Will brands emulate a Facebook news video experiment?

MSNBC and NowThis are teaming up on morning and late-day programs with breaking and quirky stories intended to elicit online conversation and buzz. Can this model work for brands?

The implications of a deal between cable news network MSNBC and digital video distributor NowThis News could be profound for marketers and communicators.

What the two media companies are trying is new, so the as-yet-unlaunched concept could be a bust. If it does attract a following, it would demonstrate that a fresh look at Facebook could yield big results.

MSNBC and NowThis will produce two daily video programs. “Sound Off” will present one breaking news story every morning, inviting discussion on the Facebook page. The end-of-day show, “FacePalm,” will dish up off-kilter news items, also geared to generate conversation on the MSNBC and NowThis Facebook pages.

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It’s not the first time the two have teamed up: Last year they co-produced “15 Seconds to Truth,” 15-second videos addressing one news story each. NBC Universal News Group has a financial stake in NowThis.

With all the teeth-gnashing about diminished unpaid reach on Facebook, you might wonder why some marketer somewhere didn’t come up with the idea before this. The concept, however, is pretty far out of the box for traditional marketers, even those committed to digital and social media.

Consider these aspects of the approach:

1. There’s thinking of a Facebook page as a destination, not as a channel for distributing content through as many news feeds as possible. An audience would visit the pages knowing that the videos were there and that the conversation around those videos would take place on the pages where they were presented. An audience like that could easily turn into a community.

2. It requires original content just for the Facebook page. Media companies have already figured this out to some extent, with organizations like WNYC, a public radio station that produces original podcasts. Slate is a current affairs and culture site that also offers a lineup of original podcasts. Most of what brands publish to their Facebook pages, though, is designed to drive traffic to their websites, not contain it on the page itself.

3. It requires partnering with another brand and presenting the video on both of their pages. When it comes to partnering, marketers have made some headway linking up with Vine video producers in order to get the dual benefits of great Vine content and the producers’ built-in follower base. (As part of the agreement, NowThis will handle co-production chores for daily content targeting Twitter, Vine and Snapchat.)

A company that applied all three notions could craft a daily video that appeals to its fans (real fans, not the ones who just “liked” their page), make it compelling enough that people wouldn’t want to miss the experience (the video combined with the conversation with other committed fans) and build a community.

The mindset required to undertake this experiment was articulated brilliantly by MSNBC President Phil Griffin in a memo to staff:

If we’re serious about reaching younger audiences where they are, we have to create content in the formats that work for the platforms where they live. And we also must seek out other partners and content creators who are experts at doing this, and share our interest in compelling storytelling and innovation.

There’s nothing in that statement that leads me to think it could apply only to news organizations. It sounds more like a communication manifesto.

A version of this article first appeared on Shel Holtz’s blog.

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