I'm chairing an event on 'Empowered Audiences' for the Association Of Online Publishers in a couple of weeks time. It's a good line up, with Kate Day (Communities Editor of The Telegraph), Paul Hood (Head of Digital at Mirror Group) and James Bromley (MD of Mail Online). In the lead up they've done a short interview with me around the subjects we'll be covering, which they've kindly allowed me to put up here. Reading it back I think I got a little feisty…
How do you think publishers can continue to develop their use of social media efficiently, cost-effectively and in line with what users want?
The key phrase in your question is 'in line with what users want'. My hunch is that if you get that right the rest will look after itself. The most efficient approach is not to put social media in a silo but to embed it in everything that you do on a daily basis.
It's been said that social media doesn't have a business model, and that it is more of a matter of simply adding user satisfaction online – what's your view on this: is there such a thing as an ROI for social media?
I'd say that the ROI for social media comes in having a business which is fit and ready for the present and the future. I don't think of social media as a channel – I think media is becoming socialised.
Similarly I don't think that social media should have a business model, I think your business model should be socialised.
It's sensible to measure metrics like site referrals, sentiment, interactions, customer acquisitions, but the real ROI comes from the fact that you are closer to your audience, have a better understanding of who they are and what they like, and so can serve their needs better.
Peter Drucker said that the single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. If social is important to your business, you'll know if your customers are not satisfied and you'll very likely know what to do about it.
You've spoken before about how socialisation of content enables a richer level of user understanding – what are the best examples of a media owner doing this, in your experience?
I think The Guardian have consistently and successfully combined the familiar skills (editing, reporting) of their journalists with the views, expertise, feedback and on-the-ground reporting capabilities of a large community of readers to tell stories in different ways, and create a very involving editorial product.
Just look at Comment is Free, Trafigura, Tony Blair's tax affairs, Ian Tomlinson's death at the G20 riots. They're not ripping it up and starting again – what they are doing is combining the best of the old with the best of the new.
You've said before that 'social technologies require a particular mind-set', what is that mindset, and can it (and should it) be developed at a company-wide level?
I could talk about being open, useful, inclusive, human, but a lot of that has been said many times. For me, I think the critical change is in learning to be more adaptive and experimental – being responsive, just trying things out.
This can be counter-intuitive to established models because it requires a certain amount of ceding control, letting go, accepting that it may be better to allow your readers to help shape what you do than obsess over a perfectly crafted finished product.
What does the 'next stage' of social media integration look like for publishers?
The next stage should really be that we don't talk about the need for integration because it's already a part of what we do every day.