By Jay Campbell
As trade journalists aim to harness powerful tools that often come with no ostensible cost, corporate leaders need to ensure the use of new technologies abides by important company policies. Both perspectives were on display last week at an ASBPE meeting in New York, helping to illustrate the ongoing challenges faced by editors and their employers in dealing with new media and new business models.
If B2B professionals are to heed the advice of the event’s opening speaker, Bob “Bo” Sacks, then publishing outfits need to figure out the right combination of policies and freedoms before a “kid in a garage … takes over our words and our thinking” and lays claim to billions in digital money which Sacks said is “up for grabs.” A business publishing expert and founder of High Times, Sacks showed a barely watchable video to demonstrate that “print will not go away for generations but digital will be the predominant way that people read.” He also suggested publishers figure out ways to charge their readers and to monetize mobile. These changes may require giving up some sacred cows, he said, including chunks of still-significant print ad revenues.
But all that’s easier said than done.
One challenge is allocating the right resources to social media without hurting core editorial and marketing missions. At McGraw Hill Financial, which is moving employees to a common platform for social media activity using software from Spredfast, staffing cutbacks led the Engineering News-Record to assign to one of its editors duties formerly handled by a full-time social media manager. The publication has enjoyed some recent social media success, particularly by posting engineering jokes on Facebook, but it remains to be seen if the tradeoff between core content and social media offers a return.
David Nicastro of UBM Design Central showed some impressive-looking tablet apps that his group developed for three separate brands. The flashiest of them was a custom app that smacked of a marketer with excess budget. “Downloads are not very high right now,” Nicasro noted, “but average engagement on some of these apps is 28 minutes.” Are native apps a model for true editorial B2B publishing? Nicastro thinks they’re more of a “bridge,” as the HTML5 web development standard matures to the point where it’s “starting to almost mirror what’s happening in apps. HTML5 is still half-baked, but in a year or two it’s probably going to take hold.” At that point, Nicastro posited, publishers will begin emphasizing websites optimized for various devices rather than apps. With apps, he said, marketing is difficult but even before that, simply getting published in the app store, particularly Apple’s, is excruciatingly difficult and probably best explored by game makers and others who employ dedicated developers. If you are going to build an app, Nicastro concluded, you’d better make sure it’s cool.
Independent journalist Solmaz Sharif discussed social branding tips for independent journalists. Generally folks not employed by publishing outfits with social media policies that might require editors to, for example, add a tag to their Twitter handles—@ParryMCM was one example shared during the event by Tim Parry of Multichannel Merchant—Sharif said these journalists benefit from publishing their own websites including their biographies, work samples, resumes and links to social media accounts. Tags of topics covered help with search-engine optimization, Sharif said. “Don’t repeat your social media presence. For example, use different pictures. But don’t give different information about yourself,” she advised. Sharif also counseled that journalists learn the different “spirit” of each social network, and that they occasionally show the fun sides of their personalities.
Realtor magazine senior editor Rob Freedman demonstrated how he shoots video on a shoestring, emphasizing tips and tricks for those whose audiences can accept amateur-looking multimedia. Among these pointers was to use software like Snapz Pro X to grab online video that is available in the public domain. Freedman also suggested viewers may accept grainy-looking interviews recorded via Skype if the editor indicates “via Skype” across the screen. “I’m willing to sacrifice quality just to get the content,” Freedman said. He noted that MusicBakery.com is a good source for audio, and using a platform like Brightcove rather than YouTube eliminates unwanted ads.
Freedman said he loves his job because he’s free to use whatever is at his disposal to produce compelling content for his association’s members, and lately that’s been 40 to 50 videos a year thanks to tools like Skype. It’s a different story at some corporate publishing firms. At McGraw Hill Financial, for example, employees are not allowed to use Skype.