Three years ago, global TV audiences were enchanted by two young children who invaded their father’s home office, gate-crashing his video interview with BBC News. The clip went viral. 

In the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, what was unusual then has virtually become the norm. Most of us now work from home, with video conferencing the standard form of communication – complete with interruptions from children and pets.

It’s part of what is now often referred to as the ‘new normal’, and its impact is set to linger on, even once the crisis is over and lockdowns ease around the world. 

Why? Not only because the business case for remote working is now irreversible but, more importantly, because these new ways of working have allowed – no, forced us – to show more of ourselves and to be more authentic as a result.  

The new ‘business as usual’

Some of us may feel uncomfortable revealing so much of our ‘real life’, maybe even think it ‘unprofessional’ if a child interrupts a conference call or the dog demands to be fed.  

But Ashish Babu, Chief Marketing Officer for Europe and the UK at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), observes: “Someone’s alarm or doorbell will go off, and I think you’ve got to just assume that is business as usual. The simple headline is that we’re all human, and this is going to be the new norm, and we just get on with our business. What matters is good content and good interactions.” 

What the lockdown has given us is a heightened level of authenticity and transparency in our communications. We are connecting at a human level because we are revealing more of ourselves than we would typically do in the office. And we’re building stronger relations as a result. 

Connecting socially − remotely

Deborah Turness, head of NBC News International, was building her team for a new global news channel, NBC Sky World News, when the lockdown hit. While the channel’s launch is on hold, her “remote army” is delivering content to NBC’s global operations. 

And Deborah is emphatic that her connection with the new team has benefited rather than suffered from the current situation: “I think I’ve gotten to know my team better than I ever would have if we were in the newsroom together. Because we’re sharing, we’re letting our guard drop a little bit, and using the platform to come together in a social way as well. And yes, we actually have a glass of wine together. We share cooking tips. It’s really refreshing.“

This authenticity doesn’t just extend to interpersonal relations but also content creation.

An antidote to ‘fake news’

In the nightly news, we now see politicians in their living rooms, wobbly mobile footage, and journalists finding new, more ‘grassroots’ ways of telling stories using the tools currently available to them.

While this may take some getting used to, it also brings audiences and journalists closer together to rebuild a relationship of trust. 

This is particularly important in this era of fake news and diminishing trust between the audience and the news providers, says Deborah Turness. She points to market research by NBC which shows that, rather than being presented with an all-too-perfect final product, audiences want to know what journalists do and how they get their stories – warts and all, including any mess-ups along the way. 

“Don’t just tell me what you know. Show more of your working. Let me know I can trust you by showing me that I can trust you. Strip away some of that gloss that conventionally comes in particularly television news. The real story of news is something much more essential, visceral.” 

The limitations imposed by the lockdown – if they are indeed limitations – allow news reporters to create much greater intimacy and understanding, and with that a chance to restore the audience’s dwindling trust in them. 

Turning limitations into opportunities

The same applies to business relationships and communications. In adapting to the new normal, aiming for a ‘human-first’ experience in all communications is critical, says Ashish Babu of TCS.   

Several conferences have already moved to online channels as a result of the lockdown, with more heading in the same direction. But there is potential for many other daily business interactions to draw on the human element that platforms like Zoom, Skype, Teams and others convey. 

While our interaction with these tools is currently driven by the lockdown, it’s in our interest to stick with them beyond the crisis and help make communications more transparent – rather than simply slip back to the ‘old ways’.



#Coronacomms: Building a compelling virtual event – 4 key steps

#Coronacomms – Getting Virtual: tips & techniques to put life back into virtual communications

If you would like to know more about virtual communication strategies, please email

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

As spare rooms, kitchens or home offices become the new workspaces during lockdown, your teams’ personal lives are increasingly being put on show during virtual meetings and conferences.

It may be that in a few weeks or months’ time, we will be able to return to having the luxury of separation between work and home – as well being able to talk to each other face-to-face. But for the time being, this is how things are and this is where we are staying.

Whether it’s a meeting or presentation, the content of what you have to say should always be your most important consideration. But in this new world of the virtual and online, it’s becoming increasingly important to give some thought to how to make the most of the screen you will invariably be appearing on.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you make it easy for your audience to see and hear you so they will find it easy to pay attention and you in turn will find it easier to leave a lasting impression.


Sound as good as you look

Broadcasters will tell you that viewers would rather watch a substandard video with good sound over good picture quality and bad sound. The reason is simple – if your audience can’t hear what you’re saying you’ll lose their focus.

This is why it’s important to base yourself in the quietest possible place available. If you’re recording something to be shared as part of a virtual event, avoid recording it in echoey rooms or near banging doors – keep all those off-screen noises to the absolute minimum. That includes putting all phones and other devices on silent.

If you have team members involved in multiple meetings and events (and who isn’t these days?), investing in a good quality headset is one easy way to improve the sound quality.

If you or your team are going to be addressing an audience virtually, stick to the TV broadcasting rules about clothing. Wear bright or block colours, avoid stripes and busy patterns, you don’t want your audience to be distracted by your appearance.



If you’re doing a pre-recorded piece, most phones are fitted with perfectly good cameras and microphones, and as such, are more than suited to the job. Position the phone somewhere steady at eye level. It can help to have some Blu-Tack to hand, to keep it in place. It’s vital you look at the little dot, the camera, not the screen – no matter how tempting it is to stare at the image of the other speaker or speakers, or even at yourself. Also, encourage people to do a short test first to make sure their eyes can be seen and voices can be heard clearly.


