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How to combine social strategy and brand journalism to help you earn your own media

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If the old saying, “any press is good press,” is true, getting a business’s name in the news, no matter how it’s done, is key to its success. Of course, that adage isn’t true, and in today’s 24-hour news cycle, what makes headlines is often not the kind of coverage anyone would want for their brand. Scandal and controversy increase click-throughs, boost ratings and sell papers, so a feel-good story may not get the attention it deserves.

Enter brand journalism, the darling of content creators and savvy PR specialists. Brand journalism is a strategy to generate content that is relevant and meaningful to an audience and provide them with information on an industry or related topics without selling them anything. Paired with a smart social media strategy, brand journalism can build relationships with a customer base, increase loyalty and, eventually, lead to a greater conversion rate.

Here are a few of the connections between social strategy and brand journalism and some methods to implement these tactics to start making headlines… of your own.

Answer the “why,” not the “what”

Think about your industry and the challenges it faces. Your business likely offers products or services that solve these challenges. That’s the “what.” Now, think about the “why.” Why do these challenges exist within your industry? Why is your business in a position to offer a unique perspective on these issues? The key to brand journalism is taking a step back from selling your products and services, and a step toward journalistic reporting on the industry subjects that impact your audience.

For instance, Disney, discovered its audience – not the children watching their programming, but their moms – was looking for resources on parenting and a place to connect, so the company made the decision to purchase the online magazine and blog Babble, where it could control the content without making it a direct sales opportunity. Disney backed off on pitching its “what” (kid-friendly content) and instead focused on the “why” (why parenting is such a difficult job) and then gave readers content they could use.

Watch your language

Every industry has its own jargon or lingo, and as we know, the realm of marketing also has a very distinct lexicon. To be an effective brand journalist, you’re going to have to rethink your vocabulary. If you’re managing your brand’s social media accounts, you might have already done this to a certain extent. Perhaps you’ve adjusted to the more casual language of Instagram and Facebook or the micro-content of Twitter. That’s a great start. But if you’ve been using your social platforms to pitch products and run promotions, you’re going to have to rethink the language and the tone you use. Brand journalism, in its truest form, operates much like traditional journalism – think unbiased opinions and fact-based reporting. And while there’s certainly room to incorporate your brand’s personality, the goal is to create relationships, not create conversions.

Tell a story

To make content memorable to audience members, the narrative is key. When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, FedEx sent a team to participate in relief efforts, and embedded a brand journalist in the crew. The journalist shared photos, videos, and other content via FedEx’s social media platforms, which were picked up by news outlets across the country. FedEx built a story around what they were doing and used the narrative to engage with their audience outside of their typical sales and marketing efforts.

Social media allows brands to share their stories in a variety of ways – through video, images, infographics and more. As a bonus, followers can engage with and become a part of that story through reactions, comments, and shares. Provide a story your audience will get lost in, and create a relationship built on trust and respect.

Rally the troops

You may not have the budget for a team of brand journalists, but there are sure to be untapped resources within your company. Seek out employees who are active on social media and have strong followings. They may not necessarily be considered “influencers,” but their voice is loud, and it is heard. Recruit these employees to act as your brand ambassadors. Leverage their reach to engage with new audiences and push your content out to new channels. Consider creating pre-written brand journalism content they can easily share, through social posts, landing pages and blogs.

If the word “journalism” scares you…

It’s tough to be fair and unbiased when reporting on your own industry. And if you’re in a field where humor or personality is slim, it can feel like the content you’re creating is dry and dull. Consider thinking of your brand journalism efforts as “edu-tainment” instead – the combination of educational material and entertaining storytelling. This is a strategy that lends itself naturally to social media, where it’s important to engage with your audience on a human, emotional level. At the same time, be sure to balance that humanity with content that educates and informs on issues that matter.

Make no mistake: a strong social media strategy is no replacement for brand journalism. This is a unique form of marketing that requires careful thought and planning. However, the combination of brand journalism’s meaningful content and social media’s reach and unique storytelling style can create a powerful marketing tool that lends credibility and relatability to your brand.

As earned content becomes more difficult to acquire, brand journalism, shared via social media, is a useful avenue to getting your brand, its mission, and achievements in front of a broader audience.

Want to dive deeper into the topic? Get the ins and outs of how to earn media coverage in a noisy digital world in our ebook "How to secure earned media".

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