Editors Need to Think Like Marketers

Social media may be taking over the world, but in B2B publishing, many pockets of resistance remain, particularly among editorial staff. Paul Conley has been worried about this trend for years now. As he put it in a post last year, B2B journalists have been “adopting the techniques of conversational editorial more slowly than . . . the public relations and marketing executives of the industries we cover.”

How can B2B journalists catch up? Well, here’s a radical prescription. Think more like marketers.

In a recent post, RBI‘s Dan Blank wrote about the reasons editors at his company like—or don’t like—Twitter. (Like Blank, I’m using the word “editor” interchangeably with “journalist”.) The pros and cons he cited were all legitimate, but also circumstantial.

According to his editors, Twitter works or not depending on circumstances like whether readers use it or whether the editors have time for it. In companies that lack a social-media advocate like Dan, training and corporate support can also be issues. There’s no shortage of compelling excuses not to be enthusiastic about social media.

But the reasons editors tend not to love social media go a lot deeper than circumstances. My sense—and I speak as a long-time editor and manager of editors—is that the resistance has deeper roots.

Let’s think again for a moment about the difference between the attitudes of editors and marketers towards social media, as crystallized by Conley:

Journalists . . . are making incremental adjustments to the new world, but marketers and public-relations professionals . . . are morphing like crazy. Most of the marketing people I know love the new world. They’re excited. They can’t seem to believe their good fortune to be working in a field where the rules are being rewritten. But many journalism folks I know can generally be described as somewhat less than thrilled.

Why such a difference? I suspect it has to do with the way each type has traditionally viewed content.

Editors tend to have a craftsman’s view of their copy. It is a product that succeeds or fails on its own terms. It’s either good or bad. How it affects the reader, though important, is not the crucial test. You know when you’ve produced something good, even if no one ever reads it.

For marketers, the only important question is how their copy affects readers. The measure of its success is simple: if it doesn’t produce leads, it doesn’t work.

For editors, the copy is an end in itself. For marketers, it is a means to an end.

Granted, I’m making gross generalizations here. Writing of course is about communication, about interacting with an audience. But in the old print world, there were steep barriers to that interaction. The printed page is opaque, fixed. You can’t see your readers through it.

The new media, by contrast, are transparent. Your audience is much more immediate and interactive. Copy is no longer a product, but a process. The work editors produce is not fixed, but constantly evolving, being reworked by the interaction of writer and reader. In other words, content is now a conversation.

It’s not surprising that marketers love the world of new media. It brings them closer to their target. Editors, though, may feel cast adrift, having lost control over their product.

It may sound like heresy to them, but editors would do well to emulate marketers when it comes to social media. Like marketers, they need to look beyond their copy to the audience itself. The copy is no longer the end. Instead, the end is the conversation with the audience, whether through comments on blogs, Twittering, Facebook pages, podcasting, video, or any other new media methods.

Don’t worry, editors, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of a new one.


UPDATE 2/17/10: Dan Blank offers more details on RBI’s experience with Twitter in a eMedia Vitals blog post.

2 thoughts on “Editors Need to Think Like Marketers

  1. Hi John,
    Nice work. You’ve made sense of what Dan had to say. That’s easy. But you also made sense of what I had to say. And that can be very difficult! Even I don’t think I make sense much of the time.

  2. Pingback: The Other End of the Telescope « Reinventing the Newsroom

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