As a Digital Content Writer for Simpleview, my background in journalism informs the work I do every day. Whether I'm writing and editing destination website content or digital marketing blogs or completing content audits, my journalistic foundation is instrumental to the work I do in our Content Marketing division.
In a recent opinion piece for Mumbrella, Michelle Beckett argues that journalists make the best content marketers because they focus on three key areas: audience, brand purpose, and agility.
Kurt Sanders, Director of Strategy at The Content Division in Australia, further argues that journalists should retain their reporter instincts when making the switch to content marketing.
" ... In the reality of a media market that is devastating newsrooms and shoving some incredibly experienced journalism minds out the door, so many are seeking the relative comfort (compared with the graveyard shift at a newsroom, anyway) of a marketing or comms role.
To those people I say this: fearlessly preserve and apply your journalistic expertise in marketing. We bloody well need it."
With that in mind, I spoke with Camille Troxel, Visit Spokane's Digital Content Specialist and a former broadcast writer and producer, to talk about lessons from journalists that destination content marketers can use to improve content.
1. Fact check everything - You may think that the writer or influencer you hosted in your city has no reason to fabricate when they actually spent time in your destination, but you'd be surprised. Whether it's innocent embellishment or just getting the facts wrong, you are the ultimate authority on your destination, and this authority must be extended to getting every fact correct every time. It also extends to your in-house writers or third-party writers.
No one knows the city like you do, so flex that knowledge to ensure everything from the spelling of business names to amenities and features descriptions are up to date and accurate.
2. Watch out for superlatives - If the copy on your site consistently describes every restaurant, attraction, and event as the best or most exciting, reader mistrust will soon set in. When describing your destination, use realistic verbiage and avoid marketing speak.
"It's important to be realistic about your destination," says Troxel. "People see right through that marketing language and know when you're trying to sell. If you get caught up in an inauthentic voice, you can lose trust."
Find the unique aspects of your destination and tout those, rather than using sweeping language to consistently describe your city as the ultimate, greatest, unparalleled fill-in-the-blank. This approach will ultimately assist in developing the trust and authentic tone so vital to connecting to audiences in a meaningful way, and builds on the core journalistic principle of getting the facts correct every time.
3. Remember your audience - Keeping your audience in mind throughout the content creation process is essential. This is a concept journalists are extremely familiar with. They know how to pitch a story tailored for a certain audience and then write to that audience, whether it is a feature on puppies, a hard-hitting news story, or a sporting event recap.
As you craft or edit content, always remember who you're writing for in that moment. The visitor to a page about family-friendly things to do will have a different mindset than the visitor to a page about bars and nightlife, and you'll want to speak to those different mindsets.
4. Use the five Ws - You may remember who, what, when, where, and why from your book report days, but journalists use this principle every day. The concept can be helpful for taking a critical eye to your content, too.
It's easy to get lost in the flowery language of what makes your destination so great, but keeping the five Ws in mind can help you to stay on track and not lose sight of what you actually want to communicate within any given topic.
5. Focus on WHY - The most important of the five Ws is certainly WHY. All content should have a call to action supported by the why. This is sometimes also called the so what factor.
Consider your content from the perspective of your audience. Your destination may have incredible beaches, but writing 500 words on the beauty of these beaches can leave your audience with a feeling of "so what?" Why does this matter to them when there are countless other beaches they can visit? What does it mean to your destination?
"When writing content, I always think about where it fits in the bigger picture of Spokane," says Troxel. "Content is how you rise above all the noise online, and the why is going to lead to conversions."
6. Use words in addition to visual content - Being able to tell a story without relying completely on photos or video is a special skill of great writers. Use this concept to push your writers to incorporate sensory details that bring your destination to life. This approach will also negate superlatives.
Always remember to show, not tell, using descriptive language. For example, it's one thing to say a popular lake has great views, but it takes it to the next level to say that while you stand on the warm, sandy shores of the lake, gentle waves lapping at your feet, blue-green water glistening with sunlight stretches out before you as far as the eye can see, crisp, snow-capped mountains framing your view.
While graphics, photos, and videos are important on each webpage, they cannot do all the heavy lifting that written content contributes to UX and SEO.
7. Work your beat - Many journalists are used to working a beat. In this way, they come to have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their community. DMOs can use this agility to seize opportunities for content beyond the content calendar.
"When you're doing content marketing, it's really important to stay on top of what's going on in your city because that can lead to good storytelling," says Troxel.
Your content doesn't always have to be what you are trying to sell; it can simply be an authentic slice of your destination that gets visitors interested in what else you have to offer, thereby building trust through authenticity.
Whether it's using keywords to better understand the needs and wants of an audience, doing research to accurately describe a listing partner, or relying on the five Ws to tell a story, I've found that my foundation as a trained journalist comes in handy as a content creator for Simpleview's destination marketing clients. While approaching content from a journalistic perspective is second nature to me, with a little practice, the above seven lessons can help you to do this too.