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Waiting for the next big thing

As I wrap up my last term in the Master of Science in Strategic Communication program at TROY University, I can’t help but to think about how this “emerging media” we have discussed in depth will be outdated soon. After all, I joined this field when it was referred to as “new media”. I was fascinated with computers and the capabilities of the world wide web. I wanted desperately to be part of that digital world. So I gave up my TV news producing career to pursue it.

I’d say it was worth it. Digital is now the way of the world. Just think about how quickly digital media has taken over some many aspects of our lives. It affects how we communicate, share, handle financial transactions, entertain ourselves, and other important functions. A lot of the dependence on digital communication stems from the use of a smart device like a phone or tablet.

Many communication methods have changed as a result of emerging media. Here are a few from my lifetime that immediately come to mind:

  • Letters and handwritten notes have been replaced by email
  • Pay phones have been replaced with cell phones
  • Phone calls have been replaced with Facetime
  • Texting has been replaced with messaging through social media apps
  • People choose to surf the web via a smartphone or laptop versus a desktop computer
  • Physical meetings have been replaced by Zoom meetings

Back in 1993 (the year I graduated high school) AT&T predicted in a commercial that a man could participate in a business meeting through a video conference. I know as an 18-year-old in 1993, I never thought something like that would be possible. But look at us now.

With so many forward thinkers and the desire to create the next big thing, I wonder what will be the next “emerging” piece of media. What do we depend on today that will be replaced tomorrow?


Policing parental use of social media

I have to admit I was a bit of a laggard when it came to social media. I was very reluctant to create a Facebook page. It wasn’t because I was afraid of sharing my personal information or details of my life. I initially didn’t understand the purpose or how it would benefit me. But a funny thing happened. I realized that I couldn’t realize my potential as an online/digital media manager without fully embracing social media. So I jumped all the way in. At first I was really careful not to share too much about my family. But my daughters were so darn cute. And I just really wanted my “friends” on social media to see their cute pictures and all their accomplishments. And then how would my friends know I had been on that magical trip to Disney if I didn’t share pictures. Did it really even happen if there were no pictures? I had to have proof right?

It’s that notion that gets many people in trouble – especially parents. I used to share whatever pictures I thought were cute of my daughters. But they would grow incredibly frustrated with me. I took the position that I’m the mom and I’ll post what I want to! But I learned that not only was that inconsiderate, but just plain disrespectful. I put myself in their shoes. I knew I wouldn’t want just any picture of myself posted online. I had to be respectful of their feelings too. 

Andrew Wittman, author of the new book Seven Secrets of Resilience for Parents: Navigating the Stress of Parenthood, reminds us parents that “Once something enters the social media ether it’s there forever, so parents would greatly benefit by taking a few seconds before posting about their kids and ask themselves a series of good and better questions to determine if a public post should be made.”

In an interview with Forbes, Wittman suggested that parents ask ourselves these questions before posting about our kids:

  1. What are my real reasons for posting this?
  2. What is it that I’m trying to achieve or get by sharing this? What’s my target?
  3. Does posting this help me or hurt me in accomplishing my target?
  4. How would sharing this affect my child now and in the future?
  5. How can I better share this and be more selective, sharing with only the relevant people in my child’s life?

For me, it boils down to the simple commandment: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I get permission when I want to post a picture of my daughters (Well, 90 % of the time.) 

The sad but true reality is that online activity can result in life or death situations for children and teens. Their self-esteem can live or die by how they are treated online. The last thing parents want to do is embarrass their kids or cause them any harm. But the unintentional harm still exists. According to research from the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online and 90% believe online harassment is a problem that affects people their age. The source of the bullying does not need to come from material shared online by family members or other people they know – without their knowledge and/or permission. And on the flipside, parents should be proactive and develop rules for their children’s social media use. Educating children on the consequences of online activities is paramount to keeping them safe and to a certain extent – happy. The bottomline is that children and parents alike have to know when to draw the line with sharing online.

My older daughter recently celebrated a milestone birthday and I wanted to share pictures from her celebration. I received her permission to post the pictures so I thought I was in the clear. Then I got a reminder from a family member that I needed to be careful about putting her pictures online because of all the evilness in the world. He was literally worried about someone trying to kidnap her. At first I thought that was absurd. Afterall, I thought I had done the right thing but getting permission and not posting her location. But there still remain so many risks when interacting and sharing online. While I believe that many social media users in their late-teens and early 20s have somewhat of a good grasp on the dangers of its use, it’s a different story when it comes to young and older people. 

We use the Internet (and social media) in so many aspects of our lives. Education, entertainment, and making financial transactions are just three examples. How would we function in a world without it? It’s a necessary tool that makes our lives more convenient. But with that convenience comes risks.