Experiment with tech

For live events and virtual conferences, it’s a good idea to train people to be familiar with how to use Zoom, Teams, Skype or whichever platform they’ll be using.

Some platforms – like Zoom and Teams – have features that can enhance appearances at the click of a button. It’s possible to add virtual backgrounds or to obscure domestic backgrounds. This is great, but it is not failsafe. People can disappear into a virtual background if they move around.


Going green

It doesn’t have to be a professional green screen. It doesn’t even need to be green. Any bright, even colour can work in principle. The reason green is traditionally used was because it’s a colour that people tend not to wear. If you are going to use a different colour screen, avoid whites, creams or browns – anything too close to skin tones.

One advantage of a green screen, especially for your presenters, is having the freedom to show and present branded information in a slicker way. With the rise of the YouTuber phenomenon, it’s become very easy to find DIY screen ideas or affordable kits for home use.


Boost your performance in front of the camera

While it’s distracting to see yourself on the screen in front of you, we all need to practise moving our focus to the camera. Find the little dot on your computer or phone and remember that is where to focus your attention.

Also, cameras can suck the life out of anyone in front of them. This is something performance coach and communications trainer Charlotte Hume explained in her interview on Formative’s virtual event, Insight Live. To counter that, you need to dial-up the way you communicate.

Imagine how you would normally be if there was someone standing in front of you and be the same – to smile, have good eye contact and use natural gestures. Use your whole body, don’t be afraid of gestures, become a little more animated than you might ordinarily.


Focus on what is controllable

With a plethora of different platforms out there to choose from, all with their own strengths, weaknesses and specialities, it’s wise to check with your IT department, to see what company policy is on preferred solutions.

When you can’t control the internet speed, the dog barking or the kids playing loudly in the room next door, it makes sense to control what you can. The closer you are to your router, the easier it will make life online seem smooth and seamless – even if the truth is a little different in a busy household.

For crucial meetings and events do what you can to avoid loss of connection. This is doubly important where the host of the session is concerned. If their connection fails the whole meeting or event could go down. Where possible, get them to connect their computer to their router with an ethernet cable rather than rely on the WiFi.

Ultimately, you’re trying to create the best environment so you can make the best possible connection with the outside world. And that’s something that’s so crucial for our ongoing communications with family, friends and colleagues.


Mike Sedgwick of By This River, is a video director and long-time associate of Formative Content. He has produced brand films, animations and interviews for the past 20 years. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

At times like this, when many of us feel concerned and anxious, we all need to be careful about what we say – whether to the people we are close to, to our colleagues, or to our clients and stakeholders. And that’s just as true for corporates as it is for individuals.

As the ‘front line’ of company engagement with your public audience, that caution needs to extend to social media channels – it’s incredibly easy to misjudge the tone of your social posts and wreck your reputation in a moment. Business as usual content, pre-scheduled and automated, should be dropped in favour of thoughtful and responsive output that reacts and responds day by day.

People are looking to brands and companies to give sensible and appropriate advice as we live through this pandemic, on topics they have ‘earned’ the right to discuss. Some of the world’s politicians and leaders will be found wanting in the advice they give to their citizens during this crisis – companies can step into the trust vacuum.

How do you ensure your social media content developed during a global crisis does not offend, upset or alienate audiences during this difficult time?

Review your output

First, swiftly assess what you are saying currently, and what is scheduled on your social channels. Is it appropriate at a time like this? Be clear on the role your brand plays in people’s lives, how you add value for your audience and use that knowledge to help guide your decisions. Pivot to areas that will have resonance and meaning for your audiences.

Eva Taylor, Head of Social & Marketing Operations at social media management platform Hootsuite, gives this advice: “Sensitive situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, require a careful and thoughtful approach. Take a step back and re-examine the content you’re sharing on a regular basis to avoid appearing insensitive or irrelevant, which can negatively impact your brand in the long run.”

Shift to a different tone, says Taylor, “A health scare is not a ‘marketing opportunity’ to capitalize on: instead, focus on how your brand can help others.” She added, “Keep an eye on breaking news and how it might impact your chosen approach. Observe how your audience responds and consider adapting your tone accordingly when crafting any messages that you plan to share on social.”

I don’t know how many times in the last few weeks I have read a social media post that has very obviously been pre-scheduled months ago. They appear crass and ill-timed.

Run through your scheduled posts and check them for tone. Do they feel wrong or badly timed? Do they seem insensitive to any members of your audience or your client groups?

Direct resources to social

This is not the time to close down communications. In fact, this is the moment when, as an organisation, you should be communicating more than ever with both your employees and your external stakeholders.

Clients, customers and suppliers will be looking to you for a clear outline of how you are responding to the crisis and how they can expect to be treated. This is the right time to be demonstrating your commitment to a true purpose, especially if you have previously espoused one in your values or communications.

Audiences and followers will want to hear how your leaders are responding and that they are ‘steering the ship’ confidently in the face of adversity. They will also need reassurance that you are maintaining at least some semblance of an operation in spite of the challenges of remote working and social distancing.

