For the Red Bulls, Disneys, and Taco Bells of the world, creating a buzz on social seems as easy as snapping their fingers. But for other brands, it can be challenging to stand out.
We can’t all be Red Bull or BuzzFeed, and we shouldn’t want to be. Instead of looking for a way to set the digital world on fire, brands are taking on content as a powerhouse for everything from lead generation to managing brand reputation, and encouraging advocacy.
They’re creating content that’s sure to get remembered. Storytelling that reaches the right audience at the right time, in the right way, is crucial to creating genuine connections.
We wanted to learn more about how social publishing pioneers are pushing the limits. That’s why we invited 60+ professionals across brand newsrooms, PR agencies, and publishers to join us for an evening of insights at General Assembly in New York.
We were joined by:
• Andrew Bowins, Exec Director of Corp Reputation and Digital Engagement at KPMG,
• Kate Hallett, Director of Digital Content at Sutherland,
• and Meena Thiruvengadam, Global Head of Audience Development at Bloomberg
All moderated by Paul Quigley, Cofounder and CEO of NewsWhip.
PQ: Where did the brand newsroom come from?
“One day, I crawled out of a time capsule I’ve been in for the past ten years, and back then, brand newsrooms didn’t make news, newsrooms made news,” Paul said. “Why has it changed and is it a good thing?”
Meena Thiruvengadam answered, “I think brands are seeing the value in creating stories that get their messages across. Some of them can create the same sort of stories that the newsrooms can. Brands are thinking in a much more nuanced way than in the past.”
— NewsWhip (@NewsWhip) November 16, 2017
“Everyone right now is in love with being a brand publisher,” said Andrew Bowins. “They’re spending a fortune but we’re in an era of content pollution.
“Is stuff really cutting through? Are we fooling ourselves? If 8 million people potentially looked at my beautiful video, what is that? You don’t have any data to say this is a specific audience I targeted. The conversation becomes uncomfortable and people will say ‘oh, it’s brand awareness’. I wish we could go back five years and embrace some more data analytics before saying we’re in love with content.”
Kate agreed, saying, “We love to tell stories but we don’t really like to listen, so we don’t know if the story is moving the needle. People don’t always understand that the value has to translate across the business. If your audience is not finishing the story, and thinking they learned something new or interesting, then you’re not achieving anything.”
“If you’re not saying anything valuable to say, don’t say it,” Kate added.
PQ: What’s the key goal of creating B2B content?
“For us right now, it’s about differentiating ourselves,” said Kate, “It’s a really noisy market and so what I’m trying to do is to find some creative risks in the content.
“Remote work isn’t a sexy topic, and we don’t like to talk about it, but it’s the content that our audience wants to talk about and engages with. So, we’re encouraging people to lean in and talk about what our competitors aren’t talking about, and find something that resonates.
“We’re working in a social world, it’s okay to be social, and controversy is okay, if it sparks intrigue and conversation and provides value to the reader.”
“Who’s the audience? What is it that we’re trying to get them to do?” asked Andrew. “You have to have that discussion before you rush into content publishing.
“For us, we blew the whistle and got the kids out of the pool to stop and figure it out. Earned media is still the top for advocacy, so we focused on PR, to get publishers to see that we’re creating worthwhile content and not just on our soapbox.
“If we engage with 300 media rather than a million people, we’re going to be much more effective. Once we landed on that, we figured out what our digital and social presence should look like, and we became religious about how to get media to trust us.
“Too often our peers get obsessed and think ‘I want to be the next Oreo at the Super Bowl’, and it’s a waste of time and money.”
“Not every piece of content has to make everyone happy,” said Kate, about finding a brand’s sweet spot. “You’re not going to be everyone’s best friend. The people that show you loyalty will be with you no matter what social media trend and they will drive your business.”
Andrew encouraged the use of data to back up strategy, saying, “You have to go in and use tools like NewsWhip that aggregate data and let you say to your CEO, here’s what happening as an aggregated trend and what our audience and the media is saying. Here are three things we’re doing poorly and five things we can do.
Then you move the conversation away from ‘here’s how this specific tweet is doing’ or ‘we need to tweet more’. That’s how you change the dialogue with the C-suite.
For KPMG, we’re looking to identify our brand to go beyond what we sell and who we are and be a good corporate citizen.”
PQ: A lot of what spreads on social is emotionally-charged. Can you bring that into B2B marketing?
“If you’re true to your brand, then yes,” said Meena, “Maybe you should be looking for aspirational stories if you’re finance because people are coming to you to look to what to build toward their goals. Can you match the emotion to your audience rather than trying to emotionally manipulate?
