As 2010 starts, I am reminded that I'll be starting my fifth year in social media. I started as a professional blogger for Corante (a blog most won't know about these days), and have had some pretty interesting experiences in both the marketing and journalism sectors of what has now become "social media." In 2009, I started to see a whole momentum-shift in social media as some newspapers folded and ad revenues continued to plummet; and businesses of all stripes got really itchy about using social media for their own gain--rather than to service or listen to their customers. Even if there still isn't much in the way of ROI to prove social media's worth, businesses started to see their way to exploit social media as another platform to broadcast their "marketing message." But that was 2009....here's what I think--and what my gut tells me--might happen for both journalism and marketing in the upcoming year..
Good for Journalism: Journalism gets real with hyperlocal. Thanks to the vast numbers of downsized journalists in both print and broadcast, we are going to see a whole lot more independent, hyperlocal blogs and sites devoted to towns and cities across the country, filling in the gaps where the mainstream is dropping off. Where will they get the money? Some will get grants, while others will figure out how to get local merchants to buy ads (trust me, some have already) They'll figure out how to cash in on content syndication and ad networks and other programs that are already out there, and there might even be some new ways that money gets generated.
Lots more of these independent projects will profit: esp. if they've been around for a couple of years. People will turn to them because newspapers, while they figure out what to do next, will be more than averagely awful...
Many these new projects will be founded and/or headed by women, who continue to be overlooked as either "news futurists" or "news innovators"--one of these sites, founded by publisher Mary Serreze is Northampton Media
out here in Northampton, MA. Although not formally launched just yet, Northampton Media is providing important and significant coverage on the recent spate of arsons in Northampton that claimed two lives and cost thousands in damages.
If anything I hope for this year, that may not materialize, is recognition for women as news innovators and as important players in the future of news--because so many are making that future happen in small towns all over the place.
Check out this article at Poynter.org on Rick Kupchella, former anchor at KARE-TV in Minneapolis and his BringMeTheNews site....another project pointing to the future of local (and profitable too.)
Oh, and if newspapers are smart, they'll work out some kind of deals with outfits like Helium.com and Demand Media for outsourced copy editors, many of whom will come from the ranks of downsized journalists (as many of Helium and Demand's best writers come from)....thus diminishing the fear that at least copy editing will be done in Bangalore.
The Bad News for Marketing: outsourcing social media expands
Back in the day, a bunch of really smart guys got together and wrote something called The Cluetrain Manifesto. In that manifesto was the idea that "markets are conversations" and the Internet could make those conversations happen. A lot of people in marketing found it really difficult to get this notion (actually, it's a whole like like retail sales--trust me--and thus very far removed from marketing)
What these guys didn't say is that "marketing is a conversation." However, as social media evolves, and companies get desperate to get into Facebook and Twitter and all that social media jazz, lots of marketers who'd never worked retail and who can't seem to grasp Cluetrain, just figured there were ways to make their marketing messages into "conversation."
Notice the quotes there--because many aren't concerned about what makes conversation happen, or the benefits of direct customer interaction and increased efficiency in customer service, which is what happens when a company actually *does* social media. Most companies are interested in reaping benefit from social media--such as an increase in SEO for their websites--without actually having to have any kind of conversation with anyone.
Enter the new breed of social media "consultant." Rather than actually helping a company to understand the benefits of doing social media for themselves, helping a company brainstorm innovative ways of using social media in conjunction with other marketing strategies and the like, these enterprising consultants are willing to do the social media *for* businesses and companies. Yes, that means writing their blogs for them, keeping their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. In some cases it's even managing the LinkedIn accounts of senior execs. Marketing and Public Relations firms, too, are getting into the act, with creating new positions in their firms that are pretty much entry-level jobs that require lots of "social media management"(read: writing stuff for them) of client Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Maybe there's some blogging in that stuff, but who knows. Nowadays, how many of "the interns" really know what a blog is anyway? aren't they just passe little thingies that are great for linking strategies??? (argh!)
I'm totally baffled by this kind of consulting. The logic I hear from the many folks who do it this way is that businesses just don't have time to do social media, or they don't have the staff to do it, or some other reason why it's so impractical for them to do social media in-house (and I've been accused of being a "purist" who "just doesn't understand" that some business owners don't really care to have conversations with potential customers. huh?? they'd never make it in retail.) So much of this thinking flies in the face of all the social media success stories (see this from Gaspedal) that point out how in-house social media is what makes social media effective (creating a "market" and then a "conversation.")
Now, there are those consultants who will also argue that if you teach a company how to do social media for themselves, that they won't need the consultant any more. All I can say is if that's the case, then the consultant really isn't doing his/her job: because the world of social media moves so fast that you blink and you could have moss growing between your toes. Regardless of the hype, there's no reason to believe that Twitter and Facebook are the endpoints in social media and if you know them, that's all you need.
The matter of in-house vs. out-sourced social media won't be decided: check this great discussion on Social Media Examiner on the topic. There will, though, be a lot of companies throwing money at types and kinds of social media that, over the long term, may not get them what they want: more customers and better customer relations...
So, as I look at this, I think--where am I going to be in all of this? Will I continue to straddle both journalism and marketing, where will the opportunities be, and if there is room for "purist" thinking. Honestly, with the rise in hyperlocal sites, social media, and that direct connection with community and 'customer" is going to help journalism survive. That lack of connection that comes from outsourcing will more than likely black eye a company or two, and we won't necessarily be hearing of success stories from outsourced social media. All in all, it's going to be another exciting year in the trenches, that's for sure!