How Can Communicators Be More Trustworthy Online?

Posted on July 29, 2010 by 3 Comments

Guest post by Lezli Goheen, Account Director

newspaper catIt’s no surprise that digital content is becoming an increasingly important way for people to consume information.  We know that a printed newspaper in your hands is a dying concept, and the recent findings of a study by USC’s Annenberg School reinforces that reality.

The speed, variety and richness of web content has changed the game and people now rely on the internet and television as their primary sources of information. In fact, about 25 percent of people who read newspapers said they wouldn’t miss the print edition if it ceased. Not terribly surprising, but another nail in print media coffin and another reminder to us to continue to immerse ourselves in digital content and become smarter and smarter on key influentials for our businesses.

The study goes beyond the premise that people are consuming more online content, to point out that there’s skepticism among consumers about the reliability of the information they’re getting online. They have limited trust in what they’re consuming, with about 25% of those surveyed saying only half or less of the information on sites is reliable.

As communicators, how can we ensure that the people consuming  our content view it as trustworthy and reliable? There are many ways to accomplish this, but I’ll get the discussion started with a few ways to bring credibility to your online content:

  • Mind Your Tone: “The first of its kind, cutting edge, innovative, game changing.”  Too often exaggerated marketing-speak makes its way into our communications and put people’s truth sensors on high alert.  Use a critical eye and say no to language that is simply not believable.
  • Think like the customer: If people can relate to the product or service and see themselves using it, they’ll be more likely to believe what you’re saying. Instead of presenting a laundry list of product features, talk about the product benefits and differentiators, in plain and simple terms.
  • Just the Facts: Use third-party evidence, end-user testimonials and research data to support your claims. Having a credible source  say, “I love this product because it really did help me do all the things it said it would,” goes a lot further than saying it yourself.

What other ways can we ensure the online content we’re creating is trustworthy?  Please share your ideas!

Image by doviende

I Don’t Read the Paper, I Read Twitter

Posted on July 17, 2009 by 1 Comment

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

On a recent trip down to Austin on the red-eye with David Patton (@spincycle3), I was at a loss for what to do with this stack of newspapers he brought on the plane.

Statue reading a paperThe only value I see in the newspapers is passive discovery. The ability to read something, turn the page and find an interesting article about something you’d never go out of your way to find. The problem is most of the time I have no interest whatsoever in the article on the next page and there’s no StumbleUpon button to take me to the next article that I may have more interest in. I’m just stuck with what’s in the paper. (As a side note, I found it much harder to scan a newspaper than a Web page.)

A VC, Fred Wilson, one of the original early-stage investors in Twitter, recently gave a speech at the 140 conference: The Value Of Twitter Is In “The Power Of Passed Links.”

To me Twitter is my passive discovery. The thousands of people I follow provide that discovery that most people get from the paper. Except instead of reading one paper I read bits of hundreds of “papers” and blogs.

Is There Any Value Left in Print?

Posted on July 7, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

So I jokingly posted a tweet this morning about wanting to start a newsletter. You know, those things that people used to print out and mail? Joke aside, I kind of really wanted to do it. I don’t know why. I don’t even know what I’d write about that would be better suited for print than a blog.

Sure, I may get analog with my note-taking, but read print? I still like books in print, but that’s because it’s something permanent. Books are something I want to keep. I always wanted to grow up and have a whole room that was a library. Of course I also wanted to grow up and be an astronaut.

Then I saw this post from TechCrunch about The Printed Blog heading to the recycle bin. And instead of making me toss my idea aside it kind of made me want to go through with it. I don’t know why!

Goodbye, Printed Blog
Remember the Printed Blog? It was a newspaper – on actual glossy paper – that would syndicate posts from the Interwebs. Josh Karp founded it six months ago and he ran through 16 issues and 80,000 copies – all on his own dime. And now it’s dead.

Maybe it’s some kind of weird nostalgia from my college days of printing a ‘zine. (Mine was called Pinion and was the normal drivel you’d expect from liberal arts majors: ranting opinion pieces and bad poetry submissions from me and my friends.) Maybe it’s because this was such a point of interest at my last employer, HP. Maybe it’s just the contrarian in me that wants to swim upstream. Maybe it’s because I want to see if there is any value in print.

What do you think? Is there any value in print? What would you want in print that you wouldn’t want online?

This post was originally posted on New Comm Biz

A Blog About a Blog About a Link Found in Twitter

Posted on June 29, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Tweet Stream

Image by Tac Anderson via Flickr

So I stirred up an interesting conversation when I said I don’t read the physical paper but instead get pointed to the news via Twitter.