Taylor recommends: “If your audience is reaching out to you with questions and concerns, this is a great time for your brand to participate on social in a transparent, empathetic and timely manner. Use this as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships and build your community.”

Be honest and be human

As with all communications, it’s important that you’re honest and open in your messaging. That does not mean that you have to reveal everything that is going on behind-the-scenes. But it does mean that you need an authentic and honest tone of voice when you speak to the wider audience. We all know that this is a very human catastrophe and everybody is under pressure whether with family, work or with their companies. Bear that in mind when you think about the tone of voice you use.

If you read some of the latest output from Microsoft, who we have been working with, you will see that CEO Satya Nadella has been on the front foot with his commentary and content on social media, as has Microsoft President, Brad Smith. Their messages have been delivered in an authentic and straightforward way.

At the right time, organisations should be telling the hero stories, the frontline stories, the stories of the challenged and the vanquishers. Whether it’s your people at the top, or your staff messages, think about how you reveal the human behind the message. For larger, global organisations, these stories will land with your own people as reassurance, as much as with your external audiences.

“In the ‘new normal’ that we now face, brands should experiment with different formats. A video message recorded on a CEO’s webcam or phone might be exactly what is needed to get an authentic and timely message out to the world,” says Richard Wellings, Digital Content Strategist at Formative Content.

“More than ever, social must be a two-way affair. Brands should carefully plan to share employees’ stories, important third-party pieces or answer questions in a public forum.”

Look to the future

In this initial phase of the pandemic – when different countries are feeling the full impact of the virus, with many people ill and dying – your comms should be helpful and practical, authoritative but warm, demonstrating and explaining how you can help. Talk about how you are helping your people, communities or clients. If it’s not crucial or of value – why would you say it now?

If your business is struggling but you are determined to keep it going, then focus on that message in your comms. If you have devolved your team, and that is putting pressure on your internal operations, then start to tell the stories about your people and how they are responding. Explain how you are working to deliver continuity of business.

The final word goes to Hootsuite’s Head of Social, Eva Taylor: “Social media is an ideal channel for two-way engagement and plays a significant role in crisis communications.

“At times like this, fully leverage its ability to communicate with your customers, employees, and the broader community to help support each other as best as we can.”


#Coronacomms: How to be productive when everyone’s working remotely

#Coronacomms: How can you create a successful virtual event?

#Coronacomms: How can business leaders communicate with impact in this crisis?

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped tell the brand stories of some of the world’s biggest B2B organisations, please email

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Or if you would like to find out more about her recently published book ‘Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling’ click here.

We are in extreme and unusual times. In the next few weeks and months we are likely to experience and witness mass lay-offs, business collapses, personal crises and ‘black swan’ events that will change forever how we do business and interact as a global society.

I never expected to write that kind of paragraph. Even now I wonder whether I am “over-reacting”.

But it seems that this is an existential threat, something that none of us in this generation has ever encountered. At this stage there is no ‘rule book’, no great blog with all the answers, no post on Google that will nail it – there is only a sensible and considered approach based on our experience and knowledge as leaders and communicators.

How companies – and leaders – respond and communicate in this crisis will inform their legacy and reputation for years.

Communication is critical, more so than ever before. I can’t promise I have all of the answers – none of us can – but here is some guidance from myself and the team at Formative Content, as well as some examples of how others are speaking to their people, their clients and their broader stakeholders in this challenging time. Please feel free to chime in with guidance, advice and support – let’s face it, we all need it.


Set up your communications team

For larger organisations you’ll already have your comms team and a strategy in place, but no-one has written the guide book on dealing with a pandemic like the coronavirus.

However you structure your core team, think about these points:

Meet regularly: Virtually will be the norm for most, as we move into the next stage of the spread of coronavirus. I have been meeting each day with my senior team to discuss coronavirus for more than three weeks now and managing a considered cascade of messaging to our team.

Take a 360-degree view: Think around all the issues for your business, team and clients, each time you meet. Put yourself in their shoes to help calibrate your messages. Balance honest realism and pragmatism with nuance and compassion.

Think a few steps ahead: We can’t know what’s around the corner, but many of us can anticipate how coronavirus will impact our businesses. Be swift and considered in your decisions and try to pre-empt questions where you can.

Establish a regular pulse of comms: Look for help where you can if you don’t have a dedicated communications team. Seek volunteers or reach out to your network to try to find guidance.

Communicate your plan: Many businesses and companies have chosen to move ahead of the government’s guidance (here in the UK) – this is an opportunity to show decisive action as a leader and to lead from the front with your own plan and approach.


Communicate regularly and routinely

Your teams, shareholders and clients will be looking to you for clear and open communication. In this situation, make sure you are communicating more, not less. Be on the front foot where you can, anticipating the next challenge for the business and building a response in advance.

Increase the cadence of your communications: If you currently message once a week as a CEO, increase that or even consider daily comms if your organisation or business is particularly badly hit. Be regular and timely with the delivery. This will minimise questions and uncertainty among all stakeholders.

Create content: Update your website – consider having a section on your front page or a clearly marked sub-page. Deliver clear and sensible information about how you are responding as an organisation. You cannot answer everyone’s questions but do what you can to work through FAQs and the obvious concerns of clients and stakeholders. Logistics company Agility – which operates around the world – has been sharing vital information to its clients via a special page on its website for weeks now.

