Being "of" the Web

I just came across a very telling speech delivered to the Wharton School of Business's "Future of Publishing" conference by Martin Nisenholtz, the New York Times's senior VP for digital operations. Obviously, Nisenholtz's talk is directed at the publishing industry and the many challenges its facing as readers transition from paper to online. But what he's recognized is relevant across the board for all industries and organizations seeking success in digital media. Here are just some of the most salient points. You can read the entire speech on

1. There's a need for engagement across the web. It's the emotional connection that is essential and that transcends technology.

2. There are four "shifts" taking place among users today, as described by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg:

The shift from anonymity to real identity.

The shift from pull to push.

The shift from temporal to permanent connections.

The shift was the "what" to the "who."

Identify, says Nisenholtz, is the fundamental building block for engagement, and he thinks that's been proven by Facebook.

3. We must transform being being on the web to being of the web. It's not about broadcasting; it's about knowledge sharing and building emotional connections.  That, again, goes back to identity.

4. The new information ecology means "The boundaries of your resources (read "site") become liquid, public, shared." He quotes David Reed on startup Betaworks' About page and believes that this captures the fundamental change of increasing engagement -- "like holding water in your hands." It's still to be figured out how information can be adapted to meet this essential truth of digital media, but it's what Nisenholtz believes is a critical element of engagement.

Read the speech and read it again. These are huge challenges that The New York Times and all publishers face, especially when it comes to monetizing what we've come to accept as our free lunch. But, this is also hugely relevant to marketers who are attempting to capture the attention of the masses for their brands, no matter the industry. Seeing social media platforms as yet another broadcast opportunity is a hugely mistaken mindset. It's time to be "of" the web once and for all.

Fueling Your Facebook Fan Page

Have a Facebook account? How many times a week do you get requests to become a fan of a business or organization? If you do agree, how often to you pay attention to their updates or even visit the page?

It's something to consider when you launch your own fan page. Are you doing it because it's now de rigeur, because you have to? Or do you truly have something interesting and useful to share with your fans -- whom I gather you're trying to convert into customers or clients?

Before you launch your fan page you should have a clear plan of how you're going to operate it. How frequently will you update it and with what? How are you going to create community? How will you keep visitors engaged? How will you amuse or entertain them, teach them, be a trusted resource for them?

Here are some suggestions for ways to continually fuel your Facebook page. And, if you have ideas you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.

  • Run your Twitter feed into your fan page.
  • Hold relevant and fun contests with giveaways of products.
  • Do you have a blog? Feed that content into your fan page.
  • Offer relevant tips of the week with visuals if possible.
  • Post videos -- these could be short tours of model homes, tours of the homes of happy new home buyers, interviews with your restaurant's chef or a quick recipe demo, demos of how to use a product.
  • Post photos of happy customers with your product with a Q&A about their experience.
  • Post links to relevant YouTube videos your fans would enjoy.
  • Pick a Facebook fan of the week to highlight. (Think viral marketing potential as fans let their friends and family know they're being spotlighted.)

Remember, just having a fan page doesn't mean anything. If you don't keep it updated with interesting content you won't get visitors and it could have the opposite effect of your intent.

Closing the Communication Gap

There's nothing mind-blowingly brilliant about this, but if you are investing the time and funds to launch and maintain a social media communications platform, I hope you're not forgetting one crucial element. Asking your customers (and if you're a home builder, your potential buyers and brokers) for their social networking contact information.

All of the contact forms you present to potential customers--whether in person at the shop, sales office, or online--should allow them to tell you if they're on Facebook and Twitter, and, if they're on Twitter, what their Twitter account  name is. The forms should also enable customers to confirm that they would be agreeable to your company making these connections with them.

Trust me, even with a list with people's names and email addresses, chances are you will never find them by doing a search on Twitter and, depending on how unusual their names are, you might not be able to identify them on Facebook. Plus, it's just ridiculously time consuming to do that kind of search.

It should go without saying that, in turn, your Twitter and Facebook information (and Linkedin, if appropriate) should be included in every communication you have with customers, from your website, emails, and blog (you do operate a frequently updated blog, don't you?) to any collateral material you've printed, as well as stationery and business cards. If your salespeople have their own business-related social media accounts, those should be part of all of their communications, including email signatures and business cards.

I know this all sounds ridiculously obvious, but it has been endlessly surprising to me to find this pretty big detail not automatically integrated into social media programs. And, if you're making an effort to establish social networking for your business, you should have someone--many someones--to connect with.

Has Social Media Jumped the Shark? Hardly

I love days when there's a convergence -- or maybe I should really say collision -- of thought patterns that begins before I've even had my first cup of coffee. Here I was at my desk before 6 a.m. and I open my email to find an intriguing blog post in AdAge Daily News by Phil Johnson of PJA Advertising & Marketing: "Selling Social Media Isn't Hard; Implementing It Is." Then, I hear a most ridiculous essay on NPR's Morning Edition by John Ridley, "Keep Your Tweets to Yourself." Now Johnson is spot on in his analysis for advertising agencies: We've pretty much passed the point in which you have to convince clients that social media is a worthwhile endeavor, but unless you've been engaged in it yourself, it's going to be difficult to advise your clients on the best course of action to take and how precisely to implement it across a variety of channels.

Johnson jumped right in and made his own agency a proof of concept. He was able to understand firsthand how to work Twitter, how difficult it can be to establish a consistent brand from Facebook to YouTube and, what may be the biggest challenge for those who market brands, how to rejigger values so that you're not pushing yourself on others but engaging with them. It was refreshing to find someone go in a skeptic and come out with a true grasp of the nuts and bolts of what social media really involves.

But, then there's Mr. Ridley. He rants about Twitter, but admits, "I haven't Tweeted once in my life." And, why not? He's sick of the uber-personal ramblings of people commenting on their every move in life. And of the hypocrisy of people who claim to want privacy protection yet yammer endlessly about their "private nonsense."

Fair enough. Except that those of us in business, in journalism and in other arenas have come to embrace a collection of communications vehicles that allows us to get and share information, meet others with the same interests and promote the things that need attention. As Phil Johnson said in his AdAge piece, "You can't understand it without experiencing it firsthand."

I believe that's where a lot of businesses are right now. They're listening to John Ridley early in the morning and nodding in agreement. But, they have yet to dip a toe in the water and haven't a clue about the great potential of tools like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Linkedin. Or maybe they use it for personal stuff but haven't had that visionary moment that makes them realize what a boon it might be to their business or career.

That's why I encourage business leaders to get a little personal coaching -- from me or someone else -- to learn about these tools themselves so they can experience it firsthand and be able to glean the potential power they hold. Now will Twitter endure? Will Facebook? Who knows? As long as people are creative and technology continues to advance, there will always be new ways to engage on the horizon. It's not the specific mastery of these specific applications that is the be all and end all (although it's very important right now while we're using them), it's the understanding that standing still isn't an option.

But wait, John Ridley, surely you must have some inkling of this yourself. After all, you blogged about it on NPR. Yes, Ridley has a blog -- called Visible Man. Even Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep snickered a bit at the end when he mentioned that little nugget.