That’s almost the bane of any writer’s existence.
When I started out on this career path, I dreaded feedback from my editors and marketing managers. However, I’ve grown a thicker skin and now see it for what it is…a chance to get better. After all,
Feedback is essential to all B2B content teams. Every great piece of content or copy first went through rigorous edits before their release.
However, the art of giving effective feedback that serves its intended purpose is lost to so many. Many times, editors and managers, albeit well-meaning, give feedback wrongly. And this affects the content creators negatively. As Aaron Vansintjan, Co-Editor at Uneven Earth wrote:
Now, what’s the right way to give your B2B SaaS writing team feedback, you ask?
That’s what I’ll cover in this article. I’ll show you how to use a process called The Triangular Feedback Framework to review your copywriters’ and content writers’ work. You’ll see the importance of having an effective feedback system like the one we have here at VEC, and how it simplifies giving feedback.
Amazing. Read on to get right into the flow, or click on a sub-title (to your right 👉👉) to navigate this guide.
The Problem with How Managers Give Feedback
Ben is the CMO of a growth-stage SaaS startup, and he has assembled a marketing team, of which Jenny is a content marketer. Now, Jenny’s main role is to publish long-form articles weekly on the company’s blog.
Right before an article goes up on the blog, however, either Ben or an editor in the marketing team must approve it.
But, Ben notices whenever he gives his wholesome thoughts on blogs, Jenny gets this look on her face. It’s the angry look of…
“You’re ruining everything!”
Ben knows Jenny is open to feedback. So he’s quite confused as to why she gets devastated when he gives what he sees as helpful criticisms on the final draft.
And therein lies the problem.
Ben is giving constructive feedback, but at the wrong stage of the writing project.
You see, the writer-editor relationship is a delicate one.
On the one hand, most writers are sensitive, and their written words are very personal to them. So they take feedback to heart.
On the other hand, editors don’t know they’re supposed to give different types of feedback at different times.
The effect is giving feedback that makes you sound like a jerk. Easily, editors and content marketing managers cross the line from providing constructive and helpful criticism to destructive criticism.
Kieran Tie, Editor-at-Large, and Founder of Chatty, an editing service tool, opined:
Telling a writer at the finishing stages of a project to change the direction or switch up the idea behind the content/copy is a recipe for disaster. Doing this makes the writer closed off to feedback from you. Such feedback is better suited at the start of the project.
I’ve experienced scenarios like the above as a writer.
And let me tell you: It’s demoralizing.
Learning from my experience and how Victor Eduoh, the Lead Strategist at VEC, gives feedback in our B2B storytelling studio, I conceptualized a better way managers & editors could provide feedback…
The Triangular Feedback Framework.
The Triangular Feedback Framework: Foundational – Course Correction – In-Line Edits
The principle of this framework is:
Give constructive criticism at THE RIGHT TIME.
You see, when writing a piece of content or copy, there are roughly three stages:
- The ideation and outline stage.
- The research and 1st draft stage, and
- The finishing touches stage.
Feedback should be specific to each stage. It shouldn’t be carried over to another stage.
I developed the Triangular Feedback Framework after studying how Brennan McEachran, CEO & Co-founder of Hypercontext, and Robleh Jama, Founder of Tinyheartsapp give feedback to their design and project teams. They named their approaches 10/50/99% and ‘99/50/1’ respectively. Others have called it 10/60/90.
However, I designed and adapted the Triangular Feedback Framework specifically for content creation and writing teams. As you’ll soon see, it’s a good way for B2B marketing managers and editors to provide effective feedback.
Here’s a graphic depicting how this framework works:
Without further ado, let’s jump right into the mechanics.
The Foundational Stage is the first stage of any writing project. It’s the baseline. It is where the idea and strategy of the content are developed, the direction and target audience are clarified, and so on:
Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard said:
And so it is in the world of SaaS content marketing and copywriting. You must provide clear guidance at the beginning of every new project. It’s crucial to give feedback at this stage, as it will shape the entire content or copy.
If you don’t give reviews at this stage, it will be quite unfair to complain about the direction, strategy, or idea of the project later on and have the writer change it.
Therefore, before your writers write a word, have them send over a StoryBrief (or content brief) & Outline. This will help you see the writer’s thought process and intentions for the piece, and make corrections if need be. Alternatively, a strategist can provide one to the writer.
A StoryBrief (as coined by Victor Eduoh) & Outline is part of what makes up VEC’s great feedback process.
For context, we craft Product-Led Stories for B2B SaaS & VC companies. And we do this with StoryBriefs as the foundation of each piece. In a short while, I’ll show you a sample of an approved VEC StoryBrief & Outline.
