“Content Is Power”: Q & A with Mark W. Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer

A couple of years ago when I started B2B Memes it was my plan to focus exclusively on trade publishing. But as I looked around the blogosphere/Twitterverse, it didn’t take long to realize that the most enthusiastic and informed discussions about B2B communications involved not publishing, but marketing.

For me, a journalist, this came as a jolt.

In more than 20 years as a B2B editor, I worked frequently with both public relations and marketing people. Though I liked and respected most of them, the alliance was always uneasy. Our goals were fundamentally different. To put it hyperbolically, I was looking for truth, they were looking for sales.

As I familiarized myself with B2B marketing blogs, though, I realized that while these goals may never fully align, in the social-media era they are coming closer together. For me, no one better epitomizes this trend than Mark Schaefer.

The reasons why might not be immediately obvious. Though he majored in journalism in college, he has built his career around marketing, and that remains his focus. But on Twitter and his blog he ranges far more widely than what we usually think of as marketing.

Even when he wasn’t yet the expert on social media that he is now (see his excellent primer, The Tao of Twitter, for example), his dispassionate looks at new-media platorms and personalities were both entertaining and informative. He sees his subjects with a wonderfully journalistic eye.

I don’t buy everything he says—such as his position on ghost-written blogs—but I always admire the way he argues his case and the respectful and constructive way he engages those who disagree with him. Journalists and marketers alike have much to learn from him.

For that reason, I’m including a profile of him my forthcoming ebook, the New-Media Survival Guide: For Journalists and Other Print-Era Refugees.  In preparing the profile, I recently conducted the following email interview with him. I offer it here with his permission.

What’s the most important message you have for people regarding social media?

Use your head. For a company, it should not be about “the conversation” or the hype. At the end of the day, it’s about the money, about creating shareholder value, as all marketing and customer efforts should be. Don’t act on an emotion of fear of being left behind. Learn enough about this new channel to ask the hard questions and integrate with your strategy as appropriate. Of course there are many uses and strategies for the social web, but at least with the businesses I work with, that is the biggest piece of advice I can give them.

What was the key pivot point, the moment of revelation for you, in your understanding of social media?

I was trying to figure out Twitter several years ago and noticed a trending topic of “new name for swine flu.” When I clicked, I saw a stream of hilarious ideas from around the world like “hamthrax and “the aporkalypse.” It was funny, but I also realized I was witnessing a real-time, global brain-storming session. Wow. That could not have happened just a few years ago. Think of the implications!

What’s the key issue motivating you now, the thing you most want to do or change?

I am in a fortunate position where I have had a foot in both marketing worlds, traditional and digital. Through my classes (I teach at Rutgers) and speeches, I help people connect the dots and that is very rewarding.

You were a journalism major. After graduation, did you go into journalism first, or directly into marketing? Why did you end up in marketing?

Journalism is my first love but I was increasingly interested in business. So I got into PR for awhile and then migrated to sales and then marketing. Marketing is the front line of value-creation. I love that!

In the minds of most people, journalism and marketing were once diametrically opposed. Has that changed in the social media era?

That is a complicated question, and an excellent one! Ultimately, journalism is the quest for truth. Marketing is the quest for “my truth” or a product’s “truth” that will resonate with consumers. For both areas, content is power on the social web and to the extent we can create it and move it virally through a network, we will be successful. So both fields are absolutely in the content creation business these days. Although the goals are still not the same, I think they are getting closer because for a brand to have integrity and be successful, it can’t be spinning the truth around any more. There are a million watchdogs out there now and they can all expose you. The deer have guns.

I was working with some marketers for a hotel chain and we were discussing negative hotel reviews they had received on a consumer website. “We don’t mind them,” they told me. “It makes us more real.” Interesting. Truth as a marketing strategy.

What do you think of the prospects for young journalists today? Will new media lead to brighter or bleaker career options?

I often speak at universities and journalism schools and I am struck that almost everywhere, enrollment is up!

Where are these folks getting jobs? New media. The hunger for content is nearly insatiable. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but my journalism education was the best possible preparation for new-media marketing.

I’m relieved to say that my questions were intelligent enough to prompt some further thoughts from Mark. You can find them—and much else of value—on his blog, {grow}.

3 thoughts on ““Content Is Power”: Q & A with Mark W. Schaefer

  1. Pingback: Best of B2B Marketing Zone for November 29, 2011 « Sales and Marketing Jobs

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