The Great Mystery of Media

by Susan Murphy

Sketchy notes
Image by Sketchy Notes

Back in the 1970’s, a Canadian named Moses Znaimer did something that nobody had ever done before. He took the medium of television, which had long been a great, mysterious and meticulous process reserved only for a select set of highly trained professionals, and gave it back to the people.

Through his little UHF station, CITY-TV, he turned the TV production process on its head, and made everything the studio. He showed audiences not only what was happening on the screen, but what was happening behind the scenes too. Lights and cameras and microphones were in the shot. The cameras moved and roamed and shook and zoomed in and out, and were taken from the pros and placed in the hands of the reporters and hosts. It was spontaneous and real. Moses Znaimer de-mystified TV, and the broadcasting world was never the same. The medium is the message, indeed.

Flash forward about 35 years and here we sit, firmly planted in a new era where media truly is in the hands of the people. Everyone now has the opportunity to be a publisher. So, one would think, with media being so accessible to all of us now, that more people would actually be publishing.

Yet most of us are not.

As much as the Internet as changed our behavior, it really hasn’t changed much at all. We just think it has. As easy as it is to just push a button and become a publisher now, most people still are not doing it. They know the process is not a great mystery any longer, and they are intrigued by the possibilities.

They WANT to publish, because they’ve seen the benefits publishing can bring to them and their business. But still, they hesitate. Why? Because the average person still thinks the so-called “experts” and “A-Listers” are the ones with all the control. They think that the people with the loudest voices know more, so they fall back to the role of passive consumer of media, because it’s the safest place to be.

The truth is, just because the mystery of the media process has been removed from the equation, doesn’t mean that you are ready to take the next step to become a publisher. Why? Because as comfortable as you are with the process now, you’re still not convinced you have anything interesting to say. You still would rather consume than create, even though you know that creation is the best thing for you.

But you DO have something to contribute. You are already interesting, by the very nature that you are the only one in the world who sees things from your perspective. And by sharing that perspective, you’re giving the world something very, very worthwhile.

So, with all the mystery out of the way, how are you going overcome your fears? How are you going to make the transition from consumer to creator?

There’s really only one way.

Just. Hit. Publish.

# # #

Susan Murphy is an entrepreneur, TV producer, teacher, blogger, podcaster, and social media nerd. She’s been tinkering with media in all its forms for the past 20 years or so. Suze lives in Ottawa, Canada with four furry four-legged creatures and her extremely patient husband.

Posturing Wastes Corporate Content

Tree Pose!
Image by lululemon athletica

Sometimes moving to a conversational medium can be hard. Transitioning style — blogs, videos, social networks updates, etc. — to serve stakeholder groups can be extremely challenging. This is a legitimate challenge of moving from traditional to conversational marketing. But some marketers ignore the relational value of social content, and abuse these media to posture, positioning for influence and popularity rather than serving. Posturing wastes corporate content.

Fellow blogger Rich Becker recently discussed the Fifth Estate, and how the PR blogosphere doesn’t act responsibly. That’s because many PR 2.0/social media influencers, just like their predecessors, believe that PR and marketing is about posturing. They are more concerned about looking good and maintaining influence than building real relationships or discussing industry ethics (see Becker post). God forbid if they took time to talk about anything other than themselves.

Let’s be clear. Blogging and creating content for popularity can make you “influential” by certain algorithms. And influence is the paper tiger that PR 2.0 social media types trot into the boardroom to close the deal. But that won’t build customer loyalty.

Content needs to serve stakeholders. For all intents and purposes, it’s a product you are creating for them. The correct use of content is to serve people, make their lives better. That’s the whole gist of positioning content marketing as the Serve strategy in Welcome to The Fifth Estate. Applied, if PR 2.0 bloggers had guts they would take up serious ethics issues like Weiner/Twitter use & Motrin, rather than getting flabbergasted by the latest Apple iOS announcement. It would better serve their clients.

Yes, there are other benefits, including thought leadership, SEO and customer loyalty (for nonprofits; donor, volunteer or beneficiary). This is the gravy received for doing the job right. That means make your readers’ lives better and easier through the content you are creating for them.

Today on Gaping Void, Kathy Sierra had a stirring post, “Pixie Dust & the Mountain of Mediocrity” to this effect: “If people love what a product, book, service let’s them *do*, they will not shut up about it. The answer has always been there: to make the product, book, service that enables, empowers, MAKES USERS AWESOME. The rest nearly always takes care of itself.”

When Media Professor Stephen D. Cooper came up with the concept of the Fifth Estate, he meant bloggers could become as meaningful to communities as the traditional media, becoming their watchdog. The pen is a powerful, powerful tool. When it is used in service to help our families, friends, countrymen, and, yes, our customers, it becomes a great thing. However, content that supports personal branding and false influence falls into that bottomless chasm of marketing BS.

Avoid posturing, and start helping people out. In the end, this is the answer you’ve been looking for anyway.

Four Storytelling Methods

Uig Locational Storytelling Press Launch
Image by Gaelic Arts

Moving from marketing to an entertaining delivery of useful information creates a much higher likelihood of successful communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Like gamification, storytelling entertains the online reader/viewer/listener, earning their interest. Compelling stories convert dry boring content into worthwhile time expenditures.

