Rebooting the news: what this means for marketers

I’ve recently been turned on to the Rebooting the News podcast hosted by web/media luminaries Dave Winer and Jay Rosen. Their experience is manifest in the low key, dare I say low-fi, approach to podcasting. If you’re looking for scripted professionalism, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is the rumpled jacket Columbo of broadcasting. What you will find is a couple of guys who share a common interest, but often a different viewpoint, speaking their mind.

That common interest is the effect of technology on media and journalism. Not surprising given that Dave Winer is attributed (among other things) with the creation of RSS, the engine which revolutionized blog publishing, and Jay Rosen is a journalism professor and strong proponent of public and  citizen-based journalism.

So, why would a B2B tech marketing dude like me be interested in the impact of technology on the media industry? Because I feel the lines between marketing and media are in danger of blurring, or should I say, melting. As social media continues to seep into every crevice of our lives, marketers can no longer broadcast messages as we once did. We need to be more relevant. More informational. More like a news outlet than a brochure. For this reason I feel there is much we can learn from the massive transformations underway in the mainstream news industry. They arguably have had a lot more experience than us marketers in creating emersive, engaging information-rich content.

In a recent issue of Rebooting the News hosted live at the Online News Association annual convention, Dave and Jay layout the major themes they have covered on the show. Although aimed at news outlets like the New York Times, some of the issues strike me as deserving of special attention in the context of online marketing…

Give traffic away

A key factor in building successful online information systems has been the notion of giving your traffic away. Google is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of this. We go there in droves to find answers. But the answers we find aren’t generally on Google. It drives us elsewhere for the answers – few of the links presented to us on search results pages are on the Google domain. It’s effectively an algorithmic curator, desperately trying to retrieve the best, most relevant content on the web and deliver it to us. Dave Winer points out that the major news outlets have not picked up on the value of this service. They still act as know-it-all walled gardens, reluctant to link off their own domain. Looking for further information on a particular news story? The only links proffered are from other stories across the same publication. There could be more background on Wikipedia and explanatory videos on YouTube: but you’ll have to go find them yourselves.

The same argument can be leveled at corporate websites. We talk about how social media breaks down the walls of the enterprise, connecting the pieces between our ecosystem. A company has suppliers, partners, customers, industry analysts, press, all now apparently in closer communion. However, how much of this ecosystem do we expose on our pages? For instance, on a page explaining the application of a software product, we could link to a partner blog showing an innovative implementation, commentary form a respected analyst, or customer testimonials from Twitter (Radian6 offer this on their homepage). Each serves to bolster up and add color to the claims we make on our pages.

Rebooting the News: give visitors away

Why isn’t this happening? I can think of a few reasons: we spend so much time working on the content of our pages we forget to work in the inter-relationships with other relevant pages out there on the web. Perhaps more importantly, we are currently not incentivized to do this. As web marketers, our performance is measured in terms of behavior of our visitors on our site. We use engagement metrics that are specific to our site: like average number of page views and registrations completed. If we start sending our traffic away, the numbers by which we prove ourselves will tank. External links do also need additional curation. Relationships tear, whereas links can be more permanent. If you no longer deal with a partner and they have stripped your reference from their site, you’ll need to update your links accordingly.

The key point here is that this effort in giving traffic away can offer the kind of third party validation that could inch your prospects closer to that all-important sale. We just need the processes, tools and discipline to be able to apply this in a consistent manner.

News updates and background knowledge

Dave and Jay also describe how the web gives us unprecedented access to the back story around any given article. As stories unfold, news articles can be plotted as markers on the timeline of the lifespan of the story. Often readers will pick up an article half way along this timeline. The beauty of the web is that an article can link to content further back on the timeline tracing the story’s evolution and context (and multiple perspectives). Unfortunately, this theory isn’t often applied.

We can relate this to corporate websites too. When we build content or put up an asset, we can contextualize it. Want to go more in-depth? Check out the experts on our forums. On the other end of the spectrum, here’s some 101 resources for all you newbies. We’ve also got blogs, YouTube videos and Wikipedia pages crammed with more details. (Check out this post from Jeremiah Owyang on the subject of linking social media content to corporate websites). Again, all this makes for a richer, more immersive experience for the visitor.

Wrap up

I understand that in Rebooting the News, Dave and Jay are trying to improve the flow of information and the communications process in a democracy. Maybe I’m soiling their pretexts by reducing them to the grubby world of commerce, but I feel their recommendations do bleed over into the world of online marketing, and if adopted can improve the overall web experience for those seeking information in this domain.

Do you agree?

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