And that’s the scary part of children and older Americans going online. You just never know who is on the other end of that comment, message or phishing email. Although my children are 21 and 18, I still feel the need to constantly warn them about online dangers including not sharing your location, not responding to messages from people you don’t know, and not sharing too much of yourself online. But as my parents have been introduced to the Internet (they each received brand new tablets for Christmas) and how it can make taking care of small tasks like paying bills easier, my sisters find ourselves answering lots of questions – especially from our mother. She asks questions like what she should do about a particular email she received or what information she should enter on a certain website. But I’m thankful she does ask because that could be saving her from becoming a victim. Cybercrimes against older adults have increased five-times since 2014, costing more than $650 million in losses per year, according to FBI and FTC statistics. While everyone thinks they may be savvy when it comes to digital communication, there are some basic things that can be done to protect yourself. Be constantly aware of who you are communicating with, set boundaries and limitations for online use, and be open to education about new technologies that might affect how you interact online. 

Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Or is it?

As a strategic communicator working at a business that depends on social media and other digital platforms to bring in business, you might find yourself dealing with bad reviews as a result of unhappy clients. No matter how hard you try to be the best customer service provider, there is bound to be someone who is unhappy and takes to the Internet to voice their grievances. Because of platforms like Facebook Reviews, Yelp, Google Reviews, and the cell phone that allows encounters to be recorded, customers have the opportunity to rate and oftentimes berate businesses and its employees. Tim Leberecht, a self-proclaimed “business romantic” was right when he said in his TED Talk that companies are losing control and they should consider accepting it. People will talk about you and your brand and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or is it?

Some unhappy customers can get pretty irate. But it doesn’t seem to happen in person as much as it happens online. I refer to the angry online posters as “keyboard warriors”. I guess if you’re happy, you don’t think about going online to post a review. But if you’re upset about the service you received, one of the first places you might go is Facebook or Google to let the world know what a terrible company you’ve just dealt with. As the marketing manager at my company, I am responsible for reviewing the comments left by customers. Needless to say there have been some interesting ones. Here are a few scenarios (and real-life situations) that have stood out to me over the years:

The “I Made it Up Customer”: This customer sat in our customer lounge and waited for his vehicle’s service and maintenance to be completed. He previously talked with the service advisor who laid out the plans and he agreed to the terms. But he went to the lounge and posted an unfavorable review online. Our service advisor marched right into the lounge and confronted him about the bad review. The guy apologized and promised to remove the review, but he never did.  

The “That’s Not Exactly What Happened Customer”: This is the type of customer review I see the most. A customer complains online that we didn’t do something when said we would do. One review stated: “Supposed to get my hood fixed, and painted, they didn’t fix the grill or get the hood painted, won’t be back.” And you guessed it, that’s not exactly what happened. We don’t even paint at our business. Let’s say we had planned to contract the work out to another company. Well, when our service advisor offered to have a shop foreman look at the hood with him and discuss it, he refused, left the store, and complained online instead.

The “I’m Gonna Scream Until I Get a Discount Customer”: This is another popular customer we have that tends to post unfavorable reviews. This customer goes online to complain that they were overcharged or that we did not perform the services we said we would. Despite having paid their bill, the customer will still go online to bash our company. But we have to stand firm when it comes to pricing and remain confident in our work.  

The “I Overreacted Customer”: This one is a doozy. I recently received a notification with this review. (We’ll leave the name out to protect the guilty.) “By far the worst experience I’ve ever had buying a truck!! Almost like pulling teeth to get the salesman to do his job!! I purchased a 2020 glider a month ago, I wish I didn’t from these guys. Hands down (XX XXX) is the worst salesman I ever had any dealings with. From commercial vehicles to 4 wheelers. I never had any issues like I did with him! I wish I could give no stars!”

Wow. Here’s the problem. This particular salesman drove almost four hours to meet this customer and made sure he had everything he needed. I don’t know how many salespeople would do that. Once the sales manager spoke to the customer about this online review, he determined what was at the heart of the problem. He was upset that the salesman did not bring him a second set of keys. That’s it. This rant was over a second set of keys. The sales manager promised to get him a second key in the mail and the customer followed up by removing the review, calling him a “great guy”, and stating that we were “good people to work with on purchasing a truck.”

These are just a few types of customers that have posted reviews to my company’s online platforms. We have many others with different situations. Now, my company does receive positive reviews and we appreciate the people who take the time to post them. But how do you handle the bad ones? We can’t just ignore them. I take the company’s online reputation seriously. When I am alerted to a bad review, I send it to the appropriate manager who then contacts the customers – if we were given their real name. Most of the time it can be worked out over the phone. But when we are dealing with a fake name or unable to contact the customer, I will personally write a note under the review expressing the desire to resolve the problem. I’ll leave a name and phone number for the customer to reach us. Rarely do we get a response. But my hope is that potential customers see that we are making an effort to resolve the issue.

