SAN FRANCISCO—Companies are creating new kinds of content to connect with their customers, with an emphasis on establishing themselves as credible and trustworthy partners, according to participants on a panel at the In2 Summit, sponsored by Text 100 and moderated by the agency’s chief executive Aedhmar Hynes.
Stories about meditation at Cisco or about Intel “codenaming” its new chip after a small town in Colorado were among the examples cited by panelists, of content generated internally that resulted in significant “mainstream” media coverage.
The discussion was set up by Hynes, who cited research showing that only 14 percent of marketers align compelling content with their decision-makers’ journeys, and suggested that one challenge was understanding how decision-makers—many of whom are not technology experts—are impacted by a variety of influencers, who in turn are influenced by information coming to them through a wide range of channels.
Many of those channels, increasingly, are owned by—and filled with content from—companies themselves.
Bill Calder, editor of the “Free Press” newsroom at Intel, recalled a moment four years ago, as the company was evaluating shifts in the media landscape—fewer reporters, a smaller news hole, the increasing influence of SEO—and asked: “If we are not seeing the same kind of stories we used to see, why don’t we just produce them ourselves, and try to influence the news eco-system and particularly reporters.
“We had some former reporters, including myself, on the PR staff, and we put together a team to produce our own news, not necessarily about Intel, but stories that we were interested in, and that we thought might be picked up and passed around.”
At around the same time, Cisco was thinking about the same issue, according to Joie Healy, senior manager of social media and communications. Her team was focused on influencers, including media and analysts, and started to think about producing “brand journalism” around either the company’s products or its leadership team.
“We have found journalists who are able to write about topics we are interested in, even if we are not mentioned in those stories,” she said. “Our goal is to have our audience notice those stories, use them, take the stories from our site and use them in any way that makes sense to them.”
The point, said Mark Stouse, VP of global communications and customer connect at BMC Software, is to earn the customer’s trust.
“You have to start with the audience,” he said. “We all think about these different channels, but all the audience cares about is whether they are being informed and educated, and are they getting information they can trust. There’s a lot debate about branded and unbranded content, but what matters is trust.”
What works best, according to Healy, is stories about people. “If you are including people in the story, not just talking about a product, like a router, that’s what hits home and resonates with our audience. If I can relate to it, as an ordinary person not just a Cisco employee, I know it’s going to be a good story.”
One example from Cisco was a video series called “My Networked Life,” which looked at how young professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and students are using connected technologies. “Some of the stories were about family, some of them were about individuals and their jobs, but there was really no mention of Cisco. It was not a Cisco story, it was about these people. But it was amazing. It still gets views and shares and hashtags.”
That kind of sharing, Healy says, is what Cisco focuses on when it measures the impact of content. “That audience is far bigger than just the number of people who are going to our site to look for content.”
More than that, “the greatest validation of trust is share-ability,” said Hynes. Stouse went even further: “It says that they think enough of the content and enough of you, that they are prepared to effectively become a co-sponsor of your content.” That may be the ultimate endorsement of company-produced content.