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By Edward Cone  |  Posted 02-07-2007 Print
#3: Think About the Message—and the Messenger">

Key #3: Think About the Message—and the Messenger

Even the slickest of media efforts can go wrong if the message doesn't keep pace with the medium. Consider the National Basketball Association, which offers a newsy, stat-heavy, video-rich experience at its nBA.com Web site. In December, the league earned the scorn of media-savvy fans by seeming to ignore some bad news.

When nBA.com went longer than a day without offering serious coverage of an ugly (and widely publicized) fight between players from the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden, all the bells and whistles at the site didn't make the NBA's lack of introspection look any better. Everyone else in the sports world was talking about the fight, but the NBA was still pumping out the happy-talk. That's old-school PR, and in a world where anyone can comment, it just makes you look weak. As the sports blog True Hoops put it: "This is one of those days when NBA.com loses all credibility as a news organization...it's like, 'what massive fight in the world's most famous arena?'" (The NBA did not respond to requests for comment.)

Another way to establish credibility as a media organization is to put the right people in front of the camera, says Melichar. Colgate has a page at its main site called "Web 2.0: Colgate Live," with links to blogs, video and photo galleries. "If you have a good story to tell, all this new media doesn't make it any better. But the caveat is, you need compelling personalities, and you need them to be comfortable with their stories," he says. "If not, you're in trouble. If someone is boring it won't work."

Colgate determined that the best voices for its message come from actual students. "It's the same logic as with consumer products: Who cares what Tylenol says about their products? I want to hear from the users," says Melichar. "People want to hear how we do education here, what it's like to be a student at Colgate, to attend a residential liberal arts college. We have to be credible because we want students to look at us without having to filter out the marketing-speak."

Getting people to participate, and to keep up with blogs or other obligations, is also part of the challenge. Some people have stories to tell, so new media is "organic" for them, Melichar says. It helps to "have an institution that is comfortable with itself, and willing to take some chances." But even then, finding the right opportunity for busy people to participate is important. Colgate President Rebecca Chopp, he says, is "a masterful storyteller. She's very tuned in, she's read the Robert Scoble book on blogging [Naked Conversations, cowritten with Shel Israel], but for her to jump in with a full-time blog would be a lot to ask." Instead, Chopp blogged a recent trip to China, and may take advantage of similar, targeted opportunities that show her as a worldly, connected leader at a school that aspires to inculcate those qualities in its students.


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