How Brands Can Tap Internal Resources to Create Incredible Content

When it comes to working with the IRS, I do everything I can to avoid an audit. When I’m working with a client to identify the most strategic use of content, however, auditing their information assets is among my favorite tasks.

It’s a gratifying treasure hunt and often a surprise to the stakeholders who have invited me in. Companies outside of the media industry don’t always recognize just how much content they’re already producing, whether it’s business intelligence, competitive analysis of the market, marketing collateral, or PR currently destined for other news outlets.

Building a competitive, topical, audience-winning content workflow often comes down to identifying where all that material lives within the organization. Once we’ve done that, a central stream of the workflow is filtering the inside scoop so it’s relevant to a wider audience and respects the confidentiality of the company and its clients.

They may not realize it, but most companies have already set up a publishing model: the platforms they’ve created to keep their employees up to date on what’s happening in the company and the market. Whether it’s a corporate intranet, a company-wide email, or a newsletter, these clients are already in the habit of disseminating content with a corporate message. The trick is turning it outward.

For example, I worked with a major financial services company that was planning a complete overhaul of its content site to emphasize news analysis aimed at retail investors, third-party investment advisors, and the company’s own associates. While the external communications were still in the formative stage, the company was already posting a steady flow of relevant stories to its company intranet, sourced from its national offices and programmed into an editorial calendar. By tapping into that resource and selecting the types of stories that bore relevance to individual investors and advisors, we were able to use this pillar of internal communications to support the company’s external content.

Another staple of internal communications that translates readily to external content is the quantitative data that companies draw from their business-intelligence databases and customer-support logs. This information can tell stories of interest to anyone who wants to understand the latest trends in the markets the company serves.

For example, Emily Grant is communications director with Plated, a New York-based national subscription service that delivers fresh ingredients and recipes for easy, healthy meals. To anticipate user demand, Plated keeps close tabs on consumer data (including cost per action, lifetime value of customers, and operating margins) and shares and discusses the information internally via dashboards and town-hall meetings.

“We have a very strong story behind our product,” Grant said, “and one of the main topics we’re going to draw on for content is huge data about user behavior and eating habits.” Many of those insights points to social trends of general interest. For example, a growing number of customers are empty nesters learning how to cook smaller portions.

To convert internal communications for external use, Plated has to consider customer privacy as well as its competitive advantages. “We make sure to avoid specific number ratios,” she said. “We don’t want to zero in on who you are. Food is a very personal thing, but a very interesting thing on a broad scale.”

And of course, the gold standard for creating external content out of internal data is OkCupid’s OkTrends—one of the most popular brand blogs on earth—which uses the dating site’s treasure trove of data to provide incredibly entertaining insights about the dating world.

Craig Calder, director of digital marketing and e-commerce with DCH Auto Group, a multistate network of automobile dealerships based in South Amboy, N.J., said creating content that works for the intranet and Internet requires a strategic plan on both fronts. “My feeling is, it doesn’t happen organically,” Calder said. “You have to have a game plan going into it so you’re creating a portion of content that’s applicable across internal and external platforms.

When Calder worked at DoubleClick, for example, the ad network maintained an internal update that advised the team about executives’ public-speaking engagements and also served as a way of flagging opportunities to create content for customers. Coverage of these appearances often spanned both sides of the corporate firewall.

“The common ground is probably more high-level company articles—brand-related content that would be interesting to a consumer or client as well as the internal team. If it’s too niche, by definition, it’s going to be interesting to just one group.”

“If you’re able to do it, you’re going to have to work for it,” Calder said.

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