Why Land O’ Lakes creates—then breaks—its internal content rules

Learn the secrets of the agricultural co-op’s internal communications.

Conversations about new communications channels tend to run along the following lines, says Juliana Wallace, who leads internal communications at Land O’Lakes.

Communicator A says, “Let’s have blogs—leader blogs. Leaders should blog.”

Communicator B replies, “Totally! Where should [the blogs] go?”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, Wallace says. The discussion should begin thus:

A: Let’s have blogs.

B: Cool. What for?

In other words, start by establishing a strategy, Wallace says in the Ragan Training talk, “Plan for the unplanned: How to make, then break, your intranet content strategy rules.”

“Why would you have a blog?” Wallace asks. “How does that fit your content strategy? How is that going to accomplish your goals?”

Rather than rush out a new communications vehicle, pause to strategize, Wallace says. “It’s really thinking about that ‘why?'” she says.

Land O’Lakes is an agricultural co-op with $15 billion in annual sales and 10,000 employees nationwide. (Eighty percent of them work outside the Minneapolis-area headquarters.) Best known for its butter and other dairy products, the company also owns the Purina label in the U.S. for animal feed other than cat and dog foods.

Wallace works on a team of 13 that covers internal comms, external and PR, and member comms. They produce about 10 channels, among them intranet, digital signs, social media and town halls.

Learn how to use mobile to drive internal communications success in this free download.

Wallace’s talk focused on two key topics: How to create a content strategy for your intranet, and then how to break that strategy. Experimentation can bring results, she reveals, but you can’t bend the rules if you don’t set them in the first place.

‘Rules give you freedom’

One of the strengths of having a pre-existing content strategy is that you can easily channel the copy and help that super-enthusiastic volunteer to accept that her ice cream social will be promoted where such events always are promoted on the intranet. In other words, a strategy allows you to create rules.

“I love rules,” says Wallace. “Rules are comfy. Rules are fun. Rules give you freedom. … Rules help you say, ‘That’s a great, lovely story, and this is where it goes.’ Or, ‘That’s a really interesting point, and let’s see if we can fit it in over here.’ Rules help you have a conversation that’s hard to have. It’s like the ‘your-baby-is-ugly’ conversation.”

Blog posts, on the other hand, must be of interest to the general public. It’s not a place to dump meaningless press releases.

Land O’Lakes divides its intranet between content that is “above the line”—the big pieces that you invest in, assign a team to cover and show off—and “below the line” where the company may have employees fill out a form or briefly mention something of less strategic interest.

A recent “above the line” story featured digital security, with the headline, “Are you prepared to fend off a vishing attack?” (“Vishing” is using the telephone to scam a victim into surrendering private information for identity theft.)

Meanwhile, an “Inside Land o’ Lakes” section—also linked from the front page of the intranet—promoted a scholarship won by a former intern whom the CEO wanted to congratulate. A brief, Twitter-like mention linked to a press release with more details.

Keep them happy at the top

By doing it this way, you’ll keep the bigwigs happy without compromising your overall mission.

You can say, “Yep. Got it on the home page,” Wallace says.

“The CEO does not care if it’s not in the feature slider,” Wallace says. “He doesn’t care if you write a news item on it. He just wants to know that we did something with it, that it got out there because it’s something that mattered to him.”

Having set the rules, you can take a risk and break them for a good cause. At Land O’Lakes, two staffers pushed to do a 4,000-word “day in the life” piece on the employees of one of its feed plant-way out of line with the usual length rules.

“Four thousand words for a digital feature!” Wallace says. “It was pretty crazy.”

Yet the effort was so successful, the company followed up with a similar one about a cheddar-making plant. The company also made it public on the Web.

In short, having a strategy allows you to be organized. As in a well-organized closet, there is “a place for everything, and everything has its place,” Wallace says.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

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