Get Social (Media, That Is)

Photo: Warren HerschBy Warren S. Hersch

YouTube, Linked In, Second Life, Facebook.

From online communities to social networks to virtual worlds, B2B editors attending the March 28th event of ASBPE’s New York chapter got an earful about how best to harness the power of social media. Panelists included Stephen Wellman, editor director of business mobility at CMP’s Technology’s TechWeb Network, and editor-in-chief of the blog Over the Air and the e-mail newsletter Grok on Google; Alex Kam, vice president of digital strategy and business development at ALM; and Robert Freedman, ASBPE past president and senior editor of Realtor Magazine.

Herewith are some of the key take-aways from the 90-minute session, which was held at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library in midtown Manhattan.

Develop a comprehensive approach
To be effective, said Wellman, a social media strategy has to be all-embracing, availing readers of a range of multimedia access points to content and interactive forums, including blogs, social networking sites and e-newsletters. To that end, social media tools need to be harmonized with print and web content to create a synergistic whole. Too often, said Wellman, the various media are segmented, resulting in “fragmented and “balkanized” content.

Make social media user-centric
To deliver the best experience, social media tools need to be customized for the audience and for each touch point. You should therefore profile your readers to determine their goals and objectives, the content they want and how they wish to access it. The old adage, “know your reader,” takes on special importance in a multimedia context, said Kam.

Don’t defer to the IT team
As an editor, you need to take a leading role in developing social media content because you know your audience best. Freedman noted that at Realtor Magazine, social media tools for developing video, podcasts and e-newsletters are accessible to anyone on staff, allowing editors to engage readers directly and with an immediacy that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Give readers wide latitude to contribute
Much of your best content will come from the readers themselves. So encourage them to contribute often. Many of the most widely read blog posts of Information Week, CMP’s flagship weekly magazine, are submitted by the publication’s readers: web-savvy information technology professionals who oversee their companies’ IT systems. And much of the user content gets posted without guidance or filtering from the publication’s editorial team.

Give prominence to your best contributors
Industry bloggers who deliver the most value to your online communities should be rewarded with increased exposure. One way to do that, said Kam, is by running excerpted blog posts in your print magazine. You can also create online content around the posts. At ALM, prized bloggers additionally get to share in advertising revenue.

Provide context to the information
While encouraging dialogue with readers, editors also need to put into context information that goes online. Every publication has a point of view. And it’s the editor’s job, said Freedman, to be a “steward” of the magazine’s unique perspective — both in print and on the web. This can entail a balancing act: While giving online communities a personality and a voice, you don’t want to be so controlling as to squelch conversations with readers, Kam cautioned.

Keep blog posts short and sweet
Though perhaps fine for print, lengthy articles don’t themselves so well to online communities, where the aim is to foster dialogue. At Information Week, said Wellman, staff editors now churn out 40 (brief) posts per week. Because of the frequent online contributions, the blogs now account for 12% of the magazine’s web site traffic, up from 1% just six months ago. And Information Week projects the percentage will rise to 20% by year-end.

Be prepared to cut back time spent on print
Depending on how ambitious your social media initiatives are, you may have to scale back — or jettison — your involvement with the print magazine to realize online project goals. Monica Bay, an audience participant at the March 28 panel and an editor-in chief at ALM, said she delegated supervision of one of three ALM publications to devote more time to online efforts. She now organizes a quarterly webinar, two podcasts and between three and four online-only interviews per month. She also produces a blog and coproduces a second.

Let users tag popular posts
Editors and readers need a way to sift through the mass of social media to identify information that’s relevant to them. Hence the need for functionality that allows site visitors to tag interesting and popular content. Giving them the ability to quickly and easily navigate your web portal, said Kam, is an important part of doing social media right.

Repurpose web content for print and print content for the web
Feature articles, blog posts, podcasts and video that go online can — often with little extra effort — be repackaged for your print magazine. At a recent trade show devoted to wireless communications, Wellman leveraged several blog posts, 2 videos and a 50-image photo gallery to develop a cover story for Information Week about the event. The process also works in reverse. Freedman related how Realtor Magazine easily developed a web video using still imagery that originally ran in print. Said Freedman: “We don’t think in terms of the print magazine anymore. We’ll craft content one way for print and another way for our blog.”

Get vendors into the game
Content for online consumption may include advertiser-generated copy — so long as it’s identified as such. On many of CMP’s Tech Web sites, said Wellman, vendor white papers, research reports, blogs and videos account for as much 25% of online traffic. One reason: Much of the copy is editorial-quality that’s objective and adds value. But Wellman stressed that disclosure of the source is critical to maintaining integrity with readers.

Feel free to experiment
Because social media is in its infancy, editors still have much to learn about what works and what doesn’t. To gain a competitive edge, you may need to experiment — and take calculated risks. Without prompting from readers, said Wellman, CMP’s Tech Web sites started posting opinion columns online, which received a very positive reception. Ditto with respect to the creation of online trade shows using the 3-D virtual world Second Life. Said Wellman: “Sometime you have to launch new features that readers don’t ask for because they can’t always anticipate their own needs.” Freedom to experiment, added Kam, extends to the methods by which social media content is created. Publications faced with tight budgets and small staffs, he said, should consider outsourcing online initiatives to publishing partners or freelancers when in-house resources aren’t up to the task.

Don’t expect to make a profit
Securing a return on investment in social media has, for many b-to-b publications, proven hard to achieve. The focus, said Kam, should not be on monetizing online content independently of print content, but rather on integrating web initiatives into the overall go-to-market strategy. Wellman agreed, noting the view that one can monetize social networks is “out of date.”

Warren S. Hersch, ASBPE’s New York chapter president, is senior editor of advanced markets & sales at National Underwriter Life & Health. From 1994 to 2003, he wrote and edited for several IT magazines, including the CMP Media publications Teleconnect, Call Center Magazine and Computer Reseller News; as well as Wireless for the Corporate User, published by Probe Research.

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