Small Business and the Death of Newspapers

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“We’re in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don’t have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? ” ~ Chris Anderson, editor Wired Magazine 

People, and businesses, need information the same way they need food and oxygen – it is a sustaining force in their lives, without which they would wither. For much of the past five years academics, journalists, bloggers, and assorted mass-media-tag-alongs have been heralding the “death of newspapers,” the downfall of the publishing industry and the collapse of information distribution as we know it. While it is true that old business models have and will continue to fail and that the local newspaper your father sat down to read after dinner while you watched My Three Sons may well not exist any longer, the newspaper “industry” has , I would argue, stabilized, evolved, and even thrived in the intervening years into a more robust, valuable, and accessible industry. I am not arguing that the economic pain is over, nor that we will not witness more change to come, but rather that the ashes of the old have provided a foundation for the new.

The age of “citizen-journalism” as widely expected, has served to upend the old, stodgy  press by tearing down the walls and eliminating the gate-keepers. Anyone with a web browser pointed at Twitter and a knowledge of how to leverage hashtags and search can avail themselves of a stream of raw information on any topic they can imagine. And anyone with the time and inclination to ferret out the best bloggers can continue to consume insight that ranges from opinion to ideas to fact to theory, often of a reasonably high-quality. Yet it remains, that the old media outlets are still the most trusted, highly trafficked, and consistently referred-to sources for information for individuals and businesses. The solution they offer, albeit imperfectly, is one which all of the Twitters, Gawkers, Huff-pos, and Stumbled-upons can not compete, is one-stop, accurate, un-biased, fact-based, high-quality reporting. There is a place for the wide open faucet of information that Twitter can supply, and there are times when the traditional outlets can not compete, For instance, in the case of breaking, fast-evolving events such as the Arab Spring uprisings the best place to get instant factoids is via the person-on-the-street accounts aggregated via hashtag. But the best aggregation of those facts, the best contextualizing of the information, and the best analysis of the wider circumstances remains in the more traditional journalistic approach provided by the ‘old’ media, best represented by outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and the other most reliable and credible sources.

So how does this impact on small businesses? In a number of ways, but most importantly in considering how a business can and should leverage the new domain, the new platforms, and the new outlets. The best thing about our new media paradigm, is that anyone or any business can get their message out to the world via the Internet. It is easier than ever to publish information, connect with customers, and share content, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will read what you publish, care about your connection, or accept your content. In the broad new cacophony that we have collectively constructed, it is harder than ever to compete for readers, customers, listeners, viewers, or content consumers of any kind. So while it is easier and cheaper to get the word out there, it is ever more difficult to get anyone to care and ever more expensive to ensure that your message has impact. This is where the power of the more traditional outlets continues to hold sway and will continue to hold sway for a very long time. Even though my kids are much more likely to see me reading my ‘paper’ on an iPad then on newsprint.

Here are four things for small business to keep in mind on as they consider exactly how they can best leverage the media, both online and off

1. Use it! When experts tell you that a social media strategy for small business is critical, they are right. 200% right. Today’s customers are expecting to connect with businesses on a deeper, more personal, and more continuous basis than they ever have in the past. Over 60% of small business owners are using social media to attract new customers, over 75% of these companies have Facebook pages;,and almost half of small businesses are successfully acquiring new customers through online social networks!

2. Brand names matter (as do eyeballs). An important part of your overall marketing strategy is public relations. There is no more meaningful (and lower-cost) tactic for getting your company name out there in front of potential customers than coverage in the media. And I mean all of the media, from blogs, to industry journals, to internet radio programs, to the traditional press. But, please don’t get me wrong; at the end of the day it is the big-name branded media coverage that will provide you with the most value. I love Duct Tape Marketing, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and the rest, but give my company coverage in an article in Forbes or BusinessWeek or the New York Times for the greatest impact, the largest audience, and the most meaningful value for our PR dollar spent. In PR placements, ‘place’ matters.

3. Leverage your friendsWe all have friends, right? Well small business needs to learn that the best way to leverage those friends in the the social media. Your online friends are the ones most likely to read your content, share your message, and promote your company. As a matter of fact, 64% of Twitter users are more likely to buy the brands that they follow. These are the people who will open your email newsletter and who will read your blog posts – talk to them, they’re listening!

4. Consume smartly. A good friend of mine told me once that she had to make a choice: read the New York Times every day or read novels. She chose the latter, simply because she did not have the time or capacity to read both. I apply the same rationale to the sources I choose to consume for my news and information. I simply don’t have time to read all of the marketing and small business blogs or carefully digest my entire Twitter stream sorting for the most valuable nuggets. What do I do instead? I trust (and consume) a fairly limited number of news and information sources which I have made a part of my daily media diet. This is not to say that I never deviate from that list or that I don’t augment it with additional sources, but just that I prefer to use my limited capacity efficiently and smartly by sticking with my most trusted authorities on the issues that matter most to me. Choose wisely and you will find that your own media choices matter.

Photo – Emerson reading newspaper, Wikimedia

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