One fear is that dealing with complaints publicly online may tarnish the flawless public perception of a brand. I would suggest that the opposite is true: brands who are brave enough to deal with their customers openly online are actually giving tangible evidence of their commitment to their customers

The fact is that people are already discussing companies online. They’re complaining, explaining and sharing their thoughts and experiences. Brands on the other hand are often only engaged in push messaging online and not dealing with the more negative issues that customers have. This approach is fatally flawed: A 2011 Conversocial survey found that if ignored by brands on social media sites, 45 percent of respondents would be angry, and 27.1 percent said they would no longer deal with the company. In other words, you're losing by not responding.  

“He who is absent is always wrong” – French Idiom

On the other hand, the 2011 Retail Consumer Review  survey found that by listening and proactively responding on the social web, retailers have a chance to turn disgruntled customers into social advocates. Of those who received a reply in response to their negative review:

  • 33% turned around and posted a positive review;
  • 34% deleted their original negative review; and
  • 18% turned into loyal customers and bought more.

A large part of the success of South African online retailer Yuppie Chef is their exceptional customer service. Rather than begrudging customer complaints, they treat them as an opportunity to show their commitment to delighting their customers and delivering on their promises. If, for example, a customer mentions that a pan is delivered in less than perfect condition they immediately dispatch another one, rather than grilling the customer to shift the blame, as many other retailers do. This, ultimately, builds trust and loyalty even if some people do occasionally take advantage.

One of the questions that comes up is what online channel is best for customer support? My belief is that true customer centricity demands that you provide support where the customers are: Hello Peter, Facebook, Forums, Twitter and Blog Posts are all public channels and your social media support should extend to supporting them. I also think that it's a great idea to open up IM support on Mxit, or being available on BBM and Whatsapp. I personally resent being forced to call the call centre whenever I've got an issue with a big company, and also text is much more convenient for me as a customer. 

 Customer expectations of online response times. 

Customer expectations of online response times. 

Responding to customer issues online is becoming a hygeine factor, and now leading brands should differente themselves by how quickly they respond online. Most customers (70%) expect a response between 8 - 24 hours of an online complaint. However, brands that respond within 10 minutes of a complaint are likely to impress everyone, including the 16% of customers who expect an immediate response. (Business Insider)

Doing Social Media Customer Service for large company properly requires commitment, investment, a dedicated team, and specialised training.  Discovery Health is one of a few brands that excels in Social Media customer support. They have a dedicated social media response team who are well versed in all the company policies, and are empowered to resolve customer complaints and escalate issues as high as they need to go in order to be resolved. Now, bear in mind that they're dealing with life and death issues along with all the complexities of medical insurance, and you realise that this is no small undertaking, and they've had to invest heavily in training a social media support team that not only resolves customer issues speedily, but also represents the brand well online.

Virgin Active South Africa tracks mentions of their brand on Twitter and often chimes in with answers, suggestions, as well as co-ordinating responses at gyms around the country. The tone of voice is energetic, positive and informal while also showing the appropriate urgency that indicates the importance of customer service to Virgin SA. 

FNB's RB Jacobs is an oft-cited example of an exemplary customer service by a South African company on Twitter. The account is backed by a dedicated team who are online throughout the day. In addition to this, CEO Michael Jordaan often gets involved in addressing large issues using his own Twitter account to engage with customers and the media. This has led to a lot of brand-love for FNB. A social-savvy leader can make a huge difference to a brand's online reputation. 

Dell was one of the first large companies to establish a dedicated social support centre, and provides the following guidelines for brands or brand representatives responding to issues on social media, including a note on the appropriate tone: 

 Dell's online response check-list.

Dell's online response check-list.

Deal with issues before they become crises: McDonalds Canada recently shot a video that dealt with the fact that the pictures of food in their adverts look better than what they serve in branches. The result is a short video that has been viewed millions of times. 

By the time a customer mentions a complaint or issue on social media they have often exhausted the traditional complaint channels. This is why it's important to prioritise online complaints. For one thing, these customers are probably more irate than usual. For another, these customers are more influential than your average customer simply because they are publishing their views publicly. 

Despite all the benefits, it's still not the norm to deliver customer service on social media, and in fact 61% of consumers would be shocked if a retailer responded to their negative comment on the social web (MediaPost). While some brands may use this as justification not to respond, the most customer-centric brands will see it as an opportunity for delight

I'd love to hear your perspectives and experiences on Social Media Customer Service. Please share in the comments section below. 

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 Will work for Attention, by Stephen Poff (via Flickr)

Will work for Attention, by Stephen Poff (via Flickr)

There is a misconception that Social Media Marketing is free, easy and cheap to do. This misconception can lead to poor results and missed opportunities for brand owners as well as digital media practitioners. While creating accounts on Social Networking services may be free to do in many cases for individuals, there are a number of real costs involved when it comes to creating social media constellations that deliver value and return on investment for larger organizations.

I was recently quoted in Malaysiakini (paywall) saying that Tourism Malaysia's RM1.8million for a Facebook page was "a bit too much". Since this is such a hot issue in Malaysia right now, and one that can have ramifications on social media budgets around the country, I feel that it is important to clarify and contextualise my comments.

My first response to the journalists' line of enquiry was to state that each Facebook campaign is different, and the cost should be dictated by a) what you aim to achieve, b) in what period of time, and c) with what budget. The costs may include consulting, design, development, application hosting, management and advertising among many more.

I did state very clearly that if Malaysia tourism is investing a lot of money in developing and hosting applications for their Facebook pages, that they would likely be spending their money on Facebook and Google ads. Ads are necessary expenditure if you want to drive a lot of visitors to your Facebook page over a short period of time. By the way, some companies pay as much as $8 per fan on their Facebook page.

The statement that the average social media campaign costs $30 000 per annum is ridiculous and I was quoted out of context here. I was referring to one of the fixed costs of doing social media marketing: the annual salary of a Social Media Administrator. If you want a more thorough breakdown of social media spend, see this infographic based on Focus research. It shows that average total spend per annum among companies who use Social Media is currently $210 000. Now, I wonder how many of those companies are national tourism ministries responsible for generating RM56billion per annum? Let the budget match the reward.

Here's the basic sums to work-out the rough break-even numbers on this particular Facebook page:

RM1 800 000 (total budget)/RM2500 (average spend per tourist) = 720 (number of people who need to be convinced to come to Malaysia per Facebook page)

720 (visitor target - see above) / ±3% (guesstimate average Facebook Page conversion rate) = ±24 000 (fans needed for the page to break-even)

With only one application out of six launched, there are already 34 000 fans of the Facebook page. Now the question is one of efficacy in converting those fans. This should be easier than with traditional media due to fact that once someone has "liked" your page they will continue to recieve updates from you. In fact, recent research has shown that advertising to Facebook fans instead of non-fans can reduce the acquisition cost of registrations by 44%, event signups by 33%, and purchases by 15%. As a bonus Facebook Pages also provide demographic insight into who the fans are, which can inform campaigns across other media too.

Lastly, one quote in the article said “(The Facebook page) should be connected to other things, like TV perhaps" - while this is a good point that media spend should be co-ordinated and cross-polinate, what I actually said was closer to the spend on the Faceook page "should be compared to other things, like TV perhaps". The point being that RM1,8million is a small fraction of tradtional media spending (e.g. producing and placing TV ads). In fact the budget per region for Malaysia Tourism is RM30million, the region is among the world's top Facebook using countries, and so perhaps the question should be "why isn't more being spent on this?".

Malaysia's Tourism Minister YB Dato’ Sri Dr. NG Yen Yen has expressed a similar sentiment (with facts and figures too) on her blog. These views are my own, although I did consult with the Minister subsequent to the article being published to find out how the budget was being spent. I will be attending a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today with the minister, but I'm also very happy to discuss further in the comments below or on Twitter.

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 "These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

"These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

The phenomenon of Social Media is revolutionary in the truest sense. Citizens, Consumers and Communities can now organize without “organizations”.  It is an issue, then, that Organizations need to take very seriously.

