Brand journalism. Depending on what hat you wear in your organization, you’ve likely heard, read or even followed the buzz around this relatively new trend in communications. Maybe, you’ve even tried it.
“At it’s most basic level, brand journalism involves honest brand storytelling that invites audiences to participate” says Kyle Monson, former tech journalist and editor at PC Magazine in a his article Dispelling the Darkness with Brand Journalism.
While brand journalism, or brand content as some prefer to call it, is talked about quite a bit, it is not as easy to find it in practice. I know this, because I lead the content efforts on The Network, Cisco’s technology news site.
Several months ago we started “experimenting” with brand journalism (although, at the time, we really didn’t call it that…we just saw an opportunity and went for it). We began working with a team of seasoned journalists, names you no doubt know and have likely followed for years if you are a true technology enthusiast. Our expectations of the writers were, and still are, very simple: pitch and produce good, solid stories around topics that we, Cisco, are interested in such as collaboration, video, core networking, cloud, mobility and security to name a few. There is no requirement to mention Cisco at all, in fact a vast majority of the stories don’t…and that is just fine. Our goal is to lead the conversation, to spark engagement, to identify trends relevant to our business and the industry.
So that is the “brand storytelling” Monson refers to. As for the stories inviting “audiences to participate,” that is where sitting on the social media team really kicks this effort into high gear. Not only is social woven into everything we produce from commenting to social actions…we encourage our fans to take our content, republish it, share it…all we ask is that we’re credited. I’m telling you…this is the best deal around. We are offering FREE content from award winning, noted journalists on topics you are interested in. It might very well be the best deal of the decade…in my humble opinion.
I don’t think it can be stressed enough, this is a very different way of communicating at the corporate level. It looks and feels different and, to be very honest, we as a team get challenged, at times, on our approach by our own peers as they try to understand this new way of communicating. But, to me, this is where it gets exciting. This is where the real innovation starts to happen. I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a senior engineer at Cisco. He told me, if you have an idea and everyone around you supports it right off the bat, then it is not innovative…it is too obvious and likely has already been done, or soon will be. Alternatively, if you have an idea that causes a bit of disruption and you get some push back…you are likely onto something.
I’d say The Network is onto something. We’ve designed a very social site chock-full of solid content that is aligned with the company’s overall communications goals. While still in the experimental stage, we have gained recognition in the industry, most notably 2012 Webby Awards Official Honoree and Best Online Newsroom of the Year (Silver) 2011 Bulldog Digital/Social PR Awards. And, it’s not just Marketing and Communications pros taking note, top journalism schools are asking to learn more about what we are doing as they prepare their students for an industry in flux.