Why the 'Newsroom' Tactic Can Be Hurtful to Brands

Content Bounced Off the Headlines Still Needs to Tell a Brand Story

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When a brand swiftly publishes creative and tasteful content tied to the latest news headlines, it dramatically maximizes the impact and ultimately the success of that content. But that success can be fleeting and actually hurt you if you're not laser-focused on telling the bigger brand story.

Thanks in large part to quick but creative posts by brands like Oreo and NBC during the Super Bowl blackout, the idea of a standing rapid-response "newsroom" became one of the year's most-discussed marketing strategies. Many of the more established and forward-thinking social-media content marketers actually have employed this strategy for years as part of their brand plan, with social-listening insights informing content development for both quick and longer lead ideas. But because this tactic now has a sexy, new title, many are jumping on the newsroom bandwagon without understanding how to properly employ it.

Content developed in near-real time and linked to a buzz-worthy story or topic can generate a spike in conversation. But short-term buzz doesn't necessarily translate into long-term engagement. The most effective content marketers use this tactic within the confines of a broader marketing strategy, and master the art of connecting the brand essence, voice and message to the cultural headlines of the day. Without the broader connection, a brand could come off as nothing but a noisemaker and risk cheapening its image.

Successful newsroom-generated content can be thought of as a three-legged stool, supported by curated third-party content, recycled user-generated content and original/custom content. The first two are easily addressed by building a well-oiled social-listening engine, which many leading brands have established at this point.

Most difficult is generating original content. Brands have been accustomed to publishing five great pieces of content per year, in the form of traditional media ads developed by their advertising agencies. Now they're required to publish five great pieces of content per week, which is a fundamental shift for which they are not built.

Many brands and their agencies have created editorial calendars to help plan and develop content in advance of seasonal or scheduled events. This replicates the principles of traditional publishing and is a solid fundamental element for original content development. The calendar must map back to and support brand pillars, and the entire marketing team -- from content creators to brand managers -- must be on board.

NBC, for example, consistently leverages real-time opportunities to create conversation, engage with fans and bridge shows to the broader pop culture canon. The network recognizes the potential for rampant social conversation around large pop culture events, such as the Super Bowl; during these events, staffers are assigned to monitor for buzz-inducing moments (like the 2013 blackout), identify relevant ties to NBC programming ("Revolution"), create highly-shareable social editorial content and quickly elevate it to key stakeholders for approval, ensuring consistent brand voice and messaging.

But even if you've created a good supply of engaging, shareable content, you still need to ensure that it reaches your audience and has a chance to meet their demands. Breaking through the overall noise and other barriers such as Facebook's constantly changing News Feed algorithm, or the sheer volume of the Twitter fire hose, requires additional art and science. The best way to stand out is with content so compelling that it generates a high engagement rate.

This involves some element of paid support, which is increasingly taking the form of promoted posts or sponsored stories. Facebook believes that paid should be done by the same agency -- if not the very same community manager -- that is posting content. This is a disruptive notion to the established agency structure, wherein all paid is done by the media agency, but it makes sense: the science of paid social is altogether different than traditional display. Instead of buy, measure, optimize over the span of weeks and months, paid social is about nimbly supporting individual posts with small, surgical buys on a daily basis -– all of which map back to the long-term brand strategy.

While the newsroom model is an important component, it isn't the be all, end all of content marketing. If you're a marketer looking to increase the relevance of your social communications, start by challenging your agency or internal staff to test and learn. Find one opportunity per week to tie your brand message to the cultural topic du jour, and see how it goes. But proceed with caution: the message must extend the brand essence, or you could look like a child screaming for attention while interrupting conversation at the adult table. And at this table, the stakes are high.

The downside is possible brand depreciation, but the upside is extreme relevance created by converting your small, brilliant post into Big Content, which travels across channels to reach your audience with enduring meaning.

Jack Macleod is general manager at MXM Social, part of Meredith Corp.'s content-marketing agency, MXM.
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