Blogher Business - Closing Keynote, Live

BlogHer Original Post

(EDIT: I've made some copyedits so you can actually understand what I'm saying throughout the post. That was a little dicey in some spots! LW)

I'm picking up midstream in the closing session, as Lisa Stone talks with some powerhouse leaders in media - Redbook Editor in Chief Stacy Morrison, Caroline Little from Washingtonpost.com/Newsweek Interactive, iVillage President Debi Fine, and Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Search Products and User Experience Google. The topic: "Is the Ethos of the Social Media World Changing How We Conduct Business Online and Offline?"

Lisa asked if the "ethos of social media" has changed how we work in teams. The amount of content generated by the team has doubled since she got there, says Stacy from "Redbook" who also adds that as far as hiring goes, she only hires people who will "drink the Kool-Aid with her" - in other words - you have to get it.

Lisa says the metaphor of a "slumber party" used by one panelist for the work environment is different (in a good way!) from any newsroom she's ever worked in.

Mayer from Google says that people there are willing to work flexibly, using different talents and in different roles - different from the hierarchical methods of working that were really based on an "assembly line" mentality.

Debi Fine at iVillage says she has always been a believer in assembling a hybrid team. The reason they are seeing the kind of traction they are at iVillage is because the team is hybrid. People can share tasks and lend their skills to many different aspects of the operation. She says that if you subscribe to the theory that businesses are driven by people and product, your business will move forward.

Lisa asked Caroline Little to speak to bringing in outside talent to her organization. Little says that there is a tendency in the print arm of her company to resist change. She started to see this happening in the online segment as well. Working with more creative (crazy?!?) programmers has been a good boost for the team - working with differences has caused a positive change, although it's not always easy. You need different viewpoints.

Lisa asks how often they are in a reactive mode on a daily basis, versus an innovative mode. Mayer says they are often reactive but it's often a good thing and necessary, due to the changeable nature of the medium (think YouTube). Lisa asked how trusting employees to do "whatever they want" one day a week, which is company policy, is helping. Mayer says it's actually resulting in more and better output. People feel trusted and are more apt to contribute as a result.

Fine says the iVillage work is like "dribbling two thousand balls at the same time." They are constantly trying to weigh what should stay as-is with what should change. Morrison says she is not reactive at all - she plans - just trying to put "Redbook" into the context of what makes sense for women today. She sits there all day long and thinks about women - not technology.

Morrison says she guides her staff with the goal of "creating delight" for her readers - that delight is what brings people back. Little is reactive - again with the goal of contextualizing the user/reader experience.

Lisa entered the audience to take questions. The first question was relative to measurement, and talk turned to budgets. Fine pays much more attention to this at this time than Morrison, who says that relaunches of magazines are now showing some growth in distribution, and as Hearst is a privately owned company, there is not such a focus on the bottom line as yet.

Question from the audience: "Content - what is the future? Who is the key distributor of content?" Are publishers/publications counting on the fact that a consumer will always go directly to sites such as washingtonpost.com, redbook.com, ivillage.com, or will more attention need to be paid to partnerships and portals?

"Findability, the watchword of any business online," Lisa says. Little agrees, saying that navigation and useability even within a site is one of the biggest challenges for her organization.

Lisa says she's reaching content through lots of ways that have nothing to do with the original urls. What do these organizations think?

Morrison says "redbookmag.com" is not easily findable, as a case in point. She feels it will never be a giant. Their previous affiliation with iVillage gave redbook.com a boost but it was not difficult to continue momentum after this partnership ended. Redbook.com has a a syndication deal with msn.com - a partnership that gave redbook.com 25 percent of their traffic, generated 25 percent of online subscriptions last year. Affinities with clubmom.com and cokerewards.com - smaller sites - have proven helpful in creating community.

Fine says iVillage has a portfolio approach - "throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks", in a methodical, not reckless, way.

Lisa asks Marissa what the future of "search" is - where will they be in three years? She'll come back to that...talking instead about destination sites. She is fascinated with personalized home pages through google.com and yahoo.com; Google gadgets appear on sidebars, small pockets of information, less of a commitment. This includes badges for netflix.com, for example - which a user wouldn't make their homepage but can still identify it on their homepage. She says we are just getting started with search. She would like users to be able to interact with Google more richly - new methods of entry and input; instead of just URLs and links, to try responding with videos, for example, of how to do things.

Sue Thomas in the audience wants to talk more about hiring. She says her students in an MA program in creative writing are often not as aware of what is needed in new media. What can she do to help prepare them?

Fine says that in comparison with other media, there is a sense of immediacy and urgency in the online environment that is very different. At iVillage, there is a tendency to "try people out" to see if they click with it. However, the good news is that there is a plethora of opportunity for people out there to get their voices heard online - they just need to find a place where it resonates.

