@ EconSM: Traditional Media Companies Fight The ‘Lumbering Giant’ Tag

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Lumbering giants of the past or the prime innovators of the moment? That was the question moderator and EconSM conference editorial director Elizabeth Osder put to a panel of old media companies representing WSJ and its close relations, as well as Time Inc., Gannett (NYSE: GCI) and Martha Stewart. Upshot? While some collectively conceded to being somewhat lumbering in the past, that’s not the case anymore.

Not so lumbering: Gordon McLeod, president, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network : The reality is that everybody, the bloggers, was far ahead of us in terms of social media. The key is not screwing up the brand while adapting to the new changes. Jeff Price, president, Time Inc.’s SI Digital: Last year, digital comprised 15 percent of our revenues. We always knew that sports is social conversation and created a Facebook app. Kinsey Wilson, executive editor, USA Today: We got into social media and blogging three years ago. Last year, our site redesign put social media on every page of our site. Towards the end of the session, Thomas Mueller, VP, Creative/Product, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) said getting all the MSLO properties in sync – from TV, print and the web – and it’s a lot easier when you have an idea. “Martha declared Cupcake Week and all the properties rallied around it. That’s how you can leverage the power of large organization.”

Where’s the value?: McLeod: Tagging and keywording has been a bomb on Marketwatch, while allowing commenting has been a natural fit. As the commenters have proved accurate, advertisers like Vanguard and other financial services marketers have warmed to the idea. Packaged goods advertisers have been slow to embrace our social media tools. Price: The big questions: why is the user there and how can you avoid getting in the way of the conversation? Ultimately, it’s about authenticity. That’s what advertisers value. He pointed to matching Gatorade with high school sports community Takkle, which also provides important local reach as well. Wilson: Advertisers want to be associated with new and innovative, but at the same time, they want the safe and proven.

Looking to mobile: Price: One of the struggles we have with sports is the rights issue. If a fan uploads a photo from his camera phone at a sports event, that brings up a load of legal issues. We don’t want to put ourselves at risk. While an audience member asked about whether mobile would open these companies to citizen journalism experiments, most of the executives say they continue to regard the issue as secondary. McLeod said that WSJ Digital Network and USAT‘s Wilson both said they’re more interested in putting mobile tools in the hands of their professional staffers first.

Syndication rules: Price said that syndicating SI’s content has to achieve three things – namely, “Make sure you can have your advertising travel with it, making sure it leads traffic back to the site and extend the brand’s value through widgets or other tools on social nets like Facebook. We’re not going to unbundle our content and not see any return, while some other site reaps the revenue.”

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To create value, media companies big or small need to package these social media tools for users to create services that they want and need. It sounds obvious, but most companies are still simply adding tools to websites, and the tools don’t always help users connect; nor do they provide meaningful benefits. This is a natural evolution and the companies that apply this first will win, and just as importantly, monetize their social media efforts. This is just the sort of thing we're helping companies like Gannett, Meredith and P&G;to do.

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