What I’ve learned is that customers want companies to listen to them. Listened to – not just heard. They want to feel like they are valued and appreciated. And I do not feel that is too much to ask considering they are forking over their hard earned money to our businesses. When companies take that extra step and interact with the customer, the outcome is pleasant (most of the time). Although a company might operate in a brick and mortar building, its online reputation can keep a potential customer from entering your business. People rely on the opinions of others to choose where they’ll do business. Companies have to keep their online reputation intact. Their bottom line depends on it. 

Crowdsourcing: Ask and you shall receive!

On the surface, crowdsourcing seems like an effective and fun way to generate interest in an idea and maybe get some free content for a project. Whether it’s placing your vote, submitting a video or just making a phone call with pertinent information, there have been many examples of successful crowdsourcing campaigns over the years. And since many of us just watched the Super Bowl, an example of how one particular advertiser implemented crowdsourcing immediately comes to my mind. 

Doritos has used crowdsourcing for many years to get what The Verge writer Chris Plante described as a “decade-long scam for free Super Bowl commercials”. In short, Doritos solicited videos from amateur filmmakers promoting its product and the winning video would be shown during the Super Bowl. For example, in a 2016 crowdsourcing project, five videos were selected and viewers voted for the winner. According to Plante, the five video makers were awarded $10,000 and a trip to Detroit, where they attended a Super Bowl party but not the actual football game. Fans helped select a winner by watching the commercials and then voting on their computer and other smart devices. It’s pretty genius. Just think about all the money the company saved on personnel and filming equipment by not producing its own commercial. And as an added bonus, the good press from the successful crowdsourcing campaign led to PR awards and positive recognition for Doritos. Just take a look at the winning video. (Warning: Prepare yourself for cuteness overload!) I do remember seeing the commercial, but never knew that it came from a crowdsourcing campaign. The quality was exceptional and comparable to other Super Bowl commercials. 

Like many other companies, Doritos uses crowdsourcing to generate free content. It’s a win-win experience for both the company and the people who participate, and especially the winner. But it’s not always fun and games when it comes to crowdsourcing. There are complex issues that are often solved because of crowdsourcing. Let’s look at the CrimeStoppers program. Chances are you’ve probably heard on television or online that you could receive a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in a particular criminal case. Central Alabama CrimeStoppers  is a non-profit organization that works independently from the local police department (although law enforcement officers are on its board of directors) to obtain information in hopes of helping investigators solve crimes. The organization partners with local media to solicit information on its cases. These cases range from missing persons, unsolved crimes, wanted suspects. It even features a “Crime of the Week”. Video and photos of suspects are broadcasted and posted online in hopes that someone will recognize the person and contact authorities. In this case, CrimeStoppers is counting on crowdsourcing to solve these cases. The end result they are striving for is clearly stated on its website: “They committed the crime. YOU helped put them away!”

Police departments located across the country use crowdsourcing as an essential investigative tool. In an article entitled “Here’s Why Law Enforcement Is So Keen on Social Media” by Jimmy Daly of State Tech, he stated that 80% of law enforcement reportedly used social media to solve crimes. This included soliciting crime tips and notifying the public. When a police department shares a picture of a suspect on its social media sites, the goal is to get a response that will help them solve the case quickly. The Atlanta police department often posts surveillance video or photos of suspects on Facebook and Twitter to solicit the public’s help in catching those criminals. Police see social media as an invaluable tool that will help them catch criminals. And with 2.8 billion people who have Facebook accounts, chances are the suspect will be recognized by someone, especially if the post is shared or retweeted. Police also utilize crowdsourcing to get information on missing children. On any given day, you can see a child’s picture and identifying information shared on social media. As Mohammad Mujahed from Yo Magazine states, “Pages like Facebook can aid law enforcement officers in finding missing persons by spreading the word of missing persons cases on a global level.”

So far I’ve discussed both the fun and serious sides of crowdsourcing. But it’s not always that straightforward. Not everyone approves of certain crowdsourcing methods. I was part of a crowdsourcing project that ruffled the feathers of our city officials. As the digital media manager at a local newspaper, I was contacted by a company that operated a website where citizens could report anything from potholes to broken street lights. The digital team thought it was a great idea to have the SeeClickFix website integrate with ours. What harm would it do? We would only be providing additional access to an existing website. We didn’t build the site, but we did embed parts of it into the newspaper’s website. Citizens didn’t actually need us to participate on the site, but we just made it a little easier. When city officials caught wind of it, they were not happy. They insisted they already had a number that residents could call for these type issues. I believe they felt that having a website that listed all the problems that citizens had with city maintenance would cause strife within the affected city departments and it would somehow appear as if they were not doing their job. But we, as the newspaper’s digital team, wanted to provide an alternative. This type of crowdsourcing would give readers another voice and we could possibly glean story ideas. But still, the city did not agree with our decision to promote this site. We moved ahead with partnering with SeeClickFix despite the criticism and opposition from city leaders. If you can tolerate resistance and a little hostility, you’ll see the benefit of this type of crowdsourcing.

