How Social Media Really Makes Workers More Productive

If you follow social media trends while you surf the Web, then you will have noted that one of the biggest topics on social media sites is, naturally, the effectiveness of social media. I spotted an article last week on Mashable entitled How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive by T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist. As McCann points out, the lines between professional and personal social media use are blurring, particularly with the new Millennial workforce. Companies that are prepared to acknowledge the fact that their workers live and work online and find a way to embrace social media as part of their workflow will go farther recruiting the best and the brightest, but you still need to understand the best way to actually apply social media tools. As McCann says,

“The trick is to realize that it’s not about the tool itself, but your ability to step back and analyze the tool’s real value in helping you accomplish tasks. If you’re not evaluating the way that you’re using social media to get things done, then you’re probably becoming increasingly inefficient because of it.”

So I wanted to share some of his observations on how to get the most out of social media. These rules certainly apply in marketing and media relations, but they are also universal.

1. Scalable networking. Networking now takes on many forms. The old methods of meeting peers and prospects at trade shows, over lunch, at open houses, etc., still apply, but the advent of Web 2.0 makes the channels for connection global. As I have noted in this blog before, social media users tend to be tribal. so making connections with others through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media channel gives you a built-in sense of camaraderie; most people tend to respond to social media contacts before they will respond to email. You can use tweets, blog comments, Facebook comments, and other means to build online intimacy with a wider range of contacts. And the Web makes it possible to connect with thousands rather than dozens. The trick is to make those connections meaningful and respect the tribal connection, so you can uplevel the conversation when you need to.

2. Uncovering valuable, actionable information. McCann notes that information overload is nothing new, and tools like Twitter and Facebook can contribute to information overload if you fail to use them properly. The key is to filter the information, so you are getting pertinent, actionable information. Filter the feeds to distinguish between personal and professional data streams. Identify those data points relevant to your job and focus on them. McCann uses the analogy of stockbrokers filtering incoming data feeds from trusted friends and sources, gathering data in real-time for their clients. You need to set up social media data feeds that support your professional decision-making and push the rest aside as less irrelevant noise.

3. Social media is about collaboration. Web 2.0 levels the playing field when it comes to collaboration. It not only promotes collaboration, but it provides the tools to help you collaborate in the most productive fashion possible. As McCann points out, with Web 2.0 the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Social media helps make collaboration organic, without having to rely on proprietary software or platforms to achieve your goal.

4. It’s not what you use, but how you use social media tools. One of the biggest challenges with social media is the plethora of available channels. Don’t try to filter everything. Instead, identify those tools that make a real difference in your work life. McCann recommends ranking your social media tools in order of “must have.” Which social media tools do you really consider essential to your professional success, and which are really “nice to have” and not essential? This will help you optimize you social media flow and determine if you are getting the most from your online investment. Stay focused, and mine your most valuable channels more deeply rather than trying to use a shotgun approach.

So as with all tools, the efficacy of social media is in how you apply it to meet your professional needs. If you use social media sites to strict professional advantage, without distraction or fooling yourself that posting the latest kids’ soccer pictures or what you had for lunch will advance your professional standing. It’s largely a combination of savvy, focus, and discipline.

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Is Twitter Really Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

bad-twitter-300x212 I have been working on a social media strategy for a client whose target market is the banking industry – not consumers but professional bankers. So the question arises, do bankers use social media? The answer, of course, is yes and no. There certainly are LinkedIn forums that specialize in bank marketing and bank-related issues. But are Facebook and Twitter a logical extension of a social media campaign aimed at a narrow professional audience?

I recently read about a new study from Edison Research that debunks a lot of the conventional wisdom from other marketing experts about the power of Twitter. According to the article posted on Marketing Charts, while there is a high recognition level for Twitter, recognition does not necessarily turn into action:

“The Edison study doesn’t discount the popularity of Twitter – in fact it reports that 87% of respondents have heard of Twitter, compared to 88% who had heard of Facebook. The findings also suggest that Twitter users are hyper-aware of brands on Twitter. The study found that 42% learn about products and services via Twitter and 41% provide opinions about products/services. An additional 19% seek customer support. A grand total of 49% follow brands or companies….
“Here is the rub: the data also suggests that Twitter users do not necessarily convert brand awareness to usage, Social Media Today says. Although 87% of Americans have heard of Twitter – only 7% actually use it. Compare that to Facebook, where 88% have heard of it, and 41% have a profile, which is a conversion rate approaching 50%, Social Media Today notes.Clearly some companies belong on Twitter – namely brands that are seeking to shape consumers’ opinions and possibly engage them in a conversation.”

