Friends Shape Culture More than Editors

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It WAS bold of marketing directors to invest in digital and social media campaigns a year ago. In revisionist marketing thinking, if you hadn’t done it, you’d be crazy. If you’re the least bit curious about how digital and social media is impacting your brand, I’ll call your attention to a weeklong series about media growth in the F.T. (see link below).

I’m also trying to demonstrate one of the biggest changes happening in the world of media. Namely that friends are shaping culture more than editors, by doing exactly what I am doing for you: Directing you to an interesting series of articles in the F.T.

“Traditional news portals and sites are being spurned as sharing content makes news personal,” shouts the headline in today’s F.T.

What does this mean exactly and why should you care?

Well, for one, you need to fish where your fish are swimming. A year ago, I started my day with a peek at the NY Times online edition and then a quick peek at the Yahoo. Today, the first thing I’m doing in the morning is Facebooking with friends and clients alike, then popping over for a quick fix on Twitter, and occasionally I jump over to Digg and StumbleUpon and Tumblr. In this process I am scanning more news stories highlighted by my friends and less news stories selected by daily editors. On Saturdays, I pre-read the NY Times on my iPhone and then leisurely re-read the paper on Sunday mornings over a latte. My favorite pieces are the Op-Ed’s and alas editors are still providing a most valuable purpose. Less than 2MM people read the WSJ newspaper each day and over 14MM people read the WSJ online, and increasingly links to stories are moving to people via word of mouth. The Huffington Post, for example, says that 20% of their audience comes into their content via social media and friends links. Wow.

How are mainstream news organizations reacting? What can you as a brand manager learn from this? The New York Times is aggressively promoting its Twitter feed (it has 1.7 MM followers) and it’s Facebook page (it has almost 500K fans).

Implication? As the F.T. says blatantly: The broad strokes are clear. Media companies’ efforts, coupled with the increase of sharing online have effectively turned social networks into massive engines of recommendation, responsible for directly and ever larger amount of content and viewership. Take away for brand managers? You are relying on the kindness of strangers to spread the word about your brand to their friends. So you need to ensure that your message isn’t too narrow or boring that they simply won’t want to spread it around.

Bigger implication? According to the F.T.: Editors are losing ground to a broader array of interests and contents. Social networks are changing the way people navigate the information landscape, share and consume media. So again, if you want to attract a mass following of consumers to your brand, a narrowcasting of your message will be less likely to attract the kind of pull that would make a $1 million dollar investment turn into a $20MM investment with lots of legs and a rich enough idea that would unleash tremendous creativity and inspiration on the web.

Asking friends to spread a boring message around is like asking your friend to wear your father’s old tattered pajamas. No one wants to spread a bland message around for fear of coming across as, well, really boring to their friends. They want a story; they want an edge, something cool and inspiring.

Headline? The role of the brand in this increasingly fragmenting media world is to crystallize a movement that is highly relevant to as broad a range of the population as possible, one that inspires strangers to pass the message on to other friends, and in the process tie this movement to your brand idea in such a way that you get your core message across. Think of it as putting your surfboard on a wave and riding the momentum instead of paying money to punch a hole in the natural movement of the oceans (traditional paid TV and banner advertising).

Oh, by the way, here’s the link I promised you above here >>>.

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