For now, let’s look at…
Feedback To Give At The Foundational Stage
When reviewing a Brief & Outline, check if it answers the questions below:
- Is the brief aimed at producing a content piece that solves a real problem for your target audience?
- Is the idea behind the project great?
- How does this content fit into your company’s broader content and business strategy?
- What customer journey stage does this piece fit in? TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU?
- Is the proposed word count enough?
- If the topic has been covered extensively by others, is the writer coming from a fresh and unique angle?
These are just a few of the questions to guide you in providing foundational reviews.
If the brief & outline don’t address these questions, inform the writer.
This is because the foundational stage is where you can make substantive edits, and even change or scrap the project if necessary.
However, what about…
Feedback NOT to give at the Foundational Stage
Since the writer hasn’t written the first draft yet, you can’t give feedback away from the context of the Brief & Outline submitted.
Here’s a sample of an approved StoryBrief & Outline of mine with the feedback provided:
Course Correction Stage
The Course Correction stage.
As the name suggests, this is where you correct the course (if need be) of the project:
So here, your writer has submitted the 1st draft of the writing project. Note, I said 1st draft. Meaning the writing is not yet perfect, and still needs a lot of work. Like Leigh Shulman, Writer, Author, and Mentor said:
Leigh further said because the work isn’t a complete project,
Interestingly, this stage is what most people picture when they think ‘Editing’. This is because certain elements like the flow of the content, or the execution of the idea are reviewed in this stage.
What are things you should look out for and comment on?
Feedback To Give At The Course Correction Stage
- Is the vision and direction of the project as agreed upon at the foundational stage?
- Is the idea and strategy well executed? Does it solve the problem it promised to solve in the foundational stage?
- Are the sentences and paragraphs well constructed, concise and meaningful?
- Is the content flow and transitions seamless?
- What about the message of the writing? Is it well passed across?
- Check the images and screenshots used. Are they clear/descriptive enough?
- Is it punchy and engaging to read?
- Is the tone and style of the writing appropriate for the target audience?
- What part of the content needs an original design concept. Suggest them.
- Is the piece well introduced to whet the appetite of the reader?
Want to see the kind of feedback provided on the first draft of a Product-Led Storytelling content of mine?
Check this out:
However, what shouldn’t you comment on?
Feedback NOT to give at the Course Correction Stage
Don’t get nitpicky and obsessive over grammatical or structural errors here. Also, you shouldn’t comment on issues like the content’s overall design and outlook. Remember, it’s not finished yet.
In-line Edits Stage
And now, we’re there.
The final step of the Triangular Feedback Framework – the last chance for you to give feedback:
This is where you let out your inner grammatical geek loose and get nitpicky with spelling or language.
Your content writer has submitted their final draft, 99% of the work is done, and it is ready to be published. So you have to make sure it is in as perfect condition as possible.
Basically, this is the In-line Editing stage.
Feedback To Give At The In-Line Edits Stage
- Is it grammatical error, and plagiarism-free?
- Are the sentences and paragraphs well-spaced to provide a better user reading experience?
- Is the content well-optimized for its target distribution channel (SEO, Social, Community, etc).?
- Did the writer follow all the guidelines in your style guide like font size, style, etc.?
- Is the writing conversational enough?
- Read the content aloud from the top. Did you catch any errant phrase, wording, or sentence?
- Is the overall content interesting to read while serving its intended purpose?
- Look at the original designs created. Are they passing across a message?
- Are the stats and data used recent?
Also, watch out for passive voices, a lot of adverbs, and make sure the content contains bucket brigades that help in improving content flow.
Like this paragraph 😂
On the other hand, let’s look at…
Feedback NOT to give at the In-line Edits Stage
Any foundational or inline review. You shouldn’t tell the writer to switch the direction of the content, reduce/increase the word count, or rewrite sections.
Those boats have sailed.
Remember the golden rule of The Triangular Feedback Framework:
Don’t carry over feedback from one stage to another.
Try as much as possible to give feedback to your writing team in those three stages, and I guarantee your writers’ and content creators’ work will only get better and better.
I say so because of how everything comes together:
Earlier on, I mentioned something about having an effective feedback system like the one here at VEC.
Let’s look more at that.
B2B Content Feedback System: Why Is It Important?
First, what’s a B2B content feedback system?
In biology and physics, feedback systems are known and recognized. They are responsible for controlling and regulating the human body, or an electronic device.
The point here is:
Feedback systems are crucial to humans and machines.
Similarly, in the context of B2B writing, a feedback system works the same way.
