The Last Taco Truck and CNET’s Expansion into Fiction

CNET made an announcement last week that you don’t see every day in the tech media– they published fiction. Though they’ve always covered the top digital products, last week CNET tried something different with the release of a 5500 word fiction piece. (Rest assured, it had the requisite technology connection –the plot focused on the owner of a taco truck kidnapping a Silicon Valley social media guru to have her develop their social media strategy). It was news enough that even the New York Times noted, “In an era when many general interest magazines have abandoned publishing short fiction, CNET is entering the literary arena with a new monthly series, Technically Literate, which will feature short stories about technology and how it shapes our lives.”

Why the move into fiction? It’s a way for CNET to expand the brand and attract new audiences to the site. “If you don’t experiment, you stay in place, and that’s kind of counter to the culture here,” said Connie Guglielmo, CNET News editor.

Putting aside the question of whether fiction will or won’t drive more traffic (which I’m sure many will opine on), I think this move signifies something bigger: storytelling as a central to communications strategy, especially in tech. All too often, companies rush to pushing out a single piece of news without developing a differentiated thought leadership platform. When they skip this step, they give up their chance to publish what will ultimately grab attention in a noisy media environment.

Tech companies can–and should–borrow from fiction writers. Here’s how:

What You See Is More Powerful Than What You Can Sell: A great story needs to draw you in and engage you. It needs an intriguing topic and compelling characters . The same is true when you tell your corporate story to the media. You need editors and readers to care about what you’re doing and why it matters. The best place to start is providing context into how your company fits into the bigger universe of what’s going on in your industry.

Like the Plot of a Story, An Expert Platform Needs to Develop: Building your reputation as an industry expert takes time and consistent effort. A good plot doesn’t unfold on page one. So why would expect credibility in the media to be established instantly? When you share reliable data, weigh in on trends, and spark interesting dialogue over time you build trust and position your company as a trusted resource that shares news that matters.

A Best Seller is Great, A Series is Even Better: Once you land that big feature or expert quote– then what? How do you keep it going? When you keep the focus on the context of your industry and why what you’re do matters, you’ll constantly have new material to draw from. See someone else doing something interesting? Weigh in on it. See a strong piece from another company in your industry? Share your reaction. Notice a shift in the overall industry? Talk about why that matters. In developing a multi-faceted communications plan, you’ll constantly have new material to draw on.

I’m looking forward to seeing the fiction and tech combination play out at CNET. I think this move says a lot about the importance of creating a compelling story and signifies that now, more than ever, it will take more than an occasional company update to stand out.

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