Everybody in communication business talks about it everywhere! The new and ever-changing communication landscape has turned the media industry on its head. The confusion is now complete. Much of what we have learned and become accustomed to is no longer valid. This applies particularly to media, journalism, public relations, marketing, and sales. The professionals within each of these fields are either desperately holding on to their old identities, or are groping around for new ones.
The role of journalists is questioned. Previously clear concepts such as “journalist” and “journalism” have become blurred. The same goes for “media”. What is a media today? And “PR” … what is PR? It’s obviously something else today than it was yesterday. And what about “marketing”…
“Markets (and marketing) are conversations” as the Cluetrain Manifesto puts it. Conversations are based on relationships. Just like PR. Because PR’s is all about relationships, right? It’s all about relationships with both the market and those who influence it, including journalists. However, since all consumers now have access to almost exactly the same “tools” and methods as traditional journalists, it seems like the market has in some way also become the journalists. The market represents a long tail of new journalism and new media that perhaps has the greatest influence on a company’s market and might perhaps be their key opinion leaders. “Put the public back to public relations!” as Brian Solis put it long ago.
People have started to talk to each other in social media at the expense of, or sometimes in tune with, traditional media. They’re no longer writing letters to editors. They would rather publish their news ideas directly on the Web. Media consumption, and production, publishing, packaging and distribution in particular, have rapidly moved in to the social web. And both the PR and Marketing communicators are following, or are at least gradually beginning to do so.
As the market moved to the web, and the web has become social, marketing communication has become “social” too. Companies have started to talk directly with their market. And I mean “talk”, not pushing out information. Campaigns with no social component become fewer and fewer. “Monologue” ad banners, with decreasing CTR and increasing CPC, are becoming less acceptable. Google revolutionized with Adwords, Adsense and PPC. Press releases written by former journalists synchronized with Adwords and presented as text ads, turned things upside down.
Aftonbladet has been very successful with advertorials where only a small ad-mark distinguishes the ad from an article produced by journalists. This method is about as successful – and deceptive – as “product placement” in TV and film. That method has gone from small product elements in parts of a program to a complete sellout of the entire series or film. (In Sweden, think Channel 5′s Room Service and TV4′s Sick Sack.) But what can the television business do when the consumer just fast-forwards past the commercials, or worse still, prefers looking at user-generated TV like YouTube?
What will newspapers do when consumers ignore their banners? They will convert advertising into editorials. Or vice versa: they will charge for editorial features and charge companies to publish content on their platform, without involving any “investigative” journalism.
IDG calls their version of this “Vendor’s Voice”, a medium where companies publish their “editorial material” (it used to be called press information) directly on IDG.se and its related websites. The service is conceived and hosted by Mynewsdesk. It works pretty much like the Apple App Store; it is possible for any media to set up their “channel” (the media) on Mynewsdesk, promote it, and put a price on its use.
Essentially, when companies publish their information in their own newsrooms via Mynewsdesk, they can also easily select any relevant channels for the information in question. The service still has the internal working title “Sponsored Stories”, which today may seem a little funny when that is the exact same name Facebook uses for its new advertising program, where a company pays for people in its network to share information about that company with their own friends.
Isn’t that pretty much what PR communicators strive for? It’s in the form of an ad, but this type of advertising is simply bought communication – just like some PR seems to be – with the purpose to “create attention around ideas, goods and services, as well as affect and change people’s opinions, values or actions…”
But the press release… That’s information for the press, right? Or is it information that is now a commodity, often published in the media, directly and unabridged, much like the “sponsored stories”? Maybe it is information that can reach anyone that might find this information relevant. They might not be the press, but they are at least some kind of journalist, in the sense that they publish their own stories, often in same media as “real” journalists, in platforms created for user-generated content.
Everything goes round and round: side by side are readers, companies and journalists. All collaborate and compete for space and reach.
The causal relationship is as simple as it is complicated. People are social. People are using the Web. The Web has become social. People meet online. The exchange is rich and extensive. The crowd has forced the creation of great services for production, packaging, processing and distribution. These are exactly the same building blocks that have always been the foundation for traditional journalists and the media’s right to exist. Strong competition has emerged, but there is also some interaction and collaboration.
People have opted in to social media at the expense of the traditional media. They rely on their own networks more and more, which has forced advertisers to find a place in social media too. Traditional ads are replaced by social and editorial versions that are designed to engage or become “friends” with your audience, talking to them as you would talk to friends.
The media are in the same boat and are becoming more social and advertorial. Users are invited to become part of both the ads and the editorials. UGC (user-generated content) is melded with CGC (company-generated content) and even JGC (journalist-generated content). Journalism goes from being a product to being a process characterized by “crowd-sourcing”, before ringing up the curtain on a particular report or story. As the newspaper Accent writes on their site:
“This is a collection of automated news monitoring that we use as editors. The idea is that even you, the reader, will see and have access to the unsorted stream of news that passes us on the editorial board. Please let us know if you find something important or interesting that you think we should pick up in our reporting. ”
This is similar to how companies today present their increasingly transparent and authentic communication in their own social media newsrooms, where the audience is invited to contribute their own experiences and opinions, and partly acts as a source of story ideas for journalists.
All in all, it’s a wonderful, fruitful, but oh-so-confusing melting pot.