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Podcast #89

Branded Journalism Newsroom Style at Cisco

Kirsten Chiala, Digital Content Manager at Cisco

Kirsten Chiala is Digital Content Manager, Social Media Communications at Cisco. She is leading her team to tell Cisco’s story to reach and engage their B2B audience through a newsroom-style branded journalism strategy. You’ll discover how The Network at Cisco features thought leadership content, as well as creative content such as a graphic novel featuring superheroes like SuperSmart and Dr. Analog, a serial magazine, 6-second Vine videos, and other fresh content on relevant technology topics.

Cisco is a global leader in the hardware, software and services that are used to create the Internet solutions that make networks possible. An employer of more than 70,000 people, Cisco has a plethora of angles from which to tell their story. How will you apply their creative content strategies in your business?

On This Episode You’ll Discover:

  • That Kirsten is an Emmy Award winning Executive Producer at NBC News in San Fransisco.
  • How Kirsten transitioned from television news coverage at NBC to storytelling at Cisco, a Fortune 500 company.
  • How The Network is Cisco’s newsroom style content hub which publishes thought leadership content as well as technology focused content.
  • How Kirsten says brand journalism is talking more about what’s trending, not just about your brand.

Brand journalism is like being next to a cool person at a party… don’t always talk about yourself, talk about what’s trending.

Tweet: Tweet This

  • How Cisco updates The Network five days a week with new stories written by their team of journalists.
  • The make up of the content team at Cisco’s The Network and how they decide what to cover.
  • Why Kirsten insists on the need for a content team to have an editorial calendar, and how agility comes into play with trending topics.
  • How Cisco plans out their serial content months in advance and what types of serial content they produce through their FOCUS digital magazine.
  • How Cisco is using videos, graphics and text content to portray their innovative DNA to their audience.

#ImagineCisco Vine video - Social Business Engine

  • How Cisco’s Vine campaign #ImagineCisco consists of short stories about how technology is evolving.
  • How you can incorporate Periscope into your content strategy and how employees can be storytellers with proper guidance.
  • How their graphic novel, SuperSmart in The Case of the Smartest Cities, is one of Cisco’s best performing content assets.
  • How Cisco created a blog around a trending hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer by requesting employees to tag their photos with this hashtag.
  • What Kirsten’s team considers when targeting their B2B audience and how the content is optimized for each social channel.
  • How Kirsten’s team created a trailer for #DetectedMovie into snackable pieces of content for people to understand the technology.
  • How Kirsten recommends looking to the various tools available to do storytelling for your brand.
  • Why your content team should ask for content from other teams outside of marketing.
  • How Cisco takes their big rock content and creates blogs, infographics, interviews, etc., around it to reach more people.
  • Why Kirsten’s one thing is to be innovative and take risks that will empower your brand to stand out.

Cisco Graphic Novel - Social Business Engine


Featured On This Episode:

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P.S. Don’t miss next week’s podcast episode with Chad Pollitt, Co-Founder and V.P. of Audience at Relevance!

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Download Social Business Journal, Volume 5: The Community Playbook

Episode 89: Kirsten Chiala

Bernie: Hey there, welcome to episode 89 of the Social Business Engine podcast. This is the podcast where I invite thought leaders from all industries who are excited to share with you, the modern business executive, how to harness social media technology in your business strategy. I’m Bernie Borges, CEO of Find And Convert and your host of the Social Business Engine podcast.

On today’s episode, you are going to meet Kirsten Chiala, Digital Content Manager for Cisco’s Social Media Communications team. Cisco is a global leader in the hardware, software, and services that are used to create the Internet solutions that make networks possible, providing you and me and people all around the world easy access to information anytime and anywhere. Cisco has a global presence and employs more than 70,000 people. Wow. On this episode, Kirsten and I will discuss how Cisco is using storytelling in innovative ways to reach and engage a B2B audience.

