Time was that when I was asked about the value of social media platforms like twitter for journos, amongst the reasons I would give is the capacity to build audience.
The value of the individual journalist as a brand in a networked world (in contrast to the large media org) is something I repeatedly bang on about. But the truth is that there will always be some intersection between the sole trader and the big media hubs. In fact the prevailing model seems to be that apart from a tight core of full-time staff, most big orgs will have a steady stream of freelancers in their orbit to keep their mass.
In that respect having an audience that already follow ‘brand you’ rather than ‘brand x’ is just as attractive to the big media orgs as it is your own work.
I used to liken this to the idea of being in a band.
Record companies, even venues, wouldn’t look at you without some proof that you had audience. Signing mailing list sheets, following on myspace and now twitter and Facebook are ways that bands tried to do that.
But a chat with my excellent colleagues clarecook and Robert beers and the recent blogging about guardian local got me thinking about the danger of taking that idea too far.
How long would a band have an audience if they didn’t listen to those fans? If they didn’t tell the fans where they were playing next or what they were up to?
Many journos still stick to the idea that communication with an audience should only be one way. Some will tell you it’s because of the problems with managing the flow (busy, busy people journos) whilst others will happily tell you that they have no interest in the dribbling rantings of a few nut jobs ( because anyone who uses the web other than them is a nut job).
Truth is that if the audience isn’t behind you, you have nothing.
You could argue that the best musicians do what they do regardless of what the audience wants. They are artists. I’ve got news for you. When it comes to the web you’re not an artist. You can’t create in a platform or hack away in a garret.
If you don’t nurture and talk to the audience then, in a world of pay-to-play journalism you’ve got nothing.
Increasingly the opportunities are there for those who look out in to the audience rather than those who point their sites in a singular dash for a job with the media mothership. The crowd is not just a means of getting you there. They are the measure of your success and integrity (not just other journos)
It’s a lesson that big media orgs could learn too. Stop thinking like a record company think more like a concert promoter. The days of being the big media ‘stadium acts’ are fast becoming numbered. Maybe there is room for a few headliners at the festival but the vast majority of people are here for the rest of the bill (the long tail!).
So maybe, in future, when I’m asked about the value of social media, I’ll still be talking about the value of audience. But maybe I’ll put the band metaphor to bed. Truth is the dynamics are being rewritten everyday, just like the opportunities, and they are being written on an individual level – no band required.