4 Ways to Think Like a Journalist (as a Marketer)

Last week, I had the chance to attend the Online News Association's annual conference in sunny Denver. As a former journalist-turned-content-marketer myself, the conference held particular clout for me: I have a deep respect for the storytelling behind great news, and for the people who make their living covering what matters. My task at the conference was a happy one: take the best storytelling lessons from each session and apply them to the content marketing operations I lead at Spredfast.

Truly great marketing content shares a lot with great editorial content, of course. And at Spredfast, we make content so that our readers might solve problems—not just so they become a lead. Here are four editorial lessons I took away from the conference—from the folks who are consistently at the forefront of innovation. I'll be putting them to immediate use in our content efforts:

1. We're still defining what "live" means

Facebook Live is new enough that even journalists and broadcasters are figuring out exactly what it will be for. A few things Facebook Live can be, according to the session I sat in on:

  • TV
  • Unedited Stream
  • Interview Show
  • Personal Journal
  • Interactive Game Show
  • Classroom
  • Field Trip
  • Entertainment
  • Or Something Entirely Different

Our new media guru Jared Kinsler is currently getting a hold on the “something entirely different” with his livestreams (check out his posts on our livestream and new media experiments and efforts). But it’s important for our whole team to remember that every new medium presents an unparalleled opportunity to explore what “content” even means for that medium. Our “test and assess” mentality for content is critical here—try something new, see how it works, then pivot as needed.

2. Personality is key

In several sessions, I noted that increasingly, journalists must present more of their personality than ever before when delivering content. Facebook Live demands personality, as do all social media platforms. I think the same is true for brands. On the B2B B2C side, a “personality” is a strong, consistent brand. Increasingly, consumers demand authenticity and a shot of personality from even the biggest news publications (and the biggest brands). At Spredfast, we know we have to set the stage for our customers by doing so ourselves.

It was a good reminder to me, too, that every piece of content we put out should have personality in addition to a point of view. We want blog contributors from across the company all singing same song in their own unique voices, carrying their own harmonies. Thanks to this session, I let some more of my own personality into my most recent post (on the Skittles + Donald Trump Jr. incident earlier this week) than I normally would.

3. We must design emotionally intelligent digital experiences

One presenter gave a critical tip: Scientifically speaking, logic and reason are not the only players at bat in decision-making: emotions actually make decision-making possible. (They don’t just contribute; we couldn’t decide without knowing how we feel.) We have to remember why our readers come to us, what they’re looking for, and how each and every one of our experiences (digital and otherwise) makes them feel. What questions do the folks who come across our content hope we can answer? How do they feel when seeking us out—and how do we want to make them feel? These answers are every bit as important as their title or demographic information.

4. We can push for diversity in creative ways

I also sat in on a panel called “Do we need a Bechdel Test for the News?” It was a panel about diversity broadly in news—who they cover, who they interview, and who they employ. But within that panel there was also a fabulous mini-case study of a successful influencer push. PRI started a campaign called “Across Women’s Lives” after learning that only 6% of news is about women who aren’t victims. They wanted to tell the stories of women’s lives, so they established a hashtag and pooled a group of 20k influencers down to just 713. They then started a private FB group, inviting the users to share PRI headlines about #womenslives. The results were impressive: 100 million shares and 18 million unique people on Twitter reached alone—for zero dollars, and zero consideration of SEO-friendly headlines. It was a creative solution to a traditional problem.

Getting out of the office and out of the box to think about content presented a unique opportunity, and one I’d encourage other marketers to dig for, too. What other industries could we learn from? Where are business or marketing principles tied to academic or editorial industries, and how can we take best practices from people who do work very differently than that which fills our days?

As you answer those questions, check out our most recent Smart Social Report for our own version of news, pulled straight from social data trends.

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Jaime Netzer is Content Marketing Strategist, leading content operations in marketing at Spredfast. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly.