Thursday, July 2, 2009

Understanding (and misunderstanding) how to use Digital Media

One of the more interesting aspects of the latter stages of an MBA program is that you spend less time focused on the classroom details and more time discussing and applying them to elements of your life. You find yourself looking at even the smallest interaction as an opportunity to analyze and seek improvement. Here's an example from a recent interaction with my roommate from the China trip, Gregg Lewis.

Gregg and his wife work regionally out of Roanoke, VA. He has won national awards for his architectural work, and been recognized internationally for his efforts to push the Cradle to Cradle concept of environmentally sustainable design. Gregg's passion for combining great architecture with eco-friendly sustainability are the foundation for his long term goals to raise awareness of the challenges ahead, and drive the overall building industry to be more responsible.

Over the weekend, I received an email from Gregg saying, "hey - wrote this opinion piece for the Roanoke Times - it'll be published this week." The piece ran on Monday. Overall it was well written and provides some good connectedness between the ideas being fostered by several well known individuals. My comments back to him had little to do with the content and almost everything to do with how he planned to amplify this message.
  1. Is the Roanoke Times offering you a regular column to discuss aspects of environmental issues?
  2. How else do you plan to get this message out to more people?
We had some follow-up discussions about basic things like Blogging, Twitter and other ways to use low-cost digital media outlets to amplify his message and generate some new conversations with people from around the world with similar interests. For now, those are on hold and we'll see if he's willing to put in some time to cultivate those communities.

This afternoon, I finally got around to looking at the piece on the Roanoke Times website. My first search for "Gregg Lewis" turned up this counter-point piece. Opinions aside, it highlights all the reasons the newspaper industry is going out-of-business and clearly doesn't understand the new world we live in. I'll just highlight a few points:
  • This is a digital piece of information. It is a counter-point piece. But yet it has no URL linkage to the original piece. It forces the reader to search for it, with marginal chance for finding it.
  • It provides no URL linkage to the associated articles. One again, the reader has no easy way to add breadth to the piece they are consuming.
  • It provides no mechanism for the reader to comment on the articles. How does the Roanoke Times plan to gather feedback from their customers on whether or not this content is interesting to them? Wouldn't this be helpful to them to better target advertisers? Might their readers enjoy the ability to be part of the discussion?
  • It doesn't allow the readers to communicate back to the author (email address, Twitter account??), essentially making this a one-way conversation in a world where two-way or asynchronous conversations rule the day.
  • It hides easy linkage (see "Share it" button at top, instead of icons) to share the piece with other users or services (Twitter, Digg, Facebook, Reddit, etc..). Are they only interested in readers that manually navigate to this page? Do they have no interest in free distribution and possibly national or international readers?
So here we have a global message, one that needs discussions and ideas from many sides to make progress, and the institution publishing the message doesn't seem to understand the fundamentals of facilitating the conversation. They are stuck in a world of local readers, local writers, and paperboys with papers slung over their shoulders in a canvas bag for early morning delivery. They have never been in the conversation business, so it's not surprising that they don't understand even cocktail-party basics.

I hope that my friend's message and future work is able to better take advantage of the digital economy that could allow it to grow and expand. I'm more than willing to help share my experiences.
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