Nothing engages web users quite like authentic content. Content that makes users feel they’re reading, sharing or getting involved with something consistently outperforms the shallow, sales-y stuff.
Exhibit A: Humans of New York.
In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton started profiling New York City’s residents through photos and brief interviews. Nearly five years later, Stanton’s Humans of New York project has produced some of the most engaging content on the web. Its Facebook page boasts more than 12 million likes and several thousand shares per post.
No agenda, no gimmicks, just genuine storytelling -- the kind that can drive readers to action.
Last month, Stanton started featuring students and staff from Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school situated in a neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York.
In addition to the daily profiles, Humans of New York worked with the school’s inspirational principal to launch an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to support scholarships and other programs. One goal was to institute an annual trip for the academy’s students to Harvard University to broaden their horizons.
The campaign raised $1 million in less than a week.
Authentic content and powerful storytelling made this online campaign stand out among countless others seeking users’ time and money. Stanton didn’t need a celebrity spokesperson or multimillion dollar ad blitz to be successful -- just a camera, a blog and a willingness to get out of the way and let everyday people’s stories shine.
To be sure, Stanton isn’t hawking a line of products, save for a coffee table book, which is minimally promoted on his site. But brands can still learn from the authenticity of the Humans of New York's content strategy.
How? Stop selling and start telling stories.
Exhibit B: AT&T’s “@SummerBreak” campaign.
AT&T knocked the “experience over products” ball out of the park a couple of years ago with the millennial-targeted “@SummerBreak” campaign. This so-called “social-media reality show” featured a group of real teens in southern California living out their last summer together before college and posting heavily to social media on their mobile devices. The campaign played out on multiple social channels, featuring a 24/7 stream of tweets; Instagram and Snapchat photos and roughly 50 short YouTube webisodes.
While mobile devices and, by extension, AT&T’s services, played a role on the show, they took a distant back seat to the teens’ daily drama and adventures. And while one could easily joke about the myriad millennial stereotypes at play, the results of the campaign were no laughing matter. The “@SummerBreak” YouTube channel has racked up more than 350,000 subscribers and more than 43 million views since launching in May 2013. The series was so popular that AT&T produced a second season last summer.
All for a cost of less than $5 million -- a pretty good investment for a company that generated $128 billion in revenue in 2013.
Authentic content can do wonders for a brand willing to shift the spotlight away from its products and focus on storytelling. A storytelling-focused content strategy such as that of Humans of New York or "@SummerBreak" engages users because they can relate to it in some way. Brands should look for these stories and find the best way to deliver them to their audience.
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