Publishers Dilemma: Are Our Customers Readers Or Community Members?

Scott (Publishing 2.0) Karp and I just led a workshop at the Magazine Publishers Association on the intersection of consumer-generated media and publishing. I also got PRWeek’s Keith O’Brien to come along as one of our guest participants, since he’s a blogger leading up his trade magazine’s social media efforts, and always has smart observations.

Most notable, this seminar underscored how publishers need to tackle social media not only as brand stewards, but also as cultivators and platforms for online discussion and community. And that leads to the million dollar question for publishers: are their customers defined as readers whom they need to serve expertise and authoritative information? Or are their customers defined as community members who are valuing the venue and context in which to connect with other like-minded community members. I don’t think the answer is one or the other. Rather, it’s a combination of both.

The workshop also underscored that there are still prominent, smart publishing executives who are very concerned that social media is a channel that can’t be trusted. But that thinking is flawed in that people don’t trust or distrust social media so much as they trust (or distrust) the individual people with whom they build relationships with over social media platforms.  Similarly, we don’t trust telephone lines that voice messages travel across; we trust the individuals on the other end based on a number of queues, gestures and reputation marks created over time. That is why we often trust consumers much more than official "experts." This concept is similar to Jeff Jarvis’s mantra that news organizations shouldn’t define themselves by their physical medium, nor their pipelines.

What consumers do tend to distrust – and rightly so – are impersonal, scandal-plagued institutions, and, by extension, institutions in general. And we all know they’re too prominent within nearly every societal category, including government, academia, business, religion and, yes, publishing.

Thanks to the editorial and marketing execs from the following organizations who attended our discussion:

  • This Old House
  • Southern Progress Corporation
  • Hearst Magazines
  • Dwell
  • Hearst Magazines
  • Director Internet Sales
  • Spa Finder, Inc.
  • WMI
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Popular Mechanics
  • Consumer Reports
  • iVillage Parenting Network
  • SELF

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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