There is plenty of chatter about brand journalism these days. If this is the first time you’re hearing the term, listen up because you’re about to hear it a whole lot more. Big names are already capitalizing and practicing this new style of content marketing, often so effectively you may not have even noticed.
Done well brand journalism leverages social media to build influence, improve search results and spread ideas and excitement about a particular industry. At its most basic level, brand journalism involves storytelling that invites audiences to participate through digital and social media channels.
Essentially brand journalism is the practice of covering your business and your industry like a reporter. It also means transforming your marketing department (even if that’s only you!) into a publishing team that can produce content for readers and reporters.
The future belongs to businesses that become media. The key to your success is producing and hosting unique content designed to engage and attract a new audience. And how you leverage social media to drive this new style of journalism can mean the difference between success and failure.
Below are five tips on how to get started.
#1 This Isn’t Your Boss’ PR Program
For decades consumers have been bombarded with very “me” oriented messaging: My product, my service, my company, my plan. In order to thrive in the evolving digital landscape, you must get out of the “me” business so popular and common in public relations efforts. Instead, become a storyteller to attract, engage, entertain and inform your targeted audience.
Produce great content – articles, videos, infographics – and they’ll come to you.
This storytelling process is a fantastic inbound public relations approach that will pull consumers, competitors and media towards your business’s content hubs – company website, blog and important social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
For example, wireless telecom-giant Qualcomm is leading the charge in brand journalism and its efforts are often followed with savvy social media strategies designed to pull in a larger audience.
They understand it’s not all about the “me” approach.
The company’s publication, QualcommSpark, often focuses on cool and interesting gadgets and games which their products “touch”, and it rarely speaks directly about any chipsets or processors they may have created for use in these platforms (see below). It’s about creating interest around subjects they are involved in.
While there aren’t many of us with the financial resources of Qualcomm, remember many people once also thought blogging was the prevue of the big players. If you follow Qualcomm’s storytelling lead and learn how to talk about your company without actually talking about it (or at least not talking about it too much), you’ll attract an audience you’d never reach with old-style press releases.
- Start small with one or two posts a week about things that interest people in your industry.
- Hone your storytelling efforts by requesting feedback (put a comment section at the bottom).
- Share your story using social media channels (Twitter, Pinterest, Google+) to pull your audience toward you. Add social buttons on each content page to make it easier for readers to share.
- Develop interesting content that will encourage readers to make an effort to learn more about you and your business.
#2 You Are the Media Now – Start Acting Like it!
Now that you’ve decided to become a storyteller in your space, you’re better off thinking like a newsperson.
“You are now the editor of an online publication dedicated to following news and trends in your industry.”
The first step in this phase involves listening: learn the questions and concerns of your target audience. Instead of relying on “push” communications, such as e-mail marketing, direct mail and advertising, content is moving toward “pull” – pulling people to your business as opposed to pushing out information – which is a better long-term strategy.
“Our goal is to lead the conversation, to spark engagement, to identify trends relevant to our business and the industry,” Karen Snell, social media communications manager at Cisco, wrote on her blog recently.
Cisco Systems recently launched The Network, a technology news website tied very closely with its social media engagement program.
“There is no requirement to mention Cisco at all, in fact a vast majority of the stories don’t…and that is just fine,” said Snell. “As for the stories inviting audiences to participate that is where sitting on the social media team really kicks this effort into high gear.”
Because social media is intertwined with every aspect of digital – from commenting to social actions (Likes, Shares, Tweets, etc.) – Cisco encourages their audience to take content and republish it elsewhere, and share it through all social media channels.
Once you start treating content meetings like you’re in a newsroom, the editorial team will develop an eye for developing shareable content. Monitoring where it travels will also help hone your technique and overall voice.
- Invite team members to editorial meetings to pitch and produce good stories around topics you focus your business on.
- Create an editorial calendar and let readers know they can expect fresh content on a regular basis.
- Share and share some more. Social media is the engine that drives content engagement. Share and encourage everyone else to share your storytelling efforts.
#3 It’s a Story, Not a Campaign
Not since the invention of the printing press has publishing seen such a quantum leap in content accessibility for the masses. The continued advancement in publishing technologies is changing journalism to that point where anyone can now create it. However, developing campaign-style content won’t cut it. It has to have the look and feel of a real news story. And, in fact, it will be a real news story; the type that a reporter at a larger publication might see and run with. It happens every day.
If you are trying to create a campaign – content created based primarily on your products or services -forget it. They won’t go for it.
Today, the messages people see and hear are the messages they choose to see and hear. And this means you must share unique experiences, ideas and strategic thoughts instead of product launch dates and discounts.
- Content must be created with a view toward being reusable and re-purposed across multiple media platforms.
- No longer are you only a provider of goods and services, you’re aiming to show the world you are the expert in your field.
- No campaigns will make it far across social media. The content must have a life of its own away from your product, or service in order for it to move.
#4 Listen and Learn
As we’ve mentioned, listening to the conversation and learning the questions and concerns of your target audience is an extremely important first step. This will ultimately help you craft a more effective editorial calendar and lead to a greater understanding of what people are yearning to know. It’s the same process reporters undertake when studying their beats.
The best and most effective efforts are designed to engage a wide audience, and can be managed, monitored and continually tweaked based on the feedback and actions (or non-actions) of your target audience.
Let’s say you’re in the wedding dress business. It is a sensible approach to set up your listening posts in places such as the popular wedding website The Knot and its community page to learn more about what brides-to-be are talking about.
Knowing what your intended audience wants to talk about is a big part of learning your new “beat” and will help you craft relevant, engaging stories. Once you’ve rolled out your first edition, continue to focus on listening to what they are saying about your content through social media.
Consider this: 21.3 million people in 2011 discovered a new brand or company through social media, and another 22.5 million say they use platforms to learn more about brands and products, according to recent study from the Center for Media Research.
By setting up social media listening tools to filter out all that chatter on the internet, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what people are saying about you and your content. Try, a social media search and analysis platform designed to aggregate user generated comments into a single stream of information.
#5 Invite Others to Participate
For many aspiring brand journalists, the end-goal will be achieving earned content – others creating and publishing content on behalf of your business, which generates buzz and further dissemination. While this is a very significant goal it can be hard to achieve.
However, the more you share with others, and the more often you invite others to participate and share with you, and the more clearly your content is designed to interest rather then tell, the more visible your own content will become.
There are likely many websites in your business realm that would welcome quality content. Give it to them. Allow others to post your material across their channels, and invite high-quality columnists to contribute to yours.
Still, don’t be confused. We aren’t talking about your standard social media outreach here. We are talking about creating a seperate publishing entity that will enjoy a full news cycle directed by your and your team.
A continual challenge for smaller businesses is to achieve a resource balance that can also maintain growth. When it comes to content, especially for these smaller businesses, sharing content responsibilities with others is an extremely helpful method of brand journalism. At the same time, sharing the responsibility with others can exponentially increase the content’s visibility through social networks.
- Ask contributors to spread content on all of their social accounts.
- Encourage commenting and write articles people will want to comment on.
- Use calls to action like “tell us what you thought in the comments.”
And now get to work.
So, what do you think? Any ideas about the direction brand journalism is heading, or concerns about the practice may undermine traditional journalism? We’d love to hear more from you! Leave comments in the box below.