Social Media Reality Check
During a session at the Folio: Show in September called “The Online Editorial Toolkit,” Fortune executive editor Josh Quittner said he considers social media to be one of the most important initiatives for magazine publishers. Said Quittner, “If you’re not working on a Facebook-style application, you should be. A year from now, I guarantee we will be talking about what Facebook application you have, not video.”
With those bold words, Quittner said he thinks the publishing industry is about to experience a defining moment reminiscent of the early days of Web 1.0. “What’s going on now is very similar to what we saw when Netscape came on the scene and the Web was being built out,” he adds. “We’re at another one of those fundamental shifts. Facebook at this point appears to be the odds-on favorite as the place that’s building the next platform.”
Quittner’s big-picture outlook is most valuable as a framework for action. The trick is to apply that framework in circumstances that vary from market to market. CMP Technology, for example, views itself as on the cutting edge, so much so that it is creating a Web community covering the future of Web communities.
The site, Internet Evolution, leverages four Web 2.0 content sources: Bloggers; broadband video documentaries and interviews; investigative reports from CMP writers; and user-generated content. Stephen Saunders, former co-founder and CEO of online startup Light Reading, which CMP acquired in 2005, conceived the site.
CMP took a holistic approach in developing the site, according to Saunders. “We looked at CMP’s resources and what they are best able to deliver in terms of high value content—and that’s research and investigative reports,” he adds. “We’re relying on CMP writers and analysts to do in-depth research, which is turned into reports on the site. In the new Web 2.0 world, we wanted to get the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ thing going with user-generated content. A very big and important part of the site is getting people engaged on the site and contributing.”
For the social-media component, CMP created a must-have list of features, including the ability to design user profiles, to Digg content and to tag to Reddit. “We didn’t just want to go and throw every Web 2.0 feature out there, because not all of them are really relevant,” says Saunders. “The most important thing is we’re combining technology with content. Our product isn’t the Web site, it’s the information within the Web site.”
Bumps in the Road
If CMP represents one end of the spectrum, let’s look at the other. A social-media platform may sound like a natural fit for an association but The Meeting Professional, the flagship publication of Meeting Professionals International, has had mixed results with its early efforts. “All the hype about social media doesn’t necessarily reach all areas of interest,” says editor-in-chief Tom Domine. “We have a few early adopters, but the uptake has not been universal. Additionally, as we are a community that includes both meeting planners and the vendors who supply the meetings industry, screening out the overly commercial input has been a bit of a challenge.”
As part of its initiative, The Meeting Professional is co-creating its 2008 editorial calendar with its members. The magazine put the edit calendar online and set up message boards to permit members to suggest, discuss and critique ideas for features. It also set up an industry-specific wiki for members. “Now formerly static content such as city guides can become living documents that are updated at the speed of experience,” says Domine. “Each of our more than 22,000 members has their own personal page that includes a blog. Our CEO has a mantra when it comes to co-creation: ‘If you build it they will come, but if you build it with them, they’re already there.’”
Advertisers are slowly getting over their initial misgivings about social media, particularly about placing their products and services next to user-generated content. The key is making the advertiser part of the community, rather than intruding on the community.
Wired teamed up with Xerox to invite subscribers to upload photographs to Wired.com. The first 5,000 photo-posters received the July issue (themed on the growing personalization of cyberspace) with themselves as the cover art. The Xerox name did not appear on the covers but the Web site conveyed that the project depended on software from Xerox and the company’s iGen3 110 digital production process. “The marketing opportunities are tapping into the most trusted conversation, relevance, and engagement,” says Josh Stinchcomb, director of integrated marketing for Wired Media. “The challenges are lack of control and the need for thick skin.”
Shifting Role of Edit
Traditional editors will likely have to take on the role of “editorial-shepherd” as part of their duties. “In a social network, so much of the content comes from users, the role of the editor becomes equal parts assigning and editing original content for the purposes of the group of users of your content,” says Quittner. “The other half is moderating, being more in touch with your users/readers than a normal print editor. Right now our interactions tend to be infrequent one-or-two way conversations where you send an e-mail and someone responds.”
CMP’s Internet Evolution borrows a similar staffing model from Light Reading, which features the primary positions of two editors and a salesperson, and then shared resources for everything else, including copy-editing and Web production. “It’s basically the same model as Light Reading but the difference is we have this giant virtual masthead with 60-65 ‘thinkerNetters’ writing for the site,” says Saunders.
The Meeting Professional’s Domine likes the idea of both staffers and community members playing the role of editorial shepherd. “We find members whose work is well-written and ask them to mentor someone with a great idea who may not be the most well-written individual in the world,” he says. “One of our biggest takeaways is to ask less of members but ask more often. I think we’ve put up barriers of inclusion in the past by asking them to do too much—a complete article or column. Now it’s going to be, what’s your opinion on this? Ten questions with snappy responses, more entry points.”
The key for Saunders is balancing a traditional journalism formula with Web 2.0. “I don’t believe in pendulum publishing, where on one hand you say, ‘We’re a business-to-business publisher and everything has to be written by us,’ and then Web 2.0 comes along and now the users will publish all the content,” he says. “That’s reminiscent of what happened in the nineties.”