My first job out of college was with a book publicity agency in Austin, Texas, and, at the risk of sounding like an old man, it’s amazing to look back and think about how different things were.
The year was 2004 and the agency I joined subscribed to “Bacon’s Media Directories,” which housed “up-to-date” media information in three-ring binders that were passed around the office and added to a computer database wherever possible. Most of the time, if a producer or editor changed jobs, we broke out the White-Out, changed the contact info and the binders were good as new.
That was almost a decade ago, but we are in a different lifetime in terms of PR. Over the past 10 years, book PR reps have found themselves at the intersection of three industries that have been completely turned on their heads – PR, book publishing and journalism. In short, everything about the way promotion is handled has changed.
My colleague and the head of our strategic partner firm, Barbara Henricks, likes to say that in the media world of 2004, major media outlets were like boulders, encircling the public. These boulders made decisions to let in whatever information they deemed worthy of consumption and if a book, product or message wasn’t covered by “traditional” media, it was very difficult for us, as the public, to hear about. Word of mouth existed, but it took a lot longer to take hold because it happened in physical proximity – dinner parties, church, etc. – instead of via social networks that transcend physical connections.
Then comes the internet, followed by social media, which took a collective sledgehammer to those boulders, spreading out pebbles all over the ground and leaving those major media outlets casting a much smaller shadow over the public. As those pebbles scattered, so did our attention, fragmenting the way we consume media.
Thanks to our newfound access to high-quality, niche information, many of us now prefer to pay attention to the more specialized pebbles, which may be smaller, but give us exactly what we want, as opposed to the “traditional” media outlets who – thanks to shrunken newsrooms, have less local coverage and an increased reliance on wire services – aren’t able to.
Stone-age analogies aside, the pebbles are still scattering and they are forming a brand-new media environment.
Welcome to the age of Micromedia.
What is Micromedia?
Everyone. Literally, every individual, business and organization is a Micromedia outlet, whether they know it or not. Everyone with an iPhone can be one part cameraman, one part humor columnist, one part radio host or whatever kind of media outlet they would like to be.
This isn’t anything new.
We have always been Micromedia, even before the internet or social media came along and gave us an amplifier. Before the internet, we primarily influenced two groups of people – those in our direct physical space and those friends and family members we communicated with over the phone or via letters. Those people who wrote for a church newsletter or sent out a yearly holiday update to their “list” might have influenced more people in that environment, but for the most part, we had to go to a lot of dinner parties to be a true influencer.
Fast forward to today – there are still some Micromedia who primarily influence in “pre-internet” way (physical environment/friends and family), but the vast majority of Micromedia are now influencing exponentially more people than ever via the Internet. Some Micromedia have grown their audience so large that they rival traditional media in terms of reach while others influence several hundred via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Both matter tremendously to anyone looking to get a message out.
How can you succeed in this environment?
Much of this is about mindset. The information economy has truly arrived, but the main problem is that most people approach promotion as if the boulders still rule the day.
A different approach is needed from both marketers, who should be working with their clients to help them grow their own Micromedia platform, and individuals, businesses and other entities who must embrace the opportunity in front of them.
Some reading this article will say, “We have already changed; we’re building meaningful relationships with bloggers and getting excellent coverage. We have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and we’re getting more active.”
Those are good first steps, but it’s not enough.
Think like a media outlet
I often ask people to think about their digital platform as if it is their own media brand – their newspaper. Readers judge a media outlet by the value of its content and pay attention to those that entertain and inform them. We increasingly put our social media connections through the same filter we use for media – we all have friends, family and other connections that we gloss over when scrolling our Twitter stream or Facebook newsfeed because we don’t value their content. We lose interest for an infinite number of reasons that range from constant promotion to an endless stream of baby pictures. At the same time, we pay particular attention to certain individuals or brands because their content entertains and/or informs us. We get value from their updates and, in exchange, we give them something that truly matters in this information economy: our attention.