Live updates: Create a live document that can be shared and kept open with regular updates on your business response – you might choose to share this with your wider stakeholders. Be as transparent as you can be, but cautious where required. Alternatively create a blog page that you regularly update with information for key stakeholders.

Cascade your comms: Create a team that can cascade down your information and share it to distributed networks and remote teams. Do you have WhatsApp groups you can create, or ‘ambassadors’ who can help to disseminate messages to those people and staff who might not be able to access your website or traditional comms?

Create bullet-point guidance: If you have a distributed management team, or workforce, who have to share messaging verbally to large groups or teams then supply crib sheets or bullet points to guide them on what to say. This will ensure there is a consistent message to all teams around your organisation and that misinformation and rumour will not spread.

Share health guidance: Share with your internal teams the details of where they can find up-to-date and fact-based health information. This will help to quash rumour and avoid the sharing of false reports on social media. Use the WHO[1] or the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform[2] or Agenda sites.


Refine messages for all stakeholders

As you develop or refine your plan, break out each of your separate audiences to ensure your message for each takes account of their particular concerns or needs. Everyone in your business community will be feeling the pressure in different ways – some personal, some professional. Your messages to staff will differ – in detail terms – from those that you disseminate for stakeholders, stakeholders or suppliers, for instance.

Be agile: This is a fast-moving situation. In your live document, map each of your audiences and agree key messages for all, along with the associated regularity of comms.

Tune in to specific needs: Which cultural issues, or language issues should you be mindful of? Think through how each of your messages will land with your target audience.

Demonstrate action: You might not have all, or any, of the answers at this stage, but tell people that you are working to find solutions. As you craft your messages, ensure they are direct and clear, yes, but don’t lose touch of the need for empathy. “I know the COVID-19 pandemic is concerning for all of us,” writes HP CEO Antonio Neri on LinkedIn. “I am working closely Hewlett Packard Enterprise leaders to ensure we are responding quickly and keeping our team members, customers and partners safe.”[3] This shows action, and compassion.


Find the right tone; stay human

We are all in this together, and many people are struggling with a range of issues – they might be worried about their job, their family, their future, isolation. As Brené Brown wrote on LinkedIn: “Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused. This global pandemic is a real case of ‘getting sick together’ or ‘staying well together.’”[4]

Say how you feel: Anxiety is a big issue in this situation for all of us – I know I’m feeling anxious, and many more people will feel the same. Don’t be afraid to share that message – we are all human.

Use compassionate language: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella uses emphatic and human language in his LinkedIn post: “We deeply consider the effect on people in our communities in every decision we make.”[5]

Plug into your vulnerability: Calibration of your messaging to people who might be suffering or anxious is critical. If you know this is not your strong point, bring a team member in to support you with reviewing messaging to ensure it will resonate with stakeholders. “Stay safe, stay well, and take care,” Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever, reportedly wrote in his email to staff working remotely.[6]

Step up: Many businesses are struggling, or will struggle, in the next few weeks and months. Many will go out of business. If you can step up and demonstrate in your communications AND actions that you have a true sense of purpose as a business, then this will build enduring trust. Microsoft has donated US$1 million to a regional COVID-19 Response Fund in Seattle, which is already greatly impacted by the virus. President Brad Smith wrote: “As our community focuses on public health needs during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important that we also rally together to address the unmet economic needs developing around us.”[7]


Establish or improve your systems

As well as your business continuity messaging to your teams and your public-facing messaging to your clients and partners that might be on your website, you will need a range of other communications outlets to deliver key messages and allow your own teams to communicate with each other.

– Define your systems: Find a system to share instant notifications and urgent messages to your core teams that doesn’t necessarily rely on email – group chat, IM or Slack can help speed up the sharing of business-critical or health alerts.

– Have a channel plan: Establish a plan about how to use each channel – one channel might be operational, another for sharing documents, another for instant engagement and group chat

– Broaden your channel approach: Ideally, try to share your messages across multiple channels to reach as many as your stakeholders as possible.

– Simplify content development: Create templates that you can update easily for your social media channels with updated notices or information.

– Use a range of formats: Consider what is most effective and most straightforward in terms of format during this type of crisis. Many business leaders are using fast-turnaround, simple video on social media channels to communicate clearly and directly to their people. Video can help build a quick connection and is the most shareable form of media.

– Ensure there’s a release valve: Leaders must message from the top that letting off steam, or “socialising virtually” whilst WFH is necessary. We have set up a couple of Facebook Workplace channels to enable our team members to share pet and family photos and comments, for instance.


Communicate your plan for the future

While we are in the eye of the storm it may feel challenging – and inappropriate – to consider the longer term. This is the time for a considered balance in your comms. It’s important that your people know that you are still planning sensibly for the future, and flexing with the current situation, to ensure the long term of your business is secure.

Be explicit and clear: “Our top priority is keeping our employees, customers and other stakeholders safe while doing whatever is reasonable to keep Ford running,” Ford senior managers have told staff in an email, as reported by the Financial Times[8]. This balances the focus of attention now, with the needs of the business in the long term.

Lean on your network and share: Give and help where you can. Paul Daugherty, group Chief Executive at Accenture has reached out to his “fellow techies” on LinkedIn: “YOU are essential in assuring success of the mission-critical systems and data that power businesses, governments and keep our world running. YOU can/must lead.” He signs off: “We need you. And we need to rely on each other.”[9]


#Coronacomms: How to be productive when everyone’s working remotely

#Coronacomms: How can you create a successful virtual event?

