I recently wrote Newspapers and the internet; the lessons we share. The first and second articles were based on The Story So Far, What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism from the Columbia Journalism School which may be (and probably is) the most insightful social media document of all time.
This is the third article in the series.
The essence of the report is the media’s attempt to master internet and social media based strategies “and” turn a profit. But the lessons apply to all of us engaged in web-based efforts.
Newspapers record huge numbers of internet users “but” the problem is that they don’t stay very long on the site thus advertisers aren’t willing to pay much for their ads thus threatening the core business model (along with declining circulation and print ad rates).
My favorite quote from the report is in the conclusion, “Here’s the problem: Journalists just don’t understand their business.” The fundamental question is what “is” the business of newspapers and media across the board?
Turn the above quote around, “Here’s the problem: Webmasters and social media practitioners just don’t understand their business.” The fundamental question is what “is” the business of websites and social media?
What brings in readers, listeners and viewers? What do we have to do to attract and engage? If we are profit based, how do we earn money?
What makes the rest of us think we can succeed?
If newspapers (at least the majority) can’t succeed at social media, what makes the rest of us think we can?
I’ve been around the newspaper business for 30 years and they were once the powerhouse of communication “and” to a large degree they still are.
Television news has bigger audiences “but” newspapers still have the largest news-gathering and analysis staffs (by far). What they print still powers everything else from television news to blogs.
They are the best writers; they are the best at analyzing facts; they are tops at figuring out what the public wants.
Most are relatively young and they love anything Apple. They use social media as everyday tools. They believe that they are tech savvy.
If newspaper people can’t do social media and create a profit, what makes the rest of us believe that we can?
The newspaper situation is different:
Admittedly the newspaper situation is different; they are essentially competing against their own product. Create a website and compete with your paper? How does that make sense? But as I said above, they are still the best at what they do in just about every category.
The rest of us:
The rest of us are filled to the brim with over-confident social media experts who know exactly what to do and they will tell you so at every possibility.
Yet the vast majority of what I get from people who run web and social sites is that traffic is lacking, sponsors are few and the ability to make significant money (don’t lose your day job) is a challenge. Note that most of us have small staffs and one-person web and social staffs are not unusual.
Again, if newspapers can’t do it…
This is what I’ve learned from six years of website creation and maintenance and helping people in government, associations and nonprofits; it’s hard work that takes years of effort “and” we’re not trying to sell products or services (for those who are—good luck).
There is no magic formula, every audience is different and every topic requires something unique. We all hear about the successful sites and videos that go viral and drive millions of views that translate into hundreds of thousands of conversions.
But like the acting profession and sports, one in a thousand will strike it big and quick. The rest of us plod through and do the best we can while thousands of our counterparts quit out of frustration.
So what’s the lesson?
The lesson is that we are still in our infancy as to social and we are still learning how it all works. Throughout this site there are examples as to those who succeed and those who did not.
Success may be in the definition.
For endless reasons far beyond the capacity of this article, within social is a secret sause that is simply difficult to find and implement with current resources.
What we can promise web and social media managers is a ton of hard work and years of effort before we discover for ourselves what it takes to be successful.
Yes experts, we already know to deliver what people want in new and unique ways but that tells us little to nothing.
But people report to me that there comes a time where their numbers grow to the point where influencers meaningfully interact, donations and members increase and sales of products are significant (or enough to make the effort worth while).
You get to the point where you lean your audience and what they want and you create that series of ten-minute videos that produces significant links and you’re off and running.
Newspapers are also learning:
The funny thing about all of this is that the newspaper industry is discovering the same lessons and through trial and error that are learning to make a profit from web based endeavors (seehttp://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/search_new_business_model?src=prc-headline).
Thus the lesson is that it’s “your” audience and “your” solutions and the only way to learn them is to get out there and communicate.
There are no easy solutions, only hard work and effort.
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Newspapers are very good at generating content, but miserable at packaging it effectively for a digital world. They have largely missed out on the “personalization” opportunites provided by digital media. Do you know anyone who has exactly the same icons as you on their desktop, tablet, or smartphone? Probably not. In a world of millions of options, we expect an opportunity to personalize the applications we choose and the content we consume. Government entities who have provided lots of options for content choices (topics as specific as an alert on change in the IRS mileage reimbursement rate, road construction alerts, school closings, or snow emergency parking rules) are signing up citizens by the thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions. The state of Indiana has signed up over one million unique subscribers (in a state with 6.4 million total population) for several hundred topics. Like newspapers, government has significant amounts of unique and useful content. Unlike newspapers, government is doing a better job of offering specific topics of interest, in multiple delivery channels (email, SMS text messages, RSS feeds, social media posts, etc), with a frequency of delivery specified by the subscriber. That personalized content is finding a substantial audience.
Hi Mark: Thanks for your comment. I agree with your answer–not sure that people in the newspaper industry agree. Best, Len.