Back in the old days (you know, the 1980s and earlier), the most common ways to promote your business were to buy advertising or hire a PR firm. And if you were a small fry, you probably didn’t have the budget for either.
Today’s technology and social trends offer an entirely different set of options. To a great extent, the Internet provides a level playing field where even the most modest startup can compete with the big boys.
But it takes more than swagger. Breaking through the enormous media noise requires strategy, discipline, and a heavy dose of hard work. If you’re willing to invest the effort, you can earn huge dividends.
An excellent guide for building a brand or promoting a cause is a new book titled Mastering the New Media Landscape: Embrace the Micromedia Mindset. Authors Barbara Cave Henricks and Rusty Shelton show you how to be more discoverable, how to create an army of followers, and how to boost your marketplace influence with creativity rather than a fat budget.
Henricks and Shelton are highly successful practitioners of the marketing methods they write about. Henricks has spearheaded campaigns for some of the biggest names in business including Jack Welch, Tom Rath, Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy and Marcus Buckingham. Shelton leads one of the country’s fastest-growing digital marketing and PR agencies.
I interviewed the authors to get their views on making a splash in today’s highly competitive marketplace of ideas.
Rodger Dean Duncan: Briefly explain “micromedia” and why (and how) its growth is being fueled by the generation currently coming of age.
Barbara Cave Henricks: Micromedia is a broad term for content created by companies, brands and individuals. It’s housed on an online channel in public view. We’ve always had the human impulse to gather and share information, making us micromedia outlets, in a sense. Then when the Internet or social media came we gained a crucial component: public access. That access means anyone with a computer (or smartphone) and an Internet connection can become a content provider. It also lets us bypass traditional media gatekeepers in order to get a message out.
The generation now coming of age is creating momentum for this new wave of content. They are both hungry for it and devoted to creating it. Whether you call them “digital natives” (a term coined by research Marc Prensky) or Millennials, or Gen Y, this new demographic brings with it new demands. Thomas Koulopolous and Den Keldsen, in their book, The Gen Z Effect, say, “These kids are not just digital natives, they are hyper-connected junkies whose expectations will radically change business forever.” They will want more information, more quickly, and with an ever-increasing array of visual components.
Further, while that generation is Snapchatting and Instagramming away, a 2014 study by the American Press Institute shows that 33 percent of all Americans consume news throughout the day across various formats, devices, and technology. That means a third of us are tuning in all the time, no matter how old we are.
Duncan: What are the key requirements for adopting a micromedia mindset?
Henricks: Just one simple one: think more like a journalist or a media executive than like a marketer. Stop trying to sell overtly. Instead, work to create a relationship with your audience by giving them great content that informs and entertains. Content is the engine of the information age we’re living in. So the faster you learn to create good content, the more likely you will be to succeed.
Duncan: How do you differentiate between earned media, rented media, and owned media?
Rusty Shelton: Owned media includes all channels that you fully own and control. Assuming the website is built on a URL you own (your name, for example), you own the website, the blog that lives there, and your email list. You not only have autonomy over content on owned channels, you fully control the connection with your audience, making it the category of media with the most leverage for you.
Rented media lives on real estate someone else owns. Anyone can access it by either creating an account or purchasing advertising. Social media channels are “rented” because you’re sharing content on space owned by someone else. That comes with a certain degree of risk. For example, although you collect followers and fans on Facebook, the company can change its algorithm and limit your ability to reach your audience. Similarly, Twitter could receive a complaint and shut down your feed.
Earned media is comprised of channels owned by others. You must earn or gain permission for access or coverage. For example, anyone can set up a Facebook page or advertise in The New York Times (assuming they have the budget). But not everyone can have their book reviewed in The New York Times or have an influencer showcase a new product on their Facebook page. You must earn that kind of visibility. Earned media also includes live events where you have earned the right to appear as a speaker. People understand the vetting process that goes into earned media, so it comes with prestige and cache. Audiences that find you via earned media are much more likely find you credible as a result.
Duncan: What are some best practices for integrating these three media into a cohesive and productive whole?
Shelton: Today’s best practices all point to one thing: you need to be able to work across all three channels to master the new media landscape. Channels that allow you to showcase your passions, interests and authority are the ones where you will find the most traction. The amount of time and attention you devout to each will depend on both your goals and where you can best reach the audience you want to connect with. No matter where you’re spending time, though, you should be working to get the audience interested enough in your message to head over to your owned media (your website/blog) where you can capture their email address. That final step is what allows you to truly own the connection to your audience and gives you the privilege of interacting with them again and again.
Duncan: How can an individual learn to think like a media outlet?
Henricks: To get started, consider your own behavior and appetites. What do you read or watch or listen to every day? Why do you go back? Typically, the answer boils down to value. We return to the sources of information that are valuable. So when you’re creating your own content, make that your barometer.
Also, avoid a me-first platform. Just as you likely wouldn’t read a newspaper comprised completely of Op Eds espousing one point of view, neither will an audience gather around content that focuses completely on you and your ideas. Open up the conversation to include others. Showcase not just your offerings or opinions, but also people, products, trends, interviews, and viewpoints that could be of key interest to your audience.
Media executives are concerned with building an audience, keeping its attention and growing its size. To achieve this, they create content that informs, entertains and engages. In the new media landscape, where everyone is a media outlet, every piece of content (from a podcast to a post on Facebook), has the potential to increase audience size or shrink it. Create your content offerings with that in mind.
Duncan: In coaching people on their macromedia strategies, you say “slow down to go fast.” What do you mean by that?
Shelton: This is actually a concept that came to our attention when working with Kevin Cashman, author of The Pause Principle. He offers an informed perspective that speed has some serious downsides in life and career. Slowing down to go fast, according to Kevin, means allowing yourself the time to decide on the best course of action before you begin, so you can move swiftly in the right direction. That mindset is so important when is comes to growing an audience. Before you decide how to spend your time, you want to first get clear on what your goals are. Do you want to build a consultancy? Would you like to ramp up your speaking? Do you want to acquire a thousand new customers over the next three years? Are you hoping to raise awareness for an important cause or mission?
Your ability to achieve any of these goals starts and ends with your ability to successfully engage with earned, rented and owned media. But if you aren’t clear on your goals, you may end up spending time in areas where you won’t get maximum return on your investment. And remember, your efforts will be customized to reflect those goals. There isn’t only one way to succeed. In fact, there are many ways.
This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor.
Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan