Google Ad Sales Double All U.S. Newspapers COMBINED

That’s the most stunning statement in a Brookings Essay “The Bad News about the News” by Robert G. Kaiser, who worked for a half-century as a writer and editor at The Washington Post. He outlines the fundamental problem of the challenge digital presents to “legacy” media:

Overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate. One statistic conveys its dimensions: the advertising revenue of all America’s newspapers fell from $63.5 billion in 2000 to about $23 billion in 2013, and is still falling. Traditional news organizations’ financial well-being depended on the willingness of advertisers to pay to reach the mass audiences they attracted. Advertisers were happy to pay because no other advertising medium was as effective. But in the digital era, which has made it relatively simple to target advertising in very specific ways, a big metropolitan or national newspaper has much less appeal. Internet companies like Google and Facebook are able to sort audiences by the most specific criteria, and thus to offer advertisers the possibility of spending their money only on ads they know will reach only people interested in what they are selling. So Google, the master of targeted advertising, can provide a retailer selling sheets and towels an audience existing exclusively of people who have gone online in the last month to shop for sheets and towels. This explains why even as newspaper revenues have plummeted, the ad revenue of Google has leapt upward year after year—from $70 million in 2001 to an astonishing $50.6billion in 2013. That is more than two times the combined advertising revenue of every newspaper in America last year. (Emphasis added.)

Some other interesting nuggets:

  • “Twenty years ago classifieds provided more than a third of the revenue of The Washington Post. Craigslist has destroyed that business for the Post and every major paper in the country.”
  • “Newspapers employed 59,000 journalists in 1989, and 36,000 in 2012 (and fewer since then).”

Kaiser’s essay does a good job of outlining the challenges faced by the big media, which is probably its most significant contribution. It’s short on solutions, but then again, that’s the real issue for the established media: if answers were apparent, the financial situation for newspapers would not have deteriorated to the extent he describes.

It’s not exactly cheery reading, but it’s at least a little less depressing than the latest news about Ebola and ISIS. Read the whole essay.

It’s also interesting for me to read this, because much of my early blogging was about trends in media, given my background in media relations. Here are a few related posts over the years:

Or you can browse through all of the related posts here.

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Bringing the Social Media Revolution to The Last Frontier

I’m excited to be at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood Alaska today to speak to the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

The trip here helped me understand just how big Alaska is, and how far it is from the lower 48. One little-known fact (at least I didn’t know it): The flight from Seattle to Anchorage is the same length (about 3 hours and 15 minutes) as the flight from Minneapolis to Seattle.

Once I got to Anchorage, it was a relatively short, but amazingly scenic, trip down AK-1 to the Alyeska Hotel. The highway has lots of places to pull over for photos, and while a photo can’t really show the full beauty, here’s a taste (click to enlarge):

AK-1 Big

One extra positive of coming to present in Alaska is that it’s highly unlikely that many of the participants have heard me speak previously. That lets me do a best-of-the-best presentation. My slides are embedded below:

I look forward to the discussion today, and welcome your comments and questions.

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Why Ice Buckets are Contagious

I’ve recently been listening to an audiobook by Jonah Berger called Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s based on Berger’s Ph.D. research into why some ideas or products get lots of word of mouth, while others don’t. It’s about a seven-hour audiobook that condenses his more academic work, and it’s good listening for workout time.

Berger describes six key principles that helps products or ideas go “viral.” Those six characteristics are:

  1. Social Currency – How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Does it make people look smart? In the know? Kind, caring and empathetic? To get people talking, you need to craft messages that help people achieve these desired impressions. Make people feel like insiders. Use game mechanics to give people signs of status they can show to others.
  2. Triggers – “How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas?” Triggers get people thinking about related things. “We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment, and and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.” This video saw traffic spikes on the same day every week. Care to guess which day?
  3. Emotion – “When we care, we share…. Rather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings.” But not all emotions increase sharing; some actually decrease it. The most important emotion to support sharing? Awe. As we saw with Susan.
  4. Public – “Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior?…Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.” If we can create “behavioral residue” that is left behind even after the product is used or the idea is discussed, we’re more likely to get traction. The distinctive white ear buds on Apple’s iPod, when all other mp3 players used black headphones, is an example of this residue.
  5. Practical Value – “How can we craft content that seems useful? People like to help others, so if we can show them how our products or ideas with save time, improve health or save money, they’ll spread the word.” But we need to find ways to make our product or initiative clearly stand out as a particularly good deal.
  6. Stories – “What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in?” Stories are vessels that carry ideas like Trojan horses. We need to make our idea an integral part of the story, so people can’t tell the story without sharing the idea.

