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Brand Journalism: Thoughts and Insights from Communication Pros (VIDEO)

This summer The Network, Cisco’s Technology News Site, which houses our press releases, corporate information and original content from named journalists, celebrated its first anniversary.

Cisco’s newsroom has been around for years, but our team, the social media communications team, set out to redefine how the newsroom functioned. We made it more social, more visual, more interactive and connected it with our corporate social channels (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.). We added commenting through Disqus and launched a fully-functional mobile site. So, you’re asking…what’s so special about that? Well, the social functionality and focus on visual may have been obvious, albeit valuable, enhancements…but what really sets this corporate newsroom apart is our approach to content development.

We have a team of more than ten contributing professional writers who’ve produced for BusinessWeek, PBS, Forbes to name just a few of the outlets. We feature two articles a week from these writers and balance our site with content produced by our team and curated through the company.

As the brand journalism conversation continues to gain momentum, we are often asked about our approach to content. We like to describe what we are doing as an experiment of sorts, wherein our goal is to produce engaging multimedia content about industry  trends, innovation and best practices developed by a creative team of seasoned journalists, editors and artists with the goal of driving conversation among key influencers. To give you an idea of how the stories our contributing writers produce compare with some of our other content, on average, their pieces get about 60% more page views and are 3 times more likely to receive comments.

We stuck a camera in front of some of our friends who joined us for The Network’s anniversary gathering earlier this summer.  Hear what they are saying about Brand Journalism and, if you have thoughts on the trend, share them below…we’d love to hear what you think.

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Connecting the Conventions and Bringing You the Real Inside Scoop

This week I got the chance to go to the Democratic National Convention for Cisco’s newsroom website, The Network. As Blair Christie announced last week in her blog The 2012 U.S. National Conventions: Compelling, Collaborative… Connected  – Cisco is the official networking provider to both the RNC and DNC conventions.

Covering big events like this is something our team loves to do, many of us have a journalism background but now we don’t necessarily look for stories about the event – now we look for stories about the technology that enables the event. Not just any technology but, of course, the networking technology that makes this national event possible. While my photographer and I walked around and got interviews with engineers, the CIO and the programming director for Cisco and the DNC – we watched as journalists and social media influencers walked the floor grabbing images and quotes from people and quickly turning everything around on their twitter accounts and sending the information back to get it on their websites. I have to admit we did get caught up with the rest of the media waiting for the first lady to come out on stage to greet everyone before the event even started, but come on – who wouldn’t wait for that image.

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Communications Innovation: Brand Journalism and Cisco’s Corporate News Site

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.

See for yourself what we are doing. Visit The Network. Read our stories. And better yet, Take. Share. Engage. The stories are there for the taking.

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