There's just one problem. In those five or six years the rules of brand engagement changed and, for the most part, brand and PR managers along with the agencies they retain to help "tell their story" have little idea how to create editorial content in a social media culture that craves 24-7 information instead of the occasional disruption of an advertising or PR campaign.
At this very moment a legion of brand managers are scratching their collective heads wondering what they should be doing with their Facebook page and Twitter feed. The smart ones understand that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr et al are pure publishing platforms albeit with different levels of conversational feedback. And brands as diverse as Club Monaco, Nokia, Allstate and IBM have taken the plunge into producing "social media editorial" -- regular content via an online magazine, blog network or even video documentary aimed at demonstrating to their customers that, yes, they really can be interesting, informative and useful.
But while social media editorial publishing is a smart strategy in a digital world where every company is a media company it also takes brand communications into somewhat murkier territory. This has became clear in our "Think Like an Editor" workshops where we try and instill some of the experience we've learned as journalists into this new vogue of corporate storytelling. Sure we can teach companies the basics of good storytelling but how, for example, can you as a brand convince your audience that you are being authentic, trustworthy and credible?
Good journalists strive to achieve that through understanding the rules of "fair use," attribution and libel as well as checking their facts and properly sourcing their research. Most of the time they learn those skills the hard way -- on deadline and being challenged by their peers. My own education came many years ago at the coal face of the Village Voice, where, as an editor, I would negotiate deadline detente between the paper's reporters and its libel lawyers. It could be intimidating but it drilled into me the utmost respect for getting the story right.
OK, so most brands probably won't be creating the same fact-checking headaches that the Village Voice managed every single week back in the early 1990s but then who would have imagined that a software company like McAfee would make a documentary about identity fraud?
The more brands become publishers, and the more they seek to have a dialogue and win the trust of the public through their content the more responsibility they will have to assume. Once that responsibility sat with custom publishers. But increasingly brands want to tell their own stories rather than outsource all editorial voice to an outside publisher or agency. The recent social media faux pas committed by Kenneth Cole and Nestle before it hint at just the sort of problems brands may face as they increase their role as publishers.
Learning to tell a good story takes time but at least it can be done through a process of creative experimentation. Developing an authentic voice, getting your facts right, and retaining the respect of your audience is a much longer learning curve.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Matthew Yeomans is co-founder of Custom Communication, an online strategy, training and content consultancy, and editor-at-large of Social Media Influence.