So Twitter is not a marketing panacea (but what is?). The study reveals that there are some companies that probably won’t benefit from a Twitter campaign, including:

  • Companies that don’t have a mobile strategy or presence. There is a strong correlation between Twitter and handheld devices (63 percent of Twitter users access the network from a mobile device, and 73 percent send SMS text messages).
  • Mass-market brands with well-known products will probably not benefit from a Twitter program. These consumers already have a well-formed opinion about such brands, and a Twitter discussion may create more opportunities to denigrate the brand rather than support it.
  • Small businesses that don’t have a strong online or social media presence. This seems like a no-brainer. If you haven’t created an online marketing foundation, then Twitter can’t help you build an online presence. As a micro-blogging tool, Twitter is an ideal extension of other promotional programs, giving y9ou another opportunity to drop online bread crumbs that lead back to home base. It doesn’t function well on its own, without a foundation.

I also have to wonder about the value of Twitter for targeted marketing programs aimed at a niche group, like bankers. My own research shows that bankers are using Twitter as part of their own programs to attract new depositors, which makers perfect sense. Banks and credit unions want to leverage social media to communicate directly with customers, but are bankers turning to Twitter to learn about banking trends and rates? It’s hard to say. However, if you can find a way to offer insightful, valuable information in 140 characters or less,  then you can build a strong Twitter following, or at least include Twitter as part of your strategy to get prospects to find the path to your online doorstep.

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The Numbers Don’t Lie – Social Media is Producing for Small Business

I often get interesting tidbits from clients and professional contacts. My associates at Gumas Advertising recently sent me an interesting item from MediaPost that shows that social media is on the rise with small and medium-sized businesses. This from an interesting research post on “Social Media Adoption Yields New Customers For Small Businesses”:

“The third wave of the Small Business Success Index, by Network Solutions and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, reports social media adoption by small businesses has doubled from 12% to 24% in the last year. Small businesses are increasingly investing in applications including blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.”

Social media is working for everyone looking to expand their business. Key findings from this latest survey include:

  • 75% surveyed have a company page on a social networking site
  • 61% use social media for identifying and attracting new customers
  • 57% have built a network through a site like LinkedIn
  • 45% expect social media to be profitable in the next 12 months

Businesses are finding that they can cost-effectively prospect for new customers through social media outlets (61%), and they can expand brand awareness without breaking their budget. And social media is a great way to interact with customers.

Of course, there are downsides as well. Half of those surveyed said that social media takes more time than expected. And 17% suffer from what I call Yelp! Syndrome and are afraid that social media leaves them open to public criticism; and 6% feel social media has actually hurt their businesses more than helping build business.

Still, social media continues to be the new driver for businesses of all shapes and sizes. It’s cost-effective, and has proven itself as a means to promote customer loyalty and bring in new customers. And that’s good news for consultants. As Janet Wagner, director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland who is quoted in the research, says that “Social media levels the playing field for small businesses… ” And it provides new areas of opportunity for those of us who can help businesses harness social media.

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More Twitter Types: Where are You in This Picture?

Twitter continues to gain momentum as a marketing and networking tool, and with that momentum comes a new set of rules. All social interaction has rules of etiquette, and since Twitter offers a new form of conversation, it comes with its own set of rules. We already touched on some of the “Twitter types” in the last blog post, but Twitter is a new medium, which means the rules are still being defined.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for his addition to the Twitter conversationalist profiles. Kawasaki has identified six Twitter types  (as opposed to the four in our last post) and there is even a downloadable poster for easy reference. (Don’t you hate people who pigeonhole everything into categories?) The question is, which type are you?

