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How Coca-Cola turned its corporate website into a Buzzfeed-like content machine

Most brands now routinely incorporate content creation as a vital part of their content strategy, but Coca-Cola has taken it to a different level altogether.

Ever since it decided to revamp its company website in 2010, Coca-Cola has transformed its online presence from merely presenting corporate information to becoming a full fledged digital magazine. And it is generating content at a dizzying rate. 

Content includes pictures of cute pets, articles on viral trends, sports, entertainment, recipes and light-hearted lists. Sound familiar? Coca-Cola’s corporate website is basically Buzzfeed. And soon, it might even start rivalling the kind of huge pageviews Buzzfeed gets. 

Since its launch in November 2012, Coca-Cola’s new corporate site, title “Journey” has received over 11.1 million visitors. With 1.1 million monthly unique visitors, the site gets more numbers than many traditional media outlets, claiming to have more hits than the Chicago Sun-Times, AdAge and it’s nipping at the heels of Al Jazeera’s US website.

The team behind all that content isn’t staffed with PR people, but former print, digital and broadcast journalists, who meet for 9 a.m. editorial meetings and schedule out their articles well in advance much like any other newsroom. But the person at the helm of the entire outfit isn’t a grizzled media veteran or a high profile magazine editor. It’s led by Ashley Brown, Coca-Cola’s group director of digital communications and social media.

Speaking at PRWeek’s PESO Principles conference yesterday, Brown gave an engaging account of the company’s efforts to transform its corporate website into a hub of content that would be independently interesting and of editorial value to its readers.

“Companies have a knack for finding things they want to talk
about when writing content,” said Brown. “Those aren’t always things the
consumer wants to talk about.” 

said at least half of the website’s content now has nothing to do with the
brand, compared to 80 percent when it started. There has also been a big shift towards more visual content, which means better pictures and more video.

Of course, a huge brand like Coca-Cola can afford to invest heavily in high-quality content production units, but Brown said a lot of content is simple, easy to do and in a lot of cases user generated. He cited an example of a wildly popular gallery of people and their pets posing with Coke products.

Other content includes behind-the-scenes looks at Coca-Cola practices, articles about bands and musical acts sponsored by the company, and news about startups and other tech initiatives that have received investments from Coca-Cola. It might look like it’s independent content, but it’s all related to Coca-Cola in some way, and it’s all serving a promotional purpose. And by making them engaging and shareable, Coca-Cola automatically gets tons of social media presence with people sharing its articles just as they would of any other publication.

While initially the site focused on heavier topics such as health and sustainability, (with an entire section on combating obesity,) Brown said those articles just didn’t engage readers as much, so they made a shift towards more light-hearted fare, that matched the tone of the brand itself.  

Brown said the single most popular piece of content so far on the site was a recipe for Coca-Cola cake. Since you can’t make the cake without buying Coca-Cola,
Brown said he was able to justify the content investment with real sales
figures. “1.5 million people downloaded that recipe,” said Brown. “If even 10
percent of them made the cake, I’ve already sold 10,000 bottles of Coca-Cola.”

With such a massive operation at its disposal, Coca-Cola doesn’t need to invest so much in its earned media. In fact its operation allows it to effectively counter traditional journalism, especially when it attacks the company. Brown cited the example of a controversial New York Times op-ed that implied Coca-Cola’s marketing in the 1920s had racist overtones. Coca-Cola immediately responded by publishing a widely circulated op-ed of its own to effectively counter the accusations, without having to go the traditional PR route.

Finally, Brown revealed Coca-Cola’s future plans for even more high quality video content with the creation of a fully equipped studio that can host an audience, anchors and multiple sets.

So does this mean we’ll start seeing Coca-Cola news and sitcoms? They certainly have the resources, but at one point does it stop being a soft drink company and a full fledged media conglomerate in the name of content creation? 



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