Invite Your Audience Backstage: 4 Tips For Making Content About Your Business

Taking viewers ‘behind the scenes’ has been a staple of DVD extras for years – it’s a relatively cheap way to create additional content for hardcore fans to enjoy. The Game of Thrones crew, say, have gone all out on their ‘backstage’ strategy, with a dedicated blog full of production notes made during filming, a site that includes footage from the team after every episode, as well as efforts to make sure that lots of journalists could write behind the scenes pieces.

However, it doesn’t take an HBO budget or embedded journalists to let fans connect with the talent. Organizations of all sizes can use similar techniques to get extra bang from their marketing bucks, and to reach audiences they normally wouldn’t be able to.

In this post, I’ll share 4 key ways you can approach this tactic. Each lists specific examples of companies that have created behind-the-scenes material to great success. 

1) Show How the Sausage is Made

When flight search website Hipmunk moved into hotel search, the startup’s founder Alexis Ohanian needed to update the site’s mascot. Before getting to work in Illustrator, he started recording the process, and published a timelapse of his work.

Though the video received ‘only’ 10 thousand views (not a huge number by Hipmunk’s standards), it did expose the brand to people who might not have come across Hipmunk before. The video had appeal to people with some interest in design and branding, so it received links and coverage from sites covering those topics – not sites that would typically have talked about Hipmunk.

This wasn’t a bad result for what I presume was literally only a couple of extra minutes work for Alexis to format, caption and upload the video.

A similar approach – on a very different scale – is demonstrated in the video below.

Old Spice spent hundreds of thousands creating the three videos for the “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, and created by far the most famous crossover TV/web campaign of the last few years.

But this video – which looks like it was shot unofficially on someone’s cell phone – again seems to have cost absolutely nothing to create, but received an impressive 2 million views.

(A more polished and official behind the scenes video was also available, but didn’t achieve the same audience.)

2) Turn the Everyday into a Story

You might be surprised by the things you do day-to-day that someone would find interesting – this can often happen with your non-core business functions.

For example, Moz’s core messages are about their excellent technology and deep understanding of online marketing. However, Rand has invited people behind the scenes by blogging about topics such as building a network or people management.

Beyond appealing to the existing community, posts like these from Rand can attract interest from people in other niches. And, of course, this is about more than just getting links from new places (such as HR or entrepreneurism sites). The strategy puts Moz in front of people who aren’t marketers, but might be thinking about their marketing.

On a much grander scale, Google have lifted the veil on their technology to appeal to a particular audience. The search engine was secretive about their data centers for years – never answering questions about the contents, the purpose and even the locations of their facilities.

In 2012 – to the satisfaction of hardware geeks everywhere – Google shared a collection of photos from inside their private data centers. Since then, this gallery has been expanded into a huge collection of information about their technology and internal processes.

                                                              Photo credit: Google

The decision to invest in this content presumably wasn’t to spread the word about Google, or to create linkbait to help their SEO. Instead, it provided an opportunity for them to promote their commitments to initiatives such as renewable energy or technology recycling.

3) Deepen the Relationship

Giving your customers, clients or fans an insight into your world beyond the polished marketing messages can engender a feeling of them being part of the ‘inner circle’. I’ve discovered two examples over the last six months – both from speakers at our SearchLove conferences.

Firstly, Chris Savage from Wistia shared a video of them rearranging their office. The content was simple enough to create, it’s very informal, and they get to share a story about how they’ve used office layout to improve communication and culture. (They used to rearrange the office layout every few months, picking names out of a hat in order to seat people randomly and encourage serendipity.)

Most recently, Aaron Weyenberg from TED shared a fantastic story of the site’s recent redesign. (You can access his full slide deck here.)

                                                                         Photo credit: TED

The whole redesign process was documented on its own blog, at It covered topics ranging from how they generated new ideas together, to their process for selecting a design agency. Through the seven month process, they shared an average of one post every week, giving their biggest fans an insight into the process and getting them excited for the launch.

4) Work in Sneaky Branding

Of course, not all content created as a ‘behind the scenes’ experience is completely transparent about its motives – but that’s not necessarily a problem.

The first example comes from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, combining all three of the approaches mentioned above. Graham writes fantastic essays about the startup and investment world, and in 2009 he used Etherpad to ‘record’ the writing process. You can watch that essay progress from first draft to its final form; the highlighted areas will have further edits while anything that’s not highlighted ends up in the final version.

Although sharing the post in this format would strengthen PG’s relationship with existing fans, I don’t think it was the main motivation. Etherpad was created by a startup that Y Combinator had invested in, so rather than just telling his fans that it was a fantastic real-time editor, this generated some real interaction with the tool. It was a hugely successful post on Hacker News (comment thread here), and the company went on to reach thousands of dollars in revenue each month, before being acquired by Google later that year.

A more recent example came from Hollywood – the original ‘behind the scenes’ industry – just before the biggest night of their year. In the run up to this year’s Oscar ceremonies, Business Insider published a story about the newly revamped Oscar envelopes.

This seemed to offer a fantastic glimpse behind the scenes of an incredibly glamorous event, with a clever hook that told the story of the attention paid to every detail of the ceremony – right down to the envelope.

However, it becomes clear that the whole piece was actually motivated by the stationery design company, and there was probably no involvement from the Academy in this article. The only photos from the ceremony are taken from a stock photo service, and all the other images – even the ones that appear to be from backstage, like the one above – are actually from tradeshows or other events.

The article is definitely entertaining and highly shareable (it received 300k+ views and hundreds of social shares) and does a fantastic job giving the impression of a glitzy behind-the-scenes piece, while raising brand awareness for any readers who happen to need fancy couture stationery.

So, whether you create a hugely in-depth piece of content or simply take photos of your office on a cell phone, I hope you have fun with these techniques, and take us backstage at your business soon.

What about you? Seen any good examples of ‘backstage’ content recently? Let us know in the comments below.

Get blog posts via email