This episode is in cooperation with Vanilla Forums. We’ve published a social business journal issue with Vanilla that’s titled, “The Community Playbook.” This guide provides all the information it’s needed to launch an online community and keep it thriving. This Journal is available for download at our website at or you can just visit the show notes page for this episode at our website. If you’re subscribed by email to get our weekly updates which we send every Friday, then you’ve already been notified about this journal. If you’re not subscribed to our weekly updates just visit our Subscribe page at our website so that you don’t miss a future episode. Now here’s my interview with Kirsten Chiala from Cisco.

Kirsten, welcome to the Social Business Engine podcast.

Kirsten: Thanks, Bernie. I’m really excited to begin our conversation.

Bernie: Terrific. So am I. I’ve been looking forward to it. Kirsten, as you know, you and I met at the Social Media Strategy Summit in San Francisco a few months back where we were both speakers. When I saw you speak I knew that I wanted to have you on the podcast to share that story with my audience. Here we are.

Where I’d like to begin our conversation is with your background, because Kirsten you have been in the business of storytelling for some time. You are an Emmy Award-winning executive producer with 15 years of experience, much of that at NBC News in the San Francisco Bay area. I would like to begin our conversation with a little bit of your back story on how you made the transition from producing television news at NBC News to storytelling at a Fortune 500 technology company?

Kirsten: Sure. I worked as a producer and as an executive producer as you said in broadcast news. I was in charge of editorial content and shaping stories with reporters, and I’d find the editors planning large scale event coverage. I really found that those skills translated well into the tech landscape actually. We’re really seeing a shift in how companies are telling their stories. We have to really be responsive in this market with social media and really shaping your own coverage in the industry, because if you’re not telling your story and positioning your message, your competitors will. All in all, I found that the storytelling skills that I had in the broadcast really translated well to a B2B environment.

Bernie: That makes sense. The broadcast world is really journalism. Now you’re doing brand journalism at Cisco. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what is Cisco’s brand journalism strategy?

Kirsten: Brand journalism has been around for a number of years now and it’s constantly evolving as more and more brands and companies are getting onto social media. That’s the first place to start, is that this is a constantly evolving landscape. Really, brand journalism, I equate it to being next to like a cool person at a party. You’re going to be around people who they’re not always constantly talking about themselves, but when they are they’re saying something interesting and most of all they’re telling really interesting stories that you’re going to want to go on and share. That’s how I see brand journalism. It’s not always talking about yourself, but it’s talking about what’s trending, especially when we’re talking about the tech industry where things are constantly changing.

Our brand journalism for social media communications at Cisco is centered around our newsroom site called The Network. You can find that at We’re really pretty agile in our coverage. We update our site with fresh stories five days a week and we have a team of journalists who write for us. It’s really a newsroom model. We give them broad content areas, things that are relevant to Cisco and the tech market as a whole, and then they come back and pitch us stories. We talk about it as a team in our editorial meetings and then come back to them and say, “Yes, we like the story.” “No, we’ll pass on this.”

These pieces are really thought leadership in nature, so a lot of them you’re not going to even see Cisco mentioned in them, but they’re really trying to position and talk about the things that Cisco cares about in the industry like security, data and analytics, and other topics. The journalists that we have writing for us, in the past they’ve written for well-known tech publications, so they’re really bringing to the table a really authentic voice and ultimately they’re making complex technology easy to understand for our audience.

Bernie: Kirsten, you mentioned that you’ve got journalists writing for you. Can you elaborate on that a little bit from a total team point of view? What’s the team look like? How is it organized?

Kirsten: Sure. What we have on our internal team which in the social media communications we have three content producers: a photographer, a graphics designer, and then a social strategy lead and a channel manager. As well as having The Network our team also manages Cisco’s corporate social handle so @Cisco on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. In addition to that we curate a lot of content from other marketing and communication teams at Cisco. It’s a really collaborative environment and there is a lot of good storytelling across the board in our company.

Bernie: That’s a pretty robust team. How do you determine what’s going to get covered? Like that newsroom, on a day to day basis when you’re at NBC news you’re deciding what gets covered. How do you determine what gets covered in your newsroom at Cisco?

