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.

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.