In this world of Micromedia, it doesn’t take much for us to change the channel. Because we have more options, we expect more than ever from those we pay attention to. One bad post, one off-target tweet or one too many promotions and attention wanes, or worse, disappears – often forever.
Think about what kind of newspaper you would value subscribing to. We certainly wouldn’t subscribe to a newspaper filled with ads, selfies or me-first content. We also wouldn’t subscribe to a newspaper that is delivered without any consistency – once or twice a month just wouldn’t cut it. We subscribe to newspapers that provide interesting and entertaining content. Those that feature interviews, reviews and other news we can use – the kind of information we can put into practice that day-to-day make our lives better.
You may be reading this and thinking “aren’t newspapers dying, Rusty?” Yes, but they are dying because of format, not content.
If you are reading this blog post and want to grow your audience moving forward, you would be smart to think like a media executive who isn’t tied to any one format, but has a great product – his or her content – and is willing to work to grow an audience.
Here are four questions to ask yourself as you begin plotting your strategy:
- Which channel(s) should I focus on?
There are an endless number of options when it comes to growing your audience. I often see people either spread themselves too thin by trying to create a presence on every social network they can find or focus all of their efforts on the channel they know best (typically Facebook). Both are huge mistakes because neither is driven by the question you should be asking, which is: Which channel provides the best intersection between my skills/passion and my audience?For many speakers, a podcast is the perfect intersection for them while many authors prefer the simplicity and familiarity of a blog.We have seen successful Micromedia channels built across every single platform online, so don’t feel pressure to follow the crowd down a certain road. The thing all of the success stories have in common is a singular focus on providing content of value to an audience in a consistent and unique way.The right channel for you is one where your audience and your interest/skills intersect and your success often depends on the ability to make the right call. But hey, that’s why you’re the executive.
- How am I encouraging people to subscribe to my Micromedia outlet?
Every time you do an interview with a media outlet, be it a radio station or blog, they have essentially invited you onto their platform and allowed you to reach their audience. Those who have the audience have the leverage and you have to work hard to get permission to join them on their platform either via earned media (interviews) or paid media (advertising).Those individuals, businesses and other entities who aren’t building their own direct audiences as Micromedia outlets force themselves to either advertise or hope to get permission from those who have built an audience via savvy PR efforts. This is expensive, time-consuming and increasingly hard to do as the media environment changes. Those who continue to rely on these tactics put themselves in a very precarious position moving forward.You must build your own subscriber base. This doesn’t necessarily mean charging people to subscribe (in fact, it probably doesn’t), but it does mean setting up a framework within your primary media channel (see question #1) that gives people a clear reason to join your subscriber base.Each time you give a speech, do an interview or reach an audience, your focus should be to not only entertain and inform them in that setting, but to give them a clear reason to convert to your subscriber base. If you are a speaker, you should have a free workbook or other download on your website that extends the audience’s interaction with your message and gives them a reason to join your list. If you have started a podcast, you need to have a call to action as part of any interviews or speaking engagements you do that gives people a clear reason to subscribe.The bottom line: When you are on someone else’s platform you need to give their audience a clear reason to head across the street and join your subscriber base as well. Without that call to action, you’re going to see a temporary spike from that exposure but very little long-term value. Attention is fleeting but subscriptions give you leverage.
- How can I use my power as a Micromedia outlet to build high-value relationships?
