What really happened that caused traditional media to shrink so much over the past decade – and why are so many still struggling to come back?
That’s the subject of this presentation, which I’ve given several times over the past few years.
Two years out of college, as a young reporter for a business weekly in Upstate New York, I met the crusty old publisher of the Pacific Business News – a business journal in Honolulu. I didn’t like him much. I was idealistic and ready to change the world. I was living in the snow belt and learning how businesses work. I was reporting on Michael Milken (a Master of the Universe, the junk-bond king, deal-maker supreme) and leveraged buyouts. I was writing about how empires were made, how old cities were rebuilt, how capitalism made the world turn.
Knowing that, the question is: how often are you featuring the photo, name, needs or wants of your customers where everyone (or at least the person you’re catering to) can see them?
Strategy before execution. This should be simple.
But it’s human nature to jump right into doing stuff before sweating out the big questions.
For example, a couple prospective clients have put off small, closed-ended projects that I proposed to help them align operating strategy and marketing. This in turn would help them answer such daunting digital communications questions as how to deal with social media, and what capabilities does the website need to offer?
It’s my suspicion that what they’ll really learn is the organization doesn’t actually have a unifying operating strategy. But in both cases, the reason given for delaying the little strategy project is that they first have to devote all their attention to the big website project.
I understand that building a new website is daunting. But it’s even harder if you don’t know what purpose the new website is supposed to serve. It’s like getting ready to knock the ball in the hole without knowing whether you’re playing billiards or golf.
That’s why strategy always needs to come before execution. Strategy tells you what you’re trying to do. The website will help you do it. But only if you tackle them in the right order.
Alan Mutter, who calls himself the Newsosaur and whose opinions on the news business I deeply respect, points out that newspapers are now well into their sixth year of declines in advertising demand. In a recent blog post, he noted that annual newspaper sales hit $10.7 billion in 2006 – and now stand at $4.3 billion, about the same level as 1983. And they continue to drop.
While the drop in advertising isn’t new for newspapers, it hasn’t always been their No. 1 problem. Credit for that goes to the systemic and ongoing declines in circulation. Newspapers are simply less relevant across society than they once were.
But the dynamic behind shrinking advertising is different; it’s more like the experience of magazines – especially business-to-business – over the past decade.
I’ve written about the reasons behind the loss of advertising for magazines, and I’m not alone. The issue isn’t that advertising has ceased to work; I don’t believe that’s the case now, nor do I foresee the day when it is.
The issue is that other things now work better. And by other things, I really mean one other thing: social media.
First, more people are involved in social media than in any other media channel. If you lump together YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare and the thousands of other social media websites, day-to-day participation is as broad as any other media channel.
Further, in most cases participation is free – even for the marketers, at the most basic level.
Further still, results are always measurable.
The equation is really simple: Marketers who are pulling back on their traditional advertising are merely following the lead of other marketers. And those who are not actively involved in social media are negligent. Marketers need to be where the people are, so they simply aren’t going to ignore a media channel that has so quickly attracted a large percentage of the world’s population.
I could predict that advertising revenues are going to continue their decline for newspapers, because consumer advertisers are now discovering what business-to-business advertisers learned several years ago: With social media, you can (and should) become your own publisher – developing an audience and serving it with meaningful, interesting and helpful content.
That doesn’t mean newspapers, magazines or any other type of print media are doomed. But newspapers of the future will be very different than they were just six years ago. The sooner they figure out how to unhitch their fortunes from advertising, the better off they’ll be.
Many small business owners are not marketers. They’ll tell you as much.
People start their own business in order to do what they love and do well. Marketing becomes a necessary evil.
For many, writing is a chore. Or databases are a mystery. Or blogging takes too much time. Social media creates an uncomfortable blend between business and personal. Networking is superficial. Advertising is too expensive and doesn’t work quickly. Public relations is a crapshoot.
It’s altogether too time-consuming, too hard, too expensive. There’s so much marketing work to do that nothing gets done. And it’s easy to justify, because word-of-mouth is the thing that works the best anyway. But word-of-mouth isn’t real marketing; it’s luck. And while I’d rather be lucky the good, the real winners are both.
Aside from being under-capitalized, marketing paralysis may be the most common affliction among small businesses. There is a lot to know about marketing and too many easy reasons not to get started.
But marketing is now more accessible to small businesses than it’s ever been. Marketing rarely comes for free, but it’s possible to start marketing seriously without risking thousands of dollars like you had to do 10 years ago.
So here’s an idea: Try one thing. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all there is to learn about marketing, try choosing one marketing activity and focusing on it until you’re proficient – or at least comfortable.
What should you do first? I’d advise doing the activity that interests you most; you’re more likely to find the joy in mastering it.
But if you insist on being pointed in the right direction, swallow your pride and jump onto Facebook. Why? It’s a tool that can allow you to reach 1 out of 2 people in the United States – for free. If you coughed up $3 million to advertise on the Superbowl you wouldn’t reach that many people. Facebook is, simply, the largest media outlet in the world. And you can get started without spending a nickel.
What do you do on Facebook? Start by building a profile for your company, and then explore and experiment. We can discuss it in more detail another time. What’s important is that you do something. Anything.
In iMedia Connection, Adam Broitman boldly predicts the death of offline media. His skillful headline almost – but not quite – predicts that it will happen in 2010.
Ignore that; that’s just headline-writing 101 – making the message immediately relevant. 2010 will inevitably bring more bad news for old-line media. But it will still be very much alive by the end of 2010.
But Broitman makes a great point, and I think he’s dead on.
His point is that online media will continue to supplant what he calls offline media (and what I, anachronistically perhaps, refer to as traditional media) at ever-increasing speed.
He gives two examples why (he claims there are three, but only two clearly jumped out at me from the column):
There’s another irony; while media is becoming more active, search is becoming more passive. When selling print advertising, I made the point that consumers use print and online differently. Print was for grazing – looking for things you didn’t know to think about; online was for finding information you knew you wanted. Those purposes are merging. If Marshall McLuhan were still around, he’d have to rewrite Understanding the Media as TV becomes “hot” and Google becomes “cool.”
Too often, media allow themselves to be steered by past experience – their own and that of consumers.
For instance, all sorts of new studies proclaim to know whether people will pay for online content. How do they know? They ask.
But they ask things like: “Would you pay for this newspaper online.” The answer to that isn’t helpful; a newspaper isn’t built for online consumption – and the prospect of reading it online is unappealing. So people will say no.
People who answer such surveys haven’t generally put thought into what they would pay for online. They’ll just know it when they see it. Which means that it’s the job of the media to figure out its own future; the audience isn’t going to be much help.
So the real point that I take from Broitman’s column is one that’s essentially unspoken: offline media will continue to decline because of the relentless growth in online offerings that will be worthy buying.
The unresolved question is how many of these offerings will be created by startups vs. the existing “offline” media.
I’m not giving up on Twitter. Yet. There are still a handful of people whose Tweets are interesting and useful to me.
But it’s a stupid game.
It has nothing to do with how much you have to say or how often you say it. It has everything to do with how many people you follow. I recently attended a webcast on how to build a social network on Twitter. The basic advice: follow a lot of people and they’ll follow you back. And if they don’t follow you back, unfollow them.
The rest of the session was inside ball: what rules Twitter uses to prevent such inanity and how to get around them (wait 24 hours before unfollowing anyone); how to identify non-followers quickly using Twitter’s minimalist interface (if you don’t have a direct-message option next to their name, they aren’t following you); and which tools you can use (Hummingbird, $197.00) to automatically follow people and then unfollow them if they fail to reciprocate.
By using this advice (not the software; just the advice) I tripled the number of people following me (from about 100 people after 4 months of thoughtful tweeting to 300 people after another day and just one tweet). Time spent in the effort: 15 minutes.
