ABOUT THIS EPISODE
Cat Johnson, content marketing and coworking storyteller, shares her journey into the coworking industry, why content marketing matters, and–more importantly–why all content should be authentic and from the heart.
Ceci [00:00:17] Hi, everyone, and thanks for tuning in. I am Ceci Amador and And with me is a very special guest and personal friend of mine. Cat Johnson. For those of you who do not know Cat he is a coworking storyteller and content strategist. She hosts the Coworking OutLoud podcast, she runs the Coworking Concert Alliance group, she teaches workspace operators about content marketing through monthly virtual trainings, and she runs content lab accountability sprints. She also presents workshops and talks about the power of content to connect people and the importance of authentic brand storytelling.
Cat is here with us today to talk a little bit about storytelling, why it’s important and how it will play an important role in the future of work.
Ceci [00:01:07] So, Cat, welcome.
Cat [00:01:09] Hey, Ceci, thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Ceci [00:01:13]e’re happy to have you. I’d like to start by having you share with us a little bit about how you got into marketing storytelling and more importantly, how did you end up involved in the coworking movement?
Cat [00:01:27] All right. I’ll try to short and sweet this. I worked at record stores for a really long time; couple of decades. And I started doing music writing and writing, doing some arts and culture, music, writing for our local Alt Weekly here. And the more I did that, I was kind of amazed that people would pay me to write about things that I was interested in. So I started writing about community gardens and different projects and things that were outside the scope of just arts and music. I really loved it and at some point bumped into coworking and it was really early in the movement. But I definitely saw that something special was happening and I wanted to be part of it. So I wrote about it for quite a while, for any publication that would let me. And then I realized I wanted to be on the inside of the movement, that it was something I didn’t want to be someone writing about it from the outside, that this was something I was passionate about and I wanted to be a participant and help further the movement.
So I started looking at it from that way and trying to help other space operators figure out how to write about their space, how to do their marketing, how to do their branding, things like that. And so I kind of fell into marketing, realizing that I never considered myself a journalist like that, never really resonated with me. And as soon as I got into marketing and branding specifically for coworking, it was like something clicked. It was it’s a perfect fit for me.
Ceci [00:03:08] That’s great. I mean, as a fellow writer, I can definitely appreciate having people that pay for you to write.
Cat [00:03:16] I have a picture of me with my first check. It’s like for 80 dollars or something and I had this ear to ear grin like, oh my God, someone paid me money to write. It was an amazing moment.
Ceci [00:03:29] Yeah, I remember the first time someone paid me to write as well, and it was like, oh, well, this is actually worth something. So, no, it’s a great feeling, but it’s impressive that you went from music writing to coworking. So that’s definitely an interesting shift. And what you say about falling into marketing and branding, can you tell us a little bit of how well can you tell us a little bit about the things that you learned along the way? So what are some of the things about marketing and branding within the coworking movement that struck you at first?
Cat [00:04:06] Yes. So it’s really been kind of a long DIY journey. I mean, that transition I just told you was over years. Right. And just picking up marketing things here and there, like it’s not something that I went to school for. It’s all been DIY, just like figuring things out as I go learning from everybody I can. It helps a lot that I’m really interested in it and see the power of marketing to promote good things, to create positive change in the world, that it’s not just an adjunct to advertising, that it’s really like the getting the deeper messages across and things like that.
So, the context of coworking, what I saw was that people were doing amazing things and within a small circle of people, they knew about it. But the larger world had no idea what was happening within coworking. And coworking space weren’t doing a great job at educating their communities and getting the word out. Some spaces were, continue to do amazing content and storytelling, but a lot are not. And I think that space operators are overwhelmed. And when I tell them they have to be pushing out blog post, it’s just one more thing to do for them. So part of my work is helping people understand how insanely valuable it is to have a content machine churning under you.
I’ve built my entire career within coworking with content.. I don’t run ads. I don’t do anything. The reason people know about me, the reason I’m on this podcast, the reason I’m going to GCUCto speak and was in London for GCUCUK as an ask the expert guest is through content, right? I just have created content for years that’s been really focused on supporting and helping coworking space operators and the movement.
