The Future Of Newspapers: Online, Interactive Communities

February 14, 2009


There’s been much discussion about the future of newspapers.  Some have shuttered, others are struggling for their survival.  Business analysts and bloggers have even speculated on the future of The New York Times. had 14 million unique visitors in August 2008 (according to this Wikipedia entry).  Many web-centric businesses have been able to build large market capitalizations off a base of 14+M users.  So how can monetize their users beyond display advertising?

Let’s see.  How about creating a community around these 14+M readers – and creating an interactive, real-time newspaper?  That’s right, folks.  I’m proposing that be powered by a virtual event platform.  I’m NOT proposing a 3D environment with avatars.  Instead, I’m proposing a 2D “tradeshow-like” platform that would enable a business that’s rich in content (and, deep in Editorial talent) to best monetize their resources.

So let’s break down what this might look like:

  1. The newspaper’s main sections each map to “booths” within the platform – Of course, we’re not going to call these booths – I’m just drawing a parallel to the virtual tradeshow (VTS) model.  But, the functions and features here are the same that power a VTS booth.  So for, there are “booths” labeled World, U.S., Politics, Business, Sports, etc. – you get the idea.
  2. The booth is the central holding place for that section’s content – Just like a newspaper has a front page – in a booth, the day’s content is rendered prominently as you enter – and, Editors swap out stale content (into the booth’s archive) for fresh content.
  3. Editors staff the booth and connect with readers – To me, this is the real game changer with this concept.  Editors (when time permits) can login to the environment and interact in real-time with readers.  What better a way to find out what your readers are interested in?  And, what better a way to find and connect with sources for you and your reporters?
  4. Readers interact with other readers – Another game changer here, as the platform would allow readers to tap into social networking to interact with other readers, all in the context of your content.  Valuable interactions keep those readers coming back in for more, creating site loyalty.

So imagine I enter the Sports Booth – and I see this:


I can click on Harvey Araton’s profile and read about Harvey’s interests and specialties.  If Harvey is online, perhaps I initiate a chat session with him – or, I drop him an in-show email to tell him I read his articles.  This provides a benefit for both of us – I feel directly connected with – and, Harvey is able to efficiently connect directly with his readers.

Now granted, with 14+M people, it may be quite a challenge for Times Editors to spend time in an online community, juggling between user-initiated chats and their “real job”.  However, what if each attendee of this environment was a paying member?  Perhaps that changes the equation a bit.  So let’s talk about monetization opportunities:

  1. Advertising – NYTimes can sell “run of booth” or “run of platform” ads – and also offer up specific areas of the environnment for sponsorship (e.g. Networking Lounge sponsored by American Express).
  2. Direct Response – The platform (using a pay per click model) could house placements of advertiser content and drive clicks to advertiser web sites
  3. Subscription – Start off with a freemium model – anyone can access the environment at no cost, but certain features (e.g. access to premium content, ability to chat 1-on-1 with a Times Editor, ability to participate in real-time Q&A sessions, etc.) require a paid subscription
  4. A la carte content monetization – Why not create “booths” that house the entire archive of New York Times content.  Staff these booths with digital archivists, who can search through the virtual microfilm and find you the article you need.  Only premium (paid) members get access to these booths – and, you pay for each article that’s delivered from the archive.


Now, let’s talk about the social media angle.  The Times could support the “Talk to the Newsroom” feature (above) via a real-time, text-based grroup chat!  They could even have the host be visible via a webcam, if so desired.  Here are some possibilities:

  1. Scheduled chat sessions with Editors, Publishers, executives, etc. (e.g. “Talk to the Newsroom”)
  2. Columnist and subscriber blogs – Published directly within the environment, with support for comments
  3. Forums around the paper’s main topics
  4. Presence indication – Provides readers with the feeling that they’re part of a global community. Reading the newspaper (which used to be a somewhat private experience) now becomes a communal one, where you’re reading, you’re sharing and you’re interacting – with other interested parties from around the world
  5. Real-time briefing rooms or crisis centers – Recall how quickly Twitter spread the news about the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  Why not have ad-hoc briefing rooms where readers can engage around breaking news and current events?  In this scenario, the “daily newspaper” transforms into a real-time, 7×24 “always on” environment.

So some day, when I get my morning coffee and sit down with, I’m hoping I’ll see you “there”.

Marketers as Event Organizers

January 2, 2009

Rebecca Lieb of ClickZ penned an interesting article titled “Marketers as Publishers”. Rebecca discusses the trend of marketers as full-blown content creators, especially in this age of digital media.  Examples cited by Rebecca include:

  1. Low cost video content creation and distribution (e.g. with a digital video camera to record and YouTube for distribution)
  2. Big brands creating original content (e.g., along with Johnson and Johnson’s
  3. Creation and propagation of consumer generated media

I agree with Rebecca – spending the past few years in tech media, I’ve watched the transition of technology vendors into prodigious publishers, with their mix of White Papers, Webinars, Podcasts, Case Studies, Videocasts and Product Collateral.  Some technology vendors are producing hundreds or thousands of pieces of content a year, giving their technology media partners a run for their money (on volume).

