The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Four years ago, I wrote Read This First to help executives understand the role of social media in their businesses. And while much has changed over the past few years, more has stayed the same.  Marketing success in the age of social networks requires a different approach to content creation.

I’ve spent the past few years trying to distill “different approach” into a compact, yet powerful statement–an elevator speech if you will. I found it last month in one of the most unlikely places.

Pigskin Storytelling

The father and son team of Ed and Steve Sabol founded NFL Films in the early 1960s. Their work changed not only the way football games were recorded, but probably influenced the way all sporting events were memorialized. An NFL Film tells the story of the gridiron, where infinite forces clash with immovable objects, resulting in serious consequences for the game’s battle-hardened warriors. Rather than mounting a single camera at the 50-yard line to view the game as a spectator, they used cinematography techniques including multiple cameras and camera-angles to cover a game. But the magic of an NFL Film story occurred in post production, when they added the velvety baritone voice of John Facenda reading perfectly-written voice-over narratives. 

We lost Steve Sabol in September of last year. But it was while I was watching one of his works that I found my elusive elevator pitch. Steve said:

Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.
Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But, tell me a story, and it’ll live in my heart forever.

The statement hit me with the force of blitzing linebacker, because most companies are great at telling facts and truths, yet fall short at telling stories. Therefore, the role of a content marketer is to transform company facts and truths into in stories.

Rule #5 from Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman’s seminal book, Content Rules says: “Reimagine; don’t recycle.”

Therefore, applying some Sabolization to their rule, we get:

“Content marketers need to reimagine a company’s facts and truths into stories as opposed to recycling them into more facts and truths.”

Give it a try. The next time someone asks what your role is, just give them a little Steve Sabol.


Last week, Paul Gillin wrote a blog post called Lemmings with Microphones, where he questions’s the value of large-scale journalistic investment in covering both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. He argues that with the state of today’s communications technologies, 15,000 journalists spending $30 million are not needed to cover the event. Gillin, who has been chronicling the collapse of the newspaper industry since March 2007 in his  Newspaper Deathwatch blog, questions the mass media’s use of their precious business resources.

The blog post got me to thinking about the changes in how live event coverage is changing in lieu of the digitalization of content and the socialization of networks responsible for distributing that content. Back in the 1960s & 1970s, coverage of a NASA rocket launch required expensive communications networks, thousands of people, and millions of dollars to deliver the event.

But no longer.

Today, the average person with a smartphone can broadcast remote video–live, for the cost of their data plans. Through services like Google+, they can broadcast live video for the cost of their monthly Internet access charge. By virtually eliminating the cost-to-broadcast-barrier, the power to tell your own story has been wrestled from the grips of the few and placed into the hands of many.

Take NASA for example. In 2012, they don’t need mass media to tell the full story of Curiosity. With the ability to broadcast live Martian images directly to anyone with Internet connectivity, they are no longer beholden to the limitations of prime-time, drive-time, or late-night television programming.

It’s time for companies to consider the communications technologies available and the stories that they want to tell through them. One of my favorite examples is Digikey’s Another Geek Moment videos. Digikey is one of the largest suppliers of electronic components. It’s using modern communications technologies to demonstrate products to the company’s highly technical audience. Another Geek Moment demonstrates the power that resides at the fingertips of every corporate storyteller.

For example, consider the following video of a rocket launch. It essentially delivers all of the content that the mass media did for the Apollo rocket launches with one main difference. Rather than requiring thousands of people and millions of dollars, it was created by two guys, a handful of off-the-shelf-parts, and a cell phone.

The video has everything: multiple camera angles, a “Cape Canaveral” (the launch site), and a “Mission Control” (the remote launch site). Check out Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad.

Times have changed. Affordable communications technology is available for your company to tell its own stories. The question is whether or not it’ll choose to use them.

Apollo 9 Photo used under Wikimedia Commons

Jul 18, 2012

Many years ago, while helping my Grandmother tend to her vegetable garden, I noticed that she was removing random stems from her tomato plants.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m removing the suckers,” she said, explaining that if she allowed these little sprouts to grow, they’d eventually develop their own fruit. More fruit on each plant meant less nourishment for each tomato, and therefore, by removing the suckers, she hoped to get a higher quality yield.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about suckers, but in the form of new social media channels (Foursquare, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, etc…) that seem to be sprouting everywhere. Although each new channel offers new ways to reach audiences, each also comes with an additional cost–the fact that they all require fresh content. Content development takes time and effort, therefore, companies choosing to adopt new channels without assigning additional content-development resources are simply feeding suckers that draw nutrients away from their existing social media channels.

It all comes down to the gardener’s choice. If your company has decided to add more social media channels to its portfolio and it wants to maintain the same quality and quantity of its content, it has two choices:

  1. Increase the social media staffing resources to meet the new content demand
  2. Reduce the amount of social channels to match the social media team’s content development capacity.

But alas, that’s not what appears to be happening in corporate-land. Instead of adding resources or reducing the number of channels, companies appear to be blindly adding new channels. Without the capacity to create new content, I’ve noticed a trend. These companies are choosing to spread the same content evenly throughout all of the company’s social channels.

In 2010, I created the One Page Social Media Strategy Document (DOC download) to help with this dilemma. It identifies the reasons why each social media channel was adopted, its unique purpose, and how each stacks up against the rest of the channels. If you haven’t already, give it a try. Upper management will love you:-)

All social media channels need fresh content.  Content takes time and effort to produce. Therefore, if your company can’t invest the time and effort required to create compelling content for each adopted channel, then it’s time to do some pruning.

What social media channel are you willing to sacrifice so that others may prosper?

Photo Credit: Nick Dimmock