Ceci [00:06:13] And you’ve actually you’re actually one of the best well-known voices of the coworking movement. You’ve been a huge advocate. And I know at least in the US, most people know who you are. So you’ve definitely done a great job through content and marketing yourself. So I think that qualifies you as an expert.
What I want to ask, you know, is how is it that you connect with people? How do you connect with them now? How do you think that will change in the future? Because, I mean, from a personal side, I sometimes find it hard to connect with people to get to the point where I know kind of like that I’ve reached a point that they enjoy what they’re talking about. And that’s not just the superficial stuff. So how do you connect with people online?
Cat [00:07:05] That’s a huge question and it’s been something that I continue to learn, but I’ve had a few experiences over the years that have been really profound for a while in my writing. I was kind of writing about things with not quite an academic tone, but kind of like a tone that I thought a professional writer should have. And what that meant is that I wasn’t in my writing very much. I had an editor challenge me once; like this article could have been written by anyone. I want an article that’s written by Cat. Right. I remember I was hanging out with a group of friends. We were on a retreat and one of my mastermind, the thing I wanted to focus on, was I wanted to figure out a way to bring more of myself into my work. Like I felt like I was writing about content and FCO and blog posts and things, but there wasn’t much of me. I felt a kind of a disconnect between my work and who I was. So I put that out there to the universe and then some crazy stuff happened in my life. There was a lot of loss and a lot of transition and some really hard things happened.
What I found is that when I opened up and let people know who I was and that, you know, the times I was struggling or the times things were going well or when I was confused, that that’s when people totally responded to me. There’s this podcast episode where it’s just like really raw and emotional. And I just told people what was going on in my world. And people responded to that in a way that I have never had them respond to any article or previous podcast or talk or anything I’d ever done.
Like people just came; hey showed up in my inbox, hey showed up in person, they called me, they texted, hey hit me up on social media. And they were mostly saying things like, yeah, I’ve been through that or I know what you’re going through or, you know, sorry to hear that; here’s what I did in this moment. And it was really a profound lesson that even within the context of marketing, that the more we bring our authentic selves to our work, the more we’re going to resonate with people.
And we’re so fortunate in coworking that we’re not trying to sell, you know, like electronic appliances or something; and we’re not selling furniture. We get to when we market ourselves authentically, we’re what we’re talking about is community and being real and showing up as our whole selves and our real lives. We’re so lucky that I can talk about myself as I am and there’s not a total disconnect. Like if I was selling light switches, people would be like, what is this world talking about? No one cares. But in coworking, people very much care.
Ceci [00:09:59] And in what you say the part by opening up and sharing; bringing Cat into your work., and you talk a lot about authenticity in your workshops and your newsletters, I’m with you in person, you talk about being authentic. And I think that part of what makes us human is our ability to be vulnerable by ourselves and around others. And I’ve heard so many people say that the future of work is human. And I do believe that. I fully believe that the future of work is human. And so using marketing and storytelling to tap into the modern workforce, tomorrow’s workforce, that are some things that companies and individuals can do other than just being truly authentic.
Cat [00:10:56] Well,. I’m seeing this more this. This rings true for me and I’m seeing like studies and things about it that people no longer want to like they want to know what a brand stands for; they want to know who’s behind a brand. When they give their money to something, whether it’s buying shoes or joining a coworking space, there’s more interest in what that company stands for and who they are. So that is just a huge opening for people who run coworking spaces and community spaces of all kinds, to really get their message out into the world. t used to be enough if there was a coworking space in a town, you know, you would pick up some press and people would find you because you existed. But now, even in small towns, there may be three or five or seven coworking spaces, like it’s no longer enough that you exist. So to attract people to your space that are going to be a good fit for your community, to be kind of putting out there who you are and being willing to share your values and your purpose and what drives you as a space operator, why you went into coworking in the first place.
People are increasingly interested in that and I hope Ceci, I think it’s the future. I hope it’s the future. You know, some days the way our world is is just absolutely it’s upsetting and crazy-making; I worry for our future. And then other times I look around and I’m like, yes, we are definitely moving in the right direction with people wanting to have more purpose in their lives and in their work.
