Conundrum: Media Companies and Social Media

Recently, I attended a panel at Social Media Week New York on "Building a Media Company From Scratch"-- ostensibly a discussion on how social media has impacted the lightening-fast rise of Tina Brown's The Daily Beast. Moderated by the brilliant Faris Yakob, the panel proved entertaining and interesting as it promised:

Management from the Daily Beast (Caroline Marks, Bryan Keefer and Debbie Fink) and Colin Nagy (Attention), join moderator Faris Yakob from McCann NY to talk about the site's conception, the process of building a media brand from scratch, and also the role of social media in building awareness and driving traffic.

The panelists pointed out that Daily Beast is not so much an aggregator of news and content as it is a curator of content (well put). Another interesting lesson for media companies is the Daily Beast's practice of publishing compelling user comments as content itself. Colin Nagy, of Attention, discussed briefly their efforts in distributing content and links to bloggers and across relevant social networks (including maintaining a Facebook Page and Twitter feed) for the purpose of driving traffic and optimizing content distribution.

This is the part that got me. This, of course, is what all social media strategist espouse (free the content! Let it live where users live, where attention is already aggregated!). And while this is true, allow me to play devil's advocate for a sec:

As a general rule of thumb, in the social Web all brands need to be content producers in order to have relevancy and be able to "engage" with consumers...as opposed to simply leveraging advertising assets. But unlike media companies, these brands have a distinct advantage with leveraging social media through content production precisely because their business models do not revolve around monetizing said content. Rather, the content serves many purposes from raising awareness, shifting perception, building loyalty, etc. Therefore, the content can live in many different social spaces (so long as they are relevant, useful, etc) without the pressure of needing to convert the attention in those spaces to traffic and attention elsewhere (i.e. a site monetized with ads). As a brand, I can host all kinds of content on my Facebook Page and not worry as much about converting eyeballs to my homepage because I am happy to leverage that content for brand building and creating loyalists through Facebook. A media company, however does not have this same luxury.

The paradox lies in this: As content becomes increasingly channel-agnostic (due in large part to, and perpetuated by, social media) and the demand for ubiquitous content across multiple channels and services rises-- media companies find themselves in increasingly precarious positions as ultimately, their business models are extremely channel-dependent.

Look at the Daily Beast: they are setting their content free, to some degree. They distribute through Facebook, through Twitter etc...but at the end of the day, their "audience" is the one that traffics to their site and pays the bills (not necessarily all those engaging with them in Facebook). At the end of the day, the attention in those social spaces needs to convert to traffic and attention on The Daily Beast site itself. And while social spaces do provide that kind of conversion, driving traffic tends to be a secondary or even tertiary result of social distribution and engagement.

Thoughts? Brevity is not well with me today....


Matthew Daniels said...

Damn--I wish I made it to that panel. How did you find out about it?

The same can be said about corporate initiatives. Syndicating content via RSS, Facebook, and Twitter seems like a no-brainer, but, as you wrote, success is often based on site traffic metrics.

Perhaps the solution is to not treat new media as full distribution channels. I've noticed many media sites experimenting with RSS, teasing consumers with only 20% of the content, begging the consumer to ultimately click-through.

Taylor said...

Channels of dist. are secondary to the branding of the content producers; the most successful people in both new and institutional media have built up audiences on the strength of their personal brands.

Once the reporter/journalist/columnist establishes her/himself, the audience follows and the mediating channels aren't as important.

Old skool media can't handle that because company brands HAVE to be primary because they don't get social media thrives on the personal, not the fake ass corporate.