An Online Dilemma, and an Opportunity, for the News

An article in today’s New York Times examines the “free-versus paid online content” debate that is currently on the minds of all members of the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. Amidst a decline in their subscriber-base, many publications embraced the internet as a channel to help build their audience and increase revenues. But the recession has forced advertisers to tighten their spending across the board, leaving newspaper executives to grapple with new ways to turn a dollar newspaper1from their online content.

The biggest issue here, is, as the article points out, “How do you get consumers to pay for something they have grown used to getting free?” The reporters draw a parallel between the industry’s current situation and that of the recording industry. Music fans spent years downloading songs illegally for free from sites like Napster and Kazaa, but today, many of these same individuals have reverted back to paying for their music through iTunes. The difference is, of course, these individuals switched their habits because of the nascent fear of the possibility of legal action against them.

None of those fears exist here. With a few exceptions, internet users have come to expect to read their papers for free on-line with no questions asked. It won’t be easy to change those habits. As the article states, “Getting customers to pay is easier if the product is somehow better — or perceived as being better — than what they had received free.”

So what can publications do to make their content worth an investment from their readers? To paraphrase what Mark Mulligan, vice president of Forrester Research, says in the piece, it may be all about “chasing niches.” Finding what certain readers need on a daily basis, targeting them separately, and charging them for it.

It sounds a bit like the industry could use some more help from an inbound marketing campaign and other new media tools. Newspapers and magazines need to better capture their reader’s information; what they are reading, what sections they check most frequently, what journalists they read religiously. As some publications already do, requiring the readers to input their contact information into a free online form before reading certain content is a good way to start (it may be necessary to make sure this content is downloadable for tracking purposes). The reader won’t be forced to pay a fee, but will give up his/her e-mail address, providing the publication with a better sense of the content that they find necessary to have access to. Over time the publication will have a network of data on all of their most frequent visitors and will be able to engage certain individuals with exclusive, relevant and targeted offerings (podcasts, reporter chats, blogs, invitations to roundtables)—for a fee.

There is more to it here that should be considered. RSS feeds, text alerts, and other features can be tailored, or utilize existing content, and offered exclusively to certainly readers. Think of a way to aggregate all content for someone’s favorite sports reporter (their articles, blogs, Twitter feeds, etc) and package that offering to your “premium” subscribers. The key is for the industry to leverage the web to capture a better understanding of their audience to discover what exactly it is that they won’t be able to live without.

The Keys to Being a Good Online Neighbor

A valued member of an online social networking community acts no differently then they would as a member of any other type of social community. The principles of online interaction are essentially the same as those that are established in, say, a neighborhood.

Networking– The fundamentals of building your relationships within an established community begins with a solid amount of networking.

You engage your neighbors. You learn about their likes, dislikes, interests, endeavors, aspirations, and opportunities. You begin to understand the roles that certain people play in your community. You learn where and how you can fit in, and how you can position yourself to be accepted.

So don’t leave things static. An inactive Twitter account is as much of an eyesore as Boo Radley’s house.

Trust– You would not take advantage of your neighbors by dumping your garbage on their lawn. You would not lose their trust by calling the police about a noise complaint, with out at least speaking to your neighbor about it first.

More often then not, you strive to have your neighbor’s backs at all times, to keep their secrets, and act appropriately for the betterment of everyone in the community. You do not cheat, intimidate or steal.

Similarly, why would you SPAM? What is the point of creating a fake Facebook account? To mislead people? Worse, you may believe that something that you post to an online profile is a funny thing for your friends to see. But can others in your online network (less chummy members of your community at large) see it too? They might not find that naked picture on your front door to be so comical.

Value– Everyone in a community brings a certain value to the table in some form or another. Some bring quite a bit more than others. But value can be an ambiguous phrase.

A good listener certainly can bring good value to their neighbors. Think of Wilson from “Home Improvement.” But that good listener must also show some activity. Prove that you are not there to merely stare, freeload, or even worse, prey.

Providing interesting, engaging, and useful information is usually considered the holy grail of online value. A great ‘how to’ blog post. A great video collage that aggregates certain memories or events. But, even a positive comment on a community member’s blog, or a retweet of a follower’s post, symbolizes helpfulness.

But stay within your means. A comedian can be a valuable inspiration to fellow comics and followers by simply offering jokes. But these types of personalities provide value to any and every community that they join. You don’t have to be George Carlin to stand out in your neighborhood.

But you have to do something. Be the first to discover something and share it. Every community needs a Paul Revere.

Establish trust, network and offer value. Prove to your community why you deserve a seat at everyone’s dinner table.

Creative PR Pitches Are Both The Means & The End With New Media

Seth Godin, one of my personal marketing Sherpas, opined in one of his recent blog posts on “The difference between PR and publicity”. As with most of his insights, the post elicited plenty of views and comments as he decided to characterize the distinction between publicity as merely end-game media coverage and PR as the comprehensive story crafting and scene setting about a particular company, product, or trend. The oft-badmouthed PR, in effect, is actually more of a science than it’s given credit for being.

