Thursday, 30 July 2009

Could an industry report on itself? And, if it could, what role would be left for the B2B journalist?

I ask because there has been some fascinating discussion on the topic recently, notably from Dan Blank -- director of content strategy and development for Reed Business Information  -- and Paul Conley, a specialist in web-first publishing among other things.

The questions need posing because of the growth of social media. Twitter, Flickr and YouTube-distributed video are being used extensively by both trade journalists and participants at major trade events.

Dan presents an example, the NeoCon trade show in Chicago, which was covered by Interior Design magazine. The magazine had a website, two Twitter accounts, an online navigator and a blog.

But this  was only a part of a much bigger picture of coverage of the event undertaken by participants using social media.

Dan found around 1,500 tweets a day with 400 individuals updating, hundreds of photos on Twitpic and Flikr and dozens of videos shared via YouTube.
He points out that some of this content is from other professional journalists and trade publications, some from manufacturers and PRs, but says: “Plenty of these tweets, photos and videos were shared by industry insiders, regular attendees, and fans. The overall point here is that this content is being found on social networks not associated with a single media brand.

“This content is being published more broadly to the web, and then shared and talked about in places that no single company could ever control -- they can just try to be there in ways that help their audience.

“What this means is that journalists, publishers and media companies need to rethink their roles, and the value they are offering their industries.”

And this is where the good news comes in. As anyone who follows a lot of people on Twitter and subscribes to a range of RSS feeds knows, you can easily get swamped by information. It’s hard to sift it.
What you need is an editor. And that’s where the journalist comes in.

The value of the editor is not diminished in all this, it is enhanced. A professional journalist can filter all this and bring the very best of it to their readers’ attention. So while an industry can, to an extent, cover itself, it takes the journalist-interpreter to make sense of that, and to make all that collaborative effort comprehensible.

Some people talk of this as being a curatorial role: like the curator of a museum collection, the journalist brings the really good stuff to the fore and showcases it, and may also offer context and interpretation.
So any B2B magazine’s social media strategy has to be rooted in the industry conversations that are taking place, and in filtering them.
Social media make it possible to serve niches within a B2B’s readership.
Dan says: “When considering your social media strategy, keep these niches in mind. Can you have multiple brand accounts on Twitter in order to serve the needs of very specific audiences you serve? If you are creating a Facebook group -- are you targeting your industry broadly, or focusing in on the one sub-group who is most passionate about a key aspect of things?
“Social media strategy can become very sophisticated very quickly, but can be more straightforward if you always consider the needs you are serving and work to measure what is working and what isn’t.”
What any B2B publication must seek to do is to lead the way within its industry. Paul Conley picks up on this point and says: “For every B2B publication that is participating in -- even leading -- the conversations, there are still plenty that lag years behind.

“Twitter -- at least in most B2B verticals -- is a media phenomenon. Most tweets come from journalists, marketing execs and public-relations pros.

“If you're a reporter for Paper Bag Weekly walking the floor of the Paper Bag Expo trade show, you'll likely find dozens of folks tweeting. But they will nearly all be from the media side of the paper bag industry. You can read tweets from flacks and tweets from hacks, but you won't find a tweet from anyone who actually makes a paper sack.

“The obvious exception to this is in tech. Walk the floor of a tech trade show and you'll find that everyone really is tweeting. Tech really does cover itself.

“So this poses a question: what will it take to reach the point where a non-tech industry actually reports on itself?”

Paul says that better software is needed, and suggests a project called Google Wave, currently under development, could be the key to making that happen.

I’ll look at Google Wave in detail in my next post.

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