Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Social media careers talk

This is the text of a talk I gave today to the University of London's Careers in the Media conference

Social media: A fad, or the biggest thing since the industrial revolution?

That video clip started by asking if social media was a fad, or the biggest thing since the industrial revolution.

Well, it’s definitely not the first.

What about the second?

Social media is part of a transformation in the way we communicate that is pretty revolutionary.

Social networking sites are fast becoming the way most people interact with friends when they can’t be with them.

Social networking sites are also becoming a very significant way for us to consume media: news, information, entertainment.

We pass on interesting things we’ve read or seen to our social circle

And if audiences are beginning to consume media in this new way, then publishers and journalists need to get in step with that.

This talk is about what social media means for publishers, journalists and journalism.

We’ve known for a while that the web was an opportunity, a challenge and a threat.

We see the fallout from the threat part in the dire state of local and national newspapers, as well as in other media such as commercial television

Let’s go back a bit to the old media world: the olden days.

Journalists created and controlled the content – in rigidly separated silos of print – newspapers and magazines – television and radio.

The means of production – the printing presses, the TV stations, the radio transmitters -- were very expensive, so only a few organisations had access to the means of production

Then along came the web.
We – journalists and publishers -- took our valuable content, which was easy to charge for in print, and we gave it away on the web.

We did that because we couldn’t work out a way to make people pay for it – with a few exceptions.

But we did create our own websites and a lot of people came to them to consume our news, information and entertainment.

Who got rich?

Number one: The search engines

They got very rich. But they’d have nothing without our content.

Number two: Those who exploited the commercial opportunities on the web
The big early web successes were Commercial – eBay and Amazon, for example.
They could make money because the web is a very convenient way to shop and buy.

Next came social networks – Facebook and Twitter are the ones everyone talks about at present.

As the video showed, many people are using social networks, and many more will do so in the near future.

I guess either Facebook or Twitter might prove to be fads, just as Friends Reunited has proved to be, but social media in general is not a fad.

If someone invents a network that is better than Facebook or Twitter, we’ll all go to that latest best thing.

So here’s the big question: Will social media get rich at our expense?

It might, but we need to do all we can to get a slice of the pie

To avoid losing out to social media we need to know how it works, and to use it to our advantage – because I believe it does offer journalists a great opportunity. Here’s why:

People share things on social networking sites. If I see something on a website that I think my friends or colleagues will like, I can share it with them.

Increasingly, websites – whether news, entertainment or pure commercial ones – are getting on the social media bandwagon

They are making it easy for those who visit them to take bits of their content and share it on Facebook, to Tweet it, or put it on a whole range of other networks.

So some in the media fear that what will now happen is that, having been robbed blind by the search engines, we are about to be robbed blind by the social networks

That’s a head in the sand way of looking at it.

Social media offers a great opportunity for journalists and publishers

It also transforms the way we work.

There is a view of news and information among those who like social networks: “If the news is that important, it will find me”

That means we can’t expect people anymore to come to our sites. We have to get our news and information in front of them.

And as they are on social networks so much of the time, the best way of getting our content in front of them is to get it onto those social networks.

So we must use social networks as a new publishing platform.

That’s why you see so many organisations starting their own Facebook pages, which they hope you’ll become a fan of.

Here’s something that is revolutionary: The audience are the new distributors

The press has to distribute its product in trucks.

With social networks, it is the readers who are the distributors. They pick up the things they like and share them – they distribute them for us.

This is revolutionary for newspapers but well known in book publishing. They’ve known for a long time that the best advert for a book is a personal recommendation.

Now all sorts of marketing, advertising, news, entertainment and information is being passed on by personal recommendation.

We call it ‘viral marketing’

That’s how phenomena such as Cadbury’s drumming gorilla became so successful.

Coca Cola has a massive social networking campaign on the theme of happiness.

Journalists and publishers must be as creative in their use of social media as a marketing opportunity as the big corporations are showing they can be.

We must enter into a conversation with the people who find us, who become fans of our pages and who retweet our news stories.

We must listen to what they say.

We must take what they tell us and use it to create information and entertainment that better suits their information needs and interests.

If we don’t do that we won’t reach them

The opportunities social media provide for journalists and publishers are enormous.

I work with a publisher called Haymarket which produces a wide range of fantastically good magazines: Stuff, FourFourTwo, Pistonheads, What Car, Autocar.

Most people like glossy magazines at certain times – they like to sit with them when they have time and read in depth.

It’s the same for a lot of people, still, with the Sunday papers.

But in the age of social networks, how will we get new readers for our print products?

How will they hear of us? Well, they won’t, unless we are present in the places they go. So we need to be on social networks

There is a phrase – fish where the fish are

If the fish (our future readers, viewers – those who will one day buy our product) are on social networks, that’s where we must fish for them.

That’s just the start of a relationship with our audience that will draw them to our websites and print products.

Because, while it’s easy to share a quick video clip or a short snippet of information on social networks, you can’t go into a subject in any depth. When it comes to dense, detailed information – when you really want to know something in depth -- then you are better off with a hard copy.

Most people, if you ask them what they do when they are on the web and they find something they really want to read in detail, they’ll tell you they print it out.

So what’s a newspaper or a magazine? It’s a print out.

And what about if you want to make a big purchase – a new car for example.

You’ll want to do a lot of checking and comparing.

You’ll ask your friends what they think

And if a magazine such as What Car? has been mentioned by one of your friends, or known to you on the social network you use, then there is a reasonable chance you’ll think of that title when you decide where you will go for the really detailed information you need in order to make an informed choice.

Journalists have lost a lot of confidence recently.

Because their material has been given away free, they’ve lost faith in its value. And those who take it, who pick up Metro or whatever, don’t really value it very highly either. Actually, a lot of free stuff isn’t worth much.

But what journalists used to do, do now and will always do, is create material that is of value.

A reader values high quality, accurate information when they need it. They also value a magazine that really entertains them.

What journalists must do with social media is use it to become well known and liked by a new audience. They have to show that audience that they have valuable stuff to offer.

So what about those of you who are thinking of becoming journalists now?

You probably know instinctively how social media works, and use it extensively

If you can add to that good training in the fundamentals of journalism – they never change, however our material is distributed -- then you will have a winning combination, and you’ll be equipped to become a truly effective 21st century journalist

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