Ask and you shall receive! That’s how I think about crowdsourcing sometimes. Its power can be pretty amazing. Crimes can be solved, missing children can be found and everyday people can be transformed into a celebrity as a result of crowdsourcing. However when these campaigns are launched, project leaders have to be ready for any and all types of responses. Being able to decipher and process all the information produced from crowdsourcing is key to obtaining effective and useful results. 

Citizen journalists test limits of trustworthiness and credibility

Anybody can proclaim to be a journalist. All they need is a platform and an audience. And with the addition of social media and all the tools it offers, professionally-trained journalists find themselves up against writers with less experience and training. But who really benefits from citizen journalism? Journalist Tony Rogers describes them as “amateur journalists” who produce news in many forms and are usually digital in a digital format. Rogers, who has taught journalism for 25 years, wrote in “Understanding Citizen Journalism” that “citizen journalists are often the first on-scene for breaking news, getting these stories out more quickly than traditional media reporters.” When amateurs are competing with professionals, it creates a dilemma for readers and viewers who are left trying to decide if the information they are presented with is trustworthy and credible. And on top of that, the methods by which citizen journalists obtain and present information can sometimes be questionable. And that’s where I feel it gets tricky.

There are several cases that come to mind. There’s one in particular that personally affected me. A family member that I treat as my brother was sadly shot one day as he held his son. A citizen journalist, who operates a website known to be a place that publishes news before traditional media organizations, posted the story. But not only did he post the few details that he had, but he also took pictures and posted them as well. At the time, I lived six hours away from my family and wasn’t able to get home in order to find out what was going on. I didn’t feel comfortable calling them every ten minutes for an update. Afterall, my brother was fighting for his life. But it was incredibly frustrating for the family to learn that before my brother could get to the hospital, the citizen journalist had taken pictures and posted them online. I was devastated just to see the scene of the crime. I felt like our family’s privacy was being invaded by someone who had no ethical standards or journalist integrity. But he wasn’t trained to wait until the family was informed of certain details. It was sensational and he got pageviews because of it. That helped to get advertisers whose ads lined the top, bottom, left and right columns on his website. 

Facebook Live has created opportunities for citizen journalists to report from places professional reporters are unable to immediately get to. But because they are not professionally trained, they may “report” information that might not be factual or not ready for release. For example, I was intrigued by a Facebook Live video where a young man was at the scene of a shooting. I remember vividly him saying, “Check on your people. Check on your people. Somebody’s been shot.” I was especially interested in what he was saying because people on my Facebook friend’s list were watching and commenting. This young man that was “reporting” from the scene of the shooting also mentioned the last name of a family in town, as if one of their relatives had been shot. While he was “reporting” I saw other posts that emphatically stated that it was NOT their family. Once the ordeal was over, traditional news media reported that no one had been shot. 

Journalists are often referred to as “gatekeepers”.  Amani Channel, a mass communications graduate student, describes in her thesis entitled “Gatekeeping and Citizen Journalism: A Qualitative Examination of Participatory Newsgathering”, that gatekeeping is a process of how information is selected, vetted, gathered, and shared by reporters and news organizations. Channel stated that the news industry is experiencing a “great” change right now. She went on to list what Joyce Nip, Senior Lecturer of The University of Sydney, describes as the “Second Phase of  Public Journalism”. According to Nip:

Public journalism attempts to engage citizens in both the news making and in the news consumption process. Journalists use town hall meetings, and polls to understand community concerns, and provide feedback to the citizenry in an attempt to help create discussions to reach solutions. The professional journalists maintain their traditional role as gatekeeper, in framing and presentation.

There is evidence of this everyday through blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. And I have come to realize that it has its place in communities. 

But there should be some oversight when it comes to citizen journalism. When they are connected to a reputable news organization, it makes them more credible. When I served as the Digital Media Manager of the Savannah Morning News, there were two things that always kept me on my toes: our blogging platform and our photo sharing website. We allowed our users to set up their own blog through our website. It sounds like a good idea until you find yourself monitoring their posts throughout the day and night for inappropriate comments or misinformation. My team and I were constantly moderating blogs and comments. There was never a shortage of excitement. Many times we were forced to remove or hide certain comments and warn the writer. This took away valuable time from what we loved to do: create digital content. 

But then there was a photo-sharing website we operated called Spotted. We allowed users to upload entire photo galleries for other users to view. And it was very popular. We even recruited volunteers (citizen journalists if you will) to cover events for us. They attended events on our behalf and took lots of pictures. They were proud to state their affiliation with the Savannah Morning News because it gave them credibility. We were delighted to have the help because the digital team couldn’t be in all places at all times. But we also had the authority to reject certain photos if they did not fit our standards. 

A citizen journalist’s connection to a news organization is needed to maintain the integrity of the pieces of journalism produced. It helps to filter out the misinformation before it makes it to readers. It is our job as journalists to maintain integrity while providing accurate, unbiased information. Professional journalists and citizen journalists can work together to get more issues covered in order to keep people well-informed.

