Key #1: Know What You Want to Do
Ron Bloom, CEO of the well-funded new-media startup PodShow Inc., says he is seeing interest in Web-driven communications strategies at the highest levels of large companies. "Boards are starting to ask senior management what their new-media strategy is," he says. "The rationale is to increase shareholder value. There are very few things in traditional companies that can emotionally engage constituents and investors, and this is one that is available. The communications department is moving closer to the CEO's office every day."
Understanding the purpose of an organization's media push is critical, as is setting realistic goals. "Don't just jump on the bandwagon," says Charlie Melichar, vice president for public relations and communications at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. The highly regarded school makes extensive use of Web video to reach potential students and other constituents. "We are interested in more than just page viewswe are not trying to create the next 'Numa Numa' video," he says, referring to the viral hit clip of a kid lip-synching an eastern European pop song.
Ultimately, the delivery vehicle, whether blog, video or podcast, is not what matters most. "My office is charged with telling the Colgate story, to stimulate folks to engage with the university, apply, give, whatever," he says. "I'm only interested in the content, not the container. No institution can say, 'Blogging is our competitive advantage.' It's a tool that helps you do what you need to do. Fit it into your strategy and go for it, but don't just do it to do it. Otherwise you'll disengage peoplethey'll see right through it and pick it apart."
Says Ford's Drake: "We wanted to change perceptions of the company, and to tell our story our way, through our eyes. In a traditional ad buy, you get 15 or 30 or 60 seconds to tell it. Those ads have mass appeal for a broad audience. This documentary complemented our advertising campaign." The audience for the documentary includes not only people interested in a new car, but anyone who likes a good story. "It is about getting people fighting for an underdog," says Drake. The series has attracted some 2 billion hits, resulting in a 15 percent increase to the Ford site, with visitors spending an average of 8 minutes each time they come; Ford also makes its video clips easy to share, à la YouTube, by including a snippet of code with each episode that allows anyone to embed it on blogs and other Web sites.
"Ford as a company recognizes that the media environment is changing, and people are aware of the change," says Drake. "It's still a little bit controlled, we're a very big company and there are legal issues about disclosure...but if people have ideas, we have ways to bring their ideas forward. You can't ignore things like YouTube or Second Life. People want their information quicker, and not necessarily filtered. We want people's trust. The culture has changed, and new media allow us to address those changes."
A survey conducted by the company showed that viewers do come away with changed attitudes toward Ford, says Drake. It's not a benefit that can be quantified, or that will lead to a quick turnaround at the foundering company. But that's not the point. It's an investment in image, and in the future of the brand. The viewers surveyed, says Drake, "want us to win. Strategically, we thought it was successful."