Brands should behave like journalists

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What do you think publishing networks listed as the biggest threat to their business? Not ad blockers or citizen journalists, but brands themselves becoming publishers. We think behaving like a journalist is the key to cracking social media. Here’s why and how to do it.

Remember when Morgan Spurlock spent 30 days eating happy meals and muddied the name of McDonald’s? Faced with a growing tide of discontent on various issues from various groups, their CMO Larry Light knew no one ad could solve their problems. He said, “mass marketing is dead. No one communication can tell the whole story” and instead decided they would adopt a “content stream approach” that he coined – brand journalism.

12 years later and we’ve started seeing people pop up on LinkedIn with the title “brand journalist”’ and in a recent survey 93% of CMOs said they believe their brand needs to set up a publishing function in order to grow. It’s based on the basic principle that no one consumes advertising just for fun – but they do enjoy journalism in all its forms. In the wise words of Larry, “Journalism provides order to otherwise unconnected events. Journalism informs, entertains and persuades.” It’s time we took our brands’ unique point of view on the world and used it as a lens to create content people are actually interested to watch, read and listen to.

At the heart of good journalism is of course a good story. It’s the power of a good story that’s driven the success of Humans of New York, the photojournalist who’s now amassed 17m Facebook followers. His success has shown how authentic, gritty human interest stories seem to thrive on social in particular – a forum where people want to connect with other individuals, not be marketed to.

Being journalistic means not waiting for these stories to fall into your lap, rather regularly scouring every corner of your organisation for that killer scoop. Sometimes it means creating the right conditions for stories to emerge – like the Lager brand Fosters who put a group of plucky millennials in a camper van kitted with cameras and told them to drive from London to Sydney. Or like the RNLI who equipped every lifeboat with a GoPro so that amazing rescue footage like this could be shared on social.

This month The Independent shut down its printers and went online-only. It’s clear social media will drive the future of journalism. An increasing number of brands are setting up their social teams as newsrooms. Crucial to a newsroom is the role of an editor. An editor has the final say, of what goes out the door and stands up for the creative integrity of the newsroom’s output. An editor says no to messages that they know won’t interest their audience – even if internally they might feel like a big priority. If you don’t have someone acting as an editor in your social team, you need one.

We’ve proudly put these theories into practice most recently on a campaign for Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life. The Pink Army returned to our screens again this month, recruiting women with it’s now famous trainer-slinging, smoke-swirling TV campaign. But our challenge was to translate this campaign’s fantasy-like world into social, where authentic, real stories drive sharing. We assembled a cast of real women; mothers, daughters, sisters and cancer survivors. Over the course of a weekend we filmed a whole summer’s worth of content to share on all Race’s social channels. The first few of these incredible women’s stories have already been posted with great success – but stay tuned for more episodes over the next few months.