Success assumes a few of things: 1) That the storyteller understands what compels its stakeholders; 2) the information presented in the story is useful; and 3) the return on investment for an organization is asked for in a tasteful manner. Meeting those three fundamental building blocks empowers an organization to make storytelling work.

There are many approaches towards storytelling. Personification, third person storytelling, embedded journalism, and metaphors are just four ways to enliven content. Here’s a deeper look:

Personification: The old blogging method of personal storytelling can drive great interest. Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together (Example: Beth’s Blog). People want to understand how attending that event made you feel, or how that new technology changed your perspective. By sharing an event, an idea, or reflection, we identify with or at least imagine commonality about conceptual material, and content becomes interesting. There are certainly dangers to personification, including nihilism, over-reliance on opining, and personal branding that negatively impacts the organization.

Third Person Storytelling: This gets back to the basic elements of storytelling a la the original oral tradition of tales like Beowulf and the Odyssey. Third person storytelling is really good for causes and consumer facing companies that resolve problems. Showing how people’s lives have become better or enriched as a result of touching an organization is powerful. For many organizations, this is told via case studies, but there is nothing wrong with enlivening a story by weaving narrative elements into it or discussing trends (Example: Shel Israel).

Embedded Journalism: This approach seeks to provide a journalistic view into an organization or related external events and happenings. Similar to trade reporting, embedded journalism relies on facts, the ability to answer the 5 Ws in any good story (who, what, when, etc.), pyramid style structure, and a general tone that instills objective view points (Example: Invisible People). Of course this is the weakness of embedded journalism: By acting as a member of the Fifth Estate, companies and nonprofits immediately are suspected for pushing their wares and solutions. This means fact telling and objectivism has to be held to a higher standard.

Metaphors: Infusing metaphors into content empowers people to more easily imagine data and hard concepts. By using common metaphors that almost everyone has experienced, the ability to identify with the concepts behind a story become much more personalized. The long journey to successful metaphorical writing can involve wrong turns, potholes and flat tires, over-complication of storytelling route (plot), and more. But with practice, this can become one of the most powerful methods of communicating complicated concepts (example: Copyblogger).

What are some of your favorite storytelling methods?

Article first published as How Storytelling Betters Content on Technorati.

Why Content Marketing Fails

Sky Bridge

Content marketing seems to be the meme du jour. What’s most striking about this conversation remains the blind eye most bloggers have to the majority of corporate blogs, micro messages, and content initiatives that fail. According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 40% of content marketers feel their efforts are successful, and consumers have been less bullish, with only 14% trusting corporate blogs in recent years.

Yes, there’s an issue of strategy and best practices. The resources and “how to produce” online content argument that most online communicators discuss are accurate. Yet, after a while it gets beyond technique and capacity. The reason most organizational content fails lies in the fact that they are marketing initiatives.

It’s marketing! People don’t want marketing schtick! Consider that amongst today’s youth aged 12-17, only 6% are interested in interacting with brands on Facebook (source: Forrester). Further, marketers’ rush to add hoards of followers to establish credibility has flown in the face of what peer-to-peer trust is all about, and thus many of these “big accounts” lack the influence they desire (source: eMarketer).

People don’t really want marketing in any form of social media, much less content! They don’t want it in their social games. They don’t want it on Facebook. They don’t want it in the content that they read.

This is a timeless issue that dates back to newsletters and press releases, the predecessors of online content. Marketers that produce marketing schtick bore people to death. This decades old misstep finds its basis in two key failures: 1) Not understanding stakeholders and 2) Sacrificing information quality to push marketing goals. Organizational selfishness — short-sighted, unintentional or purposeful — kills content. As a result performance suffers.

No one wants their content to fail. In many ways, reversing this very common problem requires a change in ethos. Marketers need to create compelling content — specifically, interesting and factual stories. They need to adapt best practices from the journalism field, and bridge the gap between corporate interest and market needs for valuable information.

In that sense, Clay Shirky was right: Everyone Is a Media Producer. Creating compelling content begins with understanding the fundamental shift and interconnection between the Fourth and Fifth Estates. The influx of millions of new content creators, most of them lying in the niche communities of the long tail has increased demand for online eyeballs. This in turn creates an increasing sense of information overload anxiety for readers who have to choose from a wide variety of traditional media, new media from professional content creators, corporate and nonprofit produced content, and yes, amateur media.

This produces incredibly competitive content markets! Right now only 20% of marketers believe that corporate sources are perceived to be more valuable than traditional media (source: Content Marketing Institute). How will companies and nonprofits differentiate in such a field?

Success requires evolution and becoming better storytellers. This does not mean just pulling heart strings. Tell the truth! Deliver facts, show deeper insights into the value your organization creates. Learn media best practices and how to deliver a story in a compelling fashion. Create content that works in or includes a variety of media. Or if stakeholders have demonstrated interest in your initial efforts, diversify with mobile and traditional media products.

Point being, it’s time to stop treating content like marketing, and start developing media as a product for stakeholders. Shockingly, they may actually be interested in it. That’s what journalists and media producers do (even the embedded corporate and nonprofit ones)… Produce worthwhile content.