Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era: Sources

As part of a webinar for B2B editors on September 23, 2010, I’m speaking on “Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era.” (The webinar, “Enhancing Your Career in the B2B Press,” is sponsored by the American Society of Business Press Editors.)

Since the webinar format isn’t particularly conducive to embedded links, I’ve listed here the main sources cited in my talk. I’ve included key quotes from most of the sources below in the hopes that even if you haven’t heard my presentation, you’ll be interested in exploring the originals on your own.

Future of news: Insider Dave Morgan touts new media

“Tomorrow’s companies will build empires based on the value that they deliver to their users and advertisers every day, not on their ability to finance and manage scarce bandwidth or expensive printing presses or exclusive distribution networks.”

“No longer is the media world one of a publishers-top editor-section editor-subeditor-journalist hierarchy. Today, audiences are in charge and they want direct access to, and interaction with, journalists.”

What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis

“Even if the Wall Street Journal reports a scoop behind its paywall, once that information comes out—quoted, linked, blogged, aggregated, remixed, and e-mailed all over—it’s no longer exclusive and rare.”

Gary Hamel: Hierarchy of Employee Traits for the Creative Economy

In discussing the employee traits valued by old media and new media respectively, I invoke Hamel’s “commodity” traits of obedience, diligence, and intellect and his “creative economy” traits of initiative, creativity, and passion.

The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model

“‘You can take something that is thought of as a creative process and turn it into a manufacturing process.’”

Can Robots Run the News?

“To the chagrin of sports reporters everywhere, a team from Northwestern University’s engineering and journalism schools has created a program that automatically generates sports news stories. Stats Monkey uses the box score and play-by-play—even quotes, if they’re available online—to compile articles that follow one of the system’s pre-defined narrative arcs.”

Paul Conley: The seasons, they go round and round

“My working life is now completely consumed by content marketing. As recently as December, most of my income derived from traditional publishers practicing traditional B2B journalism (although mostly on the Web, rather than print.) That is no longer true.”

Crush It!, by Gary Vaynerchuk.

“Everyone—EVERYONE—needs to start thinking of themselves as a brand. It is no longer an option; it is a necessity.” “Your latest tweet and comment on Facebook and most recent blog post? That’s your résumé now.”

Joe Pulizzi’s Blog: Seven Ways to Position Yourself for Unlimited Work

“I don’t hire anyone that doesn’t blog.”

A Brief Guide to World Domination, by Chris Guillebeau (PDF here)

I cited Guillebeau’s personal manifesto as an example of one kind of e-book B2B editors could aspire to.

Book Notes: An Interview with Seth Godin.  (On the publication of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.)

“Cogs see a job, linchpins see a platform. Every interaction, every assignment is a chance to make a change, a chance to delight or surprise or to touch someone.”

Signals of Quality vs. Good SEO

Last month, I wrote about a discussion on an episode of This Week in Google (TWiG) featuring Google’s Matt Cutts. I noted that Cutts seemed to say that Google was aware of the rise of so-called content farms like Demand Media and that it would adjust its search algorithm so that low-quality commodity content didn’t overwhelm better material.

The following week, TWiG host Leo Laporte cited my article at the start of an expanded discussion of Google’s intent regarding content farms. In the clip from the episode below, Jeff Jarvis speculates that Google will “try to get more links to original content . . . and have signals of quality.”

What that means, he said, is that “if all you do is rewrite the 87th page about how to fix your toilet,” no matter how great your search engine optimization, you shouldn’t rise up in the search results. Instead, “Bob Vila’s original masterpiece about fixing toilets should rise up because it’s original and high quality.”

As Jarvis suggested, Google isn’t directing this effort against Demand Media or other content producers per se. Rather, it’s trying to ensure that quality content always rises to the top, regardless of who creates it and what SEO tactics are used. In other words, it’s pretty much business as usual for Google.

The entire episode can be viewed at Twit.tv.

A Lesson from Demand Media: Embrace Your Commodity Content

Editors of trade publications are confirmed believers in the preeminence of high-quality content. In their minds, everything in their publications is or should be outstanding. But the fact is, across-the-board brilliance is rarely possible, or even, perhaps, desirable.

Like it or not, there is a role in most publications for run-of-the-mill, commodity content. The challenge for editors is not to eliminate such content, but to manage it effectively. Though it may sound like heresy to some to suggest it, Demand Media offers them a model for doing so.

In an article on eMedia Vitals this week, Sean Blanda details his experiences on “Demand Media’s Content Assembly Line.” Though he remains noncommittal about it, the process he describes is impressive in its efficiency.

As Blanda notes, Demand Media and other content farms like it have been criticized for, among other things, producing low-quality content. That’s a misguided objection. The content Demand Media produces is indeed ordinary and uninspired, but for the most part it works. It is commodity content, like commodity components in many usable and affordable PCs. There’s an important role for such low-end content. It answers legitimate questions and serves real needs.

The brilliance of the Demand Media model is that it understands that commodity content is best produced by mass-production methods. No one expects the model to produce long, insightful articles—feature writers, columnists, and essayists can rest easy.