The Newbie – This is the novice who has decided to chronicle his or her life on Twitter. Those new to Twitter think it’s all about where you are having coffee or watching paint dry, and these types of Tweeters reinforce that notion. The Newbie has a choice: evolve to a higher level of conversation, or risk having your tweets left on the “block” list. Apply a little understanding here and see how they grow.

The Brand – This Twitterer understands the power of Twitter to promote personal brand, so the dichotomy is how to balance self-promotion with conversation; how to promote yourself without baking it too obvious. Many of these Twitterers are worth watching.

The Smore – The term is short for “social media whore.” This Tweeter is all about “what do I get out of this?” These Tweeters see Twitter as a self-promotional tool, nothing more. Some are obnoxious and others are personable, so tolerance is a good approach, if they aren’t too over the top.

The Bitch – This is the Twitterer whose mating call is “kvetch!” Kawasaki calls them the “shock jocks” of Twitter, but basically they are bitter Twitterers who complain about people who have figured out social media. Block them!

The Maven – This is the self-proclaimed expert in his or her field, and their Tweets offer real insight into their profession. If you are looking for gurus in your field to follow who can offer insight, then follow the Maven by all means.

The Mensch – These types of Twitter birds are rare, but incredibly helpful. They offer assistance where needed.  These are the online altruists whose mission is to help their fellow followers. These are rare birds, but when you find one, follow and adore them.

So consider your Twitter strategy and think about which Twitter type best fits your strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all (I told you the pigeonholes don’t work). But it’s interesting to consider different approaches to Twitter and how microblogging continues to evolve as a marketing and branding tool.

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Watch the Birdie: Vanity Fair Article Brings Twitter Mainstream, Sort Of…

The "Tweethears" of Vanity Fair: (l to r) Julia Roy, Sarah Evans, Stefanie Michaels, Felicia Day, Sarah Austin, and Amy Jo Martin


Well, they say that sex sells, and I guess sex can sell social media as well as anything else. That must have been what the editors at Vanity Fair had in mind when they commissioned the article on “America’s Tweethearts,” which is running in the February issue. 

For those of us who are serious about social media, this puff piece is a disservice to the power of Twitter. You should read it, if for no other reason than to see what kind of treatment social media is getting in the mainstream media. The article is about six successful entrepreneurs who have built a following on Twitter to support their personal brands. These women, social strategist Julia Roy, PR professional Sarah Evans, travel journalist Stefanie Michaels, actress Felicia Day, lifecaster Sarah Austin, and marketing pro Amy Jo Martin, have figured out how to harness Twitter to gain a following of thousands, or millions. I follow some of these ladies online, and I know they are not vapid or brainless, but that is how they are portrayed in this article. To quote from Felicity Day’s blog

“Well, despite the overwhelming insinuation, these women ALL of them are self-made, business entrepreneurs. They aren’t skating by on their good looks, they have businesses. In some of their cases, with professional sports teams and major brands, they help steer the online presence of empires. They are a new kind of savvy business person, cutting the middle man out. Carving and creating new professions. Most importantly, in this celebrity culture of “Jersey Shore” fame, they aren’t just “famous” for being “famous” as the article implies. They have influence in an emerging and important arena. I guess that just wasn’t an interesting angle?  I mean, we’re practically naked in trench coats, who needs MORE zing?! 

That’s the point. Sex sells, and the image of six attractive women dressed in suggestive attire will trump whatever they might want to say that is important. They could be advocating en end to terrorism or selling snow cones – it wouldn’t matter, the message would be lost. And as Mark Drapeau points out, “These ladies were the focus of an article published in a print magazine about people and vanity. The magazine doesn’t have a track record of understanding technology very well, or using it themselves.” 

So no matter what your level of outrage about this article, whether you are offended that it seems racist or because it is sexist, remember that it’s the media that is the message. If these attractive entrepreneurs are going to be blinded by the flashbulbs and pose for this photo, then the outcome is a foregone conclusion. You can’t be too offended because this is, after all, Vanity Fair, and not a technical or business journal. Twitter is for the masses, and as Drapeau points out, it even has a silly name so why should we take it so seriously? 

Twitter, like any publishing medium, is only as serious as you want to make it. It can be a serious marketing and branding tool, or it can be just for fun, like this article. If nothing else, the article raises awareness for Twitter and highlights its popularity. Who knows, maybe this kind of exposure will turn that $1 billion valuation for Twitter the company into real revenue. 

