Profile on Ash Davies: founder of publishing start-up, Tablo

Ash Davies is the 20 year old founder and CEO of publishing start-up, Tablo. Through his start-up, Ash is aiming to make writing and publishing a book easy and social. I first met Ash earlier this year when he presented at a session of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. I later interviewed and wrote a profile piece on Ash. My article was published today in The Age. If you are interested in writing, ebooks and the publishing industry, or the technology start-up scene, have a read.

Getting the boss on board with social and digital

Dionne Kasian-Lew

Dionne Kasian-Lew

It can be difficult to convince risk-averse business leaders of the value of social and digital. Meanwhile their organisations miss out on the rewards offered by the digital economy and fail to connect with social savvy consumers.

I spoke to Dionne Kasian-Lew about how marketing and communications professionals can lead the social and digital agenda in their organisations and get the boss on board.

Dionne Kasian-Lew is the CEO of The Social Executive™. She is also the author of The Social Executive: the multi-trillion social economy and an advisor to boards and executives on leadership, innovation and corporate and communications strategy.

Justine Hyde: Business leaders often worry about the risks of engaging in digital and social. What are the risks of not engaging?

Dionne Kasian-Lew: The digital economy is growing while many other areas are in decline. The IDC says global ecommerce is worth 16 trillion and Boston Global Consulting predicts for G20 nations social will be worth $4.2 trillion by 2016. Companies that are online and engaging are outperforming others. Businesses need to think about the fact that eight new people come online every second and most are using social or mobile to connect.

Some executives think social media is a fad but look at two examples. LinkedIn was established in 2003 and now has 200 million users, most of whom are professionals. Facebook is about to turn nine and has a billion users. This is not a fad.

JH: How does a business leader become digitally literate?

DKL: Literacy is having enough knowledge about an issue to make good decisions about it. Boards and c-suites need to know the difference between ICT, digital and social media and how they contribute to the success of a business.

Given the opportunities and risks presented by digital and social media, boards should be asking their CEO: what’s our online marketing/engagement strategy? It’s time for social and digital bootcamp for boards and c-suites.

JH: How can communications professionals influence their CEOs to see the social and digital ‘light’?

DKL: Executives are lagging when it comes to adopting social media. The most common question I am asked is: how do I influence the boss?

My response is to ask communications professionals what social media channels they are using and what they are doing to position social media in their organisation. I ask them what their competitors in this space are doing and who they look to as benchmarks for practice in their industry. I ask how they are leading the change in their organisation. Finally, I question them about what game-changing technologies could blow their company out of the water.

It stuns me that few people can answer these questions, since with their analytical and creative strengths communicators are in the best position to lead this change.

Communicators need to know the business case for social media, be digitally literate and understand the impact of digital on productivity.

This means using the various platforms, learning how people connect and share and figuring out which of those platforms is best for you and your business. We must be sure to have our own house in order before we can attempt to influence the boss.

JH: How do organisations become strategic with digital and ‘social era’ ready?

DKL: A good start is to understand the digital and social lay of the land and to know what is happening in their industry specifically. Organisations need to know who their customers are, what they want, and how they want it.

Next, they need to develop a strategy that accounts for future capabilities required in the business. Once they understand these capabilities they can begin to build these capabilities by training existing staff and recruiting new talent.

JH: What are the digital and social trends to watch for 2013/14?

DKL: We will see increased convergence and integration of digital and social into our lives, bodies and beings. Google Glass has arrived, digital clothing sensitive to body heat already exists, as do technologies that allow us to self-diagnose medical conditions. We have digital pacemakers and 3D printed kidneys.

In social we are moving from using individual platforms to working across channels (like email) through Google+.

This article originally appeared on the SMK blog.

Ebooks and libraries: the digital disruption

Ebook publication and use has grown exponentially over the last few years. Libraries, publishers and rights holders are all struggling to adapt to the new digital landscape, and to find a workable commercial model which preserves rights and revenue, but also meets the information needs and preferences of library users.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) held a think tank (#aliathinktank) in Melbourne today to explore some of the issues for libraries related to ebooks and elending. Similar sessions are being held around the country. From these think tanks, ALIA hopes to develop a sector response to assist libraries to navigate the challenges associated with collecting and lending ebooks. ALIA has developed an issues paper on the topic.

We heard from several speakers who presented from the perspectives of different types of libraries, including public, academic, state and special libraries. Panel sessions invited audience participation and dissected the issues raised in the presentations.