B2B magazines probably have a higher percentage of commodity content than other types of publications. That’s partly due to the prevalence of service journalism in B2B. But it has more to do with the influence of advertisers. As advertising has become harder to sell over the years, B2B publishers have added increasing amounts of commodity content to their print versions to hook advertisers.

Such content takes many forms, including parboiled press releases, buyers guide listings, rewritten product sheets, and even the dreaded advertorial. From an editorial point of view, such content may be hard to abide, since it’s usually more valuable to the advertiser than the reader. But from a business standpoint, it has its merits.

Yet even editors who accept the need for such commodity content have cause to hate it. Why? Because it drains away valuable time and energy from editorial staff.  Asking a reduced number of full-time editors to spend an increased amount of their time on commodity content is a misuse of resources. It draws away from their work on high-end content. Rather than improving the quality of commodity content, it makes the longer-form content more like a commodity.

Since most editors can’t refuse commodity content, they simply choose to resent it. Instead, why not embrace it for what it is, the Demand Media way? Rather than ask the editors to spend their time on commodity content, why not outsource and automate it?

I’m not talking here about using traditional freelancing resources. Keep those for higher-quality content. Rather, I’m suggesting that publishers invest some resources in building systems similar to those Demand Media uses to process its commodity content.

There are some obvious challenges in adapting this model. Smaller publishers may lack the volume of content to sustain it. Likewise, they may lack the web-development resources to build their own systems. Perhaps there is an opportunity for someone to develop a Demand Media–style marketplace for B2B commodity content. And perhaps there are small-scale ways to implement the model.

For editors, I think, the first and most important step is to stop despising commodity content. There’s a place for it in most publications; accept it for what it is and you will be on the way to handling it more effectively.

Google to Rein In Content Farms?

Matt Cutts on This Week in Google

Matt Cutts: Raising the Bar

Is Google poised to slow the growing domination of its search results by content farms like Demand Media and Associated Content? At the end of last Saturday’s episode of the podcast This Week in Google, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, suggested that it would: “If your business model is solely based on mass-generating huge amounts of nearly worthless content, that’s not going to work as well in 2010.”

Cutts’s remark came in response to a question by host Leo Laporte near the end of the episode. Though Laporte only learned about Demand Media a week earlier in his This Week in Tech Podcast, as he glancingly noted, he left no mistake about where he stood on the merits of its approach: “it seems like a way to game Google by creating a lot of pages with . . . barely adequate content in a niche area [in order] to drive traffic.”

Though Cutts avoided taking a position on Demand Media itself, he made it clear that Google was looking to address the generic problem:

“Within Google, we have seen a lot of feedback from people saying, Yeah, there’s not as much web spam, but there is this sort of low-quality, mass-generated content . . . where it’s a bunch of people being paid a very small amount of money. So we have started projects within the search quality group to sort of spot stuff that’s higher quality and rank it higher, you know, and that’s the flip side of having stuff that’s lower-quality not rank as high.”

In response to a question from co-host Jeff Jarvis, Cutts gave some specific ideas of how Google might try to adjust for the content-farm effect:

“You definitely want to write algorithms that will find the signals of good sites. You know, the sorts of things like original content rather than just scraping someone, or rephrasing what someone else has said. And if you can find enough of those signals—and there are definitely a lot of them out there—then you can say, OK, find the people who break the story, or who produce the original content, or who produce the impact on the Web, and try to rank those a little higher. . . .”

Jarvis, it should be noted, is not a cookie-cutter critic of Demand Media. He argued that Demand’s system for determining what content readers and advertisers want is “very smart.” But he seemed to agree that its resulting product is ranked too high on Google’s results. In the link economy, he said, it becomes an “ethical matter” to support original content by linking to it “at its source.”

Jarvis took Cutts’s thoughts further by stressing the growing importance of “Twitter, Buzz, and Facebook,” or “human recommendation of content,” as a way “to get past this notion of spam and content farms.” The more Google and others can capture the value of this social-media validation, he said, “the less this content-farm chaff is going to be a problem.”

In a BuzzMachine post published on Monday, Jarvis expanded on the topic of how content will be discovered in the future. Thanks to new tools like Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, he wrote, “human links are exploding as a means of discovery.” Earlier forms of discovery, he said, have been prone to manipulation, but in the new “content ecosystem,” where we “discover more and more content through people we trust,” quality will again rise to the top.

Well, here’s hoping.

Damnation and Creation: Is Demand Media Devaluing Content?

Demand Media is evil. Or so Folio: magazine general manager Tony Silber implied yesterday in a blog post entitled “Demand Media Can Go to Hell.”

Silber’s beef with the so-called content farm is like that of many others from traditional publishing:  to pay freelance writers a paltry 3 cents a word, on average, is to  “demean and abuse professional content creators.”

Word that the company is looking to partner with magazine publishers was apparently enough to push Silber over the edge:

Tony Silber

Tony Silber: Damned Media

“I hope no magazine ever partners with Demand Media. In fact, I hope Demand Media and any site like it goes out of business. They demean and abuse professional content creators, leveraging them to generate revenue from Google ads.

They’re sweatshops. No magazine should accept content from a company that treats content with such disrespect. In the end, too, you get what you pay for.”

I sympathize with Silber’s outrage and admire the frank way he expressed it. But is he right to demonize Demand?

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