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Marketing smarts or dangerous bedfellows?

There was a time when media organizations reveled in their independence. Slowly, consolidation in the media industry meant cross pollination and media organizations taking a more corporate-like approach to their business and marketing. That has morphed into outright aggressive partnerships with a corporate world that media owners once acted largely as watchdog over.

Today’s announcement of the Globe & Mail’s sponsorship of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver is the latest media partnership announcement (CanWest had already jumped on board, with reviews from its own papers…).

Olympic 2010 logo

Media, which at times mocked and belittled the corporate marketing speak, are now part of the mix, “extending brands” and “leveraging partnerships” to “reach more stakeholders.”

If the Globe is ponying up money to back the Olympics, can it remain editorially independent? Publisher Philip Crawley says so. Editorial independence is not necessarily demonstrated by what and how events and situations are covered. It’s what is not covered that reveals the invisible hand of the suits behind the editors. No, it’s not commonplace, but yes, it’s more subtly recognized within media circles than the general public.

From VANOC’s perspective, media partnerships are a great marketing move that will almost guarantee them extensive coverage and arguably minimize any sustained negative coverage. As Mr. Corleone once said: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Better still, partner with them so they have a financial interest.


Last rites, or rebirth, of newspapers?

Circulation is down. Ad revenues are down. Ad Age is running a special series on the U.S. industry entitled Newspaper Deathwatch in which one media analyst says: “When an offline reader of a paper dies, he or she is not being replaced by a new reader.” It doesn’t look good for the ink-stained fourth estate.

The Internet has been a threat (mostly) and opportunity for newspapers. Unfortunately, most organizations thought slapping up an online version of their printed edition constituted a successful play in “new media.” Woops. Others have seen the light sooner. Their online presence goes beyond historical one-way communication (Here’s the news: now read it and go away until tomorrow…) to employ an architecture, forums and content that attract eyeballs, encourages participation and builds loyalty.

First, more newspapers are outfitting staff with video and digital cameras in addition to notepads. Capturing interviews or events, in their entirety, has little to no space limitations online compared to the real estate limitations of the printed page. Video content is the future, plain and simple. Plus, it can be great entertainment (Chef Ramsay, the toast is on fire!).

Second, online editions are springboards for more detailed information or directly to the source. Readers may link somewhere else, but they’ll keep coming back because you give them access and direction to richer content.

And third, some newspapers are taking the leap into the user-generated content (UGC) world. It’s a huge leap of faith: at its core, UGC is the anti-thesis of newspapers’ traditional role as the authoritative voice of its particular community. It’s one thing to allow comments at the end of online stories. It’s another to allow the public to generate those stories and other content on your site.

A few papers are walking this talk, in part because UGC supplements shrinking newsroom resources (yes, UCG is unpaid and arguably impacts paid staffing levels, but that’s another blog…). In Canada, the Montreal Gazette has opened up the kimono with West Island Plus, featuring reader-generated stories, photos and local event postings alongside Gazette staff-generated content. Providing those forums and content complements the expertise and content provided trained journalists (i.e. posting a local hockey team tryout time isn’t the same as investigating the suspiciously high mortality rate among seniors at a nursing home). The Chicago Tribune’s Triblocal and Washington Post’s Loudounextra are also making this play to engage (keep!) readers. It gets readers to participate. The next step is to see newspapers creating mini social networks that allow readers to create their own conversations unfettered. Should the city be using taxpayers’ money to build that sports stadium? What can we do to revive downtown? How do we get more kids involved in volunteer work?

Ultimately, keeping readers is about keeping ad revenue (a newspaper sales rep once opined that I and my fellow journos just filled in the gray space around his ads). Keeping revenue keeps the lights on. Will building stronger online capabilities, applications and ultimately loyal eyeballs attract enough people to immediately offset the shrinking print ad revenue? No. But if newspapers are going to survive and thrive, it will make the transition quicker and less painful.

Can newspapers evolve quickly enough? If not, how long before their eulogy?

Jason, Freddy and security on social networks: which is scarier?

What level of security breach or scandal will make social networkers more cautious about giving up personal information on Facebook, MySpace, et al? (Full disclosure: my agency represents MySpace Canada.)

Or are people so comfortable and eager to live their lives online that their risk tolerance is minimal to non existent?

Facebook’s Beacon is probably the best litmus test as to how far (or not) a social network can go before people start getting antsy. But with thousands of Facebook applications being downloaded daily, all with the ability to gather information on users, have people accepted the potential privacy issues?

A story from Associated Press today looks at that contradiction and implications, pointing out that nefarious use of personal information by Facebook application developers is randomly, but not constantly, policed by Facebook. It’s basically an honor system (yikes!). The story finds that targeted ads are too invasive for New Yorker Jonathan Gaugler:

“Getting married? Do your registry here!” read one recent ad that showed up. Another on his fiancee’s page was advertising for egg donors for fertility clinics. “Creepy,” Gaugler says.