So where do you stand on this article? Amused? Annoyed? Ambivalent? Let me know. 

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Online Experiments Make the Point – Social Media Works!

young_frankenstein_doc_smallI have run across some interesting experiments in social networking this week.

I want to give Larry Brauner a nod for trying a different kind of social media experiment. Larry is one of many social media gurus I have been following and he has come up with an innovative experiment he is calling the 4+ Day Blog and Website Promotion Event and Social Media Party. This is a web experiment in conjunction with Larry’s 58th birthday. For 96 hours, Larry will be soliciting open commentary from all of his online connections and, as part of the experiment, he plans to comment on every single submission and repost/retweet every comment and submit as many as he can to social media bookmarks. So basically, for four days, Larry has appointed himself as a one-man clearing house for online commentary.

Cool idea.

And more importantly, it will demonstrate the power of social networking in an interesting and tangible way. Those of us who join in will be able to track how the information disseminates, and watching the tendrils of the web at work. I read somewhere that the cool thing about the web is that, like a spider’s web, if you touch it in one place the effects can be felt everywhere.

I also want to thank David Meerman Scott for his kind words about my last blog post, but also for sharing his holiday Twitter experiment on his blog, WebInkNow. Over the holidays, David had to explain Twitter to his brother, who was skeptical about its value. Rather than trying to explain Twitter, David posted a tweet to his 33,000 followers:

My brother Peter doesn’t understand Twitter. “It’s weird – who cares what you do?” Can you guys help explain please!!

What was the response? I’ll let David explain in his own words:

“Isn’t it amazing how nearly 50 people can answer something, each in 140 characters or less, and in just a few minutes you have a better explanation than any one person could possibly think of in a lifetime! And people jumped in from all over (Coogee, Australia and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic to name two).”

The proof is in the response. Social media just works, especially if you know how to use it effectively. So try your own experiments and please share the results. There are still skeptics out there who need convincing.

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Embracing Social Media Means Letting Go of Control

WhisperThere is a prime rule about social networking that PR and marketing people have difficulty adhering to, or believing – it’s letting go of the message. To be effective you need to let your social networks build the buzz, if there is a buzz to be built, and trust your network to keep the momentum going and keep it upbeat.

If you are a student of social media, then this concept should not be foreign to you. If you are familiar with David Meerman’s Scott’s book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR,  then you are already familiar with the notion of letting go of the message. Scott advocates shifting away from trying to send a message and instead, tapping into the viral marketing of the web by engaging in the conversation. The power of the online conversation will move your brand message faster and more effectively than a one-way marketing pitch. Consider what happens of you try to control or dominate a conversation in a meeting or at a cocktail party; pretty soon you will be talking to yourself. The same is true online, which is why you need to engage in conversation and let go of the message.

And I want to thank C.C. Chapman for inspiring this blog post. If you haven’t checked out his podcast, Managing the Gray, I recommend it. Managing the Gray is all about “no control PR.” I was catching up on podcasts over the holidays and was struck by C.C.’s Veteran’s Day interview with MAJ Mary Constantino talking about ArmyStrongStories. I’ve blogged about how the U.S. Air Force is harnessing Web 2.0 technology, and this podcast interview is another great example of how the U.S. Army is promoting its brand with the help of “no control” social media.

ArmyStrongStoriesArmyStrongStories gives you unedited stories from the men and women serving in the U.S. both here and in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. It’s a powerful recruiting tool for the Army, since it gives interested parties a candid “day-in-the-life” look at what it’s like to serve. Some of the posts are quite interesting, including everything from mind sweeping to dentistry, complete with pictures. Naturally, sensitive information about troop movements and covert activities aren’t included, but it’s surprising that the military, which is traditionally known for controlling its brand with an iron grip, has given such latitude to its recruits to share their experiences and speak their mind.

There is a lesson here from which every brand manager will benefit. If you can learn to plant the seed of your story and let it go, social media will help it grow. You need to understand how to plant the seed effectively by becoming part of the online conversation, but you can’t micromanage it. I heard an interesting description of the Web today. It is like a spider web in that a rustle in one part creates a ripple across the entire web. Your best promotion strategy is to make a ripple and watch it work.

