I was quick to post my criticisms yesterday to Rupert Murdoch’s apparent decision to delist his media sites from Google. Too quick it seems, as in my rush I neglected to consider a possible counter argument, blogged here by Mark Cuban.
The core of Cuban’s post appears to be that Murdoch is right because Twitter and Facebook are on their way to eclipsing Google as the primary content gateways and that these sites pose no threat to publishers. I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong.
Departing once again from my rule to never disagree with billionaires, here is what I think is right and wrong with this argument:
- Cuban: “This is not 1999, nor is it 2004, nor is it 2006, nor is it 2008. The calendar is about to turn to 2010. What worked and made sense 3,5 and 10 years ago, no longer does.”
o Me: Yes it is 2009, not 1999, 2004 2006 or 2008 - but in 2009 the Wall Street Journal get’s about 25% of its traffic from Google and 10-15% of its revenue as a result.
- Cuban: “TWITTER IS SURPASSING GOOGLE as a destination for finding information on breaking and recent news of all types.”
o Me: Surpassing? Maybe. Actually, let’s just say that’s definitely true. Surpassing isn’t the same as surpassed. Look at the numbers I point out above. That’s all still true. The numbers aren’t likely to change dramatically in the short term. They may change eventually and perhaps sooner then I think, but not tomorrow and probably not within the next 12 months.
- Cuban: “Whats more, TWITTER POSSES NO THREAT to any destination news site.”
o Me: No, you can’t fit a whole news story in 140 characters. You know what you can fit? News. Some people will want the whole story, some won’t. On the other hand it’s worth bearing in mind that newspapers aren’t just about breaking and recent news. Journalism, especially the kind that you can get at the Wall Street Journal and only a few other destinations, is bigger than that.
- Cuban: “if I trust a newspaper, tv or any brand, I can follow it on twitter and expect the news to come to me.”
o Me: Totally agree, good point . . . as long as you know who you want to follow. If you don’t you know what would be really helpful in finding out? Google.
- Cuban: “Having to search for and find news in search engines is so 2008.”
o Me: And for 25% of the Wall Street Journal’s visitors, so 2009.
- Cuban: “Nor am I saying that Google is toast and has no role. Non real time feed users will continue to source news through Google. I just see that as a declining number in an era where much of our first crack at news is via our phone. But, perfect or not, the bottom line is that in this new era of twitter, things have changed.”
o Me: I’ve been pretty critical but actually, I think this is right - or will be right. I do think more and more content discovery will happen outside of Google and Google News. I also think it’s quite possible that the competition could eclipse Google in this area. Here’s where I get off the bus, however: why delist? It’s just . . . unnecessary. You want to charge for your content? Charge. Why make it impossible to find through Internet users’ most popular form of discovery: search?
I make it a rule not to disagree with billionaires but Rupert Murdoch’s apparent plan to make News Corp sites invisible to search engines is mystifying.
The media industry isn’t dying; it’s changing, and while it undergoes this metamorphosis there will continue to be a lot of hand wringing, a lot of failed experiments and a lot of creative destruction. This is a bad thing, obviously, for those employees and companies that are left out in the cold, but journalism will survive and professional news gatherers will continue to be paid - even if we don’t precisely know how (though I suspect some pay walls will work).
So things are changing and we don’t know who’s going to end up on top. It’s only natural that publishers would experiment and it’s absolutely natural that they would turn their ire on search engines (Google, principally) that seem to be responsible for putting their business in jeopardy.
But making your content invisible to search engines? Murdoch rationalizes this by saying: “What’s the point of having someone coming occasionally?” and “If they’re just search people… They don’t suddenly become loyal readers.”
Why indeed? And while we’re at it, why sell first year subscriptions at deep discounts? Why sell single issues at newsstands or in bookstores?
Perhaps the misunderstanding stems from the use of the phrase “search people” as if we were a class or a generation. Search people aren’t a slice of the population or a demographic, they’re people, as in: people-people, as in: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and the investment banker, the lawyer, and the day trader.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, search engines are everyone’s gateway to the Internet making them, by default, the gateway to the content, all the content, found therein. To be sure, today’s dedicated readers will probably continue to be dedicated readers - those that currently pay, anyway - but what about the (hoped-for) readers of tomorrow? They’re to become dedicated readers how?