 

Godin, as usual, is spot-on. Gaining publicity, especially in today’s cluttered media environment, can be experiment in futility. On the other hand, everybody (and every client) has a story to craft, develop and share regardless of who ultimately publicizes it. Some of these stories are hundreds of times more interesting than others and some might be a lot more controversial than others, but everybody’s got something to add to a conversation. As Godin writes, almost everyone has a PR problem – a problem conveying that story effectively enough to get attention (or the right attention).  

 

The distinction that Godin draws creates an even greater justification for the merits of inbound marketing. With every effective inbound marketing campaign comes a hefty dose of creative, responsible and engaging storytelling and content creation – whether in the form of blogs, online videos, or social media profiles. Ultimately, marketers now have additional outlets for their stories besides the traditional media.

 

PR pro’s can focus on their storytelling by creating content that is engaging enough to stand on its own (without gatekeepers) and virally spread to the right audiences and potential prospects. Does a little outbound, traditional PR pitching help the cause? Absolutely, but any PR pro worth his or her salt knows that now, more than ever, companies can be well served by having a creative story (or customer, product, employee or event) that ultimately sells itself through new media channels, with little interruption or traditional media communication.  

Using Social Media To Weather The Recession

One of the most adverse domino effects of our current economic situation has to be the distressing troubles currently afflicting the advertising and marketing industries. Because of companies’ fiscal obligations and their deteriorating bottom lines, executives have shown little restraint in slashing their ad budgets and downsizing any of their prior plans for monumental, traditional campaigns.

 

The situation is incredibly dreary for most marketing professionals, who are now left with the difficult tasks of justifying their worth to their clients by developing, or pitching, campaigns that are explicitly responsible and cost-effective. 

 

So…how should marketers weather the recession? 

 

The answer is quite clear; move the pivotal focus of your campaign onto the web and harness the power of social media.  Social media, particularly over the past year, has proven to be an inexpensive, but lucrative tool for online lead generation, providing a positive return on your client’s investments. Amidst the current market, and with marketing budgets slimming to a shoe string, social media presents a more personal and engaging option that can correctly target the proper demographics and audiences in a word-of-mouth fashion.

 

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs allow users to connect and share and publish their most personal ideas, thoughts and opinions with old friends or even perfect strangers. The beauty of these interactions lies in the implicitness of the information to appear creditable because of its word-of-mouth nature. Social media users recognize the messages they receive to be more relevant and natural, and not stretched or warped by the stigma of paid advertisements.

 

But social media users still need to gain the trusts of their peers. Once this goal is attained, the passing along of communications becomes socially accepted as useful, helpful and credible.

 

The power to share information on these sites can help to bolster a company’s profile, if it is accomplished in a responsible and trustful way. By managing many of the social media channels that they have at their disposal by dedicating the right resources and employees, corporations will recognize the ability of social media to serve as a next-generational inbound marketing tool. Over time, connections made, like in the real world, can generate new leads, clients, and revenue without any of the costs of more traditional business lead generation methods.

What the Heck Is SEO?

If you own a business you probably have a website (if you don’t, get one…fast!). If you have a website, then you have undoubtedly heard the term “SEO”. Well, what exactly is “SEO”? It’s a question I ask people regularly and I am still amazed at the myriad answers that I receive. The simple answer is that it’s an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”. Most people get the search engine part; it’s the optimization part that usually has them stumped. Regardless of their level of understanding, the typical response is “I’m not really clear on how it works, but I know I should be doing it.” And they’re right! If you’re not optimizing your website for search, you’re missing out thousands of potential business leads!

So what is it? SEO is a unique, and highly effective, approach to internet marketing that aims to improve the quality of leads driven to a company’s website via search engines. More technically, SEO is the strategic and thematic alignment of specific keywords with content and HTML code. The goal is to increase the relevance of keywords within the text copy so that search engines will view it as pertinent and easy to index. Put a bit more simply: it is the process of making a website more attractive to search engines. The more attractive it is, the higher the rank.

seo1As an inbound marketing strategy, SEO takes into consideration two things: the nature of search engine spiders and how they crawl the web, and the way in which a potential consumer will search for services. Research shows that people are inherently drawn to the top five entries on the first page of a search result. The higher the search rank the more credible the source is perceived. Imagine if your company’s website came up first when a potential customer searched for the specific services you provide or the products you sell. Your company would be perceived as the best, most relevant source for whatever it is you sell or provide.

The purpose of any company’s website is to attract online users and business, and numerous studies have shown that the majority of online users find what they are looking for via search engines. This means amazing possibilities for business lead generation! In today’s Web 2.0 world, people want to find information on their own and be engaged by it. They do not want to pick up the phone and listen to a sales call when they can search for the information they want, when they want to search for it. As a business, that means that you want to be front and center whenever a search is performed on your particular services. Let your customers find you on their own – which they happily will – and when you ask them how they heard about your company, don’t be surprised when they say “Google”.