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7 Steps for Better Branded Journalism

I don’t pretend to be a savvy shopper, but when I dive wallet-first into the clearance section at The Gap, I tend to stock up on accessories in my favorite color — black. Why? It’s a universal truth that black goes with everything.

So does branded journalism. In the words of veteran digital content guru Ann Handley, “Content is the new black.”

Handley is right, branded journalism (also known as brand journalism or branded content) has caught on like a wildfire this year. From Tory Burch’s fantastic branded blog to Mint.com’s MintLife section, brands realize the value of consumer-facing content like articles, photos or videos, and are rushing to create some with the company name on it.

Why? For a lot of the reasons we discussed in the first post in this series and mainly because consumers are demanding it. As brands become more accessible to fans through social media, people want more from brands than their products and services. So much so, even Twitter is looking to hire a Head of News. That leads us to branded journalism.

But branded journalism breaks the natural order of business that advertisers, journalists and businesses have subscribed to for decades. This makes some people nervous, traditionalists angry and opportunists jumping on the branded content bandwagon faster than Baltimore fans during the last Super Bowl.

So that leaves the question, if you’re going to start creating content for a brand, be it a local business or a Fortune 500 company, what are the best practices? Better yet, how do you do it ethically?

Try these simple steps for better branded journalism:

1. Build a process

Journalistic content should be more than an article or blog post thrown together quickly. Create an editorial plan, support whatever content you create with strategy, edit it, review it with key company team members and a set time to distribute it via a medium that will reach your intended audience.

2. Share something valuable

Share something that your target market will respond to. For example, Home Depot’s YouTube page features an array of do-it-yourself garden tutorials. Completely different from Red Bull’s adrenalin-pumping YouTube page that offers an array of video features on the brand’s extreme athletes.  Both give their fans journalistic content in the same medium, but do it completely different ways to reach separate audiences.

3. Know your boundaries

Producing journalistic content doesn’t equate to producing a Pulitzer winning news article, so stick to your industry and the topics surrounding it. Create content targeted at a company’s audience, on subjects related to your company’s industry. Find creative ways to make content relevant to trends and new stories without reporting the news.

4. Stick to the facts and cite your sources

People want transparency from their favorite brands. Always support your content with facts from experts and credible sources. Back up your claims with research, data or testimonials from credible experts that you mention by name.

5. Strike a balance

Don’t use branded journalism as an opportunity to knock a competitor’s product or service, use it as an opportunity to share valuable content. If needed, acknowledge competitors professionally when it’s appropriate. Focus instead on sharing real insight about a subject consumers are interested in.

6. List a byline

If possible, list the author or producer of a branded journalism piece. This gives your work credibility and gives audience members a face representing the brand to connect with. Melissa Lafsky Wall left her job at USA Today to head up content production at dating site How About We, where every article or column in the site’s Date Report section is credited with a byline.

7. Track results

Producing branded journalism is useless if it doesn’t reach the correct audience to support business goals. Use analytics to track your results and SEO to shape the strategy behind your content. This ensures that you don’t just produce quality branded journalism; you produce branded content that gets results.

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