Kirsten: I think any good content team needs to have an editorial calendar that allows them to plan stories in advance. That’s what we do as well. We have regular checkpoints throughout the week, two editorial meetings, we have a calendar that we keep and plan out pretty far in advance with things that are going on within the tech industry and at Cisco. That helps us to really keep a pulse on what’s going on within other teams in a way that we can really tell great stories and have them planned out in advance because planning is probably 35% of the battle. That’s pretty much I would just say if you don’t have an editorial calendar, that’s a really key point for a content team.

Bernie: Then is there an element of being nimble, so if there’s breaking news, maybe it’s an acquisition or whatever it may be, do you turn on the dime to respond to that from a news coverage standpoint?

Kirsten: Absolutely. We have a lot of collaboration tools. Being Cisco we are a leader in the collaboration space that we use. One of them is an app called Spark. We are constantly monitoring trending conversation not only in the tech world but beyond to be able to pivot and enter ourselves in relevant conversation. A lot of that comes through social media. We can create graphics on the fly to insert ourselves into a conversation. On The Network, we as well can be very nimble. Like I said we have the graphic artist. We can reach out to her and say, “You know, this is going on right now. We need a top story graphic.”

Then we get our content lined up to that and we’re able to update both The Network and our social channels with trending happenings. I think we’re seeing with social media evolving the way people are producing content and consuming content. That’s so key to be able to pivot within 10 minutes to half an hour, and even less in some cases where we really need to be urgent. It is like a newsroom model in the fact that we really have to be agile and responsive.

Bernie: Kirsten, I happen to know that you’re also producing serial content. As consumers, we’re familiar with serial content when it comes to something like television when you watch a series. Do you want to explain how you produce serial content at Cisco?

Kirsten: Yes. By serial, we’re talking about a series, something that you’re going to see regularly and that our audience can come to expect from us on an either weekly or monthly basis or quarterly. One of those things that we have in our repertoire is called Focus Magazine. This is a monthly online magazine that allows us to plan our content several months in advance and kind of put a framework around what stories we want to tell. For example, in August we did a tech in education issue because a lot of people were talking about back to school at that time. In January, when there’s a big security conference and our annual security report comes out, we will have an issue about security.

By planning these issues out several months in advance, it allows us to plan what content our team is going to produce. Most of us on our team are former journalists, so we do a lot of content production ourselves. It allows us to reach to other teams within Cisco and say, “Are you doing anything with security that you might want to put in this issue?” Then we can put a bow on this package of nine stories and give someone at a glance all the latest things in a certain topic area. It’s a great way to tell our story and to tell what we’re talking about when it comes to security or collaboration or innovation.

Another serial content that we do is a piece called our Cisco Innovators series. This is a video series that spotlights people doing really innovative things with technology within Cisco. It shows that innovation is really in our culture, in our DNA at Cisco. It allows us to put a human face on the people who are doing great things within our company.

Bernie: That’s cool. I love the fact that you point out that innovation is in your DNA at Cisco. When I think of the Cisco brand that’s absolutely something that I think anybody that’s been in the tech industry for any amount of time, and I have been, I acknowledge that Cisco is recognized as an innovative company. The spotlights, the Cisco Innovators video series is really cool. I love that. I also know that you’re doing some innovative and maybe even a little bit risky things. Do you want to comment on some of the risk-taking that you’re doing?

Kirsten: Sure. As far as our team goal it’s to really… when people come to us with stories that they want us to talk about or they think should be covered, I think the favorite part of my job is really thinking how we can present it in a creative and engaging way. We’ve done that through a couple of pieces of content through the last couple of months. One of those I could point to is our graphic novel. This is a piece that displays on our site like a comic book or a graphic novel.

Bernie: That is so cool.