The etiquette at Twitter is simple: Someone follows you, you follow them back. And vice versa.
How this does anyone any good is beyond me; it assures that you have an audience of people who don’t give a wit about anything you have to say. And vice versa.
To prove the point, I just got a follow from someone whose list of followers and followees at this moment is in the range of 34,000. She has 14 tweets since May (4 months).
Fourteen? Really? That’s 1,960 characters, which isn’t even a respectable dependent clause to William Faulkner. That’s like 17 followers per word. If Jesus had a ratio like that, would Islam even exist?
When in history have so many people lined up to listen to so many people with so little to say?
Well, yes. If you have bad content then it doesn’t matter how many people come to see it. Consider this visual from Mark Smiciklas.
Wait, it’s worse than that. If you have bad content, then the more people who see it, the worse off you are. Because now you’re simply broadcasting the fact that you suck.
I would argue you’re better off with great content that only a few people see — because at least those few people will have good things to say about you.
About 10 years ago, I was involved in a magazine that was all about business-to-business commerce. Our readers were intently trying to build e-commerce platforms that would increase the velocity of their business; our advertisers were trying to sell them 7-figure solutions to do so. But the discipline was in its frontier days, and much of what they were doing was first-generation inadequate.
The problem wasn’t that the e-commerce systems failed. It’s that everything else was built for a slower world. Warehouses weren’t organized well enough to handle the high-speed demands of e-commerce. Inventory wasn’t well-enough planned to keep fast-moving items in stock. Shipping contracts didn’t include the kind of pick-up and delivery guarantees that e-commerce requires.
Companies could take the orders with lightning speed, but then the old, slow processes took over.
Which resulted in what became known (at least in my own head) as Rosenbaum’s Law: Enabling e-commerce at a company with bad processes merely makes those bad processes apparent at a much higher speed to a much larger number of people.
The point: Make sure you have something intelligent and/or compelling to say.
Then communicate it.
Then — and only then — promote the heck out of it.
There is an entire industry of consultants that didn’t exist three years ago, telling people how to collect thousands of followers on Twitter; how to gain friends and fans on Facebook; and how to leverage large networks on LinkedIn. These consultants are writing books, conducting web-seminars and selling services.
The thing that gets too little attention is what all this is worth? Sure, you can grab a small nation’s worth of Twitter followers, but will it make you any money if they aren’t paying attention to your Tweets?
It would be nice if there were a few key metrics and some nice neat formulas you could follow, but social media is evolving too quickly and the measurements aren’t that simple.
In the end, if you want to know whether your time with social media is well spent, you need to do the following:
Set a meaningful goal. Is the purpose of your social media outreach simply to gain followers? Then you’ll have an easy time measuring, and a hard time proving that the effort was worthwhile. Instead, set a more specific goal, like this: To generate sales of $XXX (or X number of sales transactions) from members of our social media network.
That way, you’ll not only have a pass/fail measurement, you’ll learn something important along the way: i.e., how many new connections it takes to achieve a sale.
Assign specific tasks. If more than one person is going to be involved in the social media effort, make sure that each person knows his or her specific role. For instance, one person might conduct the outbound communications while another works to convert inbound communications into leads, and still another works to close sales.
This way, the entire job will get done — not just the fun part of blogging and tweeting. Further, when things don’t go perfectly (they won’t), you’ll have a team of experts who can figure out what adjustments to make.
Track everything. Time is money. So while social media programs are astonishingly inexpensive in terms of hard cost, you’ll want to know how much of each day your team members are spending on social media vs. their other responsibilities.
If you do these three things, then measuring gets easy. If you have goals, an organized work effort and good data, determining whether your resources are well-spent will be easy. Just like the example of Reality Digital, also from Computerworld.
That’s 9.5 people-years per day spent on Facebook. I don’t know the source of his information and I haven’t bothered to look at how many people use it; I don’t know the average time spent per user. I don’t even know why this is meaningful.
But it amazes me nonetheless.