Social media forces big communication changes

Social media has made it easy to share those important moments in our lives, especially photos and milestones. It’s hard for some people to imagine life before social media and how we were able to share those special moments with our friends and family. But it wasn’t that long ago when we had to use other methods like email. I think back on one exciting time in my life when I attended a music awards show in Los Angeles. After the show was over, my sister and I hopped in a limo and headed over to the afterparty that was in a hotel near Hollywood Boulevard. The party was amazing. There were celebrities at every turn. We were snapping pictures with our digital camera because we didn’t own a smartphone. No posts to Instagram or SnapChat. No “going live” on Facebook. The whole experience seems like a lifetime ago! 

When I arrived back home from the trip, I desperately wanted to share all my photos with my friends. So how would I do that? Even as the digital media manager at a newsroom, Facebook was still very new to me. So what method did I choose? Email of course! I created one email and attached all my photos and included the addresses of all my friends. As they started to receive the message, I would get replies stating mostly how it looked like we had a great time. (Because we did!)  That’s how my friends and I communicated about those special moments in our lives. But how annoying must that have been?! I wouldn’t be able to tolerate a mass email now. 

These are a three of the pictures I was excited to share with my friends. They included photos with actors Boris Kodjoe and Derek Luke along with Omarosa Manigault, author and former reality television star.

I know It’s hard to believe that Facebook has not always been a dominant traffic driver but people really did use email to share items you now see everyday on social media. Confession: A few of those same photos from the awards show and afterparty became one of the first photo galleries I ever shared on Facebook. I just put them there for fun because I had already emailed them to my friends. I actually didn’t know much about the platform. I had no idea how it would change communication methods in such a relatively short amount of time. 

When I returned to work after that fabulous trip, I was anxious to share my pictures on a site we had at our company called Spotted. The site, hosted by our newspaper, allowed people in the community to upload galleries of their photos for everyone to see. Members of my digital team also took photos of community events and uploaded them there. It was our own photo sharing site and back in its day, it was very popular. But then came Facebook and later Instagram and those two platforms alone crushed their local competition.

Over the years, Facebook has grown into the go-to platform for sharing. And when a post goes viral… oh my! As users, we have to check it out to see what all the buzz is about. These posts vary from videos, motivational quotes, photos, or other posts such as news stories. If it’s what people are talking about, then we have to see for ourselves. Social media has the power to make things happen! Just ask Mister Splashy Pants. 

In a TedTalk, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit described how a campaign to name a humpback whale turned into something much bigger. The whale, known now as “Mister Splashy Pants”, became an Internet sensation, complete with merchandise. But the point Ohanian was trying to make is that you too can make a splash online. He made four great points about social media:

  • The Internet levels the playing field
  • It costs nothing to get content online
  • Be genuine
  • Lose control and don’t take yourself so seriously
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Traditional news media can’t afford to lose control on social media. Viewers and readers look to these organizations for truth and stability. And when a big story breaks, oftentimes they’ll take to social media with the news first. Facebook is one place where we can count on news media and our friends to show us what’s important. Traffic to the media’s website used to spike when stories were posted on social media. I’ve witnessed it myself. There was pure joy on the face of this digital media manager when I posted a story on our organization’s Facebook page and traffic spiked. We used a program called ChartBeat. It monitored our traffic in real-time. Instantly, we were able to see the stories that our readers were most interested in. 

Buzzfeed, a digital news and information source, used to rely on Facebook to get traffic to their site. But as Edmund Lee, a reporter with the New York Times, put it, “Facebook’s changes to its News Feed in recent years increased the visibility of posts from your aunts and uncles while playing down articles from professional publishers.” That’s been the case not only for news websites, but we’re seeing that with posts on Facebook business pages. I provide consultations to small business owners looking to expand their Facebook reach. They are proud of themselves that they have established a presence on Facebook. And I think it’s great too. But the disappointment comes when they see that no one is commenting or liking their posts. There’s practically no engagement. And I have to explain that it’s not necessarily their fault. Facebook just doesn’t put a priority on posts from business pages. It would much rather you pay to “boost” your posts in order to get it in front of more eyeballs. Afterall, Facebook is a business. 

The bottom-line is that while social media is awesome and great for free exposure, we cannot count on it to drive traffic back to our businesses and organizations. As social media continues to evolve and business models change, we can expect that exposure to decline even further. Businesses have to be sustained. That includes social media platforms and the mom and pop shops on the corner. Meanwhile, social media users have to take everything that it offers (which is plenty) and use it to their advantage.

Get on board with digital or get left behind

By my children’s standards, I’m old. In fact, pretty ancient. That’s because I actually lived in a time before the Internet.They’ve always had it and don’t remember a time when it didn’t exist. While I think that times were so much simpler back then, I do understand and appreciate the convenience the Internet created by allowing me to utilize my smart phone throughout my day. Applications keep my day planned. I use it instead of a watch. I communicate constantly with family members. It stays with me no matter where I go.