How the right kind of content can help build trust in your brand

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped tell the brand stories of some of the world’s biggest B2B organisations, please email

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Or if you would like to find out more about her recently published book ‘Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling’ click here.

We are living through a crisis of trust. Voices that were once seen as credible, from world leaders to leading media organisations, are meeting increasing scepticism. So who exactly do people think they can rely on at a time like this?

Companies and their leaders, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. More people trust companies than either politicians or the mainstream media. And they expect CEOs to show leadership on issues ranging from equal pay to the environment.

Against this backdrop of growing mistrust among the wider population, there presents itself an opportunity for businesses to jump in and fill the gap, creating their own direct relationships with customers. Engaging and authentic content can help create and build these conversations.

Brand journalism – or branded content produced using the techniques of journalism – does just that. And in a world filled with ever-increasing amounts of stories, images and ‘stuff’, good quality branded content can cut through the noise.

The power of narrative
Humans make sense of the world through stories. Once you’ve got someone’s attention, telling a rich, compelling tale is a surefire way to hold it. From there, brand journalism can help show your audience you understand the issues that matter to them.

Demonstrating what your company’s best at in this way not only has a practical value for your readers – it’s a crucial component in building your reputation as an expert in your field. If, for example, your content has helped someone understand a difficult topic, or enabled them to make a well-received insight-driven contribution in a meeting with their boss, they will come back again and again. You will be trusted, recommended, and your content will be widely shared.

And as data protection laws make it harder than ever to build useful prospect lists, quality content naturally pulls people towards your business. It’s a world away from the resistance that can be generated by push marketing.

A unique voice
That’s all very well, you might be thinking, but where do I start? Square one is to find the stories. Get out and about in your organisation. Talk to people. Track down those who deliver for your customers. And don’t shy away from the truth – it’s vital your stories are authentic. In fact, some of the best examples of brand journalism tackle tough issues head-on.

Take the podcast series produced by Shell. Presented by in-house experts, it addresses tricky issues surrounding the energy industry and the company, such as carbon footprints and climate change. It’s a level of honesty that’s priceless in winning the respect and trust of your audience.

When looking for topics to cover, make sure that above all else they matter to your readers. Whether it’s social issues or supply-chain management, focus on what keeps them awake at night. If you do that, your company will be their first port of call for advice on and analysis of the issues that most trouble them. That’s the power of great B2B content.

Keep it real
Your people are the lifeblood of your organisation, so it makes sense to use them to bring your stories to life. And it doesn’t always need to be the CEO or senior leaders – quoting the people who make things happen will be at the heart of the authenticity you’re looking for.

When you’ve found your stories, and how you’re going to tell them, it’s time to talk strategy. How are you going to deliver your content? Consistency is key here – publishing once and sitting back isn’t going to cut it. You don’t have to produce 50 pieces a week, but establishing a regular rhythm is essential to maintaining a sense of anticipation and keeping people’s interest. Your audience needs to know it’s going to keep hearing from you.

However you approach it, brand journalism can speak to your audiences in a way that no other form of marketing can match for engagement.

This article was originally published on, the home of Formative Content CEO Gay Glashman’s book: Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling.


3 ways to create data-driven content

How the right kind of content can help build trust in your brand

5 ways to boost brand awareness without breaking the bank

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped tell the brand stories of some of the world’s biggest B2B organisations, please email

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Every client I work with has a data story to tell. From combining weather data with AI in order to accurately trade renewable energy, to using data from smart vehicles to lower insurance premiums, there are so many businesses doing exciting things with data right now.

But what about using data as an integral part of a marketing and communications strategy? Instead of simply creating content about how data is being used in the business, how about using data to find out what stories an organisation has to tell, and what stories its audiences are interested in hearing?

Here are three main ways to do this and create data-driven content:

1. Using public data

When we talk about data journalism, it usually refers to the interrogation of publicly available datasets in order to find a story.

One of the main methods employed by journalists is requesting data from public bodies under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

Making the request is the easy part. When the data arrives it is rarely collated or organised how you want it; instead, it is sent in a variety of formats, from spreadsheets to photocopies of letters.

The journalist will then need to clean up and organise this data in such a way that the story starts to reveal itself. For example, to produce this story on police out-of-court settlements, The Guardian contacted the UK’s 43 police forces. It then pulled together all of the responses into a single dataset to reveal that settlements had totalled £30 million in four years.

While traditionally the preserve of data journalists, there are some more adventurous companies now using FOIs to generate their own stories. For example, cloud services provider NetApp sent FOI requests to the UK’s NHS trusts about their use of AI. After collecting the responses from 61 trusts, NetApp was able to generate substantial press coverage on its story that 52% of NHS trusts were already using AI in some form.

But FOI requests aren’t the only way that organisations can generate stories from publicly available data. There are many public bodies, especially at the global level, that make their data freely available and easily accessible. For example, we worked with the Wellcome Trust to interrogate World Health Organisation data and created three data visualisations that told the story of the importance of vaccines.

2. Using a social listening tool

Social media gives every organisation a wealth of information about their audiences. Using tools that ‘listen’ to conversations is a great way of identifying hot topics and trending themes.