Some people passionately agree and disagree with me. But today I saw example from Dave Allendemonstrating why I prefer my method (and yes you could actually do both).

Once again, Twitter leads me to a great article. It is hard to believe that some people still “don’t get” Twitter, but when I use it as I feel it is best used, as a business tool, it is incomparable for exposing me to some great thought leaders.

Dave then goes on to blog about the OffTheBus citizen powered news site. I love to see new models emerge and finding a blog about a link found in Twitter pointing to a citizen journalism article and site seems some what serendipitous (or something).

Developing a Digital News Ritual

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Comments Off

David Patton, Editor In Chief

It’s not news to say that the ritual of reading the morning paper (or even the existence of print news) is going the way of the dodo. Certainly there are a wealth of choices that offer that same information and news in the form of an online torrent.

NewspaperThis is the personal impact of the communications cataclysm we’re experiencing. It’s as important as ever to be well read on both the macro and micro level, but the tools and habits have changed. There are thousands of sites that need to be looked at and just as many tools that can be used to funnel the information into our brains. Choosing the right one is daunting. Finding the time to explore the options is also daunting.

I’m increasingly curious about how people manage that flow of information. And, more importantly, how they are staying in the know without that ritual when being constantly distracted by email, phone calls and the increasingly hectic schedules to which many professionals are becoming accustomed?

It seems like too many people are throwing up their hands, giving up on the news ritual altogether and letting the torrent of information wash over them without really getting them wet. It’s no help that the mainstream media is spending most of its time creating multiple versions of the same news without spending time (or money) telling deeper stories or investigating complex issues.

The plop of the newspaper (or trade pub) on the driveway or desk made things easy for us to both know what the big news was or skim through to discover an interesting article buried on page 25. But it looks like those print rituals won’t last much longer.

So it’s time to develop a digital news ritual. Experiment with new tools like Google Reader, Twitter, Xmarks or aggregators like Alltop. You don’t have to start from scratch. There are likely early adopters in your office who have already done some of the experimentation. And if you are one of those who has already found a digital reading ritual please share your tips.

AP Takes On Google

Posted on April 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Kristine Gloria, Account Executive, WE Tech Practice

AP vs. Google

In a recent move made by the Associated Press (AP), the organization has officially decided to take legal action against Web sites that use newspaper articles without legal permission. According to the New York Times article, the AP plans to develop a system to track news articles online and to determine if they are being used legally.

This attempt to regulate content distribution will likely affect news aggregators like Google. Author Richard Perez-Pena wrote, “news organizations have been loath to take on Google, whose search engine drives much of the traffic to their own sites. But at a time when newspaper revenue is collapsing and some papers are closing, the prospect of getting a share of Google’s revenue is more tempting than ever.”

Generating significant buzz by this announcement, several influentials have already called into question and compared this tactic to the losing battle initiated by the RIAA against music pirating. Regulating content distribution on the Internet continues to be a heated debate with no clear answer. An interesting point-of-view at this idea of copyright and the internet can be seen in Lawrence Lessig’s recent book, “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.”

Lessig argues that we are now engaged in “a war between an old read-only culture, in which media megaliths sell copyrighted music and movies to passive consumers, and a dawning digital read-write culture, in which audiovisual products are freely downloaded and manipulated in an explosion of democratized creativity.”

Will AP’s attempt to regulate the Internet help or hinder the newspaper industry? Or, is it another example of how these institutions continue to move against the grain to gain control? and Knowing the Difference Between Innovation and “Bright & Shiny”

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Integrated Communications Director

economy word bubble

Vanity Fair blogger Michael Hogan augments Mark Bowden’s story of New York Times on the precipice with a critical kick at the paper’s sometimes frenetic efforts to reinvent itself online. Although is arguably the best newspaper website going, Hogan asserts that its dabbling foray into social media with interactive tools — such as with the economy word bubble featured earlier this week — is a foolish investment:

“What, exactly, is the point of this digital toy, which asks readers to describe their feelings about the economy in one word and then posts the results in size-weighted fonts? Sure, it’s kind of cool to look at. But does it really do the Times any good? Does it have anything whatsoever to do with delivering the news of the day?”

This raises two very important — though sometimes at odds — points, which are universal to all brands, not just the imperiled Gray Lady:

1. We mustn’t be transfixed by the bright and shiny. Never should a tool or tactic be executed because it’s cool or buzzy. What are we solving for? Strategy planning should start with a question, not an answer. Social media is not a strategy.

