How to use brand journalism to engage your community

When looking to engage internal audiences and highlight important stories within your organization, having a journalist’s eye can help you find the story gold.

In 1992, Karen and Morrill Worcester, owners of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, turned a surplus of holiday season wreaths into a national movement honoring our military heroes.

They started by making arrangements to place the wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, in a section that had been receiving few visitors. Today their organization, Wreaths Across America, lays millions of wreaths in thousands of locations across America, remembering and honoring those who gave their lives for our country and teaching the value of freedom to future generations.

As chief content officer for PenFed Credit Union, I documented the organization’s annual weeklong pilgrimage from Maine to Arlington this past December. Along the way, we stopped at schools, monuments and veterans’ homes—and when we arrived in Virginia, PenFed employees and our community were waiting to join us to lay wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery.

This incredible opportunity combined PenFed’s core values with Wreaths Across America’s mission, producing an authentic campaign that resonated with both of our audiences.

The Wreaths Across America collaboration is a great example of how organizations can use brand journalism to build awareness and affinity. Effective brand journalism connects on a more personal level and conveys a brand’s personality. High-quality narratives can create a strong connection with your followers.

Measuring reach

Over the past year, our team has harnessed the power of social media to share more than 1,100 stories, reaching 81 million people. Our efforts have helped raise the profile of the credit union by telling compelling stories about our members, employees and communities.

Our small team proves daily that inspiring, uplifting and entertaining content is at the heart of brand journalism. You don’t need a large journalism team, or even social media specialists, to make an impact. The content for our Wreaths Across America initiative, for example, was mainly shot (and even edited) on cell phones.

Here are some tips for ways your organization can increase its social media engagement and encourage the spirited engagement of both the public and employees:

1. Showcase employees.Shoot still photos of employees and ask them for three unique hobbies, talents or other aspects of their lives that even their closest colleagues may not know. Ask them for relevant photos or video of those activities to use as compelling visuals. Hone in on their expertise – if the employee is a chef, for example, include a favorite recipe.

2. Highlight members’ unique stories and testimonials.Capture short videos featuring the backstory of a member, customer or client on how their career is unique or ways they volunteer in their communities. Share short videos (between 15 seconds and one minute long) in which a member relives a positive experience with the company. One of my favorite stories we’ve done features a PenFed member in Texas who secured an auto loan, allowing her to buy the car of her dreams—a blue Corvette.

3. Bring people together. Inspire your social media following by showcasing members and employees who are doing great things to make their hometowns and the world a better place. You can also bring people together from your online community in person to volunteer as part of a community service day.

PenFed Digital now hosts a quarterly nationwide effort. Photos and videos from our first event reached nearly 2 million people in a single week – all thanks to individuals sharing their passion for service.

4. Develop a social media ambassadors program. Solicit applications from colleagues to be your point person at each location, office, or service center. Train this ambassador to produce content and keep an eye out for good stories. He or she can become your point of contact for visual assets around local events.

5. Forge strategic partnerships with community influencers. Partnerships help us connect with audiences in an innovative and meaningful way by offering content that appeals to our shared following. PenFed has seen success collaborating with the Washington, D.C. area radio broadcast “The Tommy Show.”

At its best, brand journalism creates awareness and affinity through high-quality content that promotes engagement.

How are you using brand journalism to lift up the stories of your team? Share your experiences in the comments.

Andrea McCarren is vice president and chief content officer of PenFed Digital. She is a 23-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and was recently named to the 2019 HillVets Top 100 list.

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