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What are Your PRedictions for 2010? Everything Old Is New Again

crystal_ballIt’s the time of year when all good pundits dust off their crystal balls to predict what the coming year will bring. I have been looking on the Web to see what the PR gurus are offering as PR predictions, and there seems to be some consistency:

  • More consolidation of PR agencies as big agencies gobble up smaller ones;
  • Growth will return, although with a cautious optimism as the year starts out slowly for some; and most interesting
  • The current boom in social media will morph into something more substantial and more sustainable.

Some PR pundits are predicting a social media gold rush as new social media players flood the market seeing attention, which could mean a boom for PR as well. Here’s Lou Hoffman’s prediction as cited in Media Bistro:

“Virtually every Ph.D. student who can say ‘algorithm’ and chew gum at the same time devotes their thesis to building a social media monitoring tool. Each is convinced he or she has cracked the code on the best way to capture every word, visual and action that transpires in this alternative universe called social media. These 500+ companies scamper to find a PR agency, creating a dotcom-like boom for the PR industry.” Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency

I believe that we will see the luster of social media start to dim as companies start looking to get more from social media branding. As David Mullen points out in his blog, Communications Catalyst, PR professionals will start to learn that the blog/Facebook/Twitter holy trinity is what he calls a “three-trick pony” for social media. PR professionals will have to go beyond the social media basics and dig deeper into their clients’ business and their brand to drive awareness and create value.

I agree with Mullen that if PR agencies don’t crack the code on social media soon, the emerging new media ad agencies are going to dominate here. I have already seen a number of agencies successfully step into the social media arena and offer very effective programs as an extension of pay-per-click and web marketing programs.

Once again, PR is going to have to demonstrate its real value to stay in the game in 2010. If you have been reading this blog, then you know that traditional media outlets like newspapers are either going under or struggling to survive, which means our role as media professionals has to evolve with the times. Mullen predicts that the lines between advertising and PR will start blurring. They are already are. In tough times, you have to be able to demonstrate that your communications program will add to your clients’ bottom line. Smart ad agencies and marketing agencies are creating programs that do just that, and they are using tactics like social media to do it. With the value of media relations increasingly in question, I see a turf war brewing between PR and other marketing and advertising agencies for client programs.

So it looks like old fashioned values are going to be new again. It’s up to smart PR people to take a hard look at their clients’ programs to identify where they can provide that deeper value that has a positive impact on sales. And they have to be able to show that value by measuring the results. We all will need to improve our game and remind ourselves the rules haven’t really changed with the  New Year.

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The Paper Wall Between Editorial and Advertising is Burning

soapbox-imageThe face of journalism as we have known it is undergoing a facelift. Print publications are under increasing pressure to find new revenue streams, which is placing new pressure on newspapers and magazines to adapt their journalistic approach to meet the needs of both advertiser and subscribers.

One indicator was a recent report in the New York Times that the Dallas Morning News now has sports and entertainment editors now reporting the general manager – advertising – rather than the managing editor – editorial (with thanks to Marc Hausman, The Strategic Guy, for bringing attention to the article.) As Marc points out, this is a new reality for magazines and newspapers, it also points out an age-old problem.

Any of you who have ever worked as a journalist know that you are frequently pressured to make concessions for advertisers, or for the publisher. During my years as a trade journalist I often ran into challenges around stories that might reflect badly on advertisers. The editorial decision was usually based on whether the impact of the news outweighed the potential wrath of an advertiser, and every publisher approaches this problem differently. However, ever since the beginning of the printed pamphlet, editors have had to deal with similar challenges. Even today, in some parts of the world if you print the wrong opinions the local rulers might throw you in the dungeon. In the United States we enjoy freedom of the press, and we rely on that principle to promote contrarian views and to allow the press to serve as societal watchdogs. But there really is no such thing as objective reporting. Every publication has a viewpoint and a perspective, and it’s up to the reader to read between the lines.

