Three Ways to Turbocharge Your New-Media Career

MUD day 9:

For anyone involved in communications, coming to accept new media is only half the battle. The next, much harder fight, is in leaping into and mastering the ways of new media. There are probably an infinite number of effective approaches to doing so, but, based on my recent reading and on my experience this month as a blogger, I’d start with these three:

1. Be Gutsy. In a recent interview with Nieman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber, retiring newspaper editor John Robinson offered his profession this advice:

What editors really need right now, Robinson says, “is guts to do the nontraditional things”: to consider new approaches to newsgathering and dissemination, to be open to new ways of knowing the community they’re meant to serve.

Robinson is pointing out here something that isn’t often emphasized: It takes courage to adopt new-media tools. You might just be wasting your time, or worse, risking your job.

2. Be Weird. Though the title of Seth Godin’s latest book is We Are All Weird, its premise is that most of us don’t realize or admit it. Our traditional mass-market culture and ways of doing business are built around serving the mass, the normal.  But as Robinson notes in his interview, “The sooner that we grasp that we aren’t mass anymore—that there is really no mass, that everything is broken apart—the better.” To use new media effectively, you have to be willing to look weird to a lot of people.

3. Be Arbitrary. If you worry too much about how to use new media, or what platform is best, or how to make the most of it, you may never move forward. Pick a platform, set a goal for how to use it, and stick to your plan. If you choose Twitter, for instance, you might pick a number of tweets to do each day and a number of people to retweet. Or, like me this month, you might set yourself a goal of writing one post a day in a set period of time. You might not hit your goals, but you’ll be giving yourself an excellent chance of mastering your new medium.

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.”

Start-Up Briefing Media Ltd. Blends Old with New

Rory Brown: No more holidays.

Rory Brown

It’s almost a new-media axiom that traditional publishers can’t move forward effectively online because they have too much skin in the old-media game. While these B2B publishers have a highly evolved understanding of their markets, their inability to sacrifice the “cash cow in the coal mine” keeps them mired in the past.

Logically, then, the most exciting and successful advances in B2B media should come from those with an understanding of B2B markets but without the old-media burdens. This makes UK-based Briefing Media Ltd., the new start-up recently announced by Rory Brown and Neil Thackray, worth watching.  Both bring years of B2B publishing experience to the task, but without what Brown calls “the legacy issues that many traditional publishers face.” They expect to unveil the first in a series of niche B2B sites later this month.

Neil Thackray

Neil Thackray

A hallmark of Briefing Media’s approach appears to be a blending of old and new, the tried-and-true with the innovative. Thackray describes its method as combining “the latest technology and good old-fashioned market knowledge” to create a mix of aggregated, curated, and original content, organized by semantic algorithms and overseen by an editor.

As one who has worried about the inadequacies of algorithms alone, I’m heartened that Brown and Thackray will be pairing theirs with expert editors. (The first of those editors will be Patrick Smith, aka Psmith, Journalist.) Similarly, I think they’re wise to match their curated third-party content with original work.

I asked Brown by e-mail whether he could answer a few questions about Briefing Media’s strategy.  He was kind enough to supply the following details:

Why do you feel it would be so much harder for legacy publishers to succeed at what you and Neil are undertaking?

This is the classic “I wouldn’t start from here” problem. Traditional publishers generally have a wide range of revenue streams, business models, technology platforms and staff that were established in a very different era of media. They know the world has changed but it is often a difficult and time-consuming process to adjust. New entrants don’t have to deal with most of this legacy.

Neil’s description of this venture suggests that you’re looking to develop multiple and diverse revenue streams. Is that a significant part of the strategy? Do you expect either advertising or subscriptions to play a role? Will one particular source of revenue dominate either initially or long term?

I remember someone saying recently in relation to a future for newspapers that “no one thing will work but lots of things might”. I think this sums up an approach that all media companies need to employ. Initially our sites will concentrate on selling sponsorship, delegate-led events, and high-end research. However, as the business progresses there will be a greater emphasis on subscription content, advertising and lead generation, training, reports, and consultancy. Over time one of those revenue streams might rise to be dominant, but during my whole career in B2B media the most successful brands I have worked on have made money in many diverse ways—whatever the customer needs.

