Rules for Content at the Speed of Culture

Kristi VandenBosch is the chief digital officer of MXM, an agency specializing in content marketing.

As marketers behave more like publishers, they find themselves wondering how to leverage a cultural moment to make their brands hyper-relevant.

Agencies are feeding this real-time frenzy: touting the “newsroom” approach, staffing 24/7 with trend-spotters and social media gurus, and combing the news for items that can make brands viral, for at least a moment. Content may be king — but topical content, the latest meme — that’ll make you famous.

I’m not arguing that this approach is invalid — we admire how brands like Oreo and NBC’s “Revolution” cleverly took advantage of the power outage at the Super Bowl in their social channels. But we also cringe when brands awkwardly mix marketing and disasters, natural and otherwise. Relevance can be a double-edged sword.

As the pressure to respond to cultural events in real-time mounts, it is imperative that brands have a strategy — an immutable plan — for publishing content across their channels. The content you publish is your brand. As you release it into the hands of consumers and they begin to interact, share and change it, it makes the leap from simply “content” to what I like to call “big content,” which makes having clear intentions when you create it doubly important.

I sat down with two friends, both successful digital publishers, who live this intersection of content, culture and brand every day. Jennifer Reitman, CEO of DAME Media and publisher of damemagazine.com, creates and optimizes content for audiences. And Jenni Radosevich, author of the book “I Spy DIY Style” and the blogger behind iSpy-DIY.com, built her brand by delivering a consistent personal point-of-view. Jennifer and Jenni never sacrifice the truth of their brands for beating another digital publisher to the push. They both make conscious decisions on how (or whether) the current zeitgeist plays out in their content.

Together, we developed some advice for brands looking to publish “at the speed of culture.” First is have a content strategy with a POV and stick to it. To consumers, content is an actual, tangible manifestation of your brand. Something topical appears in culture? Take advantage of it, but always within the bounds of your strategy.

Next, have a “cultural response” plan. How does your content plan accommodate unplanned cultural events? Being “of the moment” might be the sexy part of digital publishing, but it’s also the most difficult and distracting. In which situations would you participate, and in which will you go silent? Game various scenarios and your response to them. It’ll be easier to make a wise decision when you’re not caught up in the moment.

Also remember that publishing is about process; content is about editing. If you’ve figured out a way to fill your social, digital and advertising channels 24/7, well done. If you’re a wireless carrier asking your Facebook fans which breed of dog they like best, you’re not being a good editor. Choose each piece of content with the same critical eye you would give a 30-second TV spot, even if it’s “just” a tweet. Because they’re both representing your brand, and responsible to your business objectives.

Lastly, distribution is the goal. You carefully curate and edit your content, because you want people to share. They’ll do it because they believe that your content represents them — their tastes, opinions, knowledge, sense of humor. But it also helps them understand why you’re “right” for each other. So whether your content is an instructional video, a friendly retweet, a long article on your website, an Instagram photo — or a television ad — plan for your content to become “big content.” But make it worth distributing for the right reasons for your brand, not just the bandwagon.

Image via Shutterstock

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