There's No Such Thing as a Brand Journalist, But You Can Use Journalism to Tell Your Story
The Holy Grail for any company, when it comes to promotion, is positive earned media -- getting your story out to the masses, through a neutral third-party, that presents your company or product in a positive light. But that type of media is a challenge to receive -- especially in today's environment -- so more and more companies are looking to control their own message.
Social gives you a tremendous opportunity to create, distribute, and amplify your own message -- but there's clearly a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Understand Why You're Not Earning Media
I've said it ad nauseam, but any marketing or communications effort needs to focus on answering one key question for your end user -- "What's in it for me?" So if you're reaching out to media, sending press releases, or making a pitch, you have to ask yourself what's truly in it for the media outlet?
Chances are, what you're really asking for is a bit of free promotion for your product, service, or event. And while it may be a worthwhile endeavour, if there's no compelling story in it for a broader readership (or, worse, if it's just nothing more than a glorified ad), you're not going to get any bites.
Certain stories are easier to sell -- corporate social responsibility-type efforts can be feel-good stories for a broader market. But, in general, you're likely asking for something that any media outlet would rather have you pay advertising rates for.
You're Not a Journalist...
I'm really not a fan of the term, "Brand Journalism." Having been in and around the journalism industry for 200-plus years now, there's a clear distinction between what journalists do and what you, working to promote your brand, are doing. You are a "Brand Storyteller."
Journalists are supposed to be neutral, critical, and working to uncover the whole story. What you're likely doing is promotional, clearly biased in favour of your organizations, and working towards aligning with a specific goal.
In most news stories, you're going to have a balance -- positive and negative, conflict and resolution. In a corporate environment, you're rarely going to bring up negatives, put pressure to find the conflict, or, in essence, ask the tough questions that may present something in a less-than-favourable light.
You're not doing proper journalism; you're sharing a story. It's important to understand that distinction to move onto the next step.
... But You Can Act Like One
The most compelling examples of brand storytelling come from formats that emulate proper journalism and execute accordingly.
Understanding your audience is key here. Those who will be consuming your brand's content are likely already sympathetic to your efforts. They're willing to suspend a little disbelief to learn more about the product, service, or event that you want to highlight.
But people can smell insincerity.
You don't want your branded content to come across as insincere or scripted. You definitely don't want it to appear like an infomercial. But what you do want to do is ensure that it feels natural. You want people to be people, you want interviews to not feel forced, and you want to welcome your consumers into an environment that offers them some value.
How can this work? Q&A videos with staff members that play to their expertise. If you want to highlight the strength of your organization and its knowledge, interviewing people about their expertise is a great way to share that. Obviously, you don't want it to be scripted, but you can make sure people are prepared -- share questions in advance, pre-interview or discuss key points before 'going live.'
Another way is to give your content consumers a behind-the-scenes look at the operation. People like to feel part of something -- and if they've connected with your brand in some way, then giving them a look behind the curtain can be appealing. Breweries discussing their process and providing a video tour of the operations are just one example. It's a positive look at your operation that gives your consumers a bit more insight and, hopefully, connection to your brand by welcoming them into the operation in a way that extends beyond a mere commercial interaction.
Obviously, having a background with journalism can help. Knowing how to interview, understanding how to track a conversation and pull out those key elements for follow-up is tremendously valuable. Too often, with scripted interviews or working from a list of pre-defined questions, people focus on asking the next question more than listening to the answer they're getting. And, by doing that, you can miss out on some interesting paths and key information. Applying those reporting skills to an interview can help you draw out the best parts of an interview and not miss opportunities.
I feel like I say this a lot when consulting about content creation and communications, but it's an incredibly important point.
You are creating content to be consumed by people. You are trying to connect with people. You want to build an emotional attachment with people. People, not robots. So make sure you're acting, talking, and interacting like a human.
You can be conversational whilst still being authoritative. You can show your expertise without being pretentious. And, most importantly, you can speak to people in a way that allows them to quickly and easily understand your message. If your communications strategy results in people running for a thesaurus to understand your messaging, then the audience you're really serving is your own ego -- and the desire to "sound smart." (https://blog.echidna.ca/article/when-trying-sound-smart-dumb-idea)
Putting up barriers, linguistic or otherwise, runs counter to your goal of sharing your story. Remember, talking to people doesn't mean talking down to them. Be natural, be open, and be human.
The best part of owning your own brand storytelling is that you can continue the conversation with your content's consumers.
While earned media is great, that conversation usually occurs on a forum that you don't control. With Brand Storytelling, you can continue the conversation on your social networks, and through your website and distribution networks.
This, again, works for both positive and negative responses (https://blog.echidna.ca/trolling-through-muck-can-lead-business-gold). Sure, you may get some negative comments back (https://blog.echidna.ca/article/commenting-just-because-bathwater-may-get-filthy-doesnt-mean-process-isnt-worthwhile) but that can be an incredible business opportunity. A comment means a connection -- someone cares enough to reply, and if their experience is negative you have a chance to turn that critic into an advocate (https://blog.echidna.ca/you-can-hit-home-run-even-your-most-venomous-critic). It's all about connection.
And this is a great way to source content! Ask people what they want to know; check with your customer service team to see what questions come up most often, and then develop content that addresses those concerns or answers those questions.
In the end, you have a story to tell and people who want to hear it. What you're doing is not journalism, but you can apply some of those principles to getting your message out.