For example, social listening tool Pulsar ran a search of Chief Information Officers (CIO) on Twitter to find out about the key themes and topics they are interested in. It then used that data to publish content on its own website revealing those trends.

Tools such as Pulsar not only offer a way to pinpoint broad themes, they can also be used to deliver more nuanced insights that may not yet have played a role in any content strategy.

We used Pulsar to identify the topics being discussed on Twitter by a target audience of one of our clients. This audience was tech-focused and made up predominantly of CIOs. Many of the results of our search simply confirmed our editorial hunch that themes such as Blockchain and AI would be an extremely important part of the content strategy. 

However, it also identified that a topic gaining a good deal of traction among this audience was ‘women in tech’. This was something that the client had not previously considered as part of its content strategy. As a result of this insight, we were able to build women-specific and gender equality-focused content into the campaign.

3. Using your own data

Companies today have a vast array of data at their fingertips, telling them everything from the demographics of customers to how their business and assets are operating and performing. 

This data can be mined to create stories. To date, this approach is rare in business-to-business organisations, but it is common among tech companies that analyse their app data. 

For example, fitness app Strava revealed that 19 January is “Quitters Day” – the day that most people give up on their New Year’s resolution to be more healthy. Airbnb, meanwhile, went through its data to reveal that Wales was the trending region for those holidaying in the UK. 

However, there is a reason that few companies beyond app developers mine their data to generate content: data on its own is never enough. Reams of statistics won’t magically conjure up increased engagement on social media. There still needs to be someone with the ability to interpret that data, someone who understands what resonates with audiences, and what makes a great story.

For example, technology company NTT runs the data analytics for the Tour de France. Despite having a wealth of data at their disposal, their executives admit that they must still work with journalists to find the most compelling stories among the numbers. 

Ultimately, the only organisations likely to successfully generate data-driven content are those that have realised the value of applying journalistic values to their marketing and communication strategies.

And while it may be difficult to directly link brand journalism and thought leadership to sales, the body of evidence around their importance is growing: Edelman’s 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study found that 88% of decision-makers believe that thought leadership is effective at enhancing their perceptions of an organisation.

It’s also important to remember that data will never give you the whole answer, and content strategies shouldn’t be built on data alone.

As Formative Content CEO Gay Flashman points out in her book Powerful B2B Content, building up a steady flow of content that connects with your audiences requires multiple approaches to “story mining”, both inside and outside your organisation. This will still include old-fashioned concepts such as having conversations with colleagues and customers, as well as setting up processes that enable those conversations on a regular basis.

But in 2020, data should at least be part of the process for creating content that connects with your customers.


About the author: John McKenna is a Senior Content Editor at Formative Content. An experienced business journalist, John now combines journalism with data to help global organisations tell their stories.

Formative Content is a corporate digital agency working with some of the world’s most widely known and well-respected multinational organisations. If you’d like help with your digital marketing campaigns, get in touch.

One in seven of the world’s population is on Instagram, with over 200 million users visiting business profiles every day – a potentially vast audience for your brand.

And with 71% of businesses now active on the platform, they’re signed up to a whole new market demographic, one that craves personalised visual content.

Some businesses are guilty of creating content for the platform that does not add value or engage the audience. What can they learn from the charitable sector?

Many charities and not-for-profit organisations have been establishing themselves on the social media site for some time – and have a lot to teach corporates in how to leverage those square tiles to deliver powerful brand messages. 

Here are five lessons:

Use people power

Research shows that images with faces in them are 38% more likely to be ‘liked’ and 32% more likely to be commented on. Instagram is a platform that rewards you for humanising your brand. Unicef, the world’s leading organisation working for children in danger, has grasped this. Take a look at some of its recent posts:





At the time of writing, these were Unicef’s most liked images from the last seven days. Unicef is using its key personnel and the children it helps, as its subjects. 

Businesses should replicate this. Use real people, strong images and human examples where you can to make your posts more relatable.



Unlock emotion

Charities know that using images and real life examples evokes emotion in the reader or audience. Follow Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders for strong examples.

B2B companies might not be telling stories that have the same emotional resonance as those from charities, but it is still possible to find stories from your organisation that build a connection. 

Consider how you can engage your own people to share their thoughts, purpose and passion on your Instagram feed.

Think of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. If you’ve got a product to sell, communicate either through evocative imagery or compelling captions why what you’re doing is important.

Captions are also a useful storytelling tool. Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters on its captions which is ample room to complement the imagery beside it. 

Well-written captions bring the story to life, and can act as the post’s main emotional pull if the supplied image lacks sentiment.

Use Stories

500 million people use Instagram Stories every day – and a third of the most viewed Stories are from brands. This is an area for marketers to exploit, especially as they are expected to outpace feeds in 2019.

Dogs Trust regularly posts Story content to its channel as a way to extend brand awareness even further. The charity also makes use of the highlights feature, allowing it to save past stories permanently to the top of its profile, instead of disappearing after 24 hours. Because of this, Dogs Trust can share powerful evergreen content to its followers, such as health tips and dog safety. 

50% of businesses are creating Stories every month, an interestingly low statistic given the obvious advantages.

Stories are an effective way of driving traffic to your website using the ‘swipe-up’ instruction. A strong call-to-action in an Instagram story can direct people to relevant pillar content hosted on your site.

