Social-Media Lessons Can Be Gleaned From Media Innovators

How Proliferation of Digital Tech Has Spurred a Different Need for Speed

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Journalism has long favored the quick. Today, however, the proliferation of digital technologies has spurred a different need for speed. Specifically, the Fourth Estate is feeling increased pressure to become immediately ubiquitous on every mobile and social platform that captures our attention.

Sound familiar? It should. Other businesses face the same demands to innovate. Yet the media seem to be able to do it all, while at times other corporations get bogged down in inertia.

With this in mind, I again ventured off into the media world in search of answers to several key questions: How do media innovators weigh the various social, mobile and other technologies in terms of their potential for storytelling, audience engagement and revenue? How do they separate hype from reality? And how much pressure are they feeling from the executive suite to innovate on new platforms, vs. from their audience or simply from within?

Not surprisingly, I discovered that a full-speed-ahead, early-adopter ethos pervades the editorial ranks. Conversely, the product-development side and executive suite are taking a more measured approach. They're seemingly able to ignore the noise. Together, this tension seems to spur rapid innovation.

Three common themes emerged in my conversations with the press. You should consider them.

First, the media are focusing on the largest, most established platforms and making sure that they innovate and excel on them. They then develop a playbook that others in the organization can follow. Sometimes they do this at the expense of missing out on the industry's latest infatuation.

That is the prevailing wisdom at CBS Local Digital Media, which operates the social, mobile and web platforms for dozens of CBS TV and radio stations. President Ezra Kucharz said that the Tiffany Network looks for ways to monetize early.

"Advertisers now want to be part of new things," Mr. Kucharz said. These signals aid their decision making.

CBS Local's Spot Dash is an example of this approach. It enables viewers and listeners to complete nearby treks in exchange for rewards from local advertisers. This is CBS's way of doubling down on both location-based marketing and mobile in one move -- all with an immediate revenue opportunity.

Another theme that emerged is to let the platforms find you. That's what Scripps Networks Interactive did last September when it evaluated two of the newest and hottest social networks, Google+ and Pinterest. 

Chad Parizman, who runs mobile and social efforts for the company's home networks, such as HGTV, said that , despite the hype , Scripps decided to pass on Google+ because the company viewed it primarily as a channel for media and industry types.

Pinterest, on the other hand, got Scripps' attention immediately when it popped up in the company's top 10 traffic-referrers. By channeling resources into Pinterest early, Scripps has seen its traffic from the social network exceed 1 million page views a month.

There's one final lesson I learned from the media: Don't ignore what's old. 

Blogging might seem downright slow and quaint in the age of Twitter. But some media organizations, including Reuters and Mashable, have taken a renewed interest in live-blogging breaking-news events and are seeing an uptick in audience engagement as a result.

Reuters Social Media Editor Anthony Derosa said Scribble Live, a real-time blogging platform, allows editors and reporters to take a "hover-and- dive" approach as news warrants. "Audiences have been glued to the live-blog format," Mr. Derosa told me. Reuters is now using Scribble Live to curate questions from Twitter and redefine how the wire service covers breaking-news events, such as elections.

Talking Points Memo, meanwhile, is putting resources into aggregated data. Boring? Perhaps. But Deputy Publisher Callie Schweitzer told me that the decision to invest in the PollTracker visualization tool has increased TPM's social and public-relations footprint because data is "the most unbiased form of reporting."

Those are just a few of the many examples of how the media approach innovation. And it does seem that mixing some logic with a dose of enthusiasm works well and can be replicated by marketers.

Steve Rubel is exec VP-global strategy and insights for Edelman.

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