October 12, 2009

How to make news in the digital era

http://www.davidhenderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/digital-era-cover-289x450.pngChris AbrahamIn a world in which everyone seems to be a chicken little speaking of the end of traditional journalism, PR and advertising, there are very few people who are working toward guiding the industry toward success in new new media. Some interesting books about “what’s next” that I am reading are The Chaos Scenario by Bob Garfield and Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Add to this list David Henderson’s new book, Making News in the Digital Era, a book that is part analysis, part briefing, and part pathfinder, explicitly guiding readers through the very confusing social media landscape.

In the 170 pages of Making News in the Digital Era, David E. Henderson personally walks his readers safely through the mine field that is new communications, digital PR, and social media marketing. Essential reading.

Making News in the Digital Era explicitly answers some very important questions: how to make your organization heard above competitors’ noise, how to capture new media’s attention when then time is right, how to increase the “Googleability” of your organization, and how to have a more meaningful conversation with key stakeholders and audiences.  These questions are essential in the context of the near-future:

“For many agencies and PR departments, change is either too slow in coming or is not happening. There’s a communications tsunami rolling our way, and many of us are not sure what to do. Sure, we see the tide going out fast and far. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time. Standing on the beach and waiting for it to roar back in is not an option.”

To give you a real taste of the answers these questions, here’s some of Henderson’s sage advice: Advocate change in your agency — champion change, embrace storytelling — honestly and without hyperbole, use plain language — accessible to everyone, reach out to a few to achieve more — influence the influencers, start marketing and promoting — start listening, and become the credible voice and face of your organization and industry — become the online influencer.

Part of Henderson’s research into Making News in the Digital Era included reaching out to sundry experts in the field, asking them questions such as what works and what is no longer effective; how to communicate with reporters, bloggers, and key audience; what is the definition of journalist in a world of online citizen reporters; how beneficial is online strategy for strategic communications; and how will new media effect the effectiveness of traditional media kits, new conferences, and news releases.

The unique thing about Making News in the Digital Era is that is it not written to much to the neophyte or two the small business expert but rather to the dyed-in-the-wool communications professional — be it journalist, PR or advertising exec, communication director, or business consultant who wants help transitioning from “traditional” marketing and mass media strategies to what’s next.  This book speaks “our” language as communications professionals and is illustrative using case studies and best practices examples from the world of brand promotion and reputation management and not just the general pie-in-the-sky spitballing that tends to come from visionaries and futurists.

OK, I don’t want to transcribe the entire book — that would not serve David Henderson very well — but I will boil it down as best I can to one pithy sound bite that explains how companies, brands, services, and organizations need to evolve into the next generation: brands need to become as charming, engaging, and responsive as humanly possible — to offer a story that is captivating and appealing enough that your consumers feel compelled to come to you. Or, do quote the king of communication, Mike Deaver (who I got to meet during me short stint at Edelman Public Affairs), “know who you are, be open and transparent, and be ready for change.”

One of the most valuable parts of the book that I found, and something you will surely consider invaluable if you’re shopping for a PR shop, is a list of new PR-savvy questions one must ask potential firms to make sure they’re set up to handle a new media and a social media world of communications.  I can’t tell you how many clients and prospects I have spoken to who are just winging it when they becoming big enough to start thinking about retaining a communications consultant — this questionnaire should be de rigueur when shopping.

From chapter six through 10, Henderson explores the tools of the social media marketing and digital PR trade, pointing out one needs to offer much more than lip service to transparency and authenticity. “To have a meaningful conversations online, a company needs to do the following: articulate clear points of view on the things that it cares about the most, identify its own experts and champions to tell compelling stories to advance its case and strengthen its market position, create ever-evolving public platforms and forums where it con consistently and frequently shawcase its views, along with other respected industry experts and thought leaders, and create a forum for sharing comments, generating a conversation and listening.”

I am not even on page 57 yet and I could keep on quoting and sharing, so I will suffice it say that there’s amazingly practical advice on every page, most of which are unspoken rules and intuitions that most people in the space have learned through intuition and experience — things that need to be said explicitly and clearly, something that David Henderson does with aplomb.  Not only does the book offer advice on how to bullshit-check your PR firm but also do the same sort of check on your social media guru and your blogger and your Twitter expert as well.  The book spends a lot of its column inches on not getting saddled with some lame “experts,” something that is essential when everyone, including yours truly, professes himself to be a social media expert (SME).

Some other important issues Henderson addresses is whether you actually need, or are ready for, a CEO or corporate blog. What do do with Twitter once you have become obsessed with becoming a resident of twitterville, how best to wade into web 2.0 and how to develop an online digital communications strategy — essentially “everything you ever wanted to know about new media communications but were afraid to ask.”

Chapter 13 is titled “Crisis Never Takes a Day Off” and addresses the 800-pound gorilla in the room: online reputation management and online crisis response in the “new era of openned, timeliness, responsiveness, and truthfulness” that “had truly become 24/7.” This, in a world where it is still possible to assassinate someone’s brand as long as you attack it on a Friday afternoon because said brand most likely won’t even notice it until 10 on Monday morning.

When it all is said and done, David Henderson tells the truth, even though it’s a bitter pill to accept, “no one cares about you.” In Making News in the Digital Era, David Henderson works real hard to try to knock it all into our stubborn heads. If you want to remain in denial about the current state of the Internet, new media, digital PR, and the post-PR and post-advertising world, then don’t buy Henderson’s book; however, if you want to sort our your own personal brand story and develop some narrative game, then you really had better grab a copy and read it through and then share it around the office.

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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