CONTENT SHOULD BE PURPOSEFUL, MEASUREABLE AND PERSONAL
There are two key concepts in managing corporate content: corporate comms professionals need to know what their communication pillars are and empower their stakeholders to tell personal stories. Communicate magazine and the brand newsroom builders at Speak Media recently hosted a breakfast roundtable of communications leaders from 10 of the biggest corporations in the UK to discuss best practice and the challenges in managing corporate content.
The conversation was animated, ranging from discussions about how to find the best editorial content to how to implement, measure and demonstrate the validity of content. Opinions weren’t scarce and though from widely varying industries, including representatives from Avon, AstraZeneca, Atos, Close Brothers Group, Coats, Direct Line Group, G4S, GSK, Legal & General and Willmott Dixon.
Even amongst the most successful businesses, fundamental questions plague comms departments. One participant noted the common dissonance over whom internal corporate content targets – those in senior leadership or employees. She remarked that those in senior positions “think they own you” and furthermore, another attendee expressed what few dare, saying, “How often do companies actually know who they are or what they’re trying to achieve?” With such basic foundations in question it can be hard to see the forest for the trees but one participant cleared the air by pointing out that there is still too much focus on what senior stakeholders want to say rather than what is wanted or needed. Messaging needs to be what people want to know and need to know. When in doubt, if a message isn’t interesting or important to the audience, it isn’t good content.
Transmitting the company line isn’t easy for anyone, though. One attendee exclaimed that he’s constantly stumped as to how his company is going to turn milestones into interesting stories when that content is boring. Furthermore, global firms face the additional challenge of getting regional employees on board with messages from HQ. “It’s easy to feel like we don’t have any stories to tell, even with 600,000 employees,” said one participant.
Participants agreed that it's not possible to create engagement without making messaging humane through personal stories. As one attended said, “Whether it’s from within an organisation or its users or customers, [content leaders] need to make sure personal stories are used to enforce the pillars of a corporate narrative.”
Using personal experiences in comms can be done in a variety of ways. One firm presents new employees upon induction with its communication channels and strategies, then impresses on them that they are the company journalists, giving them permission to tell their own stories. Paul Williams of Speak Media said, “employees need to see the content to know what the standard is. Once people feel the trust, they come forward with stories.”
Another leader spoke about how she had started an informal global communications network at the company, rotating which members produce corporate content to make sure regional stories are being told worldwide. Another participant added, “It’s essential to realise how good people are at making content. We need to push forward empowering people to give us their stories and make sure that we tie them back to our key themes.”
When dealing with user generated content though, there are going to be issues with checks and balances. With all corporate content, George Theohari of Speak Media emphasised that before going live with content, it’s vital to create a process to go through pitchers and summarise documents every week, saying, “Nothing should be put into production until the story is signed off” and aligns with comms pillars. Alternatively, some firms assign content monitors to make sure the content stays on message but there’s a danger in being reactive. Williams pointed out, throughout a variety of individual stories the comms leaders need to be able to tell if the content ultimately shares a corporate communications strategy or veers in other directions. Those ‘other directions’ may come from employees or from right at the top. Maintaining an editorial department when the top dogs shout down with requests to ‘just’ relay their messages, whether or not they align with communication pillars, is very difficult. It’s only in having an editorial framework in place that communications leaders can maintain safeguards and avoid communication car wrecks internally and externally.
From the beginning, it’s important to build an editorial strategy that works in tandem with whatever the corporate strategy is. On some level this means that an editorial strategy is going to have to be reiterative as corporate reacts to a changing world, but participants emphasised that meaningful strategies can still be put in place. One attendee stressed that success comes from establishing a small handful of universal messages that stakeholders at all levels can buy into, creating freedom within a framework. Another leader said that for every post in her organisation, employees have to choose from within a drop down menu in the CMS to tag which established communications topic a new post fits within, and otherwise can’t be shared.
Clarity and simplicity is the only way to create understanding across an entire organisation, or else, as one leader said, “It dawns on me how detached our business and operational people are from our content planning, so we don’t know how to keep them informed without them being a part of our planning. It’s why we sometimes have issues with engagement.”
Several communicators latched onto a strategy solution presented by two of their peers in attendance, namely changing how often communications meetings are organised. Rather than having company wide or constant calls for comment, two attendees described how they held quarterly or monthly planning meetings with different editorial planning groups representing different areas of the business, then separate weekly editorial meetings with the editorial teams that create communications content. By breaking up strategy meetings into less frequent but targeted segments, editorial teams have the time to work on communications strategies and see initial outcomes, while ensuring that everything reinforces the editorial strategy.
It’s crucial to recognise the roles of successful managing editors in a corporate environment. One participant said, “It’s the editors that should have a bird’s eye view of what the audience cares about, what the measurements are saying and what the business needs are and pulling that all together to guide their teams– not making all the content themselves… It’s in having a helicopter view over the internals and externals that content can be kept consistent.” Williams added, “[editorial leadership] is about maximising eyeballs, engagement and interaction to reinforce what the content is trying to communicate.” Taking a step back to look at the analytics not only justifies strategic messages but also the evidence that a message does or doesn’t work.
The recommendations were consistent: have a straightforward content process and strategy and empower stakeholders to tell their stories within that corporate narrative. Content shouldn’t be chaotic. It should be purposeful, measurable and personal.