While Social Media may seem to some to be a bunch of online websites and mobile applications, it is in fact a cultural phenomenon that is coming to define our times.

These websites have all emerged as a result of the convergence between people’s fundamental social needs and a host of enabling technologies - the founders didn’t invent online social media, they responded to an emerging trend with well-designed database-backed websites that made it easier for people to do what they already wanted to do.

It’s useful to distinguish between the tools that we use, and the trends that enable their use. Making this distinction will ensure that we invest our effort in ways that are meaningful as opposed to simply ‘cool’. To make this clear, try consider Social Media in terms of Trifles, Trends and Truths:

Trifles are fashionable at a particular time, but aren’t likely to represent a major societal shift by themselves. In the product world this could be something like skinny jeans - it might seem like a great idea right now, but in time that feeling will pass. The technical world is filled with trifles - thousands of websites and applications that are launched every month, each one promising to be the next big thing. Trifles are here today gone tomorrow. Even giant companies like Facebook and Twitter could be seen as Trifles, because there are no guarantees that they’ll be around in a couple of years - we’ve certainly seen many other large companies come and go in recent years.

Trends are more sustainable shifts in commerce and culture than any particular company or product can represent. Whereas YouTube.com may be a Trifle, Social Media and people’s capability and desire to share their perspectives online is a Trend. The trend is large, millions of people and thousands of companies are behind it, and it’s likely to shape the way we all do things over the coming years.

Truths underpin and enable any trend. The closer a Trifle or Trend is aligned with a human Truth, the more likely it is to be sustainable. The human truth of Social Media is that people are fundamentally social. People’s need to connect with each other is almost as high up as the survival instinct. Combine this powerful natural driver with web-based tools to enable social connection with mobile devices that connect seamlessly to the web, and you have the makings of a major behavioral shift. People are responding compulsively to the opportunity to do social grooming whenever and wherever.

The idea is to align why you use technologies to the truths (and this is the most important work you can do), what you do to the trends, and how you do it to the trifles.

Digital Nomads

The use of mobile phones is a particularly interesting trend to pay attention to. Smart phones -  that enable web browsing and applications - grant us the wherever, whenever access to our social networks that we so compulsively desire.

The first mobile social-network was your phone’s contact list, and it was every bit as revolutionary as Facebook’s social graph - if not more so. The contact list in the phone in your pocket accompanies you to work, and the work-places of your “friends” (I use inverted commas because we all know how far the definition of “friend” is stretched in social media). The effect of which is to blur the boundaries between our social-lives and our work-lives. No need to deny you use your phone, however occasionally, for personal communication while at work - the research shows that we all do it.

The thing is that your work life is probably creeping into your social life too. Email is no-longer confined to your desktop. Thanks to mobile devices it now follows you around to dates, lines at the supermarket, and even holidays.

In this way we are digital nomads: mobility allows us to roam with our economic and social structure carried with us in tiny digital caravans. We’re seeing the enterprisation of our social lives, and the socialisation of our enterprises.

Companies around the world have blocked Social Media access at work, because it’s seen as an unproductive waste of time. However, as we all know - with the rise of smart-phones, people are accessing Social Media media at the office anyway.

The good news, though, is that research conducted at the University of Melbourne has shown that a certain amount of free web browsing is actually conducive to productivity, as long as it doesn’t take up more than 20% of our day.

Busyness

This blurring of boundaries can have a host of unforeseen consequences. For one thing, there’s a general sense that we are all more busy and distracted than ever before.  There’s always something demanding our attention.

Multitasking has gone to another level. Tabbed browsing online, multiple applications running on your computer, and people contacting you on various devices and channels - everything urgent, everything “real-time”. While media multi-tasking may have seemed like a good idea some-time in the 90’s, it was clearly a trifle, because subsequent research has shown that it may have adverse affects on memory and brain function.

Do you ever get anxious when looking at your email? You could be suffering from “Email Apnea” - the tendency to hold your breath when dealing with an over-full inbox. This nasty little unconscious habit activates your sympathetic nervous system to kick-in the fight-or-flight response - so your poor body thinks it’s being chased by a mammoth animal while you’re just sitting at your desk. This is generally experienced as “stress”, which by the way can make you fat.