How are you financing this venture?

Neil and myself are the sole investors. Our whole philosophy is to run things as tightly as possible as we establish the business.

What kind of milestones will you use to gauge your progress?

The main metric we will be monitoring in the initial phase is the level of customer registration on our sites. We plan to offer a lot of value for free but will exchange value-add services for customer demographics.

As I understand it, the content for each vertical site will be a blend of curated and original content. Do you have a particular strategy for how the original content will stand out from or enhance the third-party content?

This is an important balance that we have to get right for each site. Hundreds of hours of work goes into building our content sets to ensure that the very best information is sorted and categorized.

Over this base we train our semantic algorithms to provide relevant context and linkages between those pieces of content.

Alongside that base layer we want each of our sites to have a clear voice. A key part of the editor’s role is to find and commission a combination of regular columnists and thought leaders from that industry to write for us. Often these columnists are not journalists but people who work in senior strategic positions within the industries we serve. The expert columns and in-depth, bespoke research reports are a major point of differentiation for us from other trade media.

Each vertical will have one dedicated analyst who “updates and improves the taxonomy and content.” Will that person typically create content as well, or just curate and commission it?

These positions are key hires in each vertical. We look for analysts with deep connections and an in-depth understanding of the major issues faced in their markets. We want people who are also not scared to express a strong opinion or rant occasionally.

Is there any particular model for contributor payment (i.e., are you looking for free content as so many B2B books have done, paying typical freelancer rates, or doing a Demand Media content-marketplace kind of approach)?

This depends on the nature of the content commissioned and the people who are undertaking those tasks. For high-end research we would generally pay for specialist expertise. When we solicit columns from people who are employed in another capacity, then these contributions are not paid for—although those people will join our “faculty” of experts, and we plan to offer a variety of exclusive site benefits as time progresses.

Neil’s description of the triangular semantic technology you’ll use is a bit mysterious, perhaps deliberately so. Is a hypothetical example of how it works possible?

You will probably be familiar with a variety of semantic analysis systems which tag content and provide metadata to add context. We have looked at a few of these in isolation and been generally unimpressed by their results over time. The secret sauce we are using is to have multiple semantic engines configured together and trained over time by industry experts. This provides much greater accuracy of results and makes the system impossible to replicate.

Neil’s analogy of triangulation is taken from his passion for sailing. If you are lost at sea and can see one lighthouse from your boat you know you are somewhere along a line. Two gives you a range of possible intersection points. It is only when you have three or more that you can glean a precise location.

I’m guessing the technology is not homegrown but outsourced. If you do use a provider, can you disclose who it is?

Not at this moment.

Is there a significant element of personalization or social input in the technology?

At the moment no, but as we tag content and build user demographics, the system provides a lot of possibilities for personalization. We can see many future ways of expanding the product offerings over time.

How did you and Neil get together on this venture? Did you meet him initially via work, industry associations, social media?

The business media industry is a fairly small world. I had known of Neil and his various previous companies for many years before we met. We are also both relatively “visible” with blogs about the business media sector and affiliations with trade associations.

In my last year at Incisive Media we both attended an Outsell Leadership Forum and it was clear that we shared a lot of similar views about both the challenges business media would face over the coming years and the opportunities that might provide. Then, when I left Incisive and Neil sold the remaining parts of Nexus Business Media our paths kept crossing as we independently tried to buy our own media assets. We both compared notes about some of the deals we were trying to do and agreed to set up a side project to look at launch ideas. From that Briefing Media Ltd. was born.

B2B Blog Posts of the Week: The Turkey in the Room

TurkeyThanksgiving week in the States is never very productive for the B2B work world, and that appears equally true for B2B bloggers. While some tried to ignore the elephantine turkey in the room, others attempted, mostly in vain, to make the holiday pertinent to their usual subject matter. By mid-week, it was clear that we all just wanted to start chowing down. Nonetheless, a few notable posts stood out.

