“How far can companies go before they annoy their users?” asked Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, at last week’s Breakthrough: IIS 2013 Conference in New York. That question came up amid a discussion about information at a session titled Titans of the New Information Order. With Facebook’s new Search Graph, Google’s deeper searches and other initiatives based on user data, will the time come where people say the loss of privacy is not worth the enhanced information they can get?
Of all things, a quote from a hockey player set the tone for the discussion. “A good hockey player plays where the puck is,” Wayne Gretzky once said. “A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Michael Perlis, president and CEO of Forbes Media agreed but said, “It is getting harder to follow the puck. Globalization is really important right now; it’s a big, big marketplace. You have to do more than just put your content out there; you have to create content that can carry your brand’s name. We’re doing that, creating high-quality content with a core professional team, digital and print.”
Perlis added that they also developed a contributor model in order to be more cost-effective about creating content (freelancers vs. full-time) and do a better job of getting social comments. Dyson noted that what LinkedIn has started doing is interesting. “They now have a bunch of bloggers,” she said. “Endorsing people, generating traffic.” Perlis said that everyone is trying to “find the right way to do it.”
“There are many different ways you [can] dole out the same content,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. He said that what distinguishes Apple and Amazon right now is all the credit card information they have. “Amazon has more approaches, [however] and there are problems dealing with Apple. Amazon will be much more flexible.” He credited that to CEO Jeff Bezos. “He runs paranoid more than anyone – he’s unbelievably energetic to avoid the next pitfall.”
How’s that for a compliment? Perlis, on the other hand, kind of liked the idea of heading into the unknown. “There’s no playbook for where we’re going,” he said. “With it comes worry and triumph.” Referrals are driving “an enormous amount of traffic,” from both search and social,” he added. (See the article on how to get referrals in the January Hotline.)
Speaking of searches, technology reared its multifaceted head often in the discussion. “The pace of change today requires every company to think of themselves as a technology company,” Kirkpatrick said. “[You need to] immerse yourself in technology. [I've] seen way too many examples of stasis that was avoidable, fear of technology and fear of getting yourself dirty. The New York Times had research that most companies are not technological enough, and if you aren’t you won’t be here [for long].”
Thomas Glocer, the former CEO of Thomson Reuters, preferred to talk about content. (He also joked that he’s “gone from managing 55,000 employees to 2, and my goal is to have the same cash flow.”) “Content has found varied forms to showcase, but it’s really hard to showcase crap content,” he said.
“High-value content has legs where I sit,” said Kirkpatrick. “[Now] combine that with point of view. That’s what I’m trying to do-using sponsorships.”
“Both of you have talked about creating value,” Dyson said. “The most important thing is that you have to be nimble. Fluid, dynamic businesses have to be clever. Implementation counts as much as strategy today. You can control your pricing but you can’t control pricing of competitors.”
“Nimble” was an interesting word to use because David Foster, CEO of SIPA member BVR, had just recently emphasized to me the importance of “technological nimbleness for digital publishers” where solutions are integrated and disparate software work together.
Glocer also took on the subject but preferred to separate B2B from B2C. “The advantage of the professional information world,” he said, “is that it moves more slowly than the consumer world. It’s a slightly slower perch, but ultimately it’s not just content. [You need] to better filter it, have ways of personalizing it, understand the workflow of your clients, and give them tools to make it easier to fit into their workflow. The consumer world is different; it’s hard to know exactly what they’re doing.”
Dyson said that she also sees “two very different businesses: content for consumption and real investigative reporting. The thing that hasn’t been mentioned is getting your people to do whatever it is [that will work], motivating and finding the right people, running a team. Running a business is really hard. In reality, most might have great vision,” but who are the ones doing something about it?
Perlis summed up things nicely. “We’ve all experienced the collapse and the relapse, and now we can’t relax,” he said. “In the next three years, we may never get to a place where we can coast. Relaxation is out unfortunately.”
Ronn Levine began his career covering sports for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity and Newspaper in Education (NIE), before joining SIPA in 2009 as managing editor.