Part 1 of this series defined new media and how performing arts organizations can identify and categorize new media outlets into local, national, and international sources. This installment will continue by detailing how you can familiarize yourself with the sources you’ve identified and make initial contacts…
Familiarize yourself with new media: read and participate.
How effective do you think your initial attempts to reach out to a new media source will be if you read less than 10% of the content it generates? Exactly. Simply put, if you aren’t familiar with the content generated by new media, you’ll never be in a position to benefit from its reach. For example, would you be able to effectively connect with your local newspaper and music critic if you didn’t subscribe to the paper or read reviews?
Fortunately, this step is probably the most fun and it won’t require you to dedicate hours and hours of your time reading new media content in order to stay in touch with dozens of sources. For your benefit, many new media sources offer email summary subscriptions, automatic notifications when new content or comments are posted, and – perhaps the most helpful tool – RSS feeds. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a family of new media formats used to publish frequently updated content from new media platforms. In order to take advantage of a RSS feed, you’ll need to use on of the numerous RSS aggregators available free of charge.
An aggregator, often called a feed reader, collects the RSS feeds from the sources you indicate and brings them together in one place for you to peruse at will. Most aggregators allow you to customize how the content is displayed (headlines only, headlines, and excerpt, full content, etc.). As a result, you can easily stay current on dozens upon dozens of new media sources by only allocating anywhere from five to 30 minutes per day.
Keep in mind, in addition to their original content the majority of new media outlets generate dynamic responses from readers. For example, you might read a blog post that doesn’t make you think twice but that same post might generate dozens of dynamic responses in the form of comments and trackbacks (a method for logging incoming links to any given new media post from other new media sources). Even though that particular piece didn’t strike you, there may be real value in one or more of those comments or trackbacks. As such, it is helpful if new media outlets facilitate making it as easy as possible for readers to stay current on dynamic responses such as offering a list of the most recent comments/trackbacks or even a dedicated comment RSS feed. If such resources aren’t available at a new media outlet you want to frequent, try to keep an eye on the number of responses any given piece of new media content generates so you don’t miss out.
Of course, there’s no good reason to stay on the sidelines when it comes participating in dynamic interaction. Simply put, get in there and post some comments. To this end you need to be careful since even restricted access and/or members-only outlets are still public forums. If you are a marketing professional keep in mind that what you post online can be taken the wrong way if you aren’t careful so use common sense and when in doubt, ask a superior. Conversely, this shouldn’t scare you away from participating but you’ll want to make certain you proofread your comment before hitting the “submit” button.
Before you start participating, begin reading the outlet’s content for a few weeks. If the outlet has been around for more than a few years, go back through its archives and get a sense of who the reader is and what sort of outlook they have on the cultural environment (and do a search to see if they’ve written about your organization in the past). You don’t have to like what they write but so long as their content isn’t libelous and meets any other criteria important to your organization, the outlet should be a candidate for your new media contact list.
Now that you’re all set to process and participate in all of this content, it is important to understand how it is all interconnected. One of the main aspects driving much of the quality new media content currently available is a strong sense of partisan sincerity. Those involved in new media are typically passionate about their respective subject material and are not creating content as a primary revenue generating perspective. As such, sincerity is the key to forging strong connections with new media, which brings us to our next
Creating sincere relationships
In May, 2007 I published an article about the benefits of sincere networking which stressed that intent is the key to building a strong business network. That entire concept can easily be expanded to include orchestras building mutually beneficial relationships with new media sources. Your intent is key and the first step in building trust is following the steps outlined in the “Familiarize yourself with new media: start reading and participate” section above. That last part, “participate” deserves some special attention as it will likely serve as your first step toward building sincere relationships with new media outlets.
Darren Rowse’s excellent guide, How to Pitch to Bloggers – 21 Tips, addresses this point by recommending that marketing professionals “become a genuine and active member of the blog that you are pitching to before you make personal contact.” Naturally, this applies to all new media formats and not just blogs but what does it mean to become a genuine member of a new media community? Here are some tips to help quickly establish credibility:
- Post comments using your real name. Many new media outlets will allow readers to post with monikers or anonymously but that won’t do you any good if you approach the author later using your real name.
- “Amen comments” are always appreciated by authors but don’t be afraid to weigh-in with your own experiences and/or observations regardless if they convey the same opinion as the author.
- Don’t make yourself (or your organization) the focus of all your comments. There’s nothing wrong with relating personal experience if it supports the discussion but self-promoting pariahs are easily identified and quickly shunned among culture oriented new media outlets. In general, go back and make sure you use first-person possessive pronouns sparingly.
- Post several comments before you approach an outlet’s author. I know this isn’t always practical but you can rack up some comment face-time with some simple, yet sincere, contributions such as “I’m glad to see this issue is being discussed publicly.” Darren Rowse goes on to offer some great advice on this point: “Be genuine in these interactions, add value to the conversation happening on the blog and show that you’re not just there to ‘take’ but to ‘give’.”
- In addition to submitting a comment you can send the author a direct email (consequently, if you message isn’t for public consumption, mention that your remarks are off-the-record). This is one of the best methods to demonstrate that you really do know who the author is and Darren Rowse offers more useful advice by saying “…ask them a question that shows you’ve dug a little deeper than finding their name and email address…”
- Don’t forget to encourage colleagues and subordinates to participate. You can’t do everything on your own and if there are other individuals in your department who can help establish connections with other new media outlets don’t miss an opportunity to explore that option. Even though you may not have a relationship with a particular outlet someone else in the department will, allowing you to develop that connection when needed.
- If you’re new at posting comments take a moment to visit The Blogger’s Guide to Comment Etiquette by Daria Black for a useful list of suggestions regarding commonly accepted comment etiquette.
Compared to traditional media outlets, new media outlets have a complex culture. This is due, in part, because of the independent nature of new media. If you remember back to Part 1 where the new media environment was described as being akin to the Wild West, this is where that statement applies the most. New media outlets attract readers based on the outlet’s topic as well as the author’s personality and quality of content that is generated. As a result, taking the time to become acquainted with an outlet, its author, and those who frequently contribute comments before approaching the outlet’s author in an official capacity will pay off in ways you can’t imagine. Simply put, you need to learn the culture in order to increase your likelihood for creating successful relationships.
The conclusion of Part 1 mentioned marketing professionals would be wise to avoid circulating shotgun style press releases as their primary vehicle for connecting with new media outlets. After reviewing the above material the reasons behind that advice are hopefully clear. The current new media environment is such that newbies can easily damage their credibility and quickly earn a reputation of being the self-promoting pariah described above.
At the heart of the mass press release mentality is the notion “what can this media outlet do to promote our organization and how can I get them interested in our project/event?” That approach will get you nowhere fast in the world of new media; instead, approach promotional communication by emphasizing the mutual connections between your organization and the new media outlet’s content. If you’ve followed the above advice, the outlet’s author likely respects you (remember, respecting someone and liking them aren’t mutually exclusive) and will be more receptive to supporting your proposal.
All of this brings us to the next topics in this series which will be examined in tomorrow’s installment; benefiting from your initial relationships and adapting standard press releases/marketing pitches to a very nonstandard world of new media. In the meantime, keep sending in your questions and observations via comments and email.