While ebooks promise many advantages such as reducing shelf space, and meeting user preferences for digital content and 24/7 access, there are also many challenges facing libraries in relation to ebooks. Libraries account for around 12% of book sales in Australia, so they don’t have great market power. There are difficulties negotiating reasonable contractual terms with publishers and ebook aggregators. Costs are high and escalating. There are a lack of consistent ereader devices and ebook formats. Technologies for searching and discovery do not integrate well. Ebooks are not being developed to offer the functionality promised by the digital content experience. There are licencing and lending restrictions. Libraries perceive a lack of engagement by publishers to understand their role. It is a bleak picture.

Publishers are also facing uncertain times in the wake of ebook popularity. The presenters raised thoughtful points on the opportunities for libraries in this environment. Library associations around the world are increasing their advocacy efforts to raise the public awareness of the role of libraries. Libraries hold library usage data that is of value to publishers. They meet a market demand for those who want free access to ebooks. Libraries create new audiences for buying books. They build spaces to encourage interaction with ereading. Libraries train and educate the public in ereader technologies. They provide a nexus between print and digital content. Libraries can influence publishers to produce content that meets the information needs and preferences of readers.

These are all positive and interesting points but they are not ground breaking. After 600 years of print as the dominant technology for reading, ebooks are part of a digital content revolution. As the think tank progressed it became clear that the response needed by libraries is to break and rebuild the library business model. The music industry, magazines, newspapers and publishing are all seeing their old business models disintegrate and be reimagined. Libraries are no different.

Ebooks are merely containers for content. The containers will be replaced by new ones. Just think of VHS, floppy discs and CDs. Libraries should focus on their role in facilitating access to content. Maybe this means self-publishing, forming direct relationships with authors, and curation of content. Perhaps it means becoming co-producers in partnership with publishers or others. Or it might be facilitating access to content through education, training and integration into the workflows of users. It is probably a combination of these depending on the library and the context in which it operates.

At a fundamental level libraries need to ask: what is their core purpose? Who are they serving? Who are they competing with? What is their role?

Whatever the future, it is disruptive. Ebooks are the thin end of the digital wedge. It will be fascinating to see how ALIA and the library sector responds to the challenge.

Presentations from the think tank will be available on the ALIA website.

Creating serendipity in the digital world

We’ve all enjoyed browsing the web or the shelves of a library, and stumbling upon an unexpected writer or subject. This type of serendipity is a happy accident, as are many of life’s most memorable experiences. How does serendipity play out as libraries move into the digital landscape, and are we losing serendipity on the web?

A recent article explores whether personalisation of the web will ultimately destroy discovery. As the content we see is personalised through the use of cookies and algorithms we begin to lose the opportunity to discover interesting but unrelated content. I balk at the idea of the web being tamed and already feel sentimental for the days of the wild digital frontier. On the flipside, I’m as time poor as the next person, and can see the benefits of being directed towards content similar to that which I’ve explored and enjoyed before. I’d much rather be directed to this content through content curation than computed algorithms.

And what of digital library collections? Can you arrange a digital library to replicate the experience of browsing the shelves? Another recent article looks at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco where the physical collection is arranged on geographic principles to simulate the experience of the library ‘as a map’. The library’s founders discuss the complementary nature of analog and digital library collections. They explain how the two formats can dovetail together to enhance the browsing and discovery experience.

These two articles raise interesting ideas about serendipity in the digital world from quite different perspectives. Let’s hope we never lose the chance to have happy accidents.

Talking content marketing with The PR Warrior

One of the most talked about marketing and communications strategies at the moment is content marketing: the creation and sharing of content to attract and retain customers, generate leads and increase revenue.

I wanted to find out more about content marketing, so I went to the source and had a chat to Trevor Young. Trevor is a leading thinker, consultant and speaker in the fields of public relations, marketing and communications.

Trevor Young aka The PR Warrior

Trevor’s blog PR Warrior has been named one of Australia’s Top 25 Business blogs by Smart Company, where he writes about leadership in communications, with an emphasis towards social media and content marketing.

JH: What do you see as the main benefits of content marketing?

TY: Content marketing, when done well, can increase awareness of your brand, reinforce a thought leadership position, help generate warm leads and build relationships with customers. The key thing is identifying what are you trying to achieve, and then skewing your efforts towards that goal.

The big benefit is that content marketing can be highly effective in attracting people to your brand by providing valuable and compelling content. This is contrary to traditional marketing wisdom where you push the message out. Content marketing is as much a mindset as anything – a willingness to connect with people and share ideas and information.

JH: How does content marketing complement other marketing tactics?