It regulates the process of providing feedback. The different revolving components of the feedback system in your marketing team make the job of content review easier. A lot of what you would usually spend time on will have already been resolved with a great feedback system.
Kieran Tie even tweeted regarding this:
Having a poor or nonexistent feedback system simply means you’re doing a poor job as an editor. It will also make editing harder.
A great feedback system, however, eases the editing process and is a necessity for every writing team.
What does creating one entail?
Find out below.
How to Create An Effective B2B Content Feedback System
Here at VEC, our content feedback system consists of four major components.
- ICP StoryScripts
- Storybriefs & Outlines
- Internal QA Form/checklist
- Style Guide
Let’s briefly look at each of them.
ICP StoryScripts are like customer personas, only more detailed, practical, and relevant to crafting story-driven content.
The information contained in an ICP StoryScript spans across all the problems your target audience could face. One of our ICPs here at VEC is a SaaS founder we call Zuhailo. Therefore, an ICP StoryScript of him cover problems like:
Internal problems: Issues within his control, but which have an effect on him and his mental health.
External problems: Problems out of his control, but which affect him, like government policies, competition, pandemics, e.t.c
Design problems: Design or visual-related problems that affect the usability of his product.
Philosophical beliefs: Ideologies and opinions he holds firm about life, business e.t.c
Transformation (before & after): This is the (positive) result Zuhailo anticipates after a certain period of time.
Here’s what it looks like:
Having ICP StoryScripts will help your writers craft SaaS content with relatable stories that speak to specific pain points of the targeted audience. In the end, it reduces your feedback on the writer’s work on issues like improper positioning or wording.
Fancy a sneak peek into the building blocks of research-backed insights we leverage to produce ICP StoryScripts?
Here’s one for a B2B SaaS client of ours:
An ICP StoryScript is a useful tool in your B2B content feedback system.
And that’s because in the foundational stage, your writer can clearly state who they’re targeting, and the pain points the piece will address.
We do this for every draft:
StoryBriefs & Outlines
StoryBriefs & Outlines are also part of what makes up our effective B2B content feedback system. As previously stated, they help editors give foundational feedback, before the 1st draft of the content is written.
Allie Decker, the Head of Content at Omniscient Digital, calls it “pre-feedback.”
StoryBriefs and Outlines here in VEC look something like this:
Internal QA Form
An Internal QA Form is the third component of an exceptional B2B content feedback system. The Content Manager at VEC created this form so writers can self-edit their 1st drafts before it goes for an In-line Edit or review.
This checklist is part of what makes editing such a seamless process for us at VEC.
It’s embedded in a customized Google Doc template and looks like this:
Every organization should have a style guide or stylebook, which should be easily accessible to writers before they create the 1st draft of their content/copy.
As the last component in a feedback arsenal, it is pretty important.
Braden Becker, Principal Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot, gave a response to that:
In other words, a style guide will eliminate the need for writers to send you a thousand emails or messages on certain issues. For inspiration on what a style guide should look like, check out Mailchimp’s style guide. They made it accessible to the public.
At this point, you should already know how to give better and actionable feedback to your writing team using the Triangular Feedback Framework. You should also know what a feedback system is, and how to create one for your organization.
Not much, actually.
There’s just one missing piece of the equation: Rules you should adhere to when providing content feedback.
And this leads us to the next section…
Constructive Content Feedback Best Practices
There are some best practices that make providing constructive feedback with the Triangular Feedback Framework a success.
- Don’t waste time giving feedback on any content submitted. This is because any delay dilutes the quality of the feedback provided, as you could forget certain critical information that was supposed to be noted.
- Give specific and meaningful feedback. I mean, tell the writer exactly what you want to be changed. Don’t give generic feedback like “I just don’t like this.”
- Be empathetic when giving feedback. Remember, it is a human that is on the receiving end. And that human has presumably put a lot of work into that content. This doesn’t mean that you should be too soft or not firm enough. No. Just don’t be rude or harsh.
- Be professional. Except if the person is a friend, phrase your wording professionally.
- If you’re providing a review using a tool like Google Docs, resist the urge to edit the work. You might think it’s faster, but it is counterproductive. Instead, suggest and highlight what you want the writer to change or correct. This will help the writer avoid such mistakes in the future.
Editors, The Unsung Heroes
The impact of a great editor on a writer cannot be overemphasized. They leave indelible impressions.
Personally, just having someone always review my work fast-tracked my growth.
It should be noted that this influence can go either way. A bad editor will impact the writer negatively and vice versa. In essence, you have great power. Use it for good.