The Shift Of Trusted, Influential Media: From Brands To People

image credit:  zeuxis

There was a time not too long ago when a limited few had power of distribution.  And with that power and zero competition, the media moguls built monolithic and faceless brands behind them.  Sure, there were talented writers behind the publications, but the writers themselves were not directly intertwined with the brand beyond the extent that they merely supplied content.

Think of your local newspaper or even a traditional national media organization – I highly doubt there is one single writer or editor that immediately comes to mind and stands out as the person behind that brand of media.

All of that has changed.

Web influencers

Think of your favorite online publication, blog, etc., and I bet immediately one person comes to mind.  TechCrunch isn’t TechCrunch without Michael ArringtonErick Schonfeld and the other writers there are incredibly talented and all easily could build their own web brand they are the engine behind, however TC is forever tied to Arrington – if he left it would not be the same publication.

That’s not to say TC couldn’t succeed without Arrington, but think about the power of that for a second.  TC has 1.4 million+ RSS readers, including (but not limited to) a plethora of early adopters, social media power users and influencers – the people that in aggregate make up the true influence of the web.  In many cases, the long tail sites act as an echo chamber for the larger sites like TC, extending their own influence.  And everyone thinks of Michael Arrington when they see the TechCrunch brand…they have affinity and trust for him personally, or equal trust with the site’s name.  The two compliment each other.  In essence, the brand is the person.

Not just new media outlets, traditional media too

On the web, people are what matter, not media brands.  Even if there is a strong media brand on the web, in many cases it is publicly tied directly to one person.  In my post on 5 blogs winning the numbers game vs. traditional counterparts I listed one traditional media organization that is winning versus blogs – Wired Magazine.  Now clearly the traffic numbers aren’t the whole story, but there is no denying that Wired has stayed relevant and has become a web publishing powerhouse compared to many of their traditional counterparts that are folding.

And, when you think of Wired, the person you immediately think of is Chris Anderson.  He is publicly tied to the brand, which brings a human element to the publication.  It affords Wired greater credibility than if there was no strong, intellectual person tied to them and leading.  Wired is not the same media outlet without Chris Anderson, just like TechCrunch is not the same blog without Michael Arrington.  To me and many others, Chris is the trusted voice and personality of Wired.

Web startups are similar, especially when they involve media

When you think of Digg, who is the person you think of?  Most people immediately think Kevin Rose, (as an aside, if you’ve followed the whole story, you also would think of Jay Adelson).  They are not merely the brains behind the operation, they are publicly and definitively tied to it.

Users of Digg trust Kevin and Jay, and concurrently Kevin and Jay actively listen to feedback from their users.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  The two top guys are contributors and commenters on the site side-by-side with regular Digg users.  Contrast that with StumbleUpon, which while being an incredibly useful service, does not foster the same feeling of community behind it and the brand is not quite as sticky, influential or popular.

StumbleUpon may actually be far more useful than Digg for discovering new publishers/content, but Digg is the one in the spotlight.  Yes, Digg fosters community in a different way merely by its layout and function, however Kevin Rose with his cult-like status also helps paint the picture.

Even the about page on Digg humanizes the network, while StumbleUpon about page is less humanized and paints a picture as a utility-based site.  Digg also has public meetups that foster community in real life between its members and fans and enable real interaction between people directly with Kevin, something that he clearly enjoys.

This is far more than PR sleight-of-hand, this is the personalization of modern big brands in an authentic, trusted and relevant light embraced from the top down.

What do all these people have in common?

They are accessible

Counter to a previous era, all of these media influencers are accessible.  They use Twitter, they blog, they respond to emails from others who want to connect to them personally and do so without hesitation.  It’s a natural for them because they have embraced the web both personally and professionally.  They are equally accessible to all of us without filters (note that doesn’t mean it’s open season on them for PR people, quite the contrary).

They are real leaders who want to change the world, not merely title-holders

Many businesses and media brands do put high level people in the spotlight.  But, many just do it because it is “a part of their job.”  It is painfully obvious to me when I see this, especially in comparison to media leaders who are writing books, mentoring others and being a true part of public discourse, not merely offering sound bytes from their ivory towers.

They don’t use talking points

As Jason Falls sagely writes, if you’re on message, you’ve missed the point.  And he’s right – it is obvious to smart people when high level executives and politicians are merely spouting carefully crafted PR messages and not actually thinking and responding for themselves during interviews.  It is not nearly as authentic as when someone is speaking from their heart and their own mind.

They are irrationally committed to their brands

It’s not just about money to any of these guys – they have a passion you can’t fake.  This is perhaps the biggest plus of all.

They know how to cultivate culture and connect their users

And the importance of connecting people behind ideas/using their influence for positive change, not wielding their power for manipulation or personal gain.

They are all part of a larger dialog

All of these people comment on blogs, use social media and are interviewed in traditional media frequently.  They all want to change their prospective worlds and are leading that charge personally, not just because their communications team asked them to.

None of these brands would be the same without these people

That is a fundamental shift from the past.  Previously, if someone left a position, even a major person at a large media brand, they were easily replaceable and the audience probably wouldn’t bat an eye.  This was probably by design.  Is TechCrunch the same site without Michael Arrington?  Is Digg the same network without Kevin Rose?  Do you really notice when USA Today switches editors or reporters around?  Exactly.  This is a bit of a safety factor for the faceless brands, but it is the antithesis of what makes the web special.

Key Takeaways

Generic, faceless and mass 1-way broadcast communication is already a relic in the minds of the future generation.  It’s a dated model.  As we have witnessed the birth of the long tail of content producers who have forever changed the dynamics of publishing, concurrently a new breed of big media brands is emerging.  Many of those brands are tied directly to incredibly passionate and intellectual people who understand the fundamental shift in communications.

Digital technologies have made media more personal and more accessible.  The brands with a face behind them are the ones emerging as the most trusted.  They are the ones building followings of users in a way that encourages transparency and authenticity.  They are also connecting their users in meaningful ways, and building followings behind shared ideas.  They are tomorrow’s big successes and the people/brands with real influence.

Related posts from The Future Buzz

Entrepreneurial Journalism And Writers As Brands

Influencing Social Media:  What Drives Digg And Reddit Users

Newspapers Still Have Much To Learn About The Web

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