That’s only part of the problem, however. The larger issue is one of relevance. Its one thing to institute a pay wall, readers can decide based on headlines, first paragraphs or third party commentary whether an article is worth a micropayment. But removing something from search engines is, almost by definition, synonymous with removing it from the Internet itself. How can you be part of a discussion, part of a community of interest if no one can find you or if the barriers to interacting with you are so cumbersome (Murdoch also seems to indicate a coming wave of fair use lawsuits targeting, presumably, blogs)?
Murdoch wants his readers on his terms but the Internet doesn’t work that way. News - but not journalism - is basically free and plentiful. Journalism has a low, and lowering, barrier to entry. Asking people to pay for your content, find your content without the benefit of search engines, and continue to read your content as it stands roped off from the rest of community is asking too much.
Or so I believe. I could be wrong. I’m no billionaire. Maybe rendering the Wall Street Journal obsolete is part of some master plan to reinvent the media business through Seppuku.
At the Australian launch of Windows7 today, Microsoft has invited Twitter followers to take part, with the event being streamed live through Ustream.tv . These followers have the chance to engage directly with senior Microsoft executives, and during the Q&A session, every fourth question will come directly from the Twitter feed.
However, a number of journalists are not keen. First they would prefer questions only come from journalists at the event itself. Second, they’re worried the Twitter questions will be filtered and that only the easy ones will be answered. Third, they’re concerned it will take up too much time and give real journalists less opportunity to table their questions. But with only 140 characters and no follow up, it’s not likely to be a time consuming exercise.
One alternative suggestion put forward by a journalist is to run a Q&A by the likes of Slashdot and Digg, where questions are crowd sourced, than a top ten are posed to the interviewee and would better represent what the audience wants to know.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how it goes and the reaction. Twitter is now common place on TV with live studio audience shows using it to get questions in real time from viewers.
How many other PRs, particularly from the tech sector, are incorporating Twitter feeds like this into big events? What has the feedback been? Keen to hear what people think.
The media and communications worlds may be in great turmoil and evolution respectively, but a few things remain the same. Media and PR pros both love lists. Lists bring order to things, allow analysts to analyze, and give a platform for brands to say, “see why you should love me”.
This year’s World’s Best Companies list from BusinessWeek ventures to teach our technology PR discipline a little bit more.
Here are a few lessons, some old some new, that jumped out at me.
A.T. Kearney says looking forward they see two important factors that are most likely to drive global economic performance - “leveraging technology and innovation to enhance productivity, and demographic shifts such as graying populations. “
The former bodes well for technology PR pros. Until then, long live the list!
Owned by Kraft, a new recipe of Vegemite was launched a few months back, but without a name. Instead, the name was entrusted to the Australian public as a competition. This week, the winning entry was unveiled and it has been called – iSnack 2.0. Yep, can you believe it? How can you give food a name like that. What is going on?
As you would expect, the public is equally puzzled. As is the modern debate, the social media channels have been on fire with opinions on both sides. The mainstream media has also reported heavily, both here in Australia and overseas, given the iconic status of the Vegemite brand and probably because it’s such an unusual name.
Personally, I have to agree with the negative camp. It is one of the most unusual product names in living memory.
What do you think?
Or, is it going to be remembered as a smart PR stunt to simply get people talking about the product? Would we be at all surprised if the product is re-named in a few weeks, due to the weight of negative consumer feedback? We will find out soon enough.
In the meantime, like it’s famous UK counterpart Marmite, you will either love it or hate it (the iSnack 2.0 name I mean).
Update: Kraft has just announced it has dropped the iSnack 2.0 name and will get the Australian public to vote again.
I’ve come across quite a bit of blogger backlash against the PR industry of late, and the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it’s sometimes really hard to teach an old horse new tricks.
