A Nice Article about My Day Job

On Sunday the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article about our social media work at Mayo Clinic which began:

ROCHESTER – A few years ago, Lee Aase was just another flack for the Mayo Clinic, issuing press releases on cue and calling news conferences for doctors to present carefully scripted messages.

These days, Aase is a walking, talking, blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, YouTubing force who’s blasting Mayo into the social networking world faster than you can say “Mayo Brothers.”

I didn’t particularly like the lead because “flack” and “carefully scripted” carry some negative connotations, but given how positive the rest of the story was, I obviously have no basis for complaint. 

We have a great team involved in social media at Mayo Clinic, and it’s been exciting to see the enthusiasm grow.

The story became available online Wednesday after being print-only for three days. The irony of having a social media story be print only escaped no one’s notice, but it’s part of the Star Tribune’s effort to increase Sunday print circulation. I guess I’m honored that they would think this story might help.

I don’t know how long this will be available at no charge on StarTribune.com, but if you haven’t yet seen it, check it out here.

Bankrupt Star Tribune


Last night, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minn. reported on its Web site that it was filing for bankruptcy:

The filing, which was made with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the southern district of New York, had been expected for months. It follows several missed payments to the paper’s lenders, and it comes less than two years after a private equity group, New York-based Avista Capital Partners, bought the paper for $530 million.

In its filing, the newspaper listed assets of $493.2 million and liabilities of $661.1 million.

Like most newspapers, the Star Tribune has experienced a sharp decline in print advertising. Its earnings before interest, taxes and debt payments were about $26 million in 2008, down from about $59 million in 2007 and $115 million in 2004.

I’ve written several times previously about the immense economic challenges facing traditional media, especially newspapers. The Star Tribune case is of particular interest to me as a life-long Minnesota resident. McClatchy bought the paper for $1.2 billion in 1998 and sold it two years ago for $530 million. So the current economic climate has something to do with the bankruptcy filing, but the economic decline for mainstream media isn’t of recent origin.  Other newspaper companies, include Chicago’s Tribune Company, also have filed for bankruptcy.

I think there will always be a Star Tribune in some form, but clearly we’ll be seeing major changes as it tries to find a way to operate profitably.

All the more reason for anyone involved in communications to devote time to learning about social media. A couple of decades ago you could reach a mass “audience” through just a few big media hits, whether via PR or advertising. No more. The so-called “audience” has dispersed to millions of alternatives, mainly on the Web, and its members don’t just want to passively consume. We want to interact.

Newspapers are going to need to take this into account as they go through their Chapter 11 experiences. Many if not most have offered interaction and the ability to comment on their Web sites for quite some time, so simple interactivity isn’t going to be enough. To survive and thrive, I think they’re going to need to find ways to make their communities contributors instead of just commenters on what the “professionals” produce.
What do you think? Can newspapers survive? How do they need to change?

Social Media Sends Marketing Back to the Future

Below is an interesting video my wife discovered this morning, and it highlights why continuing education through institutions like SMUG is so important. One of the interesting segments says:

The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010…did not exist in 2004. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

I don’t agree with everything in this video (for instance, how can they know what the top 10 in-demand jobs will be in 2010?), but in general it’s quite thought-provoking.


Here are a few of the thoughts it provokes in me:

At least half of my job as it currently is structured didn’t exist in 2004. My title is “Manager, Syndication and Social Media.” The syndication part, providing medical news content for traditional media, isn’t new. But being a manager for social media (and the fact that we have a social media team at Mayo Clinic) is definitely a more recent development.

The pace of technological change is amazing, but in many ways it reverses some societal trends. Following widespread adoption of radio and TV (the timeframe of which is mentioned in the video) we entered a mass marketing era. Before that time, we were a society of smaller communities, and word of mouth and localized media were the most important ways of disseminating information. But mass media meant advertisers carpet bombed us with their messages because they could, and there was no way for us to really escape.

While in some ways the era of social media seems to be hurtling us toward a wild new world along with other technological innovations, in another sense it reverses some of those 20th century realities.

It’s never been easier for word-of-mouth messages to be distributed. For instance, I have a few hundred Twitter followers who will get a tweet about this blog post. If some of them decide to retweet it, they may pass it to thousands of their followers. And RSS, Facebook and Friendfeed (to name a few) are other ways the message will get distributed. RSS is the oldest of these technologies, and it first became widely available in 2003.

So with hundreds of millions of people able to make their thoughts potentially available to anyone in the world (for free), and with the social media tools making it easier than ever for friends to stay in touch and reconnect (and for people of common interests to congregate, regardless of geography), the mass media aren’t the only game in town anymore. Which is why we continue to see headlines like this one.

Word of mouth is free. As my friend Andy Sernovitz says, “Advertising is the price of being boring.” Or as Seth Godin puts it (I just downloaded one of his audio books), “Small is the new big.”

And that’s why SMUGgles will be ahead of the game; you’re preparing for and adapting to the changes that are happening, and seeing how these new tools can help you solve the problems you face in your work.

What thoughts does this video provoke in you?

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The Black Magic of Compounded Newspaper Losses

It hasn’t been a good decade for newspapers, but the last month has been especially bad.

It’s not like last year was good. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s ad revenue was down 8 percent last year, and is now about 12 percent below that pace. The Times says the Chronicle is losing about $1 million a week.

In school we learned about “The Magic of Compound Interest.” The magic for newspapers must feel like something straight out of Mordor.

Compounding losses have a way of spiraling. Ad revenue falls, so papers cut back on staff and on the number of pages. The paper is less compelling, so circulation falls. Advertisers won’t pay the high prices for reduced reach, so revenue falls still further.

Add to this the general trend among younger people to not read the newspaper, and on-line alternatives such as eBay, Craigslist and Monster.com that are claiming an ever-larger share of what was formerly a classified advertising monopoly for newspapers, and the situation looks quite bleak.

It’s hard to know which of these trends started first, but Clay Shirky has a good analysis of the monster forces conspiring against the newspaper business in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. I hope to write a review in the coming days; it’s quite insightful.

It will be difficult for my review to do it justice, though,  and besides, I might not get to it for a while. So you should just go ahead and order it today.

I’ve got a Podcasting curriculum to finish.