If you’re a marketing manager, chances are that you’re already sold on the benefits of employee-generated content. It’s a potent sales tool when used correctly.

The problem is, getting your fellow employees to actually create content is hard. They’re busy with their own work, stressed, and… wait, isn’t that your job anyway?

Moreover, even when an employee says yes, you still have to stay on top of them. Talk is cheap, and good intentions alone aren’t enough. Riding a colleague from another department is an uncomfortable slog.

So how do you win support for employee-generated content? Before we get into that, let’s get clear on the “why.” There are three good reasons why you want employees outside of your fiefdom (the marketing department) generating content:

They have credibility. If all marketers are liars, what does that make engineers, designers, and customer support reps? Regular people! They provide “essential” services. Fair or not, prospects have a low regard for marketers. But they don’t hold the same prejudice and suspicion towards other departments. So, for example, when employees in those departments write a blog post and include their job title, it reads like honest reporting (that bypassed the marketing middleman).

They have expertise. Marketers, particularly copywriters, sell the company’s product to the public. They deal in features, benefits, problems, solutions. Still, with all that, there’s a lot they don’t know — can’t know. Those intricate details, shared by an expert, might be what your prospects need to read, see, or hear before they can take the next step.

They have flaws. Remember Wendy, the Snapple lady? She starred in dozens of commercials in the early 1990s as a receptionist answering customer mail.

Until Wendy, Snapple had grown by word of mouth, without spending much on traditional advertising. Fans saw them as an “honest” and “transparent” brand. When it came time for the company to do television, the first thought was to hire a celebrity spokesperson… or at least hot babes.

But upon reflection, the same ol’ same ol’ didn’t feel right to Snapple. Noting that Oprah and Roseanne Barr were massively popular, the company tried something different. They hired Wendy, a real employee, for a campaign. She was cheerful, average-looking, with a nasal Long Island Jewish accent.

So how’d it go? Snapple sales skyrocketed 3X between 1992 and 1994! Customers loved Wendy because she was flawed… relatable.

As a side note, the reason company About pages are so popular is because we like to see real faces behind products — any product. So if you’re hiding behind stock photos on your About page, now would be a great time to stop!

OK, so we know why employee-generated content is good. Now let’s get down to making it happen.

Get the “Ask” right

Q: How do you get your colleagues to say yes to creating content for you?

A: Ask them nicely.

Your colleagues are people. They have feelings… emotions… priorities. Which is why the way you ask for employee-generated content matters.

I’m not talking about your word choice (“…pretty please with sugar on top”) so much. Words are important, but in the context of a conversation, mistakes are forgivable. You can always try again if you ask using clumsy language.

I’m talking about the message you convey. To win employee support, the message has to be this: I respect your time and talent. So put yourself in their shoes before the ask. Know what they do… the hours they put in… the challenges they face.

That’s it. If your colleagues remember — FEEL, actually, nothing else but your respect, they’ll help you.

How NOT to Ask

The way some marketing managers go about asking for content help is counterproductive — even downright cruel.

They ambush their colleagues, like a scene from Punk’d or Candid Camera, striking fear (and loathing) in their hearts:

“Hey Tanya… before you run out for lunch… I just want to see how you feel about starring in a 15-minute explainer video about our software and how it helps insurance administrators save time and money… whaddya think?”

Tanya (head spinning) is too professional and polite to share her TRUE feelings. She punts:

  • “I can’t… I’m too busy.”
  • “I can’t… I wouldn’t know what to say.”
  • “I can’t… I’m a terrible actor/speaker.”

Of course, if Tanya is forced (by edict) to contribute, she will. But the content will suffer. She won’t “own” it, she’ll resent it… and you. Her fake smiles won’t be able to cover the wholesale lack of enthusiasm.

You don’t want that. You can’t afford that!

Ask as if you’re paying them

The best business consultants command respect by 1) charging a lot of money, and 2) NEVER advising a client until a contract is signed.

This puts the onus on the person looking to hire the consultant. He or she will take a thorough inventory of their business and isolate the exact problem they want help with to prevent wasting money and brains on little problems.

That’s how you should view your colleagues — as high-priced consultants.

This subtle mind shift will help you make it easy for them to contribute content.

Practically speaking, it means having most of the details of the project in place before you say anything to them. Nothing scares busy people more than vague, open-ended projects that appear ex nihilo.

When you speak to them, lay out the parameters of the content first, finer points second. If the employee you’re asking has never created content before, start with something small to put them at ease.

Keep reminding them that you’re with them. The project’s a partnership. If they have questions… need coaching… whatever… be available.

Once they do what you ask, genuinely thank them. Then, put them at ease. Explain how you’ll edit the content (if needed) to make them look great.

Why’s that important? Because we’re born narcissists — you, me, and your colleagues.

Employees are always going to be more interested in the success of their individual contribution than the success of the larger project. That’s just human nature.

Finally, when you succeed in making them look good, give them all the credit for their contribution and the success of the overall project.

They’ll remember it the next time you ask for content.

This post originally appeared on MikeDevaney.com.