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How newspapers can use social media

Last week, I wrote about hyperlocal news, the new strategy that many hope will save traditional newspapers. I talked about the need not to focus only on new content, but to also cultivate new hyperlocal advertisers. But there is even more needed. Newspapers also need a revolution in marketing. Read on to see what I mean.


If you think about the “Four Ps” of marketing (Price, Product, Place, and Promotion), newspapers have thrived using only three of them. Every business pays attention to its price, with newspapers focusing on advertising to make their newsstand price as low as possible. Newspaper businesses also place intense interest in the product itself, focusing most of their efforts there.
Finishing a close second to “product” is “place”–which is a shorthand for distribution. Newspapers have always depended on distribution–being available on a newsstand, at the local coffee shop, in the diner, in a vending machine at the bus stop, or even slipped under your hotel room door. And their best customers are subscribers who get the paper mailed or delivered by the proverbial “paper boy” every day.
So, newspapers have done less promotional marketing than they have overwhelmed with distribution. They make it so easy and so cheap that you’ll get the paper on the way to work or you’ll get it delivered. And newspapers have counted on the power of inertia–the unchanging nature of that daily newspaper habit.
But, as we all know, those habits are slowly changing and newspapers are starting to feel the squeeze. So, as much as I believe that hyperlocal news and hyperlocal advertisers can “save” many newspapers, I also believe that newspaper companies must discover the fourth P–promotion.
Traditionally, newspapers have looked at promotion as being only advertising, and in today’s profit crunch, it feels like the last place newspapers can invest money is in advertising. Besides, newspaper advertising has a spotty record of short-term gains in newsstand sales based on hokey contests or short-run features that rarely (if ever) translate into permanent subscriber gains.
No, newspapers need to take a fresh look at what promotion means. The problem for newspapers is in some ways reminiscent of what the music industry has undergone the last few years, in that they are suffering through an “unbundling” of content. Music companies were accustomed to bundling 10 songs on a CD that sold for $15 and now must sell each song individually for $1. Newspapers are facing the same problem, where they formerly sold an entire newspaper. Online, they are more likely to drive readers to individual stories.
Many lament the Google-ization of news, decrying how Google has sucked up all the money and newspapers are left making their content available essentially for free. That’s an oversimplification that belies the reality. In fact, any newspaper that wants to block Google from its content can simply place the proper robots.txt file on its Web server and Google will go away. The reason they don’t do that is that readers will just find one of their competitors for the same news.
Google isn’t the problem. The fact that most news in newspapers is the same is the problem. Hyperlocal news can change that, but more is needed. Maybe newspapers can sell online subscriptions, but over a decade of failure in this area makes me dubious.
What can newspapers do?

  • They can create a community. Hyperlocal news can help rabid communities form around issues. The New York Times already accepts comments on its online news stories. It’s not a big step to allow message boards and other means of connecting online.
  • Share their expertise. Sure, reporters write stories that share expertise, but hyperlocal reporters can do online chats, or answer Twitter queries, or respond to comments on their stories. The small scale of hyperlocal news allows reporters to get closer to their readers.
  • Drive readers to individual stories. Newspapers have always sold entire newspapers, often in subscription blocks, not individual stories. But stories are the currency of online news. Can reporters hawk their stories on Twitter? Can readers request e-mail updates on RSS feeds on hyperlocal stories of interest? Can newspapers change the way they promote to focus on the story? I think they can.

What’s the common thread in all of these ideas? Social media. When newspapers decide to harness social media to bring their readers to their stories, and to cause readers to “subscribe” by joining online communities that they invite others to, they’ll finally have a combination that other competitors lack.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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