I remember the day I first heard about the “Internet”. It feels like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my off-campus apartment while attending Troy State University. My husband came home from school with excitement all over his face. He had been at the school with a young man who had shown him something called the Internet. My husband was so fascinated with it! He began to describe “how cool it was” to just type in something on the computer and the “Internet” would find it and show it to you. That was just the beginning of our family’s love for the Internet. Little did I know, almost 30 years later, the Internet and all its offerings is what I would use to make a living and provide for my family.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I was a bit of a laggard when it came to adopting the idea that a smart device would allow me to do my job better. These devices were being distributed to the newsroom staff at the Savannah Morning News where I worked as the Digital Media Manager at the time. I’m glad I didn’t resist too much because the entire digital team utilized smart devices and set a great example for the rest of the newsroom. Plus, those devices provided a way for us to take pictures and video and post them to our website quickly. And that was just the beginning.

I couldn’t imagine covering the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah without having a digital-first strategy. This event brought almost a million people to downtown Savannah. Taking advantage of that audience was always a top priority for me. One year I was determined to provide pertinent information on a mobile site. This was before mobile sites were very popular. My team and I added all kinds of information including maps, parade routes, and other details we thought visitors would need. After much promotion and advertising about this new mobile application, we were ready for our big debut on St. Patrick’s Day. However, we discovered that not many people could access the site because there were too many people in the area! I learned a big lesson that day about the limitations of digital.

Photo by Pressmaster on

According to the Pew Research Center nine-in-ten American adults use the Internet. Another interesting fact is that “Nearly three quarters of the world will use just their smartphones to access the internet by 2025,” according to Lucy Handly, a reporter at CNBC. With the obvious popularity of these devices, you wonder why all businesses and organizations would not take advantage of everything the Internet and smart devices have to offer. But just like I was, there are plenty of laggards that remain. But if the plan is to increase business, it won’t be long before they jump on board. 

Businesses must take advantage of the features that mobile devices offer to enhance its products and other offerings. There is simply no way around mobile in 2021. We’ve all seen how it works for media organizations, retail businesses and even restaurants. But I didn’t really know what a vital role it would play in my new job as a marketing manager for seven heavy-duty truck dealerships. But what I did know is that it was my job to figure it out. Bringing my digital background into a job like this has been interesting to say the least. I realize how important it is to have a mobile strategy in this business. But I feel like making it a mobile first strategy will take some work. 

We have made some great strides within my company as far as our digital efforts are concerned. It has been gratifying watching as the digital platforms are made a priority among the sales team. They have seen how it benefits the sales process. The buyer has so much information available to them before they even step foot into any of our dealerships. Often they start with Google to begin their search for a new vehicle or to find a repair shop that can take care of their truck. My staff has to be smarter to stay one step ahead of them. We have discovered that customers are no longer dependent on coming into a dealership to discuss a truck. Randall-Reilly, a company that helps market the trucking industry, released data that showed that 70% of research is done by customers online before they even talk to the dealership. They do this through Google, YouTube, even Facebook and Twitter.

A truck salesperson uses several mobile tools to update inventory, share information with customers digitally, and communicate with new buyers and also staff members. (Photo by Amanda Granger)

Because I sit next to two salespeople at our Montgomery dealership, I hear firsthand the conversations that potential buyers have with our sales team. On several occasions, I’ve heard “I’ll just go look on your website”, when referring to our online inventory. Potential customers would make these statements as they held up their phones and walked away. After witnessing these types of scenarios over and over again, I knew as the marketing manager, I had to make mobile a priority – even if the sales team didn’t immediately appreciate the benefits.

I am able to view analytics that show me the percentage of people coming to our company website using a mobile device. This often gives me the information I need to prove that we have to focus on digital. Although real-time analytics fluctuate throughout the day, it’s interesting to see desktop and mobile change flip-flop between first and second. However, I have noticed a trend. Mobile, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet, tends to dominate. 

If a company doesn’t have a digital first strategy, that’s fine. Needs and audiences vary among businesses. But if a digital strategy is non-existent, then there’s a problem. The reliance on mobile devices by the general public is too great not to capitalize on it. Leaving it out of your business will cause your business to be left behind. Consumers have too many choices. They will surely opt instead for businesses that provide convenient, relevant and necessary data on devices they can easily access.

Transition from “New Media” to “Digital Media”

Back in the early 2000s, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a news producer. I wanted to enter the exciting field of new media. I recall how the television station I was working for at the time had just launched its website. There was a team of web journalists dedicated to adding the reporter’s stories to the website after they aired. And if there was any breaking news that happened during the news cycle, they posted it. News releases were also shared online to keep the website updated. For some reason, I was fascinated by the web team. So I taught myself HTML4 and when an opening became available, I applied. I was given the opportunity to be part of the web team. By this time, it was just two of us plus a manager. I remember it being so exciting every morning when we received the analytics for the previous day. Our goal was to reach at least 100,000 page views. On the days we achieved that goal, we were ecstatic.