Unleash the power of video

Video content receives 38% more engagement on Instagram than regular posts – and 2.1 times the amount of comments. 

Pencils Of Promise and The World Economic Forum are prime examples of not-for-profit organisations exhibiting quality video content across their Instagram channels. 

The accounts have high volumes of followers and specialise in posting informative, short-form videos commentating on world news and topics. 

Bearing in mind Instagram’s one-minute cap on video content, both organisations ensure that their message is conveyed clearly and concisely within the timeframe. 

The Forum’s content has caught the attention of influencers such as Leonardo DiCaprio, who has reshared many videos on environmental issues. 

Post often and keep it relevant

This isn’t as obvious as it sounds. If you’re posting to Instagram once a day, but the actual contents of your post doesn’t add value or spark joy in some way, then there’s no point. Focus on quality over quantity.

The most successful charitable Instagram accounts focus on ensuring that every post shows what they’re working towards; whether that’s a cure, global aid, rehoming animals or caring for people with disabilities. 

Even if it’s only twice a week but it’s relatable, captivating imagery, your followers will appreciate it far more and wait eagerly in anticipation of the next instalment.


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If you would like to know more about how Formative Content can optimise your social media strategy, please email

About the author: Seb Budd is the Content Marketing Executive for Formative Content. He is responsible for planning, executing and driving the social media and blog content for the company. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Trust is hard to win and easy to lose – easier than ever, in fact, in today’s world where news travels fast across multiple networks, driven by users, companies and organisations, as well as traditional publishers. 

Monitoring social media is now a full-time job for brands. But just reacting to events is no longer enough. Investing in digital communications to help build trust is crucial to any marketing strategy. 

The importance of this to brand guardians is highlighted in a recent piece of social listening research we carried out at Formative Content.

Chief marketing officers and comms bosses, the research reveals, regularly use the keyword “trust” when tweeting about content.

Why trust matters

Other research, too, shows that trust isn’t just a big concern for brands – it’s also a big opportunity.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, people trust businesses more than they do governments and the media. Almost three-quarters of people are worried about fake news, but a similar proportion look to company CEOs to take leadership on important issues.

So organisations have a chance to step into the void created by a lack of trust elsewhere. And the content they put out on social media will play a key part in this.

What’s the secret?

Creating content that builds trust requires a focus on quality and authenticity.

“Write about what you know” is the advice often given to budding novelists and it’s even more true for businesses. Companies that produce blogs and videos about things they understand are much more likely to be considered genuine sources of useful information.

Messages should articulate the views of the organisation with clarity. And, of course, honesty is a given – pretending to be something you’re not is likely to have the opposite effect to that you intended. 

Find the emotion

The most successful content makes a connection with the person reading or watching, and central to this is acknowledging that person is human. 

As I write in my forthcoming book on brand journalism, it is a mistake to ignore the emotional side of business communications.

Marketers and comms professionals all too often think that’s just for consumer brands.

People want to feel an affinity with anyone they’re buying from and trust is imperative in building that relationship. But you can’t just communicate and expect to get attention.

To be effective, content needs to embody the qualities that make the best journalism compelling. It must be relevant, reliable and credible. It needs to keep the reader engaged and offer a fresh perspective on an issue the audience cares about. 

The value of trust

In short, your content needs to deliver real value. If it does, it will help grow meaningful and enduring relationships with your audiences. Over time trust will grow, and in turn give a tangible boost the brand.

Marketing expert and author Michael Brenner says people want to learn new things, and expert thought leadership builds trust. He cites the example of consultancy Capgemini, which created a corporate storytelling website to showcase the talents of its consultants.

The initiative delivered nearly one million new visitors to its brand website and attracted more than 100,000 new followers to the firm’s LinkedIn page, as well as 1.8 million shares of their content. 

A boost in trust can directly impact on a company’s bottom line, according to a recent Accenture report

“In this age of transparency, how a company does things has become equally important to what it does,” says the report. 

“Companies need to very intentionally create a culture of building, maintaining and preserving trust, and bake it into their DNA, strategy and day-to-day operations.”


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If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped build trust amongst client audiences, please email

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. In April, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Updated on 27th February 2020.

It achieved over 1.5 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play in 2019 and is more popular than LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat. It’s active in 155 countries around the world and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Its name is TikTok and it bills itself as the “destination for short-form mobile videos”.

But should B2B marketers be taking note? Especially following the monumental success experienced by outlets such as the World Economic Forum, who recently garnered over 3.5 billion views of one of their TikTok hashtags at this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

What is TikTok?

Beginning life in Asia and then launched in 2017 by ByteDance for markets outside China, TikTok is the way for primarily teens and Generation Z to engage with each other through music, dances and videos lasting between 15 and 60 seconds. 

Now though, global news organisations such as The Washington Post and NBC News have joined the platform. Consumer brands such as Burberry and Calvin Klein are on board and even sports teams such as Liverpool Football Club are using TikTok to generate content aimed at raising brand awareness amongst a younger audience, in a way that resonates with them.

The question is: how can B2B brands harness TikTok’s power? Is it just a brand awareness tool? Or is there more to it?


Not everybody seems to be convinced. According to some, B2B marketers were safe to ignore TikTok in 2019 and possibly forever. This is unsurprisingly down to the young audience, clique-like nature and time restrictions on message delivery.