Ceci [00:12:40] I’m in the same boat as you Cat about culture and community. And I think that they should definitely be at the core of the future of work and in the industry, particularly the coworking industry, community is one of its core pillars, and at least as it relates to branding and storytelling marketing, I think that a lot of operators have struggled to convey what they mean by community. And so it resulted in having a lot of websites or spaces saying, yeah, we offer community, but, what is it about community that makes a space special, like how can operators better convey that in their marketing and their storytelling efforts?
Cat [00:13:25] Well, to be honest, I think it goes the other way around, like just about every space operator I’ve ever met thinks they have community.. For some, it’s a big thriving space where everyone knows each other and hangs out outside of the workspace and they’re really connected and supportive. And for others, it may mean that the same 10 people are in a shared office space. o the term community goes from very loose to something to something really tight.
I think the mistake that you want to avoid is trying to sell community before you have it. Right. People say, I’ve had space operators who haven’t even opened their doors yet and they’re promoting their space as a diverse, inclusive community. And it’s like I love that vision, of course. It’s like, yes, do that. And if someone comes to join a diverse, inclusive community and they’re the only person in the room, that’s not going to help your cause at all. So I think that and I’d love this, but there is no shortcut to building community.
I love that you can’t throw some money at it and just have a community pop into place. It totally is about like day, every hour, the ups, the downs, the good stuff, the bad stuff, but carrying people, caring about people on an individual level over a stretch of time. I feel like you have to do the work of community before you can start attracting people to your community. And that being said, there’s room for everyone here. Like I really love when there are like scaled workspace brands that maybe attract people who aren’t as interested in being part of a vibrant community, as like in Santa Cruz this my home space.
NextSpace is we’re very much into it. People who have different professions and different priorities may not be into something like NextSpace, it wouldn’t be a good fit for them. They may be more comfortable in that 10 office space. But I love the idea that within the workspace movement in general, people who run those spaces are also looking at how they can do more to bring people together and to help dismantle loneliness and to just create a sense where people feel better being in their workspace than at home.
Ceci [00:16:03] Yes. And then around that, about not being able to you can’t sell something that you don’t have. But then I think that there is a lot to the flexible workspace industry and the coworking movement and community. And I think that one of the things that operators should focus on is what is their value proposition?
So what makes them unique and stand out from the coworking space next door? And I’ve argued several times that for some it might be their unbelievably fast Wi-Fi. at least for me, that would be the selling point. Like, I am the type of person that if my email takes longer than 10 seconds to load, I’m already annoyed. And so I think that there was a lot of focus placed on community that operators kind of forgot that they have other value propositions that go beyond that can be more tangible and more easy to convey maybe in their marketing efforts. What are your thoughts on that?
Ceci [00:17:18] Yeah. That is so true. And it’s spot on. I feel like you just spoke to the heart of it. Like the first thing people have to do in their marketing is knowing who their audience is, know who, who will be a good fit in their space, what those people are looking for, what they struggle with. Because of one space. like you could have five coworking spaces on the same block and all of them could be full because maybe one of them has fiber Internet, maybe one of them caters to digital creatives, o they have like some of the equipment and different audiovisual studios and things like that, which would be amazing. Maybe one of them is parent-friendly, they have onsite childcare. Maybe one of them has a tool library in the back and it’s more kind of hands-on people who are doing craft-type businesses and things like that. There’s just there’s so many spaces. Like what we’re calling coworking now is going to be known just as working. It’ll just be how and where people work. Right. So there’s just there’s a ton of opportunity. And the key thing is knowing who your space is for. I think if you don’t have a good handle on that, you’re going to really struggle in your marketing because people won’t see themselves reflected in who you are until you know really clearly who you’re for.
Ceci [00:18:41] Yes, and that’s something that I definitely believe in, you can’t be everything to everyone. And even if operators target their marketing to specific customer personas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be leaving out a lot of other people. I think it just means that their message will be more efficient and effective with the audience. So I definitely think that that’s an important issue that needs to be addressed. It’s just about finding what works best for a brand. And to some degree, I think part of that is just trial and error.