One of the most empowering things about embracing your opportunity as a Micromedia outlet is the realization that you can use your audience to help others and build relationships with them.Sticking with the newspaper analogy, you must go beyond the op-ed page that dominates most blogs to think more like a journalist. If you’re looking to provide consistent value in a certain topic area, you need to feature a variety of content, from coverage of the latest news and statistics in your field to interviews with other experts making waves in your industry (even if they are competitors) and features of companies or entities that your audience can learn more about. In short, the more you feature others on your Micromedia outlet, the more you give others a reasons to point their audience to your channels, which is a win-win for everyone.As an example, imagine you are a would-be novelist working on your very first thriller. You don’t have an agent or any connections at all in the book industry and you have no idea how to start building your platform. By embracing this Micromedia model, instead of focusing your blog only on your own perspective, you could start a weekly interview series where you bring in thriller authors and do a text Q&A with them about their latest book. At the end of a year you would have 52 new potential relationships among top thriller authors, many of which will have pointed their audience to your blog to go read their interview. As a result of this series, you not only have likely opened many doors for yourself in the industry via these connections, but you also have likely grown an audience on your blog of like-minded readers.An additional example, focused on a business without a book to sell, would see that business focusing their interview series on influencers in their industry. Let’s say you run a leadership consulting company and over the past few years your blog has been an op-ed page featuring only your perspective on leadership development. You probably have very few readers and your blog feels like hard work every time you force yourself to write a post. What you really want is to grow the business and build new relationships, so flip the script and focus your content more on others in the leadership space. You could run a similar interview series where you spotlight leaders and, with each interview or feature you post, you not only build an authentic relationship with the person you featured, you also give them a reason to learn more about you and point their audience to your site. The person featured wins because they get exposure, your audience wins because they get valuable content from a leading authority on the topic and you win because you have built relationships in both directions (subscribers and business development targets).
- How can I leverage the power of Newsjacking?
In 2009 Forrester Research released a report that said between the years 2000 to 2008, 1 in 4 media jobs disappeared. That study looked at a period of time prior to the great recession and most would put the number of media jobs that have disappeared at closer to 50 percent.As a result of newsrooms shrinking, you have fewer people covering more stories than ever before. From a PR perspective, you have fewer media members to target pitches to, which means that those media members are getting more pitches than ever before.Barbara and I recently spoke with a journalist at CNBC who runs a section of their website and she said on a normal day she receives more than 1,000 pitches for coverage. Media simply don’t have time to filter through pitches and, as a result, are increasingly taking a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” approach to potential guests and publicists. In many ways, Google is becoming an expert’s best publicist.David Meerman Scott, one of my favorite authors and commentators on the changing media environment, coined the term “newsjacking,” defined as “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”
In the previous question, I looked at the value of going beyond the op-ed page to build relationships with people, but you also need to focus much of your content on breaking news and recent developments in your industry. In doing this, you not only provide value to your audience, who want to discuss the latest developments in your industry, but you also widen your net for media members who are searching for experts to speak on a certain development.
We are beginning to see some of the most high-profile media opportunities for our clients come as a result of them responding to breaking news via a blog post with thoughtful, smart commentary on the topic. Three things affect the likelihood that your timely post will attract valuable inbound media requests:
- Timeliness – You can’t wait 48 or even 24 hours to respond to breaking news. This is a challenge for many of our clients who have plenty on their plate, but the quicker you can respond, the better.
- Visibility – If you post your response on a large platform like Forbes, HBR or HuffPost, you have a higher likelihood of attracting top media to it based on the SEO those sites provide. Another thing that affects visibility are keywords, so don’t bury the timely connection in your blog post, as it will make it harder for search engines to pick up the connection. Instead, make sure you use the key terms in the blog title.
- Add a press room – If you do the first two things well, you may have a journalist looking for a way to get in touch with you, but many people make it very hard for journalists to connect with them. It’s not enough to have a contact form on your website – remember that most journalists are on deadline and need a source quickly, so they don’t have much confidence that filling out your contact form is going to get them a quick answer. Add a press tab on your website and include direct contact information for yourself or your publicity team. You can also include links to recent media hits and downloadable images related to you and your book. If you don’t want to add a press tab, add a press contact on your contact page – an email and phone number to ensure a journalist can reach you easily if they want to.
What I love about this Micromedia approach is that it allows you to leverage the ongoing power of existing media outlets to begin growing your own channel. As the head of a digital PR agency, I want our clients to receive as much ongoing value as they can from our efforts, and the best way to do that is to grow a subscriber base that you own the connection to. Not only does it give you leverage to share your own ideas, but it also allows you to grow meaningful relationships with your audience.
The key is to think more like a media executive than a marketer – the most important opportunity is not the short-term sale, it’s getting subscriptions.