The Convergence of Content Marketing and B2B Publishing?: “Creating Interest vs Providing Solutions,” Dan Blank, Publishing, Innovation, and the Web, 11/22/09.

The estimable Dan Blank of the archetypal B2B publisher RBI, né Cahners, has made what I believe is a Radical Suggestion, if I’m interpreting him correctly. It’s an impressively argued piece, but at such a high level of abstraction that one longs for a concrete example or two.

In the absence of specifics, I have to read a certain amount into what Blank is saying. But his argument appears to be that the dissemination of content, no matter how interesting or popular, isn’t enough—publishers also need to sell solutions that go beyond content. In other words, just as content marketers (i.e., advertisers) are now competing with traditional publishers, publishers should be competing with them (or, in some cases, partnering with them) by selling similar products or services. What once would have been heresy is now innovative thinking.

Or do I have it wrong? I suggest that you judge for yourself—if his web host hasn’t accidentally deleted his blog again.

You Didn’t Have to Be There, Quite: “Highlights from SIPA’s Online Marketing and Publishing Summit last week,” Rory Brown, Rory Brown’s Blog, 11/23/09.

While it sounds like an event not to be missed, those of us who did should thank Rory Brown for a concise summary of the publishing and marketing summit put on by the UK branch of the Specialized Information Publishers Association. (The November 19 event in London was also covered by Neil Thackray here and here. )

Of particular note, evidently, was a presentation by David Cushman on “A New Era for Specialist Media” explaining how “the internet-powered long tail of demand is a disaster for traditional broad mass-media models but a huge opportunity for specialists.” (Cushman’s presentation was also cited in Dan Blank’s post.)

It Really Works, Maybe: “Companies Engaging in Social Media Have Higher Financial Performance,” Morgan Polotan, HubSpot, 11/25/09.

If the report Polotan cites is to believed, there is indeed ROI for companies heavily involved in social media. But maybe not because of the social media. The point, he says, is “simply that those companies who are highly engaged in social media also have superior financial performance when compared to their peers.”

Hug Your Followers: “Are your arms too long?,” Brian Courtney, B2B Marketing Blog, 11/25/09.

Last week I noted that “Increasingly, B2B means P2P (person-to-person).”  To  be more accurate, B2B has always been about personal relationships, as Brian Courtney points out in his post. The value of social media is that it can enhance that element of B2B commerce and communications—if you use it appropriately.

Courtney makes the case that bloggers for B2B companies need to loosen up when it comes to social media if they want to make the most of it.

“Social media demands not only transparency, but authenticity. And while guidelines for blogging and other social media activities are fine – in fact, needed – I’ve never seen regulations that excluded personality.”

As Courtney concludes, an arm’s length approach to social media just won’t work.

What B2B Can Learn from Jeff Jarvis, Part 2

The Transformative Power of Links

What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. HarperBusiness, 2009.

When Jarvis writes in an early chapter of WWGD, “the link changes every business and institution,” it may sound a bit portentous.  But he has it exactly right.

The first time I encountered a hyperlinked Web page, back in the early 1990’s, I thought it was just a lame version of Gopher–a now largely forgotten way of finding various documents around the Internet. What I didn’t get at first was that the innovation was not in the links themselves, but the enormously powerful relationship of those links to the document in which they are embedded. The link, the ability to take readers directly to other sources of information, has revolutionized publishing and journalism. No longer is a document by necessity a hermetically sealed, constraining vessel. And no longer do you need to provide all the background details and related information yourself. Links are liberating for journalists and publishers alike.

Unfortunately, too few people in B2B seem to realize this yet in their practice. The desire to control the reader’s experience, to keep them on our site, has kept us from fully exploiting the power of links. Hence Jarvis’s admonition to “do what you do best and link to the rest.” If a publication is to stand out, he says, “it needs to create stories with unique value.” To do that, it must concentrate its resources where they matter most, and “send readers to others for the rest.”

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