Blurred Lines: 6 Tactics Marketers Can Learn from Journalists
Many journalists have ditched dailies, waved goodbye to weeklies, and pitched traditional pubs out of the door in favor of content marketing. The marketing industry is beginning to encourage processes and skills, such as long-form blog posts, that harken back to the founding principles of traditional journalism. It’s no coincidence that just about every #marketer in your social feed alludes to their journalistic past and shouts out their undergraduate journalism education in their bio.
This paradigm shift is signaled by copywriters who transform into authors, company blogs that bubble into full-blown publications, and new marketing pioneers who refer to their niche content coverage as a “vertical.” From scrappy startups to industry titans, just about every facet of marketing is giving original content a try.
So is marketing morphing into journalism? Or is journalism being overthrown by marketing? And which is which again?
Across specialties and industries, content creators of all kinds are vying for the limited attention span of a proverbially endless digital audience. Luckily, there are a few traditional journalism skills that content marketers can master to stay ahead of the trend.
Every good journalist keeps an eye out for competitors and publications that occupy the same space as them. The great thing about the competitive nature of journalism is that it cautions against plagiarism. Instead of lifting ideas from other publications, journalists are challenged to develop a general knowledge of everything that’s happening while developing an enviable mastery of their beat.
In marketing speak, that means finding your industry-specific expertise. To develop a nuanced and singular voice in your industry, you have to follow the voices, trends and interests on that topic.
Journalists are trained to incorporate at least one primary source (an involved party or stakeholder) and one secondary source (supporting research) for every story. It never hurts to include a third source as well. Don’t just mimic the way other marketers are writing. Reach for recent studies, conduct interviews, hop in Twitter chats, attend conferences, and watch influencers.
“Prospects aren’t malleable and pliable receptors of marketing and communication messages, no matter how they’re delivered. They simply have access to too much external information. The traditional brag-and-boast approaches delivered to undifferentiated audiences are simply no longer relevant.” – Don E. Schultz
Developing an Angle
When brainstorming, it may be tempting to organize content creation in correspondence with marketing campaigns, but forward-thinking marketers should be ready to challenge this model. Oftentimes, it’s not just the website or writer that differentiates one piece of content from the next, but the angle.
Essentially, an angle determines the position that the writer wants the audience to assume in relation to the topic. In order to develop an angle, journalists consider a short list of questions that the piece will endeavor to answer.
For example, your city’s newspaper covers breaking local news from an immediate and up-close angle. Alternately, a publication like The Atlantic assumes an authoritative stance on national issues. Marketers can mimic journalistic angles by zooming in on topics in their home category or zooming out to cover topics that are relevant to marketers everywhere.
How to create like a journalist: Search far and wide for article inspiration, then develop a definite stance with your original content.
Edit edit Editing
Being a one-person marketing machine is all the rage right now, but any journalist will tell you that it’s important to call in the reinforcements. Just think about the slightly dramatized movie scenes where writers are typing away to make deadline then handing off their crumbled, sweat-drenched pages to their editor.
Every piece of shining content should go through a rigorous process of reviewing and editing. Grammar, accuracy, relevancy and fact checks could be the missing link to your company’s content marketing success. Plus, your clients and marketing dollars will thank you for it.
The same audiences that propelled traditional print outlets to create digital feature stories, conduct roundtable interviews, and launch podcasts are expecting versatile content from your brand. No matter the medium, every online writer should get familiar with the different ways that readers are digesting content and tailor their writing to fit.
Journalists know how to get comfortable (and eventually conquer) in new territory. That’s a skill that will serve marketers as well. Take enterprise stories, for example. These well-researched, compellingly-designed stories expand upon a central theme while incorporating textual, video and graphic elements. Content marketers can take an enterprise approach to create the elements that make up today’s multidimensional content marketing landscape.
“Compared to 2015, 77% of B2C marketers say they will produce more content in 2016. 76% of B2B marketers say they will produce more content in 2016. ” – Content Marketing Institute
The enterprise model can be applied to full-fledged marketing campaigns, too. The next time you’re trying to come up with a multi-platform campaign, remember to include corresponding sound clips in videos, infographics in reports, and varied multimedia elements for long-form resources.
After you’ve developed this understanding and published a variety of content pieces, it becomes easier to repurpose elements so that they can live in different formats for a range of audiences.
How to publish like a journalist: Enlist the help of an editor to protect your brand voice, and experiment across platforms to broaden your reach.
Getting to Know your Audience
The upside of today’s digital media exodus is the unprecedented access to information. This may mean that readers have to sift through countless articles to reach yours. But with every click on a digitally-published post, brands are invited on an engagement trail that both content marketers and journalists can incorporate into their future strategy.
Content marketing is no longer a guessing game. The more digital content you produce, the more analytical opportunities you create. Trying various content formats and publishing platforms creates more entryways for readers. As you work to diversify your content, keep an eye out for the clicks, likes and shares from readers on specific platforms. The results can lay the groundwork for future publishing and promotion efforts. Content marketers should strive to be wherever the best industry conversations are happening online.
Being Vocal on Social
According to Statista, the number of worldwide social media users is expected to reach 2.95 billion by 2020. That doesn’t mean that you should think about billions of people every time you post on social media, but you should consider the intrigued readers who will follow your byline around the web, even if it’s on your own Twitter or Medium page. You have those, right? Great, now be sure to create an accessible and engaging stream of your own content that adds a layer of credibility to your professional writing. Your online voice should extend beyond your company website.
Anderson Cooper, Lynsey Addario, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Tamron Hall are just a few examples of journalists who have gained a sizable following online through their personal social media accounts (And I bet the content manager for their media outlet is grateful for their following.). As a content marketer, it’s imperative to show that you think about, care about, and discuss your industry outside of company-published posts. After all, readers want to see how your niche topic or high-level expertise exists in the real world.
How to promote like a journalist: Find your audience and continue to engage in frequent, authentic conversations with them.
Between the Lines
So, what does it look like when the lines between online journalism and modern marketing blur?
For marketers, it means producing more content that sounds less like marketing. For journalists, it means pushing back against advertisements and limiting sponsored content to maintain credibility and prestige.
Whether you floated into marketing from journalism or drifted into journalism from marketing, now is a good time to revisit the founding journalism beliefs that preceded this new wave of #contentcreators. It’s never too late for content marketers to learn how to create, publish and promote like true journalists.