New FTC Ruling on Blogger Disclosure is a Defining Moment for Social Media

The FTC has made what some may see as a controversial ruling – that bloggers must disclose if they are getting paid by or are receiving free goods from companies whose product they have reviewed. These rulings are meant to protect consumers, but they also protect the overwhelming majority of companies that are using the social media honestly. Transparency in the social media is the only way to gain trust. If a relationship is based on manipulation it will ultimately fail. As it has often been said, it is not a matter of if you will be exposed but when you will be exposed. Not only is there –ultimately – no place to hide, but the news of your transgressions will fly fast over the internet.

If some companies see this as a reason to not get involved, then they shouldn’t get involved in a social media strategy. It means that they are still thinking in terms of creating a promotional channel where paying to get their message out is part of the game. The social media is – to them – a channel to be exploited. I don’t fault companies for this old-think, it is difficult to do an about-face when traditional marketing and advertising concepts are more than a century old and very engrained in our collective psyches.

However, this is the 21st century and being able to deliver finely-honed messages to individuals in isolation is no longer possible. Those individuals are only a keystroke away from millions of cohorts who have their own take on what you are selling. Developing good word-of-mouth communications about your product comes from genuine customer satisfaction and their sense of “ownership” of your product. This can only happen when companies stop trying to craft messages, and get down in the mix and interact with consumers. Companies that see that the social media is not just a new channel, but a fundamental shift in how they relate to consumers will be successful without the need to pay people to be their friends.


With the Demise of Gourmet Magazine, Radical Thinking is Required for Publishers

The closing of Gourmet and Modern Bride magazines just hit the newswires today. Two more publications that have a clearly-defined audience but weren’t able to provide enough ad revenue. (Some reports say that Gourmet’s ad revenue was down 50% over last year.) Gourmet’s editor, Ruth Reichl had moved the publication beyond just the print media to websites and a television series, but that wasn’t enough to save it.

Quoted in the AP release the celebrity food editor, Bobby Flay, seemed very stoic:

“The transition from hard paper to the Internet is not as easy as it should be. We just take it as a sign of the way things are going to be now.”

AP writer, J.M. Hirsch, put forth this opinion:

“Gourmet’s demise also illustrates the change in how power is held in the food world. The ability of print media to make — or break — anything is waning. Increasingly, it is the viral aspect of social networking and blogging that gives rise to new faces, places and flavors.”

Both reactions paint a pretty grim picture of the future of print publications, even with a fairly robust internet or social media strategy. Gourmet had the following:

• Website with both daily content and archives of recipes, restaurants, etc.
• Online forums
• Facebook page
• YouTube channel with lots of recipe demonstrations
• Podcasts on iTunes
• Three Twitter accounts (the magazine’s editor, the travel section’s editor and the magazine itself)

So what went wrong? Why didn’t all of this activity add up to some meaningful revenue? Are bloggers and the millions of social networkers really adding more value than a respected food critic and her team of experts could create?

I still believe that quality content has value that will either support subscription fees and / or advertising dollars, but no one in the industry is thinking radically enough. Some approaches for consideration:

• Ruth Reichl and her team could have created a tightly-knit group of blogs – each referencing the other – along with a group of Wikis on various topics. The end result would have been a Gourmet blogging channel about cooking, restaurants and travel. They would need to think like bloggers in terms of how they reached out and pulled in readers. They would need to “hire in” competing bloggers instead of going through the usual HR process to bring on “staff”. They would have to stop thinking like what they were doing was just the online version of a print publication.

• Conde Nast could have looked at all the readers of their various publications and asked themselves who they had a relationship with and what – in fact – they were bringing to those relationships. They could have created a support staff for all of their writers and editors across all publications, but dropped the hierarchical relationship between the two. Let the writers become bloggers and the editors their creative mentors, not their bosses. If some bloggers became “stars”, pay them more. The support staff would handle the techie stuff and consistently monitor the social web for places and people to reach out to.

• Some really visionary entrepreneur could create the internet version of cable television. On it would be quality content subscribed to by users as well as supported by advertisers. The Conde Nasts and the New York Times of the world would all live there. Doesn’t someone believe that people would pay a monthly fee for valuable “programming” on the internet, not just on TV?


How Obama Dropped the Ball on His Social Media Strategy

One of the puzzling things is how Obama used social media to his advantage during the campaign but has failed to use it successfully now. The techniques that the campaign used were fine when you had a large group of people rallying around one idea. However, once the presidency was in motion, the real conversation should have begun. Every cabinet secretary, under-secretary, administration policy wonk should be in a dialog with the public through social media. None this has happened. It’s like they read Chapter 1 of ‘How to Develop a Social Media Strategy’, but never finished the rest of the book.

This is analogous to a company that used social media for a marketing campaign, with Obama being the product, but never took the next step. At this point virtually every “consumer” (i.e. the American public) is a subscriber to this product – at least for the next four years when we all will have to decide if we want to “renew our subscription”. All smart CEOs know that it is better to keep your customers engaged positively throughout the contract cycle than to try to woo them, at the last minute, just before they have to make another buy or no-buy decision.

Now is the time for this “company” to move the use of social media out to the customer service and product divisions, and create a real dialog. Find out what problems / complaints people have and what changes they want to various product lines – healthcare, financial regulations – or even if they want to discontinue some products like the war in Afghanistan. Instead, they are using the Organizing for America group to continue the product-selling process in place of being responsive to their existing customer base. This is the time to stop organizing the masses and truly allow for grassroot input. This would create something closer to a real democratization of the process of governing.