To Survive The Threat of Social Media, Don’t Run From It- ...

To Survive The Threat of Social Media, Don’t Run From It- Embrace It

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By now, saying that the print industry is in trouble is like saying Jessica Simpson is an idiot.  We’ve heard it, we’ve seen the evidence, and it doesn’t need to be repeated.  But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored, and it certainly doesn’t mean that continued disintegration should be accepted as inevitability.  

The enemy, my friends, is neither the Web, digital content nor social media.  The enemy is the print industry’s own resistance to change and continued reluctance to embrace the benefits of new communications methods.  Instead of coming up with new ideas, we’ve run from them.  Instead of leveraging the power of a new medium, we’ve simply tried in vein to wish it away, remaining steadfastly loyal to traditional methods and business models regardless of media evolution in the world around us. Paper ‘til the end!

Keep that up, and twenty years from now the bloggers will really have something to write about.

The social Web is about engagement – not just individuals, friends, families and strangers, but between brands and their consumers.  

–  It’s real time access to content (there’s no waiting for pictures to develop or stories to come off the press)

–  It’s dynamic (information can be enhanced with video, audio, and links to related sites)

–  It’s open dialog – unlike print, conversations aren’t simply one way (we’re speaking to you), they’re two way (we’re speaking with you).  

It’s not hard to see the appeal of the social web, and why so many people have migrated online, leaving printed everything (newspapers, magazine, photographs, etc.) behind.

Cheer up!  I didn’t write all that to bring you down – I wrote it to make sure you understand what we’re dealing with. The good news is that the popularity of the social Web doesn’t mean your sales have to shrink or your market needs to erode.  The bad news is that to keep those things from happening, you’re going to need to open your minds, learn something new and be open to more progressive ideas.  

It’s not going to happen overnight, but you can make it happen. Here’s how:

1. Rethink your product offering, and give people a reason to love print again.  Clearly now is not the time to open a one hour film development store.  If you already own one, it’s also not the time to stick to the original business plan and try to force it to work.  Instead, evolve the products and services you offer to meet the needs of modern consumers.  Since people no longer need to have film developed, consider launching a site that allows people to upload their digital photography and select an album of their choice.  Then assemble it for them complete with photo retouching, personalized touches and home delivery.  Whether concepts like this fit into your particular business or not, it illustrates the point that there are creative alternatives that can help increase demand for print while creatively taking advantage of Web applications.

2.Integrate print and online content.  
I recently worked with my book publisher, Cengage Learning, to develop a new book series called Perspectives. Each book in the series (Marketing, Branding, Increasing Sales and Managing Employees) poses about 100 questions which are answered by two authors from two different points of view.  But the unique perspectives don’t end there – we also reached out to readers to get their thoughts as well. 

In each book, there are five questions that begin with a call-out box that says “What’s your perspective on this question? Let us know at getperspectives.com”  Not surprisingly, those pages on the sites are among the most highly trafficked, with book readers anxious to either leave their thoughts or read what others have had to say on a specific topic.  More importantly, many of those visitors have gone on to buy other books in the series, as the site has introduced them to different titles.  Print drives to Web, which drives back to print.

There is room in the world for both print and online content, and they can interact with one other.  The trick is to understand the benefits that each provides and leverage them accordingly: print is physical – it’s substantial, it’s portable, it’s vibrant and it can bigger than a standard monitor.  Online content is immediate and up to date, it’s interactive, it’s engaging and it’s dynamic.  Give readers content in print, but then drive them to your Web site for follow-up information, offer their comments, watch videos related to the content in question, interact with other readers or pass the content onto others who might be interested.  

Quick tip: Don’t yet have a Web site that can do what you need it to do? Consider a WordPress install – inexpensive (even free, if you don’t want any bells and whistles) blog software that will allow you create a site with little to no programming knowledge necessary.  They’re easy to update, easy to maintain and will give you a lot of flexibility and options for interactivity.  You may need someone with a bit of programming knowledge to get you started, but it’s a faster and cheaper solution than building a custom site from scratch.  

Most importantly, develop packages for advertisers that let them take advantage of both, even if that means forcing the sale of one by auto-including it when they buy the other.  Brands aren’t determined to make online advertising work at the expense of print – they’re simply looking for the most effective ways to reach the largest possible relevant audience.  Having a viable print and Web vehicle for content with reasonable ad packages for both would be a boon to everyone.

3.    Use social media to show yourself off as an expert and to find out what people really want.  You know print, you love print and you believe in print.  So tell the world and do it digitally!  

a.    There are a lot of social networks out there.  Research some and pick the ones that are the most appropriate for your business and your audience.

b.    Change your mindset. Online consumer engagement isn’t about straight selling, it’s about being human, contributing to a larger conversation and providing value.  Keep direct sales related messages to a minimum, and earn people’s trust by proving you’re an expert in your field.

c.    Get into a routine and stick with it.  For example, my daily routine includes visiting AdAge.com every morning and finding articles that relate to my experience and knowledgebase.  I read it, I leave a comment with my full signature (name, title, company, link to my Web site and Twitter handle), then I tweet the article to people who follow me and into the appropriate groups. 

Later that day I engage in conversations in LinkedIn groups I’ve joined, and in between I engage with people on Twitter and Facebook whenever appropriate.  Twice a week I write new posts for my blog. It’s become part of my regular routine – my personal online marketing.  Is it tough to get into?  Absolutely – in that regard it’s no different than going to a gym or adjusting your diet to cut out fattening foods.  But stick with anything long enough and it becomes part of your life, and you’ll eventually see some positive results.  

As an industry, print is on the ropes. But rather than give in to the social Web, we can use its virtues to help us and make us better.  But change has to come from within, and survival has to rely on each of us to be willing to evolve.  

— Jason Miletsky is CEO and Creative Director of PFS Marketwyse, a leading New Jersey agency specializing in helping mid- to large-size companies bridge the gap between traditional and Internet marketing.

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