Whilst the demographic at the moment sits in the 16-24 range, the older generation is expected to arrive in due course, as happened with Facebook. So arguably, now is the time for businesses to invest in TikTok and establish a following through expressive and compelling content that explores what makes them fun and interesting. 

Think of it in the same way many B2B businesses conduct themselves on Instagram – using the network to share captivating, cultural content. Instagram began as just a way to share pictures with friends, and now there are more than 25 million brand accounts that regularly connect with and, most crucially, sell to their audience. 

TikTok has a long way to go, though.

With its young userbase, the decision makers just aren’t there yet, so there’s not much for B2B brands to market to – and there really is no way to tell when they’ll show up. 

By the time they’re in senior level roles, will TikTok still be around? Just look at the demise of MySpace and Bebo.

There’s also a pertinent question B2B brands will have to ask themselves – do they want to create a new innovative side to the business, without jeopardising their authenticity and integrity? Do they want to completely shift their tone of voice? 

If the answer’s yes then brands have got to be willing to experiment and test new ideas fully knowing they may fail. This could put off a lot of well-established corporate players.

Waiting game

So why, then, has The Washington Post taken the gamble and joined in the first place?

Dave Jorgenson, the driving force behind the Post’s TikTok page, said: “The long-term plan has always been that we’d use this as we use any other platform. [Someday we will] post news in the way that reflects the platform. [Right now the plan is to] jump in and be part of the fun.”

Jorgenson, who primarily serves the newspaper as a producer and editor in the Creative Video team developed a seven-page proposal for his bosses – and they approved his plans. 

Clearly, The Washington Post is confident in TikTok’s future. But it does have the advantage of being able to wait a decade or so to see if it brings in readers in the future. 

TikTok is also currently in the very primitive stages of allowing brands to advertise on the platform, so this could be another route in. However, it circles back around to that key factor of who the brands would be advertising to.

It seems that, for the short term at least, TikTok might not be the best place for B2B brands to be advertising. Building brand awareness is apparently the strategy for those already there, but any selling is going to have to wait a while.

It’s likely that we won’t see a flood of B2B activity on the platform until one of the key players takes the plunge and joins the game, giving onlookers the chance to analyse their performance. Who, if anyone, will be the first to take a step into the unknown? 


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If you would like to know more about how Formative Content can optimise your social media strategy, please email

About the author: Seb Budd is the Social Media Executive for Formative Content. He is responsible for planning, executing and driving the social media and blog content for the company. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Why are you reading this? Your purpose, we’re guessing, is to find out more about content marketing and because that catchy headline piqued your interest.

But do you know why your clients and their audience would read anything you create? 

Tim Williams, CEO of Onalytica, says people aren’t interested in ‘what’, they want ‘why’. 

Speaking at a session on influencer marketing at B2B Ignite at the Business Design Centre in London, he said that as marketers we should be asking ourselves ‘why will people want to read this?’ ‘Which pain points am I addressing?’ 

If you can’t think of any, how can you be sure there are any? Maybe it’s a sign to re-evaluate what your audience needs from you.

Whys matter

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this why question.

Simon Sinek, author and TED Talk(er) extraordinaire, developed the ‘Golden Circle’ concept to explain how businesses can differentiate themselves and build their value proposition.

His theory goes that if a business strategy starts with the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’, your message will carry much more meaning. He says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The Golden Circle

Sinek uses tech-giants Apple as a perfect example of a brand whose philosophy begins with ‘why’ – challenging the status quo, thinking differently. The ‘what’ – making computers – is almost irrelevant.

The same principle can be applied to content marketing. 

People first and foremost, want to know why your content will help them achieve their goals, not what it is.

Take a step back to think about what the ‘why’ of your content is and then lead your copy with it. People will take much more notice of it when you address the issue straight away. Why should they read on? The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ then follows.

You’ll quickly see that if you can communicate the core purposes of your content before anything else, the trust between you and your audience will grow and solidify. People buy from people, and if you can embody the same fundamental beliefs as your market, you’ll see that trust blossom.

How to communicate purpose

Forbes identified three effective methods for communicating purpose. They are: 

  1. Challenge vs Overwhelm
  2. Clear but unfinished
  3. Repercussions and rewards

Starting with Challenge vs Overwhelm, content needs to excite people and challenge them to stretch themselves to be a greater version of themselves. However, we mustn’t overwhelm them with unachievable goals, unmanageable expectations or statistics that scare the reader. Inspire hope, don’t instil fear.  

The goal with the second point here is a little harder to define. It’s important to outline a clear direction for your reader in which to propel themselves, but with flexibility on the route to get there. Forbes describes it as the ‘fine line between governance and guidance’. 

Ultimately our content should be sparking an image of a company where processes are streamlined, productivity is increased and ROI is greater. However, every client is different and has their own USPs, so it’s vital to offer variation in how to achieve their vision.

The third and final method speaks to what energizes people. In a survey of workers, 98% believed meaningful work was ‘important’ or ‘very important’. So it follows that content that carries greater meaning delivers greater rewards and is more likely to be followed. 

In short, people are tired of products. What they’re interested in now is context. A piece of content is nothing without purpose. 

To demonstrate why our content is going to help somebody, we must communicate with honesty and direction. Illuminate all the reasons why this information is key to their success and do it before you try to explain anything else.

Begin with the ‘why’ in everything you do. It’s an unbreakable foundation for success.