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New Technologies in Audience Development: September Circulation Roundtable

by Rebecca Sterner

A large and lively group of audience developers, editors and other marketers gathered to talk about how digital media is changing the business of publishing.

It became clear right away that the old publishing lexicon doesn't work when discussing new media. Our relationships are no longer with "readers" or "visitors," but with "people." "Publishers" are now "content providers" in all forms of media, from print to Web plus a host of other digital formats including radio, social networks, blogs, videos, tweets, and more.

Getting Started in Social Media

  1. Start with a plan, with clearly defined goals. For example, will you use Twitter to drive traffic to your website? How will you do that? How often? How will you measure results?
  2. Don't chase technology. Let the quality of the information and the needs of your audience dictate what you do, not the latest gadget or Web tool.
  3. Assign responsibilities for this work to staff members or freelancers.
  4. Find out if a community in your interest area already exists and participate in it if it does. If it doesn't, create the community yourself.

It's also clear that current print readers are not necessarily visiting publishers' (er, content providers') websites and it is not easy to convert Web visitors into subscribers.

While it is relatively easy to blog or set up a Twitter or Facebook account, it is hard to define how these things will produce revenue, and in an advertising recession there is plenty of pressure to produce revenue. It's also hard to devote the time to it when smaller staffs are expected to do more work.

Albert Maruggi, a public relations and social media expert from Provident Partners, and MMPA members with experience in digital media offered up this advice:

  1. Using social media tools allows you to find and relate to your audience where they are, in a way they want to be engaged. Content is now like "cookie dough"; because people want to shape it the way they want, add their own ingredients and share it with others.
  2. You never know when a blog, a tweet, a video will have a big impact. The "cost justification"; for these admittedly random efforts comes from the notion that using social media tools will drive more traffic to your website.
  3. Embrace the fact that we need to share information with advertisers about unique visitors, impressions, click-throughs, open rates for e-newsletters and digital editions.
  4. The editorial-advertising barrier is "thinner"; in the digital world. We need to remember to provide authentic information, and not sales messages disguised as content.
  5. Give more to your customers than you take. Make sure, for example, that if you produce e-newsletters that the content is valuable.
  6. There's no such thing as a free economy. While users of the Web like say that ideas are free, as content providers we know we still have to pay for staff and content management tools, etc.
  7. Publishers are already providing content. If they are not also doing something to form online communities, chances are that there are already communities out there (such as those on ning.com). Whether you have built your own online communities, or someone else has, publishers need to be engaged in those communities.

Some participants gave examples of things they were doing. The Loft, for example, posts tweets on Twitter about events. They are building communities far beyond their local area—and not using them to sell subscriptions or memberships.

Other participants are working on mobile applications for smart phones. Maruggi said the future revenue model might be customized information delivered to smart phones for small monthly subscription fees.

Circulation professionals will continue to struggle with how to use social media tools to build more relationships. How do we retain a relationship with a visitor who has a 10-second exposure to our "brand"; through Twitter or a website visit? Circulation will need to learn new techniques to add "stickiness"; to these new ways of engagement.