Last fall, at the American Business Media’s Executive Forum, I joined IDG Enterprise CCO John Gallant and SourceMedia EVP/CCO David Longobardi on stage for a panel about the future of content and editorial and, much to my surprise, my introduction of the “brandividual” concept turned into a lightning rod for subsequent hallway conversation.
Brandividualism is nothing new. But prior to the arrival of social networks, the media brands themselves got to be the sole arbiters of brandividualism. There were no other practical ways to keep in touch with your favorite newscaster, weatherperson or columnist other than to tune into the media brands that employed them.
Then along came Twitter and Facebook—two services that have not only up-ended the media industry in well-chronicled ways, but ones that have also reinforced the principles of brandividualism.
In a double-whammy, not only are Twitter and Facebook disintermediating media brands as the sole channelers of the trust relationship between audience and brandividuals, they’ve become the platforms upon which new independent, but highly trusted brandividuals have risen. The latter phenomenon and its potential to dilute audience is the more oft-discussed challenge to modern day media. But the former should be just as interesting to us students of media.
At the time this article was written, ESPN had 3,335,412 followers on Twitter. However, Erin Andrews, one of ESPN’s most popular commentators had 1,200,905 all to herself. By the time you read this, CNN will have more than 3,980,000 followers. But more than 2,304,000 people will be following one of CNN’s biggest brandividuals—Anderson Cooper.
Many media executives are naturally driven to perceive this brandividual independence as a threat; not just to their brand, but, as if they’re pimps, to their way of life. However, the risks of resisting or ignoring the realities of this new, brandividual-led world are greater than if you embrace them.
First, make sure you have the right brandividuals—journalists or bloggers who are domain experts, whose expertise and reputation engender trust and loyalty, and who understand the importance of immersing themselves into the social networks that matter.
Second, don’t be shy about leading your online editorial product with your brandividual(s).
Third, in addition to providing the necessary buttons and icons for connecting to your media brand over social networks, be sure to offer all of the available means for your audience members to connect directly with your brandividuals.
David Berlind is the chief content officer at UBM TechWeb.