Ashley Callahan, Coca-Cola's manager of digital communications and social media, shares performance metrics onstage at BlogWell Santa Clara.

Ashley Callahan, Coca-Cola’s manager of digital communications and social media, shares performance metrics onstage at BlogWell Santa Clara.

Visit Coca-Cola’s recently revamped corporate homepage and you may think you’ve accidentally landed in a digital magazine—an article about a warehouse party in Budapest dominates the page, flanked by articles about a solar project in Kenya, startup innovation and summer cake recipes.

The company’s stock chart and mission statement are buried elsewhere on the site, which instead offers up video on Tom Brokaw’s life tips for teenagers, a feature piece on a cold water surfing town in British Columbia and elevator etiquette.

This content is wrapped in red and white, under the banner of Coca-Cola Journey, the company’s 9-month-old experiment in digital publishing.

So what’s driving Coke’s resurgent interest in editorial content?

The company is embracing its role as a storyteller, said Ashley Callahan, Coca-Cola’s manager of digital communications and social media.

“We’re building a network of [Coca-Cola Journey] editors,” Callahan said this week at the Blogwell social media conference in Santa Clara, Calif. “We really think of Coca-Cola like an international news market with bureaus. We’re based in Atlanta, but we’re in 207 countries. We have a lot of public affairs and communications folks in all of those markets, so we’re meeting with them and relying on them to tell us what stories they have, what stories we should be sharing and telling, and in response, sharing our stories as well.”

She offered up 7 major strategies her team employs when creating original content:

#1: It’s not always an article

Corporate blogs can be a little dry, with an endless parade of articles touting new products and features. Coca-Cola’s products don’t change much, so their content team had to look beyond traditional articles: Adopting photo slideshows, videos, infographics, songs and other bite-sized content packages designed to be shared socially.

“Just as long as it’s interesting and tells a story and draws the viewer in,” Callahan said. “Many times, the content is there and the real challenge is to craft it and create something interesting. We like to say, ‘Take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.’”

#2: Apply the water cooler test

Ask yourself, does this story grip me on a personal level? Callahan asked the audience to consider whether the story was so compelling they’d tell their friends and family about it.

The water cooler test is a related idea: How would you tell a coworker the story over the water cooler? If the story makes you want to go to sleep, chances are, you won’t do a great job getting your readers excited about it, either.

“If you think you’d still share it with a friend or family member, you probably have a good piece of content and should keep pursuing it,” Callahan said.

#3: Surprise sells

“A lot of times, writing is boring,” Callahan said. “It’s very predictable. We kind of know what’s going to happen. So I always ask people in our company to try to react to things as a human being and not so much as an employee. Is there something surprising that caught you off guard?”

The best stories, Callahan said, teach us something new, or cause us to think about the world in a new way. Writing surprising truths is an ambitious goal for Coca-Cola’s writing team, and Callahan makes sure to capitalize on it whenever she sees those truths cross her desk.

#4: Make data-driven decisions

More than 1 million people per month visit Coca-Cola Journey, roughly one out of four doing so on a mobile device. In the 9 months since the new site launched, people have consumed 23.8 million pages of content, shared that content 54,000 times and left 8,500 comments.

The company tracks those metrics through the Brightspot content management system, Google Analytics, Gigya and other proprietary tools to deliver something it calls the Expression of Interest score—studying, essentially, the popularity of specific topics.

Callahan and her team watch their metrics like an online news organization, tweaking coverage to reflect their readers’ interests.

When they began tracking metrics, they found the top inbound search term was “Coca-Cola cake,” linking to a recipe containing 6 tablespoons of Coca-Cola.

Inbound search terms also gives her marketing team information about what people are actually interested in, helping them make informed decisions about new campaigns.

#5: Own the medium

Coca-Cola is a massive company—it estimates it sells 1.8 billion servings of beverages every day worldwide—and it has a lot of stories to tell. Before the advent of the Internet, the company relied on traditional news reporters to tell those stories.

With Coca-Cola Journey, the company instead controls the medium and the message, which goes out to more than a million people per month. Sustained, creative social media campaigns help Coca-Cola grow that audience on a daily basis.

Coke’s two biggest social media accounts, @CocaCola and its corporate Facebook page have 1.39 million followers and 71 million Likes, respectively.

The company’s internal goal is to triple its readership on Coca-Cola Journey by 2018.

#6: Use that medium to react in a crisis

In late January, the New York Times published a guest opinion article by American history professor Grace Elizabeth Hale entitled “When Jim Crow Drank Coke.” The article claimed Coca-Cola avoided marketing to black Americans in the early 20th century, and only did so after facing renewed competition from Pepsi.

Callahan said the company reacted to this brand crisis quickly, asking their chief historian to write a response on Coca-Cola Journey.

“The lengths taken by Dr. Grace Elizabeth Hale to try to link the history of America’s favorite and most inclusive drink—Coca-Cola—to racism are both absurd and appalling,” Coca-Cola Chief Historian Phil Mooney wrote the next day.

Mooney’s response garnered media attention, resulting in links back to the company’s website.

#7: Think like a newsroom

Roughly half of Callahan’s team has a journalism background, and they apply traditional editorial standards and ethics in their work. Callahan is a journalist herself, having worked as a television reporter in North Carolina, Salt Lake City and Atlanta before joining Coca-Cola in early 2012.

The traditional measures journalists use to weigh a story’s importance—chiefly, does it educate and delight—are directly applicable in the world of content marketing, she said.