Consider the impact Rupert Murdoch has had on the Wall Street Journal. According to a recent article in the UK’s Guardian, The New York Times is claiming that since Murdoch took over, the newspaper has adopted “a combative style more often associated with Fleet Street than the North American market.” The same arguments have been levied against Fox News, Murdoch’s North American broadcast presence. Much of the criticism against Fox News centers on its inability to separate reporting from editorializing. I don’t think the argument is whether or not media outlets are biased, but rather whether they are candid about their opinions and make it transparent when they stray from objective reporting.

And the explosion of online news outlets just complicates things. Now anyone with a computer can call themselves a publisher and start posting editorial content. If they want to make money on that content, then they have to strike a balance to attract an audience, and any biased reporting they introduce will limit their appeal to both readers and advertisers. There’s nothing new here. It’s just the same challenges publishers have always faced but using a new medium.

So the fact that newspapers like the Dallas Morning News are making changes in their editorial approach to attract advertisers is not new, and it’s not surprising. This is a survival tactic, and one that I expect will be adopted by other publications in one form or another. But this isn’t really a fundamental change, but acknowledgement of a trend that is as old as publishing. Money talks, and always has. It’s up to the reader to be informed and be wary, and to identify the opinion, whether advertorial or editorial.

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The Changing Face of Newsprint: Goodbye Daily Fish Wrap, Hello

fishy_arizona_republicIs anyone else worried about the future of the newspaper industry? I have been a newspaper reader for most of my life, and even I have found that I am getting almost all of my news online these days. And with the advent of handheld, wireless computers like the iPhone, more and more of us are going to abandon the daily printed product in favor of online information.

If you look at the numbers, the decline and fall of the printed newspaper seems inevitable. According to Reflections of a Newsosaur, a blog site started by Alan D. Mutter, a Silicon Valley CEO, college professor, new media pundit, and former journalist, newspapers are dropping like the proverbial flies. In his latest post, Mutter notes that 142 newspapers ceased publication in 2009, compared to 37 in 2008. Not only does that reflect the loss of 90,000 jobs, but it also means that some communities no longer have access to a local news resource. In other, larger markets, it means that where there were conflicting voices debating in print and offering alternative viewpoints, now there is one newspaper reporting events and shaping public opinion. (Does anyone else remember when the New York Times was actually a local paper and there were a dozen dailies competing for newsstand space in New York City?)

Of course, hope springs eternal in the publishing business. As Mutter points out, the power of the newspaper monopoly and the magic of the bankruptcy court have kept a number of newspapers afloat. I have heard some second-hand stories from those laid off from the San Francisco Chronicle that while the Hearst Corporation does its best to create a profitable newspaper/Web hybrid, it may only be a matter of time before union demands kill the dream.

But as Mutter and the numbers indicate, the optimism of newspaper publishers seems unquashable. As Mutter notes in his previous post:

“A positively effervescent survey of more than 500 newspaper publishers yesterday predicted that advertising sales would drop only 0.2% in 2010 after plunging 28.4% in the first nine months of this year.”

Of course, this is magical thinking on the part of newspaper publishers. Print advertising revenue is drying up as more brands move online. And why not? Isn’t it more efficient to drive a banner ad/pay-per-click marketing strategy with social media support? Shoppers are increasingly going online first, and so is the advertising.

So what are newspapers going to do to survive? I have been watching the experiment that the San Francisco Chronicle, my home town newspaper, has been conducting for more than a decade. SFGate was one of the first online newspaper sites (it recently celebrated its 15th anniversary), and as the Chronicle’s print circulation has slowly been eroding, SFGate has been picking up online momentum. The SFGate site had 124.6 million page hits in September of this year. At the same, the number of regular contributors from the printed newspaper writing for the online site is dwindling. A number or regular columnists and reporters have moved on, and SFGate is bringing in more newswire content, freelance contributors and community leaders to provide content; sources that are cheap or free. And there is still no guarantee Hearst Newspapers will find a way to make SFGate profitable.

Still, I am confident that a new form of successful newspaper will emerge from the current chaos. You may remember the birth of USA Today? At the time, the concept of launching a national news daily seemed revolutionary. That’s nothing compared to the revolution we are witnessing today. And as with most revolutions, those who are flexible and can adapt to changing times will thrive, including professional journalists and public relations professionals.

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