Brand Journalism: Cisco’s Innovative Approach to Online Content Marketing

Brand Journalism: Ciscos Innovative Approach to Online Content Marketing image ciscos network logo1Almost two years ago, the social team at Cisco realized they needed a new communication strategy. Having spent a great deal of time in the past focusing on very traditional corporate communiqué, Cisco began to brainstorm a new approach to their “newsroom” and from this, The Network was born. Instead of producing typical corporate content like press releases, Cisco is leading the way as a frontrunner of Brand Journalism. The creators of the project, including Karen Snell, Digital Lead for the social media team, understand that traditional methods of communicating are no longer working or have become largely irrelevant to their customers. They also realize that there are a high percentage of quality writers with backgrounds in journalism out of work in today’s economy.

When concepting the project, Snell’s team at Cisco thought about how they could use these writers given their tremendous value in terms of reputation, influence, and existing audience. The team eventually brought in these thought leaders to write about virtually any topic of their choosing. Articles relating to technology, business, and other emerging trends began to pour out of the newsroom via The Network blog. Significantly, though the articles appear on a Cisco-sponsored site, the company’s name doesn’t show up in a large percentage of the stories.

Cisco’s strategy represents a new wave of content creation in which businesses are focusing on providing their customers and target audience with valuable information rather than sales pitches. The approach is known as “Brand Journalism,” though Cisco didn’t know that is what their project would be called at the time of its creation.

“The goal was to generate engaging content to spark a conversation. Did we set out to do ‘brand journalism’? No, we just wanted to drive conversation,” said Snell.

One major component of The Network is the video documentary-style series “My Networked Life.” Following the day-to-day lives of 12 young entrepreneurs, the series aims to demonstrate the power of network technology in the hands of the next generation workforce.

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Brand Journalism: Ciscos Innovative Approach to Online Content Marketing image IntNet2012 11 1

Karen Snell, Digital Lead of Cisco’s Social Team

Snell explains, “ Our role is to help people understand what Cisco is all about. The technology is enabling what’s happening on screen, but you don’t always see it.”

Though the videos are sponsored by Cisco, the company isn’t even mentioned until the last few seconds of each video when the clip is punctuated by a fact from one of Cisco’s annual reports.

Snell describes the documentary as a way to show, rather than just tell. “We wanted to show the decision-makers more than just information in a report. Examples of stories solidified with a fact.”

Ultimately, the series is geared toward helping the technology decision makers and executives of the world better understand what the next generation workforce is going to demand from their workplace. Cisco is using The Network and My Networked Life to teach their audience to be adaptable and open to the ever-changing world of technology.

“If we can make people understand what Cisco is doing, then we’ve been successful,” said Snell.

The marketing strategy used by The Network further represents Cisco’s commitment to Brand Journalism. Instead of focusing resources on traditional advertising methods, new content is promoted across multiple social media channels. While they spend some resources paying for promoted tweets and banner ads, a significant percentage of their budget is spent on the writers and on procuring higher-quality pieces of content. The idea is that good content has a tendency to take on a life of its own.

“If we produce good content, and do our job sharing it across the social platforms, then it will be promoted,” said Snell.

Brand journalism represents a new type of content creation that businesses are clamoring to get a grasp of. Quality content that enables more intimate conversation between brands and their target audiences is beginning to prove more effective than almost any other online marketing strategy.

Interestingly, the approach that Cisco has taken is quite similar to classic journalistic reporting, in which readers are allowed to discover, consume, and share articles for themselves rather than feel as if they have been “sold” a particular piece of content. By deftly integrating time-tested journalistic practices with the latest trends in social and engagement marketing, Cisco’s The Network offers a blueprint for success in Brand Journalism.

For businesses, there is a great deal to be learned from Cisco’s newsroom. When crafting your content marketing strategy, the key is to hire good writers, produce quality content, and get people to talk about your business in a new way.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 3

  • As a 2011 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism who now works in marketing, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Many of my friends/colleagues who graduated with journalism degrees have had a much easier time finding paid work/jobs/careers developing marketing, PR other other promotional content. I think this trend benefits the marketing industry as it holds content production up to a higher standard, but it can also blur the line between unbiased journalism and promotional advertisements. Does anybody else have any thoughts on this?

  • Danielle:

    I work with Karen Snell (featured in this article) at Cisco and this is definitely an FAQ on the topic of brand journalism, i.e. (“unbiased journalism v. promotional”). We’re not trying to promote a particular point of view in our content. We’re trying to drive engagement. Sure, we cover the topics that we care about, but so do other news outlets (see: Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Popular Science, Network World, etc., etc.).

    We are VERY careful to not overly edit or manage our journalists’ copy (see a list of our contributors here: http://newsroom.cisco.com/take-share-engage). Other than the broad technology and innovation topics we ask them to cover, the only “rules” we ask our contributors to follow are 1) don’t hurt Cisco; and 2) don’t help a competitor.

    We’ll see where all this goes, but we’re excited to be at the forefront of this discussion and we’re proud of the content we are producing.

    Thanks for your interest.

    • Thanks John for chiming in. Hi Danielle!

      I hear you on the concern for blurring the lines…in fact I read many an article and books regarding this exact issue in J school at BU. What I always tell people who are a bit skeptical about our approach…come, read, and see for yourself. These pieces from the journalists we are working with are solid stories, strong reporting and relevant to the industry. We come at this from a thought leadership perspective with the intent of providing information that is engaging and of use to our audience.
      Thank you Danielle for comment!!

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