I’ve talked myself hoarse (ok lame pun kinda intended) about how I don’t regard communicating in the digital space as rocket science, but more of an extension of the basics us comms “professionals” should already innately know…just on new platforms. However, a steady chain of #fail examples that have recently been shared with me are now making me rethink what I thunk before.
Fail #1 Spamology
This is when PR people think that blasting everyone and their mother en masse without doing their homework properly is ok. Did I hear you say “blogger list”? While some journalists might still be forgiving of “To-the-editor” pitches mass-sent to 100 BCC email addresses via a wire service (still regularly practiced today by many), for goodness sake, how far do you really think you’re going to get with a one-size-fits-all play these days when there’s so much Google-able information readily available in a split-second search?
Is it really so hard to drop someone a personal note to say “Dear [person's real name], [make reference to reporter's beat/blogger's area of interest and/or a relevant article/post], would you be interested in [give quick summary of what I've got]? I felt it would be of interest to you/your readers because [insert proper reasons here]. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information.”
No reply = no interest (or a crappy/spammy subject line). Learn how to write like a human being.
Fail #2 Communicating isn’t a one-way street
Making sure all those key messages got pushed out from the rostrum may have worked in the oldskool days but now that we’re swimming in a lovely sea of citizen journalists with social media footprints that would put Bigfoot to shame, top-down decrees don’t work so well anymore.
What does your audience want to see/hear? What feedback have they been giving and how have you been answering it (if you’ve bothered to listen at all)? What’s in it for them? Giving a blogger a lame freebie and asking for in-depth “coverage” in return is like giving a journalist a goodie bag and asking for a feature story.
Fail #3 There’s no Cliff’s Notes for being digitally savvy
Sorry Cliff, but there’s no regurgitating theory on this one. Anyone can quote a social media guru but that doesn’t always translate to communication smarts.
Today’s communicator absolutely has to be actively using the new communication platforms out there and participating in conversations with others in the space in order to fully understand how they work and be able to provide solid counsel. And if you’re not, it shows. To sift out the wheat from the chaff, I often ask questions like “so what exactly do you mean by blogger engagement and online community building?”. Just because you build it (a Facebook fan page is all the rage these days), doesn’t mean they’ll come. And who said Facebook was right for the brand anyways?
These days, I’m leaning towards hiring folks who are digital mavens first and schooled in textbook PR second. Why? Because if you’re already active online and have a decent audience, it probably means you’re doing something right in terms of communicating with the people you want to reach. Teaching you how to “angle-shoot”, write a press release or craft an FAQ list sounds like it wouldn’t take much extra.
Granted, good PR folks know how to get at the real story behind the spiel…online or offline…and I work with some of these gems. I just wish there were more all around to bring the meaning of “communicator” back up to where it’s supposed to be.
Nate Cochrane pens his rules for social media etiquette on Australian new site, iTNews. And in a style true to the very fundamentals of social media which encourage active sharing and participation, he has made a point to list the rules he outlines as a work in progress and has opened it up for discussion on the site.
One of the rules that he points out is one that we tend to forget: ‘Quality NOT quantity’. Too often PRs get flack for doing a last minute dash to sign up as many people in their network to become friends/ fans on their clients’ Facebook groups and pages or on their Twitter handles.
As PRs, we need to continue to educate our clients that the real value does not lie in the sheer volume of people we sign up but rather in the quality of the people we engage (even if it’s only a handful!).
Consider who your target audience is, where do they frequent and how to reach them. Who is in your fans/ friends extended networks. Are they the right audience to target?
Using Twitter as an example, it’s important to do the analysis and drill down into who the person is that you want to connect with, get to know them, follow them for a while and find out what they write about. Also have a look into who follows that person, are they the appropriate person for your client to be reaching out to or is there someone in their Twitter network that is better?
The following tool can help you determine the most appropriate people to follow:
If we want to get some real and long lasting results for our clients, the key is to make sure that we’re speaking to the right audiences!
