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Home > Operations Management Viewpoints > Every Company Is a Media Company

Operations Management Viewpoints

Every Company Is a Media Company

by Richard Sambrook

The Internet

I am convinced that the value of the internet as a showcase for your company cannot be exaggerated. There is an increasing appetite among companies to tell their own stories and have direct access to their consumers, stakeholders, and suppliers as well. They are beginning to recognize that the means to do this can be their own website or television channel; it can be through social media, on Twitter or Facebook, or whatever else; they’re beginning to recognize the effectiveness of direct communication with the public, and of being able to inform those conversations, and there is huge potential in all of that.

The web presents a company with a forum that is not controlled by a media company on which to present its point of view and inform the wider debate. It is no longer dependent on journalists and commentators, who may have their established prejudices. The internet allows the company to go direct to the audience, rather than through a mediated channel. It represents a remarkable shift. They don’t have to go to a magazine and argue to get a little paragraph on page 7 any more. They can do it themselves, and go direct to the public in a rather sophisticated media sense, which is far more powerful. In terms of telling their own story, they can be very effective. You’d hope that responsible organizations do it with integrity and values and so on, and I think the vast majority of them will do so.

There is no doubt that the use of journalists sponsored by a company to blog about it is now a widespread practice among more savvy corporations. I advise companies using this technique to make sure that they are transparent and open about the provenance of the information retailed by the journalist. The company that is shown to be deceiving the wider media will instantly lose face. Indeed, independent journalists, alert as they now are to the extensive use of sponsored bloggers, will assume that the opaque and untransparent company has something to hide that is to its detriment. The key to corporate blogging is transparency. If someone gets a journalist who pretends to be independent when they’re not, that’s just going to lead to problems because they will be found out, which is a very stupid thing to do. If they’re transparent about it, it’s just another conversation that’s out there, and people can take it or leave it, and make up their own minds about it.

Technology is moving very quickly and I advise corporates reviewing their media strategies to think beyond blogging. A blog is a rather static way of doing it now, and it’s much more about Twitter and other media forms. These conversations are much faster, much more dynamic, and you have to be in there. Someone can put something up on Twitter and it’ll spread out, so you need to be back in there within an hour or two saying well, actually, here’s another point of view.

While corporates are exploring the latest forms of media and communications, I have observed that some have gone one step further and are discussing the possibility of creating an entirely separate internet structure. This would deal with the vexed issue of payment for access to websites. The new structure would run in parallel to the “public web” and users would be required to pay to enter this “private web.” Corporates would collect a subscription and would reserve their most exclusive information for the pay-to-use web. There are a number of suggestions by big corporates and others that they could build a parallel internet, a commercial internet. You’d have to pay for this, there would be different terms of access.

I would observe that this raises the question about the free flow of information. A philosophical debate is starting about whether it is right that the internet is free to all forever—or, actually, should you get more if you’re prepared to pay, or get something different if you’re prepared to pay?

Companies is every field are under growing pressure to make money out of the web as more users turn away from traditional media and seek their information on the internet and in new media. It is not obvious that subscriptions are the answer. Newspapers have to find a viable business model, so it’s perfectly reasonable to look at subscription. Content is not free and it’s got to be paid for, whether through advertising or subscriptions or something else. I don’t think it’ll work because you are sacrificing about 80% of your traffic—the casual grazers, who come through Google and just want to look at whatever they’ve searched for—for the 20% who are brand loyalists.

I am concerned that you’re going to shut out the people who just casually come across the site, because actually they don’t spend very long there; they’re not very loyal, and they’re not looking at the ads. So, we’ll sacrifice all of them, and we’ll get more value out of the people who actually want what our product is producing, and are prepared to subscribe to it.

I accept that there may be an economic case for such an approach. But I am concerned that you’re starting to build up walls, so you’re not part of the public realm and the public debate on the web. Articles start not to show up on Google, or if they do show up people can’t look at them without having to decide whether they want to take out a subscription; you start to shut off your content, and the debate around your content, into a smaller and smaller subcommunity. Meanwhile the whole public realm is going on outside, and it becomes different.

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Further reading

Books:

  • Gillin, Paul. The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media. Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, 2007.
  • Gillmor, Dan. We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2004.
  • Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
  • Tapscott, Don. Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

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