anyone could access. The fierce competition led to an increase in features and capabilities and a drop in price for tools that could be easily accessed and operated via a browser.

There is no doubt that Covid hastened this trend (or at least the adoption), with a need to perform tasks remotely and away from corporate resources, such as design teams, video production capabilities and facilities, copywriters, and other resources many people relied on.

As tools and platforms adapted, tools such as Zoom, Canva, Linkedin, Youtube and others came into focus. Not only did they give access to capabilities that had previously been out of reach to individual contributors, they were also often free or very cost-effective compared to their older and more established cousins.

As so often is the case, we see personal trends precede business trends. Personal content was being created and published on Youtube, blogs, and social media platforms long before individual business users adopted them for professional use.

Yet, we now increasingly see individuals create content that is related to their company or line of work. This is not personal content, it is work content. But while the company’s offering is the subject matter, it is the individual who is the face, the star, the pull of the content.

This takes the form of Linkedin Livestreams, Youtube shorts, podcasts, videos, and infographics for social posts. Often these operate in a grey zone between lacking official approval and increased exposure.

Whether this is driven by a desire to build a personal brand and profile, or whether it is due to a lack of specific content or resource available within the business to address a specific subject matter (in a specific language, with a particular angle) is open to debate. It may even be officially sanctioned by the business – either proactively or retrospectively.

The Benefits And Downsides of Citizen Content Creation

There are, however, clear benefits to the individual and the company. The individual builds their personal brand, their exposure to customers and prospects – thus increasing their standing within the marketplace, and their exposure to new opportunities. The individual also benefits from creating content they know to be relevant to their audience, where previously this was perhaps unavailable or too time-consuming / costly to create.

There are also benefits for their employers, i.e. the companies that were previously on the hook for this content. Their brands become more personal, with individual “real people” becoming the unofficial face of the business in the marketplace. B2B turns into H2H (human to human). Audiences relate much better to individual experts than anonymous corporate content. These individuals are already well-known, but they are now advancing to semi-rockstar status within a community, and they obtain a solid and important fanbase. As a result, budgets are also less impacted, and the list of requests for overstretched content creation teams isn’t growing quite as fast.

But you may wonder what the downsides are of Citizen Content Creation.

Despite some of the significant upsides for individuals, there some real downsides, if not managed properly. Some things to look out for are:

Burnout. Doing your day job that you are paid to do (if it is not creating content as a Citizen Content Creator) is clearly the employer’s priority. Juggling the job with the additional load of creating content may seem related, but one is official, and the other is not. Doing both can put additional strain on the individual to maintain performance and consistency on both sides of the equation. Individual Citizen Content Creators should be mindful of the impact it can have on personal health and relationships, as well as their professional and paid commitments and expectations.

Distraction from paid role. Doing two jobs can easily lead to distraction from the individual’s paid job. Even though content creation has become much easier, there is still a lot of work involved. A Citizen Content Creator is likely to feel very passionate about their content creation, perhaps more so than the job they are paid to do. It is, therefore, important to find a balance that allows you to perform as expected (or more) in their paid roles.

Frustration. Citizen Content Creators may get a lot of fulfilment and enjoyment from creating their content, but it may also have been motivated by a lack of relevant and available content within the business. In having to create the content due to lack of company support, there may be seeds of frustration that may grow and become more apparent the more content the Citizen Content Creator generates.

Internal repercussions for unsanctioned content. The employer, company, or superiors may not be aware of, or have approved, the content creation effort by Citizen Content Creators. This can quickly lead to negative internal repercussions for the Citizen Content Creator, especially if it leads to above mentioned distractions from their paid role. What was intended to enhance the company’s messaging and content production may turn into a negative downside that can have an impact on the individual’s career.

Equally, for businesses there may also be downsides to Citizen Content Creation.

Loss of control over narrative. Each company may have a different view of individual contribution to content creation by their employees. However, in many cases the guidelines for this activity are either very strict or at least designed to maintain a consistent and cohesive message that is in line with the corporately defined direction. This is particularly true for publicly listed companies that have their share price and shareholders to consider as well. The negative impact, legally or strategically, can be significant if content created by Citizen Content Creators diverges too much from the corporate line. Even worse outcomes can arise from divergence from legally binding aspects such as GDPR, data privacy, or sharing of non-public information – be that by accident, oversight, or intentionally.

Incorrect brand representation. Due to the decentralized nature of Citizen Content Creation, it is easy to stray from brand guidelines, both in terms of design elements as well as corporate messaging. Control over, and tracking of, Citizen Content Creation is difficult and can create negative dilution of brand messaging and representation that can be hard to rectify if left unchecked in the long-term.

Loss of tracking and impact. Typically, although not always, Citizen Content is created by individuals who are experts in their field, and often have existing customer-facing roles. However, any positive impact from this content can become difficult to track and attribute. This may skew reporting of other content activities with regards to budget ROI, pipeline impact, and other key metrics. Without clear tracking, corporate activities may become more difficult to evaluate against their budgets. While there may ne a net-profit from positive Citizen Content, there is also a negative risk of overreliance if one or more Citizen Content Creators move to a different company and the content is no longer produced.

How to manage Citizen Content Creation – should it be curtailed or encouraged?

How can organisations reap the benefits of Citizen Content Creation, while mitigating against – or removing – the risks? Strong guidelines against Citizen Content Creation can further enhance negative effect. Employee frustration and dissatisfaction may increase, which may lead to brain drain to other companies, if the experts who are Citizen Content Creators decide to move on. However, clearly a free-for-all bears other risks for organisations.

In this early phase of the rise of the Citizen Content Creator, a mutually beneficial middle ground provides an opportunity for both parties to win.

Create clear guidelines for Citizen Content Creation. Accepting Citizen Content Creation is the first step in gaining an advantage from it. By providing clear guidelines for what is acceptable and encouraged, versus aspects that are not accepted by the company, allows for clear communication and expectations. Guidelines should facilitate and enable, rather than lead with restrictions. This will remove inhibitions and open a path for constructive and effective Citizen Content Creation.

Provide Training. Many Citizen Content Creators have started on their own volition. They are often self-taught in aspects such as use of brand materials, content production tools, and creative aspects such as copywriting, design, and presentation skills. By providing training in these areas, companies empower the Citizen Content Creator, while maintaining a required level of control over the content output and messaging.

Provide resources. Often, Citizen Content Creators will use their own tools. These may produce the desired quality, but by additional resources the company can ensure increased consistency, quality, and alignment with corporate content output. Companies can provide resources in the form of dedicated and sanctioned time to create content or in the form of appropriate tools to Citizen Content Creators. Consistency in the use of tools, combined with training on these tools can form a cost-effective extension of the corporate content creation activity, without the above-mentioned downsides. This can also extend to companies providing the research or information for Citizen Content Creation, which in turn reduces the time impact on individuals. Providing this information is less time consuming and impactful than corporately creating the content, and it further motivates Citizen Content Creators to produce more and higher-quality content. A positive side-effect is a stronger alignment and sense of fulfilment between Citizen Content Creators and their companies.

So, whether the Citizen Content Creator is on the rise or fall is entirely down to the collaboration between the individual and the company. Shadow content creation can be counterproductive and disruptive. However, the opportunity for significant upsides is undeniably positive. Start today and begin your alignment and collaboration, and begin to reap the benefits and reduce the potential of negative impact.

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