Morrison feels that people trained in traditional J-schools are still the best writers. They can be trained in the methods of the new media, but the fact-finding skills from a traditional journalism background are crucial. She tends to drift back to people with these backgrounds, but people split into three categories "1. the facts and only the facts in a long narrative structures. 2. People who can talk about their lives off the cuff in deep and interesting ways but have no training 3. The middle - "copy" - the quick, sexy sell - something fun to read, like turning marbles over in your mouth. The "super-snacky" food kind of stuff. It's a hard skill to find restraint and cleverness in equal measure."

When Little thinks about hiring people, she thinks about people with flexibility. For instance, a journalist in Iraq with a tiny camera - their video might go on the Web. You don't have to be a "videographer" - it can be low-resolution and still get the news story out. The question for the reporter/writer is: "How do I tell the story in the best way using all these different assets?"

You need to have three things, Mayer says: a grasp of the fundamentals, to be in a growth industry, and be very adaptive. She adds that mobile is still a relatively small area compared to traditional search - referencing Google Maps and GPS for phones. Tool bar usage and usage of search boxes are very common, so fewer people actually go to the Google.com homepage. They've even had to move special holiday graphics to the results pages since most people end up there from their own bookmarks.

Toby Bloomberg asks "how are you identifying users" and measuring results? Little says they don't monitor blogs outside of their own, which they watch with technorati.com. Fine says that the interest and the force of the consumer transferring to the online space, i.e., "the customer is always right", means the customer "rules" with a much firmer and tighter hand. This has evolved to a deeper sense of understanding called "customer intimacy". The onus is on content providers to be ahead of the curve, in fact in a predictive state of what users want and need. She argues that her users created her advertising campaign - not an agency - by giving feedback, illustrating user/customer influence on how business is done.

Mayer says Google monitors the blogosphere through their own statistics as well as outside sources - what customers like definitely determines choices. Morrison says that magazine publishers have done the same thing for years - monitoring customer preference between covers, for instance.

Jillian from Redbook asked about the breakdown between "the art and the science of predicting audience readiness" for such things as personalized pages, mobile, applications like twitter.com.

Mayer says that they look at growth - month-to-month growth on the Web is usually two-three percent. Some products they launched they saw five percent growth. Hot products like Youtube and Google Video are growing about 25-30 percent a month - very hot. Anything under ten percent is cause for concern.

Kim Pearson asks whether or not they're paying attention to the research in artificial intelligence and gaming, and what impact it has on search. Mayer says artificial intelligence will impact breakthroughs in search. She explained ways that spelling errors in searches are aggregated and correct alternatives are produced based on this. Lisa asked how many languages they can do this in. Mayer says that Google.com has volunteer translators from around the world, letting people sign up online to offer their services. They provide translations and can correct each other (a niche social networking volunteer corps?). Google offers spelling correction in fifty languages.

Question: How have changes impacted working with advertisers. Fine says she's out in the market a lot and finds that advertisers are more interested than ever in the word "integration" and clients are looking at them to be more "solution-driven". The expectation on all of them from people buying media is that their need for solutions will be addressed, because the tools are there to do so. The concept of the sales processes as recently as five years ago was still pitch-, not solution-based. Those days are gone. Asset-rich organizations have to provide results to clients.

Morrison says she wants to have relationships with advertisers. As an editor she has the opportunity to suggest product innovations now. She doesn't run a magazine, she "creates a tribe of people." She knew she could take a 102-year old magazine with a stodgy reputation and spice it up. Women wanted to have passionate conversations about what they wanted their lives to be, and she wants to provide it in her magazine. The editors can start the partnership with advertisers and find value for readers as well as revenue for advertisers.

Little says it's a lot different for a news organization. It's a fun time for ad integration and innovation.

Question from the audience: what is the future for user generated content on sites like these? Women who are writing, starting businesses - how can our content get on their site?

Fine says iVillage is aggregating content now. If writers can find a receptive audience in health and lifestyle, there is a chance.

Little says half of 50 blogs at WPNI are written by non-employees. She wants to have more content like that on her site. She is open to that. When Morrison relaunches, they have two layers of user-generated content. Readers can share their experiences.

Lisa wants to ask one more question: they are educating advertisers everyday, as users are educating all of them. Where will they be in one-two-three years?

Mayer says Google is interested in changing the paradigm for people...storing information at Google instead of on personal computers. It all lives online and can be accessed from any computer as long as it's online. Their vision is around fueling user-generated content, becoming more portable.

Fine says her dream is when looking at the power iVillage has had for American women, the intense loyalty of readers - and the strength of UK site, she has high hopes for global expansion.

Little hopes to continue publishing news and information. As newspaper print audience decreases, she wants to keep generating interest to keep newsgathering alive and well.

Morrison hopes to see the perception of Redbook renewed - for women who are reinventing what it's like to be a grownup. There are a hundred ways to live our lives now - there is no one path.

This was the perfect end statement to a perfectly inspiring conference - like anyone could expect less from Blogher! Thanks to Elisa, Jory and Lisa for keeping the wheels turning, and can't wait to see so many more of you in Chicago in July!/

Laurie blogs here! Come visit!

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