Kirsten: It is really cool. When you click through it you’ll see we have a character in there called SuperSmart. She is chasing Dr. Analog through the world’s smartest cities. It’s really cool. One of our writers worked with a graphic artist on this. Each page is shareable on social, but the whole thing together tells a story. It’s taking viewers through the world’s smartest cities and showing them some aspects of those cities that make them unique. But at the same time you have the story with SuperSmart. It’s a really engaging piece of content and it’s one of our top performing pieces.

Bernie: I bet. Now Kirsten is there a dedicated URL that you can mention just for that graphic novel?

Kirsten: I think if you just go to and search for “graphic novel” that’s probably the best way to find it. The URL is pretty long. Another piece of content I want to mention is we just launched a Vine campaign and it’s called #ImagineCisco. These are short stories about how technology is evolving in the digital age. Some of the things that we’re talking about in that are innovation, cloud, data and analytics, and security.

For example, data and analytics, we’ll just take that one and I can paint a picture for you. We all know that so much data now is being generated by the number of connections that we have coming online. A big problem is, what do you do with all that data? If you’re not really harnessing it or getting insight, it’s kind of useless and it could almost be overwhelming for people.

This Vine shows people in an office place who are frustrated, they have all this data streaming in and kind of cluttering up their lives. Analytics Man, it’s a super hero, he comes in, he streamlines the data and the workers are relieved and happy. That’s just kind of a fun and compelling way that we’re telling that story. Then with each Vine we point to a piece of content that gives that broader context so that you can learn more and dive deeper into some of those issues.

Bernie: Considering that Vine is a six-second video, that hasn’t changed, right? It’s still six seconds long, right?

Kirsten: Yep.

Bernie: Then there’s got to be a lot of them to tell that story?

Kirsten: Sure, that’s why we have that larger piece of content to point to. In each of the Vines we’ve worked with the teams that like, for example, data and analytics, we have a blog that goes along with the Vine that really once you watch it online you can click on that and get a little larger context for the issue that we’re talking about.

Bernie: So you have clickable assets that you can jump out of Vine and then into something else?

Kirsten: Right, because as you pointed out six seconds, it’s hard to tell a complete story but I think we see those more as a conversation starter.

Bernie: Kirsten, when I introduced you I mentioned that you’ve got this newsroom strategy and storytelling strategy for a B2B audience. Can we talk a little bit about how you amplify your content so that you’re reaching your target B2B audience?

Kirsten: Sure. As I mentioned our team owns our corporate social handles. With each piece of content, those are also put across our social channels, but as you know the piece of content might not be appropriate for each channel just as it is, so for each piece of content we decide where should it go and what channels should it live on. Instagram is more for you can do fun culture pieces on there where the photography does well. Facebook is a little more personable as well. LinkedIn more business like. We assess what each piece of content… which channel it, should live on and in what form, and a lot of times we take our content and put it down into snackable size pieces for different social channels.

Bernie: Cool. That makes total sense. I’m wondering now about my listener who is maybe not in a big brand like Cisco. I’d like to help that person understand, Kirsten, how can a brand that doesn’t have this robust infrastructure that you have at Cisco in your newsroom, how can a corporate brand build a newsroom, even if they’re just getting started and maybe it’s a smaller team, to do storytelling the way you’re doing it at Cisco?

Kirsten: I get asked that question a lot and I think …

Bernie: Surprise, surprise.

Kirsten:                  … we’re fortunate to live in this era where we do have a lot of apps like Instagram, Vine where short form videos really are pretty easy to do. There are a lot of apps out there. Everyone has a mobile phone. All of your employees really can be storytellers if they have a little bit of guidance. I would say editing software has come down in price. You can learn how to edit online now. There’s Periscope. You could do a weekly Periscope chat with an executive.

The other thing I would tell people to consider, look outside your own communications or marketing team for content. A lot of times we never think about the interns who are working at our company. They might have a fantastic blog to write or a story to tell or a video even to make about their experience and what it’s like to work at your company. Another team I would connect with is your new hire team. Could someone there write a blog on what their experience has been like just joining your company or your organization. I would encourage you to connect with other teams outside of your field and ask for content.

