A Community of Solutions

by Dan Blank on December 15, 2009

In the past few weeks, I have been considering how the role of media is changing in an age where information is plentiful and distribution free:

Clearly, the underlying issue here is not just the purpose of media today – especially B2B media, but the revenue structure that will support it. As the newspaper, magazine, music, film and book industries debate options, there is no clear answer. Or, are they simply asking the wrong questions? For instance, in many of the conversations around paywalls for newspapers, there seems to be little discussion about the elephant in the room:

"The classified/want-ad business, which until a few years ago produced 40% of publisher revenues and better than 40% of their profits, was picked clean by lower-priced, consumer friendly websites offering highly optimized environments for searching deep inventories of employment, automotive and real estate listings."

So what some publishers are left with are the fragments of a business model. But you can’t start with a product and back into a need (and in turn, a revenue stream.) Are media companies focusing on the needs and behaviors of their audience and working to create solutions that fulfill those needs? Or, are they focused on their own needs for revenue first, and trying to create a structure that delivers this first, and value to the market second?

I want to explore the topic of how online media is creating solutions and connections that are somehow universal – they existed 50 years ago, and will exist 50 years from now.

Social Media as Solution

Social media has been talked about perpetually this year, but I want to consider three examples of how it created real value in one niche market: books & publishing. These examples show how communities are enabled and problems are solved. Each story was shared to me by Publishers Weekly editor Diane Roback:

  1. Finding Great Talent
    Publishers Weekly blogger Alison Morris posted this entry: Please Would Someone Do a Book with Brigette Barrager? that asked publishers to work with a young and talented artist.

    Alison shared Brigette’s artwork with a focused community of those in the book trade, a publisher actually reached out and was interested in working with her! Publishing has always been about finding great talent, and it was amazing to see this connection happen via Etsy.com and a blog.

  2. New Career Opportunities
    Another one from Alison Morris (my description here is paraphrased from an email from her): a former bookselling colleague of hers had guest-posted on her Publishers Weekly blog, and reached out to say that she had just gotten a great job BECAUSE of her blog posts!

    The hiring manager had a tough time deciding between Alison’s friend and another equally-qualified, seemingly-just-as-great candidate, so they Googled her — just to see if that would yield some kind of help. When they read the posts she’d written for Publishers Weekly they decided to give HER the job! It gave her a huge leg up on the competition!

  3. Saving a Business
    Here’s an amazing story of how a son saved his mom’s business by using social media. He also ended up with a raise and promotion out of the deal.

These are all more than heartwarming stories, they illustrate:

  • What "community" really means in the online world.
  • How engaging in social media can have profound effects on your career, community and life.
  • Social media is a service. How you leverage it is up to you.

In considering how this relates to communities in the "real world," I have been considering the lessons from an interesting video of one of my favorite musicians, Glen Hansard of The Swell Season, describing how a community forms and then fragments. One lesson: it has to create unique value for its members.

Social Media Means Never Having to Say Goodbye

There is so much change going on throughout media, and our culture in general. Let’s face it, there are brands being closed, being sold, and people losing their jobs. But there is a silver lining here:

Social media means you never have to say goodbye.

As colleagues depart, partnerships disband, companies reorganize, consultants come and go, you now have an easy way of continuing those relationships. Imagine the snowball effect of this over the course of 5 or 10 years. Again and again you hear how you find new career opportunities through "your network" and that sales & business is all about "relationships." Look around… social media services like Twitter are key enablers of both of these things.

What’s more:

Social media makes it easy to say hello.

When you follow someone on Twitter – perhaps they are a consultant, business leader in your field, or someone you met at a conference – it’s not long before you come to understand their expertise and preferences, and find meaningful opportunities to engage with them. This is something more than shoving a business card in their face, it is sharing something specific at just the right moment.

This is how a community is built. And for those serving business-to-business markets, this is where relationships are forming and deals are being setup. Just as many folks research products before they walk into a store to buy them, the business begins on the web in one form or another, even if it is just the first step in a longer process.

The Will to Engage

Having a product or service to sell is about more than just capturing eyeballs and hoping that scale alone with sell enough ads to make it worthwhile. In a B2B market – it is about something quite the opposite: serving the highly specialized needs of a small group of experts.

For brands operating in the business-to-business space, I think Seth Godin has aptly summed things up:

"The problem is no longer budget. The problem is no longer access to tools.
The problem is the will to get good at it."

Don’t wait for a market opportunity. Don’t for standards. Don’t wait for best practices to be established. Don’t wait for advertisers and business partners to request a feature. The opportunity lies in making the move before your competition does. And no matter how you slice it, your market is moving online, they are connecting via social media, and they are desperately looking for someone to solve their problems.

Enter: you.

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