Berger says this isn’t a recipe, in which all ingredients are needed, but rather more like a salad: the more of these elements are present, the more currency the idea will have.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge clearly meets the test of contagiousness. How does it embody these six principles?

It’s extraordinarily Public, with videos typically uploaded to YouTube or Facebook. It creates Social Currency, as many participants exercise and display their creativity in the videos. Others feel peer pressure, the negative side of social currency, to join once they have been challenged.

The practice of challenging three others at the end of each video, and typically tagging them on Facebook, is a use of Triggers. Especially when shared on Facebook, it elicits Emotion as people see their friends shriek upon being doused. It is perceived as having Practical Value in raising funds to fight a terrible disease, and has yielded 25 times the amount donated in the same period last year.

As I see it, probably the weakest element is Stories. Pouring icy water over one’s head does not have a logical relationship with ALS. This tactic could have been used in support of any charity; indeed, earlier this year a variation, the Polar Plunge, was being used to raise money for Special Olympics.

A few other factors have helped the ALS Ice Bucket phenomenon.

  1. There are no long Ice Bucket videos. Shorter videos tend to get more views, and most Ice Bucket videos take less than 30 seconds.
  2. Challenging three others means that the idea can propagate if one or two of them join the fun. The ubiquity of video cameras on smart phones removes a barrier that could break the chain.
  3. And while Polar Plunges with submersion in freezing water can be seriously dangerous, victorious football coaches (especially those winning in upsets) experience a version of the Ice Bucket event on a weekly basis. The discomfort is transitory.

Contagious is a good listen. Thinking about these principles, and how we have seen them applied in a recent health-related viral phenomenon, is a good way for those of us working in health care to better design the ideas we want to spread.

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Illustrating the Health Care Social Media Revolution

The Association of Medical Illustrators is holding its annual conference in Rochester, Minnesota this week, and my colleagues in Mayo Clinic Creative Media asked me to be part of the program, discussing our growth and application of social media at Mayo Clinic. Here are the slides I’m using:

I had stopped by the conference briefly yesterday and was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm in the room. It will be a quick ride; my presentation time is 20 minutes…so I want to have the slides here for review. I look forward to the discussion!
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3 Chart-Topping Lessons from “Weird Al”

It was great to see this morning that one of my personal heroes and role models, “Weird Al” Yankovic, officially has his first #1 album after 30 years in the music business.

Mandatory Fun” is topping the Billboard Charts after Al’s #8songs8days campaign.

Of course I love “Word Crimes”

But my favorite is “Foil” because of the surprise mid-song twist:

The projections I had seen indicated that he would hit #1 if he sold 80,000 albums in the first week; he blew past that with 104,000.

What lessons can we take from this?

  1. There’s no substitute for great content. Al is a comedic genius, and he’s also very musically talented. If content isn’t worth sharing it won’t be shared.
  2. Giving away content is the key to economic success in today’s economy. The two videos embedded above have combined for 22 million views as of this writing. Some of them have had pre-roll ads (which is one way way of monetizing), but anyone could watch and listen for free. Four of the songs on “Mandatory Fun” aren’t offered as free videos, but eight are. Even though he gave away all this content, he sold more than $1 million worth of albums in the first week. Or, to put it more accurately, because he gave away all this content, he sold that much.
  3. Find like-minded collaborators and give them a stake in your success. As the New York Times reported, Al’s record label, RCA, didn’t provide any budget for creating his videos. So he struck up production partnerships with online sites. For “Foil” it was College Humor. Then he gave them the exclusive right to host his video on their YouTube channel. He got the production help and access to their existing audience. They got a lot of new traffic when Al’s video went viral, and when he was featured in traditional media outlets.

Those are three top lessons I see. What do you think?

What else can we learn from Weird Al?

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