Guest post by Todd Blecher, Communications Director, The Boeing Company
Much wisdom did Yoda accumulate. But experience with social media I think not the Jedi had. Yoda’s insistence that we “do, or do not. There is no try,” to brand journalism does not apply.
When it comes to brand journalism the instruction should be “Try. There is no do or do not.” In fact, since April, 2010, when we transformed www.boeing.com into a brand journalism platform, we’ve been all about trying. We started with modest goals and walk-then-run approach that has been essential to sustainable success.
Starting with walking seems obvious but not everybody does it. It not only builds your experience in a manageable way it also helps gain essential internal cooperation. We designed our initial stages as a trial run that could be halted relatively easily. Going slow helped address the unease of doing something new (aka risky) that we found in some corners. It got our nose under the tent and allowed for gradually picking up the pace when the time was right.
From what we’ve learned success with brand journalism seems to flow with the force of some basic principles outlined below.
First and foremost, as with any communications effort, brand journalism must be part of an overall communications strategy. If it’s not, its content will communicate in a vacuum, with little benefit to the organization and of little interest to audiences.
When thinking about brand journalism content an organization must recognize that the stories must, as Shel Holtz recently put it, “be inspiring, clarifying, funny, useful or just plain interesting.” Developing such content requires thinking like an audience member and not just a representative of the organization. Content that serves a communications strategy must be shared. Content that meets what Holtz outlined has a much higher likelihood of being shared than content that doesn’t.
Many organizations, however, won’t allow for thinking like an audience member. They should not do brand journalism.
For those ready to try brand journalism I would recommend hiring some former journalists. And I say to former journalists, as David Meerman Scott put it in this column, consider the opportunities of working for brands. Being that kind of journalist isn’t akin to joining the Dark Side, as some would have you believe.
Having former media journalists doing your brand journalism should save time, money, and aggravation because they are trained to create the engaging content that brand journalism requires. What’s more, they know the necessary tricks of the trade. Organizations doing brand journalism are publishers. They need to think about broad and timely content distribution, editorial calendars, and a strategy for repurposing stories. Former media journalists know how to do all that.
As you may’ve guessed, we have many former reporters on our team. While it’s possible to hire such talent on a project-by-project basis, the best brand journalism requires commitment, access, and trust. Those all seem to come easier for an in-house journalist.
When brand journalists think of what’s interesting to their audiences and create engaging content they generate stories that can, pardon the pun, really take off. Here’s one of ours that did. This story is about testing the brakes on our new 747. The test involves speeding an airplane down a runway then hitting the brakes just before takeoff. It ends with the brakes on fire, which is eye catching, to say the least.
That story had it all for our audiences: iconic airplane, an interesting test activity, and great visuals. We’ve had more than 1.1 million views, and our key messages about safety and durability reached more people through our website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page, than we would’ve reached with a traditional news release.
Another, albeit more unexpected success, came with this story about our Phantom Eye unmanned system. It has more than 400,000 views, a lot for a military story as those usually appeal to a niche audience. This one broke out by presenting a new and unique vehicle in a way that sparked imaginations and discussions.
We’ve certainly had our share of stories that didn’t work. Here are two: this one is about a retiring security dog while this story is about designs for World War Two-era uniforms. Our audiences didn’t know what to make of either of them.
Overall, however, we think (metrics remain a work in progress) that we’re succeeding more often than not. We’ve concluded that brand journalism is a very useful communications tool that, if an organization is prepared to properly pursue it, is worth trying. And doing.
This is part of a series on brand journalism / brand publishing as told by the businesses that are paving the way. Please send me a note if you would like to tell your company’s story on its move to what Tom Foremski dubbed EC=MC, Every Company is a Media Company.
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