Maybe a security (software or hardware) company should conduct a comprehensive attitudes and preferences survey that benchmarks people’s risk tolerance for privacy and then tracks those changes over time. Will people become too comfortable until something catastrophic happens? Or do the benefits and sheer momentum of social networking outweigh the potential dangers?

What do you think?

Top 100 Web 2.0 applications posted the 100 best Web 2.0 applications, with Webware readers and Internet users across the globe casting nearly two million votes to select the winners. Winners are being feted tomorrow at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

As with any wide open Internet voting, Web 2.0 awards were subject to e-ballot stuffing, and certain apps — like Maxthon in the browser category. While it employed a widget on its website to help boost voting numbers, and it doesn`t show up on most marketshare reports for browser use in North America, Maxthon has been downloaded 140 million times. And as Webware points out, it’s the second-most popular browser in China and holds 30 percent of the market there as of late April 2008.

Notables: no Rhapsody in the Audio category.  Friendster still makes the top ten in the Social category, but no Bebo. In the video category, News Corp.`s Hulu didn`t the make the cut and, arguably because of U.S.-centric voting, neither did the BBC`s iPlayer. iPlayer has dramatically exceeded expectations, attracted a much younger demographic than the stodgy BBC is known for, and demonstrated that traditional networks can use the Net as an alternative distribution vehicle that can actually retain and expand its audience.


MySpace becomes YourSpace — for advertisers

News out of Los Angeles that MySpace has opened the kimono and bit more and will allow more control of commercial MySpace pages (full disclosure: my firm — Cohn & Wolfe in Toronto — represents MySpace Canada). It’s basically a self-serve platform called Community Builder Platform.

Ian Schafer, CEO of NY-based online marketing company Deep Focus, was one of the beta test companies. In one of his regular blog postings two weeks earlier, he raised the idea that marketers need to create another position, chief relationship officer (CRO), to optimize their foray into the social networking space. His message: ease up on the one-way promotional monologue that is the essence of most marketing/advertising vehicles, and create a true dialogue through social networking sites, with a CRO leading the charge.

The fine line that marketers walk is to walk gently in the grassroots environment of social networks and participate, not pontificate, about their product, service or cause. Just because marketers and advertisers can take more control within MySpace doesn’t mean they should. It takes some discipline to resist the old-style marketing strategy: communicate at people. MySpace and other social networks demand you speak with them, or not at all.

Don’t mess with my powder, dude!

My colleague David Gordon passed along a nice little reminder from “futurist” Jim Carroll (who I knew better when he was just a technology freelance journalist) about today’s challenges of hiring and keeping young talent. Jim wrote the piece, Don’t Mess with my Powder, Dude!, as a forward to the book The Rise of the Project WorkForce: Managing People and Projects in a Flat World by Rudolf Melik.

Carroll’s interesting forward got me to thinking about my own experience now dealing with what I call Generation Next, both as employees in the workplace and as a target audience for marketers. (Side note: The Pew Research Centre also used the Generation Next phrase in a recent report on how young people view their lives, future and politics).

Gen N are largely multitaskers with short attention spans (hence the preference for project work) who would prefer to work in groups collaboratively than alone independently. They want and expect more professional development and challenges sooner, often have higher impressions of their value to an organization and their expectations for compensation, advancement and recognition. Adapt to their perceptions and attitudes or suffer the consequences of attracting and retaining employees.

Now, intersect that with how Gen N respond as consumers, particularly in how they live and share their lives online. Their expectations are higher for the quality of content, the intelligence of the contact that is made with them, the way they like to collaborate and share information and how they are most influenced for purchase considerations and purchase decisions. It’s no wonder online communications and social media will be the most important vehicle (if that’s even the right term) to reach Gen N, influence them and create value and brand loyalty for whatever product service or cause marketers are promoting.

How do you address Gen N as employees and as consumers?

Buffet, Gates, Trump want to be your friends

Guess Gen Y and other commoners aren’t the only ones embracing online communities.

In case you missed it,  a recent the Luxury Institute Wealth Survey found that those whose net incomes averaged $280,000 annually (and whose net worth was about $2 million) are jumping on the bandwagon. Participation among the well-heeled in social networks jumped from 20 per cent in 2007 to 60 per cent in 2008. LinkedIn was tops, followed by MySpace and Facebook.

The news should come as no surprise, given that the affluent have long been adept at cultivating and using personal networks to advance their status/wealth, fundraise for charities, avoid incarceration, etc.

While LinkedIn might not be an exact substitute for the cigar aromas of a Granite Club or a private golf course, the rich can make a lot more connections — and faster — from the comfort of their personal library, or Bat Cave… 😉