Leadership, Buy-in, Investment, and The Wide Net
The New Reality for Customer Engagement
Leadership starts at the top ... To get anywhere, the top person must buy into the project and take an active, visible role in making it happen. In particular, he or she needs to be blogging. The N&R's top editor, John Robinson, began blogging months before the Town Square project began, and even though some commenters argued with him, the fact that he was already blogging, and publicly approved my report, gave our plans some instant credibility both within the industry and within the already well-developed Greensboro blogging community.
... but it only starts there: Reward early adapters/adopters and, irrespective of their positions in the formal chain of command, channel their leadership in ways that recognize their value. Send them to training seminars with the understanding that when they return they'll be 1) using their skills and 2) teaching others what they have learned.
Invest. Baby steps aren't going to get you much here. Web guru Rob Curley has said that a project like this isn't about doing more with less, it's about doing more with more. Most newspaper Web sites need dramatic transformations, and adding a single position here or buying a single video camera for an entire newsroom won't cut it. Put the equipment in people's hands and train them.
Cast a wide net from the start. Make sure that everyone planning, executing and benefiting from the project has input from the beginning all the way through. Seek feedback every step of the way, particularly from readers. Doing that can build customer loyalty and can temper the tone of the (inevitable) criticism, making it easier for everyone involved to focus on the substance.
It also can help avoid costly delays. When we began our effort, a number of tech-knowledgeable people in our readership suggested we run our site with the open-source Drupal program. Instead, we went with a proprietary system that wouldn't do some of the most important things we wanted, like allowing reader comments on stories. We ended up switching to Drupal a couple of years later, but that time lost was time we couldn't make up.
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