Cat [00:25:36] It’s all trial and error. And even people, like I come by, ike I was saying, I come by my writing naturally. My mom’s an English teacher. I grew up reading and writing, and that’s comfortable,ut I definitely had to learn.
There’s a big difference between the kind of stream of consciousness writing and academic writing and then marketing writing. And I’ve learned, I’ve been studying this now for 10 years almost and you just get better. You just learn things about headlines and calls to action and formatting and keyword phrases and things like that. Yeah, I just have picked so much of it up that I, all over the place. It was just a few. Well, it’s probably been four years ago now. I was still writing about a lot of different community-focused projects and things, but I really wanted to go all-in on coworking. But I was worried. I was like, what if I go all in and there’s no, there’s nothing there? And I asked a bunch of friends, including Iris Cavanaugh from Women Who Cowork. And it’s just like, should I go all in? Do you think? Do you think this is a thing? And she was just like, yes, do it. It’s it’s there.
So I did that and kneeled down and it took a little while for. Probably months, if not longer. I was writing about coworking and content marketing and just getting absolute crickets. But then the momentum starts picking up, people start sharing your stuff, start tuning in because they recognize that you know what you’re talking about. And yeah, a handful of years later, I’m kind of the content person, which when you said that it’s like freaky and awesome at the same time, like, I love that. And it’s really fun to go around the world chatting about this stuff. And sometimes it’s crazy because I’m just here usually at my computer. It’s crazy to think that all these people know about me. But yeah, yeah.
Ceci [00:27:37] I know the feeling. I know. And then there’s something that you just mentioned that I think it’s really important with marketing: titles. And as a writer, I hate coming up with titles. I always struggle with them and they’re not as strong as they can be. And they play such an important role in getting people to read your stuff, to get people to consume your content. And it’s so hard.
Cat [00:28:04] It is huge. Headlines are so much, like there’s this exercise where you write 20 headlines for one piece and you start with, I know it’s crazy and I don’t always have time, but I would say every piece I definitely try out probably five or seven because you start out and it’s kind of vague, you’re kind of rambling through all the words. Alike oftentimes I’ll have the keyword phrase I want to hit and you want to put the keyword phrase near the beginning, so then you end up with something like, you know, headlines for coworking space operators or, you know, create better headlines: ten tips for space operators or something, because you’re trying to get all that information in there, but also have it in a way that will attract people’s attention. Because, you know, we click on a tiny percentage of the things we see float by in our feed. So it’s like this crazy balance of trying to get the SEO juice, because headlines are really important with that and also trying to attract humans. It’s definitely an art and a science.
Ceci [00:29:14] Yep.o me, it’s mostly a science because I still don’t understand it at all, so definitely a science for me.
Thank you so much for sharing with us why you believe so much that content should come from the heart, that it should be authentic. And I think it’s it’s a great path that companies need to follow, particularly as purpose and values and shared missions become much more important in the future of work and how people make their buying and decision making processes. I think it’s important not only for companies to convey their purpose to their customers through their marketing, but I think their content in general, internal and external should be very authentic in order to connect with both customers and employees. I feel like there’s a lot of talk in the future of work around technology and robots and disruption when, at the end of the day, it’s still us humans that remain at the core and heart of it. So our marketing, our content, our communication efforts should definitely center on that.
I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to add. Maybe let our audience know where they can find you or how they can get in touch with you.
Cat [00:30:37] Yeah. Ceci. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for the invite. So the best way to find me. I’m at Catohnson.co. I’m on Twitter as @CatJohnson, Instagram Catjohnsonco. But I am around. The coworking content alliance is a really good thing to join. If you’re a space operator, it’s a Facebook group and you just search it there. There’s always there are great conversations in a very helpful, cool community there. And gosh, in terms of what to add, I just you know, I feel grateful every single day to be in this industry that I get to do such human work. I spent a lot of years working for other people, doing work that I enjoyed somewhat but wasn’t super purpose-driven. And to be able to kind of define my life and my work and work with so many amazing space operators all over the place is I have to pinch myself all the time. It’s amazing.
Ceci [00:31:40] Yeah. Thank you so much, Cat.
Cat [00:31:42] Yep. Thanks, Ceci. It’s been a pleasure.