Adding to Rebecca’s list, I think we’ll see an increasing number of marketers turn to virtual events – whereby marketers can easily morph into event organizers (in addition to publishers).  Perhaps you’re an up and coming vendor in an IT market – you see the benefits of doing a customer conference, but the business case isn’t quite there yet.

With costs for virtual events coming down, you now have the opportunity to launch that customer event in 2009.  You do it online, making it efficient and convenient – and bringing its availability to a global audience of customers and prospects.  Take Quest Software as an example.   This maker of products and services for Enterprise IT has run virtual conferences the past two years.  Last year’s event was titled Quest Connect 2008 and included presentations (webcasts) on just about every technology produced by Quest.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Quest produce the same event (or events) in 2009 – so as you can see, they’re morphing into an event producer and event organizer (where the ongoing events occur online).

With regard to consumer generated media (CGM), I’ve found that virtual events are a natural venue for fostering CGM.  Engaged attendees who participate in your event are not shy about expressing their thoughts and opinions.  You’re bound to see a lot of CGM around your products and services – and I’d argue that good or bad, the discussion and interaction  is valuable to your company.  In some cases, I’ve seen questions posed by attendees that are directly answered by other attendees.  How efficient!  Customer support (and prospect management) via CGM.

So publishers (I mean, marketers), as you plan your activities for 2009, consider the virtual customer conference.  And, consider extending your (physical) customer conference into the virtual world.

Launch Your Next Product Online

December 22, 2008

In 2008, I worked with a few savvy technology vendors to launch their products online in a virtual event.  We called these “virtual launch events”.  They were hugely successful – the vendors generated a slew of net new sales leads, educated prospects and customers about the features of the new product and connected employees, executives and channel partners directly with the same prospects and customers.

Because all users participated online, costs were efficient and the participation was highly convenient.  Additionally, the vendors and their partners were able to achieve deep (online) engagement with prospects, including in-depth text chats regarding the products.

If you’re considering a virtual launch event of your own for 2009, here are my Top 3 best practices:

  1. Encourage participation from your partner ecosystem – your resellers, consultants, etc. should have booths at the event.  This reinforces the full “value chain” of your product – showing prospects that your solution is backed by an assortment of partners who sell the product and provide valuable services around it.  Secondly, you can recoup some of the costs of the event by charging your partners to exhibit.  After all, they’re receiving sales leads as a result of participating.
  2. Active participation from your executive team – have the SVP or GM of your product officially launch the product via video – prospects and customers will apprecitate the personal connection of video (vs. slides and audio).  In addition, have the same exec(s) participate in the booths and networking areas, connecting directly with attendees.  Customers and prospects highly value direct access to your executivies.  And, your SVP or GM will find the experience valuable, since they’d likely admit that they’d like to get out in front of clients more often.  Finally, a successful event makes you a hero in front of the SVP/GM.
  3. Bring an independent voice – you probably have relationships with analyst firms (e.g. Forrester, Gartner).  Have a prominent analyst give her perspective on the product you’re launching and what it means for your market.  This independent voice helps complement all of your (and our partners’) presentations.

Best of luck on your 2009 launches!

Get Closer to Your Customer with Virtual Tradeshows

December 16, 2008

In B-to-B, the predominant use of Virtual Tradeshows (VTS) is in generating net new leads to fuel a sales pipeline.  I urge B-to-B marketers to dig deeper with your existing customer base.  After all, the customer that you know is more valuable than the sales prospect that you don’t.  Especially in this economic environment – I believe you can drive more business from existing customers than you can from generating brand new leads and trying to convert them into sales.

Ask yourself the simple question – how well do I really know my customers?  Or, perhaps ask a slightly harder question – how well do I understand my customers’ challenges today (vs. the challenges that existed when they purchased my product)?  I’d argue that now is different from then, especially in the IT space, where the rate of change is high.

So the approach is simple.  Get deeper penetration with your customers, drive deeper relationships and serve them better.  If you can hear and understand their challenges today, you can help them address these challenges (with your products and services).  You end up with customers who are happier and they end up buying more products and services from you.

How can you accomplish this these days?  Online.  Imagine coordinating an online event where Sales, Sales Engineering, Product Development and your executive team can convene online and connect with customers, customers, customers.  You can efficiently “publish” shiny new product guides, troubleshooting guides, case studies, etc.  And, you can interact with customers via private chat, group chat, the networking lounge, etc.  Of course, all those interactions are recorded, so it’s important to meet with your internal teams post-event and make sense of the collective input you received.  Then, act on it.

Go into such an event with two simple goals:

  • I want to hear from my customers
  • I want my customers to hear from me about products and services that they were not aware I provided

There’s also a win-win scenario that you could go for – floor a Custom Virtual Tradeshow that serves the dual purpose of generating net new sales leads and invite your customer base in.  Your content (and your people) provides information that is useful to both constituencies.  Prospects want to learn about your latest products and services – and I bet some of your customers do as well.

So go off and serve those customers – they’ll thank you for it in more ways than one.

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