Leadership, Tribes & Journalism

There is a TED talk done by Seth Godin that discusses leadership, marketing and messaging, and how humankind now drives change and innovation. I think it’s worth watching. TED

When I watched this, I thought about (surprise, surprise) the mass media and journalism. What does this say about how media outlets market themselves and manage their editorial processes?

I haven’t really come up with any golden wisdom on this, but it can surely get you to thinking.

You can certainly see the “tribal” idea playing-out in polarizing and non-traditional outlets like FOX, but the “top down” diagram still Godin shares still seems to be the dominant model for mass media.

So how do you interact with the newspaper or television? By commenting on a posting? Does that build a brand or foster a sense of belonging? Research shows that commenting is only done by a handful of gadflies, not by a growing tribe that has bought into your cause, or your movement, as a media outlet.

Mass media are trying to “engage” their audiences – but without an underlying cause-related connection, I wonder if it’s really possible.

I think a possible answer is to really identify your outlet’s “cause” and build emotional drivers around it.

Are you KOMO? Then “Working for You” is great – everything should be framed and presented through that cause – we’re on your side. Tilling the soil in public radio? The cause may be quality, independence from corporate influence, longer stories or whatever. Local newspapers used to be very cause-oriented when there were multiple dailies in every market with their own political voice, but these days – typical readers would probably be hard pressed to identify a newspaper’s “cause.” Try Googling your favorite newspaper and read the first couple of lines of the results. Is there promise of anything beyond, “news, sports, weather, classifieds and entertainment?”

I’m not saying that’s bad or evil, it just has me thinking about the future. One idea keeps coming out: That giving people “the news” or “information” really doesn’t say anything any more. The news is on Twitter and information is omnipresent.

So why else would follow a story? For context, analysis and fresh thinking about a subject. A rare commodity outside of the editorial pages or deeply sourced long-form magazine (print or video) content.

Ultimately, I think mass media ownership will be just about forced to drive a cause or a movement and to look at what they do in that way. Frankly, it’s probably already the truth at many media outlets, they just haven’t identified it and brought it to the fore.

The exercise might ask, “What is the underlying purpose of our media outlet that isn’t about delivering information?”

If you want to purvey the marketplace of ideas with content, how in the world do you engage this tribal vibe where only passion and a deep sense of personal connection creates behaviors like buying, or watching, or reading? Again, I think it’s identifying your movement – and a meaningful way people can connect with you as a result of your leadership.

I don’t think it means you have to go off the deep end – but I do think it requires an answer to the question, “What do we stand for?” that isn’t something like: Covering the news, breaking news, information, straightforward news, reliable, or any of the other buzzwords we already expect out of a mass media outlet.

Good luck with that.

What do you think? Are you a member of any media outlet tribe? Are you a passionate subscriber to any particular publication or broadcast because you are connected to the “cause” in which you are both invested?