“I’m wrestling with that now,” said Kate, “You have to be really careful, I started with magazines. Emotions play a huge part there. With B2B, it doesn’t always. There are places where you need a humanised story, and places where you don’t.
We work with healthcare, and that’s an area where everyone can relate to those stories and we can interject an emotional aspect. But with financial services, I’m not sure I’d want an emotional aspect.”
“It keeps going back, what’s your objective?” said Andrew. “The mind is what we sell into but what is the heart and soul? You have a role as a corporate citizen to show emotion — show the humanity. I think there’s a place to play to say, hey they’re human, invested citizens. That all plays well and you have to mix that into your strategy. You have to stay true to your brand and can’t deviate once you go in.”
PQ: Andrew, you introduced NewsWhip and data at MasterCard, what do you need to create an organizational change?
“Speaking solely to my past experience, the number one thing that turned it over for us was that we had a good idea of what we wanted to do,” said Andrew. “We were in that content pollution arms race. Then, where we got real momentum, was from the ability to aggregate data from the velocity of stories to audience reach and insights. That’s where the whole game changed for us.
We were in 40+ markets across 20+ languages, and we had a machine behind it that aggregated data and I could take ten talking points to the CEO. Data and insights cracked our door open to the C-suite and now the current team is leading a new chapter.”
PQ: What’s changing on the platforms right now? Where should we be focusing?
“The platforms really depend on who you are and where your audience is,” said Meena. “Who am I trying to reach and where are they having a conversation that I’m trying to influence or be a part of? For some businesses, their whole audience is going to be on LinkedIn.
We’re on Instagram with four accounts and we get a lot of hearts. Instagram is very aspirational which is why we have posts on CEOs makings their dreams come true, we have a lot of emotional stories, a lot of ‘win stories’, that speak to what users aspire to. It depends on who you want to go after. There are platforms we’ve decided that’s not our best bet to get to our audiences. We can’t invest in everything.
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“It depends on how evolved your marketing efforts are,” added Kate. “We have to figure out what we want to say and do it smart. What are they consuming content on? It’s hard for me to put faith in whitepapers when I know everyone is consuming on a mobile phone. If I’m reading on my phone on my way home, I’m not going to download a whitepaper.
Andrew said, “I’m a recovering control freak on social, but I think it’s a mistake to start restricting social based on channels.
“If you have the data behind it and insights, then go for it. If you only have 400 followers on your government account, but 350 of them are policymakers, then god bless you, have that channel. We shouldn’t be managing channels, we should be managing an ecosystem.”
Kate added, “If you have ten smart, insightful twitter accounts, that’s great. But if nine or all ten of them aren’t in line with your messaging, you may be disserving yourself. When I consume content, I’m not reading because of the who the publisher or brand is, I’m reading it because the headline’s interesting, because the story’s interesting”
Meena agreed, adding, “I usually see the headline first and then the brand second.”
PQ: The goals of a brand publisher can be way more complex. How do you manage that and balance resources?
Kate said, “I think the danger starts in the piece of content itself. I can’t tell you how many pieces I read that say how amazing we are and it feels pretty desperate.
You can’t sell someone something before they’re ready. If I’ve never met you and I ask you to do business with me, you’ll tell me I’m crazy. Content can make or break a relationship. You have to make sure you’re authentic. Just like a friend who talks about themselves all the time, brands can’t do that.
“The stories I want our brand to tell are actually relevant,” said Andrew, “Using listening tools and finding the signals around what people care about and then forming a content strategy about that, then you can help the brand more because you’re relevant. Making content that’s opportunistic sets the stage for us to come back later.”
PQ: Are there any tactics you rely on?
Kate said, “When I was working in Australia, we were never breaking news. We were always behind the news cycle.
“One of the interesting tactic changes is we focused on what’s the story people are going to care about once they already know a fact, what’s the next point of interest, because we’re not going to win there, so let’s be bigger and think ahead.”
Andrew said, “We’ve had to adjust our strategy based on the data. For example, we create a video with enormous reach but we realized no one watched the video past five seconds. We decided our videos would now only [be much shorter], and that gave us a new sense of purpose.”
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Kate agreed, adding, “Use data to your benefit. Using data and making sure you incorporate the data into the strategy going forward is really important. You can make your life a lot harder if you don’t listen to the data.
“You can still experiment and make mistakes. Okay, maybe only six people saw that video, but that’s better than zero people seeing it. Being really authentic in that is a very important part.”
Thanks to Kate, Meena, and Andrew for joining us at our WhipSmart salon. For a look into your own brand’s social data against the competition, check out NewsWhip Spike.