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Simon Kelly, the Chief Operating Officer for Story Worldwide is recognized as a pioneer of new media in the branded content industry and is credited with introducing a unified approach for custom publishers in the US. Kelly and his partners have transformed what was originally a print-centric custom media company into a global, multi-channel content marketing and branding agency. Story Worldwide’s signature approach is storytelling and narrative branding and they assist in turning their clients’ brands into engaging media channels. Simon was gracious enough to answer some questions for us.
Elise Redlin-Cook: Let’s start with a general question. We have always heard that content is king, but content strategy and development are truly gaining traction now. What do you see happening over the next 2 or 3 years with respect to content strategies?
Simon Kelly: Brands will continue to recognize the importance of content driving sustained engagement. The smarter brands will realize that thinking in short term, finite ‘campaigns’ no longer work and that the only way to create enduring relationships with audiences is through continuous engagement. This requires a fundamental shift in understanding what consumers want and applying those insights to delivering useful and/or entertaining content, not just today, or even next month, but as long as you have, or want to have, a relationship with your consumers.
Elise: When coming up with a content strategy, where do you go for inspiration?
Simon: We draw on three sources for insights and inspiration for a content strategy: the Brand, the Audience and the Category. In other words, using a narrative approach, we create a Story platform for the brand and this platform informs all content strategy. The insights are gained from listening to the stories that consumers tell about your brand and then using metaphor and archetype for inspiration we distill these stories into a single, authentic Story platform. The platform has to be something the brand can ‘own’ and authentically support the brand’s authority to publish. There’s a great deal of chatter about brands becoming publishers (we’re responsible for a lot of it) and so if the brand is to be the channel, not adjacent to it, it had better know its story and tell that story through all channels. This sits at the heart of any content strategy.
Elise: How can you integrate content across multiple channels when many brands are currently operating as silos around one product or channel?
Simon: There are really only two ways to do this. The first is to ensure that you understand the brand’s story and its platform and then apply it consistently across all channels. Otherwise the danger is that consumers will receive confusing, or even conflicting brand messages depending on the agency/internal owner/channel and it will damage the bran’s reputation. The second approach is all about organization. There needs to be a central owner of the brand’s channel – in fact we’re hoping it won’t be long before brands start creating a new role/title called CSO – Chief Story Officer.
Elise: So, what team should own a brand’s content and social media strategy? Should it be Marketing, PR, Customer Service, Legal, or other? Why?
Simon: All of the above! Or at least each of those roles have a part to play in defining a brand’s content and social media strategy. However, there needs to be a single, identifiable and accountable strategy. Ultimately I believe the term ‘social’ will be dropped – all media is social, it’s just becoming easier and quicker to connect with a million of your closest friends at the speed of light! (See the below infographic for our recommendation on how brands and their agencies can structure for content/social media strategy).
So the question is who should own the brand’s channel, including social media and all other content and the answer remains the same as above. One recent ‘Aha’ moment for us was learning how to structure the team from the agency-side. We created a team of ‘active responders’ each of whom was armed with pre-agreed engagement protocols to deal with the comments unearthed through the listening process- is it a legal issue, customer service, product-related or a mis-guided/incorrect perception. We treated each comment as a bug and used a bug-tracking software to rack each comment and make sure each one as dealt with. The team of active responders was set up much like an AP newsroom from the mid-20th century – each responder was part analyst, part journalist and part customer service agent dealing with multiple comments flying in from all over the world.
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Elise: Very interesting. Is there such a thing as a “social media expert/guru?” If so, would they better be described as “content strategist” since Content is what often drives Social Media?
Simon: Absolutely not. If anyone describes themselves as a social media expert, run a mile. Such thinking/nomenclature is dangerous in that it can support a siloed approach as opposed to an integrated content strategy across all channels. For us, Social Media is just another form of publishing – connecting content with audiences, but doing so in real-time. The lessons learned over the years that brands have applied to previous channels still apply, they just need to be updated and integrated into the overall content strategy.
Elise: Who are the three people (or companies, organizations, etc.) that everyone should be following?
Elise: I’m so glad you mentioned Joe Pulizzi. I’m actually interviewing him next week! Ok, so last question… If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Simon: Seattle in the winter (winter sports, spectacular scenery) and summer (Seattle in the summer is one of the country’s best kept secrets). New York/London in the spring and autumn – two of the best cities in the world that continue to reinvent themselves.
Thanks to Simon for allowing us to ask him some questions and get some insight into content marketing.
Feel free to post your own questions in the comments below!