“You’ve all got the tools of insurgency in your hand… show me what you’ve made, show me what you’ve built,” David Carr, media columnist for The New York Times, told the M.S. in Publishing students assembled for the NYU Media Talk series, a panel discussion on “The Case for Media Optimism: What’s Working and Why” hosted by the Center for Publishing at NYU-SCPS. His message? In today’s business climate, you have the opportunity to handcraft your own job.
Carr waved a hand at the young entrepreneurs on the panel, who had done exactly that. David Karp co-founded the popular microblogging site Tumblr. Dennis Crowley is the co-founder of the location-based platform Foursquare. Both transformed passion and vision into wildly popular businesses that now have a wide audience (4 million users for Foursquare and 9 million for Tumblr.)
While the other two panelists—Steve Grove, head of news and politics for YouTube, and David Eun, President of AOL Media and Studios—represented more established media companies, they too touted the importance of trying new things.
The concept that innovation is the key to changing our media environment was a theme of the evening. Karp built Tumblr with the idea that any genre of content could be extracted and put into a format that users could connect with. The ability to post text, images, videos, quotes, links and audio, and the ease of use and customization tools available to bloggers has brought in partners such as NPR, The Washington Post, Gawker, and Vogue. This aids what Karp describes as “a nexus of dialogue that amasses a following.”
Continuing the conversation, Grove stated, “YouTube is defined by the users who upload content to our platform.” He added that it is the programming and innovative uses of the platform that work to spread information and increase user engagement. When Carr mentioned that media “product” today is now only a headline, a photo, and a blurb, Grove responded that “the media has to think like marketers do now… the short stuff is good, but readers will delve into the longer bits if interested.” In other words, all forms of media must be presented in a way that not only catches the user’s attention but fits in with his or her lifestyle and interests.
Crowley of Foursquare measures the success of his company on a different scale than that of Tumblr and YouTube. “It’s not about minutes or page views,” he explained. “When we created Foursquare, we wanted to know: ‘can we build software that encourages people to go places, to meet people?’” Based on a system where users “check-in” to their current location, Foursquare has created partnerships with multiple establishments; they offer loyalty programs and special deals for users who frequent their sites and also offer tips and insider information encouraging others to visit, too. A reward system in the form of uniquely named badges and a customized suggestion box called “Places” has sparked users to attend events and purchase goods that they might not have paid attention to without Foursquare. In other words, it’s a successful marketing tool.
Last to speak was Eun, who addressed the issue that while media companies generally generate their own content and tech companies provide a specialized service, the middle ground between the two has been what is missing in media today. AOL, which has seen its ups-and-downs, is working on bridging that gap. “As an industry we’re trying to figure it all out,” said Eun, who advised the students to take the time to think about how you program an experience. He stressed the importance of looking at what themes are resonating on the Internet and what is the most effective strategy to connect with users. AOL has a network of 40-50,000 contributors to deliver content on a wide range of topics. With over 15 million uniques a day, editors are able to see what people are responding to most and program accordingly. “[The] experience created online depends on how you bring these elements together,” said Eun.
For the students, the strongest message was to pay attention to the consumer. All the panelists agreed that the key to a successful product, whether it is a media start up, a writer’s platform, or an established line of books, is to focus on partnerships with appropriate media, gaining users or readers, and paying attention to influencers.
“The more up to speed, the more tools, the better,” said Karp, “You’re going to get attention by doing something that is great for the [media] community.”
Who said the media is dying? The world according to Karp, Carr, Crowley, Grove and Eun is just the opposite.
by Courtney Sanks