I was thankful for the forethought of the Belo executives. Belo was the corporation, based in Dallas, TX, that owned the television station I worked for in Charlotte. They had created Belo Interactive because they recognized the importance of  “new media” or so I thought. I believe it was in 2004 when I was summoned to the human resources department and told that Belo Interactive was dissolving and that I was being laid off. I was devastated. I absolutely loved that job. But there was nothing I could do. 

Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of my digital career because I went on to work at places that recognized and appreciated the need for someone with “new media” experience. I reveled in my ability to share my digital knowledge with print reporters and editors. Some were open to the idea that the news industry was changing, while others thought there was no way it could topple newspaper giants.

Fast forward to 2021, and it’s amazing to see the prevalence of digital media. It’s crucial to the success of any news organization. Because of this 5G world that we live in, everyone wants their news and information yesterday! No one likes to wait until the newspaper is printed or when the 6 o’clock news is aired. Impatience is a direct result of our desire for speed. Big tech companies are constantly trying to find ways to make things faster and faster. Simon Lockington, Director of Global Solution Architecture, reported in “The Future of 5G: What Will the Impact Be?” that 5G networks are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks.

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Consumers’ impatience is what directly threatens traditional media. The need for information, in small digestible forms, is what drives what is formally known as “new media”. Newspapers, that are supported by ads and circulation, have seen a drastic decline in revenue as a result of digital platforms. Let’s think about classified ads for a minute. During my days at the newspaper, there were people dedicated to selling that section. They have a person who was responsible for receiving phone calls from customers who wanted to place an ad. Business writer John Reinan referred to classifieds as the “golden goose” of newspapers. Reinan reported that newspaper classified advertising peaked in 2000 at $19.6 billion. But when digital products such as Craigslist were published, it killed the newspapers’ golden goose. What was different about Craigslist? It was free. How could newspapers compete with that? It couldn’t.

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Even today, newspapers struggle to compete when it comes to advertising. Google and Facebook are now the culprits taking money that would have otherwise had gone to newspaper companies.  The Pew Research Center reports that newspaper print ad revenue fell by nearly two-thirds between 2006 and 2016, from $49 billion to about $18 billion.  In addition, Research from eMarketer shows companies will be spending more than $129 billion on digital advertising in 2019, and is predicted to balloon to more than $172 billion by 2021. It’s hard to recover from such losses, especially when digital is not your forte. Some newspaper organizations have tried to develop competing products to recoup some revenue. But those efforts have not been met with much success. 

People consume so much news on a daily basis and most of that is online. News organizations are constantly competing for readers’ attention. That includes television, print, radio and websites. The Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming amount of consumers get their news online. It found in a 2018 survey that 34% of adults received news online and that’s a number that continues to grow. As a matter of fact, it reported that “nearly as many Americans prefer to get their local news online as prefer the TV”. But where does that leave newspapers? Readers desperately need a source for reliable, trustworthy, and verified news. This doesn’t mean that other forms of media don’t fact-check their news reports. However, I feel that newspapers have a reputation for taking time to properly research stories and do not publish those stories until that research is done. 

How do newspapers stay relevant in an era where time is of the essence? They’ll have to use their digital products to provide content that can be seen no where else. Consider video. Obtaining and sharing exclusive video content online is one way for newspapers to compete digitally. Video that is shocking, unusual or exclusive usually gets the most attention. But newspapers, and other news organizations should be sure to add a watermark if they want credit. Because in today’s digital age, the video will be taken and shared across the web, with or without the organization’s permission.  

Nevertheless, the competition among news organizations is fierce. Each medium, from television to print to digital are working hard to produce timely content for consumers. But one thing is for sure, digital, the new kid on the block, is keeping everyone on their toes. Digital is here to stay so developing new strategies to incorporate it is essential to being the preferred choice of consumers.

Media Companies Forced to Reallocate, Realign, Refocus

Many media companies have discovered that times are changing and they are changing quickly. In order to keep up with the times and to remain profitable, companies have had to change their way of doing business. From local television channels, to cable channels and even newspapers, crucial decisions were made that produced much-needed adjustments for their business models.

The way people view shows and movies has changed. “Cutting the cord” is the catch-phrase used by people who are getting rid of cable TV in exchange for an antenna. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase over and over again. I decided to join the club too. Once my Direct TV reached what I felt was an insane amount, it was time for a change. Plus, I realized that I just didn’t watch much television. Instead of paying to watch television shows, my viewing habits changed. I’m satisfied with whatever show or movie is shown through our antenna-powered television. 

The television industry is facing some big dilemmas. How does it stay relevant and profitable? Similar to how the print industry had to adjust to the immediacy that television brings, TV is now having to make some critical adjustments. TV is constantly fighting the digital realm and all it is offering to customers.

