Surfers, scientists and the world of new media…

The stupid, silly world of E-Media
(Notes from a Writers Workshop, Part 5)
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re part of some larger social media community.  I use Twitter and Facebook to reach out to my blog audience, and WordPress also does a lot the heavy lifting by bringing folks to my sight with key words and other promotional widgets.  I don’t write with a focus on “Search Engine Optimization” or with a particular web-outreach agenda, but the truth is that  by choosing to write online, I’m participating in “new media.”

What is “new media” (or e-media, sometimes media 3.0)?  While there’s no set definition, the best way to describe new media is multiplatform content distribution.  In other words, if you’re blogging, tweeting, pinning or all of the above, you’re participating in new media.  For writers who’ve grown up publishing content on traditional print platforms, the new media landscape can often feel like the wild west – there are no rules, and anybody can become a writer, a pundit a pop culture expert.

That’s true.  And it can be frustrating sometimes – how do you get yourself heard above the sea of voices?  How do you validate your point of view?

You know I’m an advocate of writing for writing’s sake.  I also believe that if you have the urge to write, you’re a writer – and you don’t need fancy certificate or blue ribbon adornment to make this true.  But writing is about communication – and if you want to connect with an audience, it makes sense to participate in multiplatform outreach. And while professionally I’ve been blogging for years, part of the reason for the creation of The Daily Creative writer involved exploring the different avenues available to writers online.

Basically, I was interested in learning how to be a writer in the new media landscape.

As I mentioned earlier this week,  I was recently lucky enough to attend the WPA conference  Navigation. Innovation. Growth. in Los Angeles. Getting the chance to interact with editors and writers from a variety of disciplines and formats was truly enlightening.  As I keep telling my friends, it was so much fun to hang out with my “tribe.”

One of my favorite sessions of the day involved precisely what I’ve been talking about: delivery platforms for content (Facebook, Twitter ect).  Entitled “Intro to Increasing Participation: A content strategy for multiplatform delivery and media 3.0,”  this presentation – jointly delivered by Charles Choe (Online Product Associate, SAGE Publications) and Brendon Thomas (Editor-in-Chief, Surfer Magazine–  was an insightful peek under the hood of successful multiplatform publishing efforts.  While much of what they had to say is more relevant to editors than writers, I still think it’s worth recounting.

Below, some highlights:

Charles Choe began the session by setting up the particular challenges facing SAGE Publications Inc.  SAGE is an academic publisher of books and journals devoted to an educated and extremely specific audience (think surgeons, researchers, scientists and students). SAGE publishes over 670 journals and hosts about 1 million articles online.  With 50 million downloads a year and 180,000 unique registrants, SAGE is serious about multiplatform content delivery.

In order to make sure they are delivering the right content to the right audience (something to keep in mind as a writer- publications are looking for content that will appeal directly to their readers), SAGE employs several different tools and protocols.  Choe believes strongly in the power of usability studies and mining the information that can be gleaned from reader surveys, focus groups, interviews and other customer service feedback.  Describing the strategy as “competitive intelligence,”  Choe explained how this information can help SAGE monitor demand:  in this way they can tailor their content to appeal to the societies, students and professionals that subscribe to their publications or visit their online communities.

Something else to think about is engagement.  For publishers and editors, an important aspect of media 3.0 is its ability to allow content creators to interact with content consumers and to bring users to the publication through different channels.  In other words, multiplatform distribution allows the audience to not just read articles, but to connect with authors, editors and other users.  Part of the new media challenge involves priming the pump and making sure to provide content that not only fulfills readers expectations but actually anticipates their needs.

As Choe said, you must work to find ways to “provide something your users didn’t know they wanted and needed.”

When it comes to commercial publishing, the e-media platform allows authors to broadcast their efforts and repurpose content for multiple purposes.  On The Daily Creative Writer, for example, I’ve been able to try my hand at a variety of writing styles (from poetry to creative writing to travel journalism and personal essay) and I’ve also been able to repackage content that I previously produced for a completely different audience (an old screenplay from my film school days, for example).

For publishers, who are often sitting on a mountain of old material, the opportunities provided by new media are dazzling and overwhelming.  What this means for the aspiring freelance writer is that the more you know about e-media – and the more you write with an eye on multiplatform distribution – the more marketable you make yourself.  And even if you’re not interested in making a living as a writer, or print journalism just doesn’t appeal to you, it still makes sense to keep an eye on the direction publishing is headed.  You don’t want to end up working with a quill and an ink blotter when everyone else is blogging on their iPad.

Which is what made Brendon Thomas’s presentation so interesting.  As editor-in-chief of Surfer Magazine, Thomas took a traditional magazine and pushed it into the new media landscape – with truly stunning results.  For example, in November of 2010, Surfer magazine had just 35,000 Facebook “likes” and fewer than 15,000 twitter followers.  As of today, the magazine boasts over 238,000 likes and over 45,000 followers.  The company has also expanded into other platforms – including Instragram, which now boasts another 21,000 followers.  And while some of this audience undoubtedly overlaps, the truth is that each platform – along with the print edition of the magazine – allows Surfer Magazine to connect users across a broad spectrum.

What I found really interesting was that – according to Thomas – Surfer Magazine built up the reach of its multiplatform system organically, without spending a dime on advertising.  They did this by leveraging existing content, interacting regularly with readers on the different e-media platforms (even answering Twitter queries on the weekend), and cross pollinating across different applications.  But what Thomas stressed – and what was reiterated throughout the conference – was that content is still king.  You might be able to drive folks to your site with innovative multiplatform techniques, but to keep them there you must provide them with what they want and need.  And whether they arrive to Surfer Magazine from Twitter or Facebook or Instagram is not the point, the point is to get them to that final destination – your content.

“We don’t care where their consuming our content,” said Thomas, “As long as their engaged with us.”

Surfer Magazine is thriving at a time when many publications have had to downsize or close their doors permanently.  In the last five years, as subscriptions shrink and the death knell for print keeps tolling, Surfer Magazine managed to up its circulation from 95,000 to 125,ooo – and the advertisers are sticking around as well,

“Print is ‘dying’, but our magazines keep getting thicker,” declared Thomas.  And keep in mind that, for all intents and purposes, Surfer Magazine is a niche publication that caters to a specific brand of sports enthusiasts.  You won’t find any general interest articles in its pages, just tons of information specifically curated for and about surfers.

Thomas talked a bit more about engagement and enticing user to come back and stick around, and I feel that his tips and explanations are valuable not just to editors, but to aspiring writers as well.

Cultivating Engagement:

  • Appeal to the Ethos – give people what they want, stay editorially pure, spark conversation and tell them things they don’t know.
  • Keep them on their preferred platform – provide a link to the original version of the content, post galleries and photos.
  • Be irreverent and ask for engagement.
  • Maintain standards – keep content at a high level, and keep an eye out for quality slips.
  • Innovate – new technology impresses social media users, so “geek out” on new apps, devices and toys.

What’s the point of all this?  Good question.  I’m going to crib again from Thomas for the answer: reach.  Social media not only creates a brand awareness (just as important to a freelancer as to a magazine), but it also builds relationships.  Social media allows you to work once, and connect multiple times – that blog entry can live on your website, and draw readers from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and wherever else you roam online.  The key is to understand your audience, trust your instincts and take a chance.

As Thomas says in his presentation notes, “Things may seem silly or stupid at first, but on the Internet, stupid often wins.”

So be smart, cultivate a multiplatform formula.  Expand into the world of media 3.0.  You’ll be happy that you did!

All Content is the sole Property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer, if you are reading this blog on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

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