Bernie: Interesting. I like the intern and the new hire approach. I’ve also seen some really interesting hashtags. I saw a hashtag on the newsroom. #Ilooklikeanengineer. What was that about?

Kirsten: That was a trending hashtag that we just happened to take advantage of. Our Life At Cisco blog actually asked people within Cisco to send in pictures with that hashtag and we got a lot of responses back from women in STEM and women in engineering who were really proud to be working for Cisco and really proud to be in the tech field. It allowed that team to make a really cool blog and put up all those pictures that they received on the social channel with that hashtag. It kind of told the story of proud engineers at Cisco and women in tech.

Bernie: That’s cool. How do you maximize the amount of content that you produce from like a single experience? I mean there’s a lot of events that I think you attend that are in the industry or somehow related to Cisco. You go to an event or you send a team to an event. How do you then take that one event and then maximize the amount of content that you produce from one single experience or one event?

Kirsten: Sure, well I can give you probably our best example is our team is working in partnership with a documentary filmmaker producing a documentary about a bra that can actually detect breast cancer. You can find it at

Bernie: I’m sorry, detective movie as in detective?

Kirsten: Detected.

Bernie: Detected, okay, got it.

Kirsten: Yes, This documentary filmmaker came to us and said, “You know, I’m learning about this technology that sounds like what Cisco is talking about with regards to things like IoT,” which is the Internet of Everything, which is Technology, center technology that connects to the Internet. He said, “I know about this bra that a company and a businessman is trying to get into the market, and I think it would make for a great documentary.” We thought that sounded like a great idea as well and so to date this documentary is in progress.

He produced a trailer on it, which we did use last year at South by Southwest. What we’ve done is taken chunks of this process and piece them out into snackable pieces of content that people can use to understand this type of technology. We’ve built little infographics. We have interviews with healthcare professionals about this technology. We have blogs. We interviewed the filmmaker. So it allowed us to take this big project and tell a little story all along the way about not only this product but the technology and all the people that it can impact along the way.

Bernie: Interesting. Cool. Kirsten, we are now at a point in the podcast where I do something that always makes me a little bit nervous. I try to summarize some key points here before we segue to the close and I ask you my one thing question. I’ve been taking some notes while we’re talking. Let’s see if I can summarize kind of the key points of your story here, because your story is really an interesting one.

You’ve got this brand journalism background, newsroom background. You talk about how brand journalism has obviously been around for quite a while and how you’ve transferred not only your skills but really that methodology of newsroom storytelling to Cisco, a really fantastic and well-regarded technology company. You’ve got The Network newsroom at Cisco. You’ve got a team of journalists. In fact, more than just journalists. You’ve got content people, social community, web designers, graphics, photographers, journalists, really a robust team, which I think makes most people envious, including myself here at Social Business Engine.

You talked about how you have an editorial calendar just like you do in your newsroom. You mentioned that you meet about twice a week and you keep tabs on what’s going on in the industry. But then you also are monitoring trends that are going on in the industry, so that you can pivot quickly and be nimble as needed. You’re creating graphics on the fly based on what’s going on in the industry, and that because innovation is in the DNA of Cisco that you really want to be telling that story all the time in the newsroom. I think that is so cool.

Really is all about story development and how you collaborate with people in and around the company, in and around the industry. You’re doing some really innovative things. You talked about the graphic novel and how SuperSmart and Dr. Analog, about these really cool characters on this graphic novel, and then the Vine campaign, Imagine Cisco. Did I get that right, Imagine Cisco? Is that right?

Kirsten: Yeah, you got it.

Bernie: All right. You’re telling short stories there around topics like innovation, cloud, security, data, analytics, and you’ve got this Analytics Man superhero which is another cool thing that is just so fun. Then you’re doing serial content. You’ve got Focus Magazine, a monthly magazine focused on big topics, again, security, technology, and how you plan those months in advance. You’ve got a video series on Cisco Innovators where you spotlight innovation that’s going on at Cisco. You put a human touch on it. Now how you amplify your content across different social channels based on what’s appropriate for each social channel. You pointed out how LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook are each a little different in their own way so you gear what you share on those social channels according to what makes sense.