TY: It dovetails perfectly into traditional public relations. Social media and content marketing are core components of modern-day PR. Obviously, content is crucial to social media marketing. When it comes to creating content today, PR people can now widen their vision and produce it across multiple platforms, on the cheap and on the fly. And marketers, especially those in the B2B space whose role it is to generate new business leads, should be all over content marketing.

JH: If an organisation is thinking of going down the content marketing path what do they need to consider?

TY: You need to consider whether you have the right attitude and mindset. Are you comfortable with sharing stories, ideas and intellectual property? Are you happy for your employees to be publicly involved?

If you answer yes to these questions, you need to work out who will be the driving force internally. If it’s a large organisation, there might people involved from different parts of the business. Think about forming a small working group. If it’s a smaller company, chances are it will be the owner or CEO driving things, which is fine if they have the time to devote to the process.

You’re going to need to know your ‘spheres of conversation’. What direction is your content going to take? What tone is going to be used?

There’s nothing wrong with starting small and building momentum. You don’t need to do everything immediately. Build your content base over time and use social media channels and events to participate in your community and engage customers, friends and influencers.

JH: There’s a smorgasbord of choices for types and formats of content that can be used in content marketing. How do brands choose the right mix?

TY: A lot comes down to budget and resources. Ask yourself the important question: How does our audience (clients/influencers/potential customers) consume media or like to receive information? It’s wise to have a range of options. You can repurpose content across multiple mediums. For example, blog posts can have accompanying video, and regular video interviews can be turned into podcasts and syndicated via iTunes.

I’m a huge believer in solid cornerstone content such as downloadable PDF e-books. If you’ve got a lot of complex information to convey infographics are a great communication vehicle. More and more I’m loving video as a powerful way to communicate. Opt-in e-newsletters are also incredibly effective for many types of businesses, even if they’re not as sexy as other mediums.

You should produce content for your core channels and then occasionally mix it up a bit. It’s smart to be flexible too. Measure what’s working and if something is not all that effective, be prepared to ditch it. Having an online hub where you house all your content is critical, for example, a well-maintained blog or online multimedia news room.

JH: What’s the secret sauce to compelling and shareable content?

TY: If content goes ‘viral’ that’s the cream on top of your content marketing strategy. There are types of content that seem to get shared more often. Really well put-together infographics tend to get shared a lot and list-type blog posts (i.e. 5 top tips for xyz) also do well. Meaty research reports and e-books written around a powerful theme are effective. High quality content will generally resonate with the intended audience if it’s been produced with the right intent, regardless of format.

Occasionally something will come along that really surprises you. Recently I produced a simple Flipcam video of a CEO of a medium-sized company adding a bit of colour and commentary to some research presented in a media release. News Ltd. picked up the video from the website and ran it across all their online mastheads giving us mass coverage. It was a great but certainly nothing we’d planned for.

If your brand is strong and you have a solid community of advocates, enthusiasts and supporters of what it is you do, then if you create killer content, it’s more likely to be shared around, liked and retweeted because you have a fan base to do that.

JH: How does content marketing sit alongside SEO?

TY: Very closely. Lee Odden from TopRankBlog talks a lot about the ‘holy trinity’ of search, social and content. The key is to bring the three elements together for optimum effect. In an interview I read with Lee he pointed out that SEO focuses on rankings and traffic, content people think about distribution of press releases and blog posts, while the social media guys care about engagement. That presents an inherent challenge for uniting the three but the goal is to start bringing them together.

My focus is on producing the best content I can that I hope will resonate with the audience. Knowing what keywords and phrases need to be employed is fine. I’ll incorporate them but only if their inclusion adds value to the finished product. In other words, avoid over-using keywords and blanding out your content for the sake of SEO.

JH: What does the next 12 months look like for content marketing?

TY: If you talked about content marketing to people 12-18 months ago you would have probably got a blank stare. There are less blank stares today and there will be even less by the end of 2013 as content marketing gains traction in Australia. It is more or less mainstream in a business and marketing sense in the US. It’s not at that level in Australia yet, but the signs are there.

Content curation will become really important – careful and strategic curation of content and adding insights.

Video is going to get even bigger. A strong emerging theme is the humanisation of brands, that is, getting people out from closed doors and interacting with customers, and putting internal experts at the front and centre of a company’s content efforts. Video humanises a business.

Smart marketers will up the ante by producing high quality content that can be repurposed, remixed, or as Ann Handley from Marketing Profs  says: “re-imagined”. They will have content as a cornerstone of their marketing and PR efforts. Whether that means employing journalists or using an external agency, I don’t know, but it’s bound to happen.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter @trevoryoung

This post was originally featured on the SMK blog