My colleague Sam North, former managing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald in Australia, has responded strongly to Umair Haque’s Nichepaper Manifesto. He doesn’t blog but has given me permission to post his thoughts. A little long for a blog post, but thought I would share it all:
If the Nichepaper Manifesto is some sort of harbinger of the future then God help us all. Unfortunately its broad sweep of generalities, trite statements and ill-informed comments are typical of the newspapers-are-dead lobby. I defy anyone to get their head around such an amalgamation of nonsense. The day the article was sent to me today (Wednesday, August 5), as usual, I read the AFR (a specialist finance and business newspaper and website which seeks - and many say succeeds in doing - to develop a perspective, analytical skills, and storytelling capabilities that are inimitable by rivals . . Nichepaper, anyone?), The Australian, the SMH and the Daily Telegraph. All three strove to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge by extensively educating, enlightening and informing me about many issues, particularly the Ozcar debacle in Canberra and the terrorism arrests in Melbourne.
Far from radically reinventing what news is, both those issues had the previous day been the subject of astonishing news breaks by The Australian, with the paper exclusively revealing that Godwin Gretch had admitted to writing the fake email and – even more astoundingly – revealing that the massive police terror raids were being carried out even as our papers were being delivered.
The SMH and The Australian had sections on local news, world news, arts, sport and business (Nichepapers?) and separate liftout sections on Money (SMH), Higher Education, Wealth and the Australian Literature Review. Both papers have interactive websites with the last figures I saw showing smh.com.au with more than 4.3 million unique browsers each month and theaustralian.com.au with 1.4 million.
The Nichepaper Manifesto says Nichepapers ‘’are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain – finance, politics, even entertainment – and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.’’
One would have thought that the SMH, The Australian and the AFR – along with their attendant specialist sections – offer all that, plus something more: eyeballs.
The latest circulation figures show that, far from the sky falling, the top three quality broadsheets in Australia – the SMH, The Age and The Australian – slightly increased circulation over the previous 12 months. And, in fact, the three papers have increased circulation over the past five years. And, while I can’t talk for The Australian, I do know the SMH and The Age remain profitable.
News (of the current definition, not the yet to be disclosed reinvented definition) still sells. The Daily Telegraph in London increased daily circulation by around 100,000 during the recent period when it was drip-feeding stories about the spending habits of British parliamentarians.
It is true that advertising has tanked in newspapers. But my theory is that everyone loves a new toy and the lure of the bright, shiny new media was difficult to resist. But in the light of a post-Christmas hangover sometimes those toys are looked at in a more critical light – they might be trendy, but are they better at doing the job?
Nielsen research released in April showed that more than 60 per cent of Twitter users have stopped using the service a month after joining; the two latest ANZ job advertisements surveys have shown an increase in newspaper job ads in June (0.9%) and a decrease (0.4%) in July, while online ads fell 4.8% in June and 3.6% in July.
What it all means, I’m not sure but I’ll finish with a blog in March from Tim Pethick, the young entrepreneur who successfully launched Nudie drinks, among other products. He told of his product Sultry Sally chips, a low fat brand available in Woolworths. Woolies, which had launched a rival product, told Pethick that he had to engage in mainstream advertising to boost the sales of his chips. Pethick wrote: ‘’to be forced into a position where I have to take a traditional, main media approach is anathema.’’ His fears were multiplied when a partner suggested advertising on 2GB.
‘’My heart sank. Strategically, I couldn’t think of anything worse. We are talking radio; worse, AM radio; worse still, talk-back radio; even worse, a radio station that everyone knows is only listened to by a few old punters – way, way off target and brand for us.’’ Needless to say the product walked off the shelves, with stores emptied of Sultry Sally chips. ‘’It is working like nothing I have seen before,’’ wrote Pethick. ‘’I love the fact that the old ways still count for something; I love the fact that I can still be surprised, be wrong and learn from it.’’
Actually I won’t finish on that, I’ll finish with the Nichepaper Manifesto which writes that ‘’Nichepapers are the future of news because their economies are superior.’’ ‘’What is different about them is that they are finding new paths to growth, and rediscovering the lost art of profitability by awesomeness’’. And what is the lost art of profitability by awesomeness?