That said, I’d argue that does in fact have a strategy driving this so-called “digital toy.” I’d posit that it is articulated as some variation on Drive Audience Engagement. By encouraging audiences to lean in and participate with the content, rather than passively consuming it, the newspaper brand is taking incremental steps toward building an invested relationship with its audience.

This strategy should be obvious to those of us in PR and marketing, and the fact that the New York Times gets that in an online world, publishers must learn to think more like marketers is — in my opinion — a glimmer of hope toward successful reinvention.

But the second point that Hogan’s argument reminds us of — by virtue of omission — is this:

2. We mustn’t overlook Return on Innovation in our mad dash for Return on Investment. Innovation is hard, and its rewards aren’t immediate. But innovation has the potential to pay dividends, hand over fist.

The New York Times is not going to succeed in this new free, digital, social media- and search-driven world by stripping itself down to its most bare news essence. The New York Times is going to succeed by exploring new models and testing new paths of information delivery. The fact that social media is not yet monetized does not mean that it won’t be.

This is true for all brands. Of course we are feeling more risk-averse than we did eight months ago, but if we’re going to weather this storm and come out stronger, we must continue to innovate and try new things, even if we don’t right this minute have all the answers.

The new media Church-and-State mash-up

Posted on February 13, 2009 by Comments Off

Heather Snow, Director, Integrated Communications – WE Studio D

The unhappy fate of the newspaper is TIME magazine’s cover story this week, with a “modest proposal” for a user-pay micropayment system laid out by former managing editor Walter Isaacson. The argument – by now familiar to us all – is that while the predominant philosophy online is in favor of information being free, quality reporting costs money, and quality news coverage therefore cannot – should not? – be free.

As we hear daily reports of declines in print circulation and sweeping newsroom layoffs, the irony is that news consumption is not down. In fact it’s up. But it’s online. And people aren’t paying for it.

Citing the Wall Street Journal’s model of charging a monthly subscription for the online editions, Isaacson notes that WSJ paid subscriptions were up by more than 7% in 2008. This may ultimately be the compromise audiences are willing to strike with a select number of elite news outlets that specialize in exceptionally high quality (read: costly) reporting. But it won’t work for all.

The trouble is, on the social web, information doesn’t stay put. And nor should it. That’s the beauty of it. On the social web, quality content – and influence – radiates in all directions.

Church, meet State

Isaacson may not approve, but there is another model playing out on the web. That which has traditionally been revered as the “Church” and “State” of editorial and commercial interface is beginning to blend into a single amalgam of “content.”

Though this may make the traditionalists among us squirm, here’s the rationale: The digitally-steeped generation of consumers has become accustomed to living in a world of mash-ups and social media in which content of all formats blurs together and consumers customize content in personalized online environments. Consequently, static ad formats like banners lack impact in this user-generated digital world; it’s the integration of brand and content that offers greater potential influence. And increasingly it’s this type of blended content experience that advertisers are looking to buy.

Examples of publishers moving in this direction are ESPN, which is integrating editorial and branded content via a prominent video player on its home page, as with the recent Ford F-150 ad. For some time Federated Media has also been espousing a strategic marketing model it refers to as “conversational marketing” – the idea being that advertisers that recognize and respect the conversation are invited to join the conversation. And popular social media blogger Chris Brogan is also experimenting with the model, publishing a Kmart-sponsored post on his Dad-O-Matic blog in December.

There is push-back to this blurring of lines – as both FM and Chris Brogan have witnessed. The key is maintaining full transparency. And there are certain lines that must not be crossed. Advertisers may be invited into the conversation, but integrity should not be compromised and reporters or bloggers should never be prevented from writing with authenticity.

Web 2.0 = Integration

Online, media brands dissolve. Driven by search, content is king and each story must live or die by its online relevance. Online, influence becomes less about stature and more about ambient resonance. How many fans and followers do you have? How many times is content retweeted and reposted? Did you make it onto Digg’s top story list?

As the news model shifts and reshapes itself, we see traditional reporters reinventing themselves as bloggers. As bloggers, reporters are no longer anonymous bylines behind neutral information, they are expected to put their personalities forward and build a community “fan” base. In this new world, reporters must become their own marketers, and begin thinking about relationship-building and influence-extending like PR practitioners.

Likewise, marketers have the opportunity to themselves become media. In a search- and social media-driven landscape, it’s the quality and relevance of content that drives consumption, not its source. But to be effective, marketers have to learn to think like publishers – they must place their focus squarely on the needs and wants of the audience, not the brand.

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