Then we talked a little bit about how smaller brands that don’t have as robust team as you do at Cisco, Kirsten, how they can do storytelling by really looking at all the tools that are available to them. Vine is available, Instagram is available, Periscope is available. I love the idea of doing weekly Periscope chats with executives or employees or whatever, or finding a hashtag that’s popular that’s trending and doing something around that like the example that you shared on “I look like an engineer” and how rallied around that, and also just consider employees that you can just partner with to create content, whether it’s interns or new hires or whatever. Then you wrapped it up with the example of the documentary that it’s in progress. You said it’s still in progress at the time of this recording?

Kirsten: That’s right.

Bernie: Then you shared a trailer at South by Southwest (SXSW) and how you’re breaking it up into snackable pieces of content, even though it’s going to be a documentary when you release it, but right now you’re breaking it up into smaller pieces that’s like maybe a teaser or a preview and to create some buzz and interest in it. All in all, you’re doing these amazing things at the Cisco newsroom. First of all, how did I do? Did I capture most of what we covered?

Kirsten: That was a great wrap up. That was a great compilation. I think you did fantastic.

Bernie: Great, great. What I always like to ask as my last question Kirsten is, what is one thing that with all of that what is one thing that you’d like to leave my audience with as an actionable takeaway on this concept of branded journalism newsroom style?

Kirsten:  Gosh, it’s hard to break it down to just one point. But I think that would be to try new things and take risks, would be like the bottom line for me. We’re in the digital age here and we have to stand out. Being different is good.

Bernie: Try new things, take some risk, yep. You have to have the environment to really accommodate that. There’s got to be an environment where trying new things and risk taking is part of the culture.

Kirsten: That’s right. Being innovative and just trying to take things out of what we have done in the past and making it that someone would want to see that piece of content and share it.

Bernie: Yep. Awesome, love it, love it. Kirsten, where would you like to send people online to connect with you and learn more about the newsroom at Cisco?

Kirsten: Sure. It is That’s where you will find a lot of our stories. That’s Or check us out on @Cisco at Twitter.

Bernie: and, of course, @Cisco. My listeners know that all of that will be linked up in our show notes page at our website at Kirsten, thank you so much for joining me here today to share your story, your storytelling story, your newsroom story at Cisco, your brand journalism story. It really is a phenomenal story. It’s inspiring for anybody, any brand. Really thank you so much for joining me here today.

Kirsten: I appreciate you having me and I really enjoyed our conversation, Bernie. Thank you.

Bernie: Terrific. I want to remind everybody before we sign off that this episode is in cooperation with Vanilla Forums. We’ve published a Social Business Journal issue with Vanilla that’s titled “The Community Playbook,” and it provides all the information needed to launch an online community and keep it thriving. Of course, that Journal is available for download at our website at on our Journals page, and, of course, we will link it up on the show notes for this episode.

If you are subscribed by email to get our weekly podcast updates that we send every Friday, we’ve already sent that to you. If you’re not subscribed just visit our Subscribe page at our website. If you are a regular listener to The Social Business Engine podcast, first of all, thank you, I really appreciate you listening. If this is your first time listening, thank you, I hope you enjoyed it. I would ask you to push that little subscribe button on your podcast player so that you don’t miss future episodes. If you’re an iTunes subscriber I would really be grateful if you’d write a review for this podcast. That can help others discover it. We’ve got a link on our website to make that easy.

Lastly, I invite you to engage with me on Twitter. I am @BernieBorges and our podcast Twitter handle is @sbengine. We also have a Facebook page which is, of course, and our hashtag is #sbeshow. That is going to do it for this episode. I want to thank my guest once again, Kirsten Chiala, Digital Content Manager for Cisco’s Social Media Communications. This is Bernie Borges of Find and Convert, wishing you continued success on your social business journey.

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