Instead of traditional television viewing, apps seem to be the way television is now connecting to its viewers. I constantly hear on-air promotions and other advertisements promoting the use of the apps. However, I find it interesting that channels are constantly promoting their apps, but many require users to have a cable TV account. That sort of defeats the purpose of cutting the cord right? I haven’t really figured that one out yet. But that’s a blog post for another day! There are free apps and websites that allow viewers to watch some pretty good content. For example, on Christmas Eve I was able to watch the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the Freebie app, while other apps wanted me to pay.  I do realize that the same show was on-air through the antenna on the local NBC affiliate, but I appreciated the convenience of watching it at the time I chose.

Big businesses that appreciate the benefit of digital products such as apps are getting into the game too. But not just with their own company app. Last year, communications giant Verizon ran a promotion that had people talking and downloading! Its special promotion partnered with Disney to give one free year of access to Disney+ certainly attracted millions of customers. It also created a lot of chatter on social media. People were sharing the offer and talking about the shows and movies they couldn’t wait to see on the streaming channel. The move was so popular that Netflix shares fell after Verizon’s announcement. Partnerships like the one between Verizon and Disney create even more competition among traditional television and streaming networks.

It’s not unheard of to pay for digital access. Many websites charge to view what they describe as premium content. From newspapers to entertainment sites, this is how they bring in revenue.  While sports apps like ESPN want you to pay for certain access, some companies do appreciate the need to give customers something for free. Bloomberg’s Ira Boudway and Max Chafkin pointed out in an article called “ESPN Has Seen the Future of TV and They’re Not Really Into It” that even CBS and Turner Broadcasting allow some viewing online for free.

Of course we like free video content. But what about news stories? Should there be a paywall there when you click on the story that stops you from reading the details? It frustrates me when I see a headline while I’m scrolling on social media and I’m asked to pay to view it. At first I start thinking about how unfair it is to readers to post it on a public forum and then ask for money. But I have to remember that I once worked in a newsroom and the content is valuable. 

Reporters spend lots of time doing interviews and writing their stories. Shouldn’t their content be considered a product for sale? I’ve heard the argument that reporters are paid a salary, so they are compensated for their work. But you have to think about any other business. They pay employees to produce a product that is then sold to consumers. It’s the same concept. Nonetheless, it’s a frustrating process for readers. And I have to wonder if the paywall really brings in enough revenue to justify losing page views and possibly readers.

Newspaper websites are where I tend to run into the paywall most. Newspapers have had to adjust, just like television to remain relevant. Moving content online seems to be the key. Instead of being a print company, they are now multimedia companies. However,  if you commit to being a multimedia company, you must produce multimedia elements that compliment your product. That doesn’t mean posting print stories on the website. It means adding audio, video, interactive graphics or other multimedia options to the package online.

During my days as an online editor at the newspaper in the mid-2000s, one of my job duties was to ensure that reporter stories made it online. Digital was new and reporters questioned if it was really important. Most reporters saw it as just another “thing to do” and not necessarily essential to the news cycle. Fortunately, I had prior experience as a web journalist and knew the difference it could make in coverage and our reputation as a news leader. There were some early adopters, but for others (typically older members of the newsroom), it was a hard task to complete.

Fast forward to 20 years later and digital platforms are not only necessary, but expected for a newspaper to remain relevant. Digital platforms also level the playing field. Newspapers no longer have to wait to publish their investigations or breaking news it uncovers. It has the same opportunity as television and radio. The print industry has had to refocus and reallocate its efforts. This industry is not alone. Other media companies have had to adapt so that they can continue to produce revenue. 

This is Just the Beginning

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I am wrapping up the first of 10 classes in TROY University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program called Leadership and Media Strategies. Strategic communications! Who knew it encompassed so much! I honestly did not know what to expect when I started this journey. 

I graduated from TROY almost 25 years ago. I was hesitant about starting school again but I knew I needed this program in order to remain competitive in the workforce. This course has confirmed that I am doing something right on my current job because I see that some of the same principles discussed in class are being applied daily at work. 

There were so many great topics discussed that included the effectiveness of social media, monitoring advertising and even reactions to a PR crisis. However, highlights for me were how to be an effective listener, looking at the differences between a manager and leader and the importance of being a servant leader.

Effective Listening: I learned the hard way about listening when I was accused of not listening to a person I supervised. I personally felt I had listened and digested every word and I even relayed that to her. But she disagreed. She said my actions told a different story. Even the gestures I made during our exchange indicated that I wasn’t listening, according to her. I’ve learned that it is possible to hear but not listen.

Manager vs. Leader: Leaders have to have vision and are risk-takers. But managers are important too because they take care of day-to-day business. I am definitely a manager and I need to work on being a leader. 

Servant Leadership: Being genuine with people and having the desire to build relationships is what stood out to me about servant leadership. I’m so thankful to work with servant leaders everyday!

I look forward to what else this journey to obtaining my degree in Strategic Communications holds for me. Just so you know, you might not hear from me weekly for the time being. But I’ll be back!