I think it’s good form to begin a post by referencing the great Staten Island philosophers the Wu-Tang Clan. They once titled a song “C.R.E.A.M” which meant: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Never was that more true than in our current economy in which GM looks at hooking up with Ford, 401k’s melt like ice sculptures in the Sahara and dogs and cats are living together – mass hysteria! To which the publishing industry might say “Welcome to the world we’ve been living in for the past few years.”
Traditional publishers are desperately looking to the Internet to make up for declining revenues for their offline product but as of yet most have not hit on a strategy that can balance what they are losing offline with more revenue online.
Enter social media.
A few clever publishers including BusinessWeek and the New York Times have figured out that an increasing amount of online time is spent/wasted on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. At the same time advertisers want to be able to measure the success of their ads based not just on a sites visit but how much time those visitors spend there. So put the chocolately goodness of the publishing content together with the peanut butter stickiness of social media and voila! The Reese’s peanut butter cup of enhanced online revenue is yours to devour. Right?
Well, let’s just say maybe for now. Not all social networks are created equal. Take the New York Times social network TimesPeople for instance. My first indication that the Gray Lady had gone social was a pop-up asking me if I wanted to start trying out the new features. When I said yes it asked me to type in my first and last name so that others could find me. Not so fast NYT! My log in dates back to the days when the Times switched its site from all free to an annoying log-in model (since modified somewhat).
Like many users I was so ticked off at random log-in prompts where formerly there had been none that I picked a scatological username involving an activity zoo animals would blush at. Naturally I was the 14th person to have picked this particular act as my log-in name so I had to append a number to the end of it – a good indication of how riled up Times readers were by the new login protocol.
So now the Times was asking me to link my real name to this utterly depraved username. Um no thanks. Good luck trying to re-register with the same e-mail address because the Times already has it linked to the filthy username. So far so good.
After using a different e-mail account I was able to see just what all the excitement was about. A quasi-Twitter like interface that shows who you follow and who’s following you. The content isn’t mini blog posts however, it’s New York Times articles you deem compelling enough to share by recommending. After going to an article to see how this works I naturally gravitated to the helpful “share” box on the right hand side where there were links for Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Mixx and Yahoo Buzz. I had to go all the way down to the bottom of the article to find the tiny “Recommend” button that added the article to my “activities” screen. Will anyone actually do this on a regular basis and if so, will anyone else care? My initial take on this is no and double no. Too convoluted and not enough reason to stick around when you have alternatives like Digg or even Facebook that allows you to share any article you want to a much larger audience.
BusinessWeek’s version of social networking, Business Exchange, is similar in principle but differs significantly in the details. Firstly BusinessWeek has a narrower scope than a generalist publisher like the New York Times. This is a good thing because right off the bat you can assume that your fellow users are all interested in topics as they relate to the business world. Then they have a handy set of specific topic areas you can post articles from anywhere in, a big difference from the Times’ closed loop of Times-only articles. Business Exchange also links its site to LinkedIn which smartly reinforces their workplace and finance niche. You can import your LinkedIn profile as your Business Exchange profile or start from scratch.
Both of these new hubs are clearly in their infancy, Business Exchange is still billed as the beta version of the platform. Of the two though BusinessWeek gives users more to do and more of a reason to spend time there initially, if only to see what others in your industry or even business prospects are reading. BusinessWeek also has ad space in Google’s as network within the Business Exchange area so they seem confident about the monetization possibilities.
Incidentally my BusinessWeek profile initially ranked as the third organic result for my name in google search before falling off drastically this week past the first page so the SEO benefits of having a profile on either site remains to be seen, but is worth exploring.