I quote: ‘’When you can make awesome stuff, you don’t need to find “better” ways to sell it. The fundamental challenge of the 21st century isn’t selling the same old lame, toxic junk in new ways: its detoxifying and dezombifying it, by learning how to make insanely great stuff in the first place.’’
As you can see, Sam holds a firm view towards the newspaper lobby and its future, perhaps being an ex hack and all that. But he makes his points very vividly and with passion, just as Umair did in his original post.
Of course, plenty to debate here for everyone.
Graham White from our Australian office picked up this piece coming from the UK. The Archbishop of Westminster believes that social networks “..led young people to form “transient relationships”, which put them at risk of suicide when the relationships collapsed.“
This piece follows an earlier discussion in Indonesia earlier in the year among the Muslim ulamaks, saying social networks promote promiscuity between the sexes, and there were calls for Facebook to be made “haram” (forbidden under Islamic practices). Facebook, mind you, is the top-ranked site in Indonesia, with more than 800,000 users.
Compare the thoughts of the Archbishop and the Indonesian ulamaks (whom I assume are not digital natives), with those of these commentators, (whom I assume are digital natives).
The reflection here is that social media/ networks are not just secular or technology or mass media or marketing phenomena, it’s impacting religious practices, so much so that religious leaders have started commenting on them.
In other words, what’s clear is that social media/networks are truly affecting and changing society (well, at least in the developed nations with Internet access).
With social media becoming such an impact into our lives, shouldn’t we embrace it more, and look at the positive aspects of it?
Could a new social search service with a name synonymous with ‘earth pig‘ have implications for marketing and communications? I think so.
Aardvark let’s you ask questions anonymously and receive answers from individuals in your or your friends’ social networks who may have relevant expertise. The service is opt-in, anonymous and questions can be asked and received on the Web, through Twitter, email and so on. There’s a homepage where you set up a profile but the process takes seconds and you never have to go back.
I’ve used Aardvark over the past few weeks and it’s enabled me to tap into distributed expertise - from people several degrees of separation removed from me - quickly and easily. It works so well that I find myself using Aardvark over Google for knowledge discovery.
So what are the implications for marketing and communications? Here are some preliminary ideas:
- Internal Communications: It’s no secret that large enterprises have a problem with knowledge transfer and it’s no secret that social networking has been suggested as a possible solution. I think Aardvark is more realistic for connecting employees. Why? Because an Aardvark-like service could be implemented and used so easily.
o HR managers could log new employees into the system without those employees having to take any action. Job descriptions could be used to set up areas of expertise.
o Employees would use it because the system can be accessed from virtually any medium.
o Older employees not comfortable with traditional social networks? That’s fine; they can use the system perfectly well through email.
o Younger employees more comfortable with a Twitter interface or mobile app? That’s easy to implement too.
- Customer engagement: Imagine enrolling every new customer/user in an Aardvark-like service when you close the sale. Customers would immediately be plugged into a network of experts (other customers) with similar challenges or issues and with almost no effort on their part. Customers could be empowered to ask questions about products as well as issues relevant to their industry, job function etc. As the broker of the relationship vendors benefit from delivering another value-added service (at minimal cost). There’s also the potential opportunity for valuable data mining.
- Thought leadership and expert visibility: This is the one that’s really captured my attention. Currently Aardvark is anonymous and the system routes you to the best resource based on user profiles. What if users had the option of selecting to receive answers from identified experts affiliated with a company, product or service? How might this work?
o Users might opt in to direct their questions to qualified and identified experts to obtain answers that require a higher degree of credibility (medical questions for instance)
o Vendors, of course, would benefit from having a direct channel to promote their expertise and thought leadership.
o Taking it a step further, users could rate vendor responses. Top rated vendors on a topic would get the first crack at relevant questions, thereby incentivizing them to provide value each time.
Answer sites, social networks and the chaos that is Twitter address each of these ideas/opportunities in their own ways but somehow Aardvark, because of its filtering, its simplicity, and the fact that it eliminates the burden of creating original content for a destination site, seems much more attractive to me. What do you think?