A simple way to deal with this overload is to just force yourself to single-task. Commit uninterrupted time to complete work tasks, enjoy short guilt-free social-media breaks between, and take regular “tech-free” sabbaticals on holidays and weekends.

Social Media and Reputation

Time-wasting is perhaps the least of company worries when it comes to social-media. With entire organizations connecting to the outside world publicly, the potential for PR blunders, Wikileak-type scandals, and general impropriety is greatly enhanced.

Qantas Airlines discovered this earlier this year when their share price was significantly affected by a false rumour that emerged on Twitter. The hard-earned lesson, in words of their CEO, Alan Joyce: "In this modern day and age with social media, you have to be responsive immediately. You have to be out there with the facts very fast, so it's changing the whole dynamic and speed to market that organisations like Qantas have to respond to."

It’s not just companies that need to be mindful of social media. It has become standard hiring practice to do a Google search on someone before hiring them. Have you Googled yourself? What comes up there is colloquially called your “Google CV” - the contemporary alternative to the paper version. If you want to take control of the impression you make online, the best advice I can give you is to ask yourself if you’d be happy for your boss or clients to see what you’re uploading. If not, don’t post it.

Clearly it’s not possible to stop people from using social media, so the most viable response seems to be simply to educate people on responsible online activity. Forward-thinking companies have drafted official Social Media guidelines for staff, along with ongoing training to help people use these powerful tools responsibly, professionally, and sustainably.

Radical Authenticity

One of the fears that people have with all this online use is that Big Brother is watching us, but with all our millions of tiny cell-phone cameras, tweets and wikis, the bigger story is that we are now watching Big Brother.

With the explosion of information available online - much of it unreliable - we have become far more skeptical consumers.The true currency of the web today is Trust. And Trust is built over time by aligning what is said with what is done.

Ultimately, social media is not just a communications channel that can be managed and controlled. It is a not a set of technologies to be mastered, it is a cultural reality to be engaged with. It promises to expose the corrupt and reveal the extraordinary, and if nothing else it is to guaranteed to keep us on our toes. It is chaotic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. So the best social media strategy, then, is not a strategy at all, it is to be purposeful, ethical, and transparent and let our communications and behaviours flow from that.

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If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in a course I'm running in July for UCT Graduate School of Business: Nomadic Leadership

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Is formal education the surest path to health, wealth,  happiness and societal progress? I think it's important that we start looking directly at what is working for people who we consider successful today.

With the unprecedented rate of technologically driven change in industries and jobs, along with a super-abundance of information, perhaps being educated is no longer a matter of having completed a degree once upon a time. From what I've seen from the most successful people that I know, learning is a lifestyle and the most learned people are not bookworms, but "pracademics" - part doer (practitioner) and part researcher (academic).

As I see it then, being educated in in the age of Google and the web is now a matter of:

Being Educated.001.jpg

1) Being Curious and Humble

The greatest threat to the sustainability individuals and companies are that their current processes and technologies become obsolete. Instead of falling back on what you know, you should nurture a curiosity about what is possible. Once you know what problems are worthwhile solving, the answers are easier to find than ever before. 

"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran

2) Learning fitness

There should be an expiry date on most degrees. Knowledge is dating at a faster rate than ever before - from web marketing to medicine - industries change as science and technology progresses.  The ability to discern fads (quickly dated tastes) from trends (slow-building, sustainable and significant changes) will help us align our learning to what is likely to be most valuable to society.

"The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet" - William Gibson

3) knowing how to access and store information (web user skills + knowledge management)

The answers to your questions are out there, but to find them, store them, and access them when you need them takes some skill. Do you know how to determine the credibility of a web resource? Are you savvy in Boolean operators for search? Can you use Google Fusion Tables to analyse data on the fly? Do you use metadata to help you save and sort relevant articles in an online app? There are a host of tools that can radically enhance our intelligence, capacity, and research abilities.

"Access is better than ownership" - Kevin Kelly

4) Connecting with the people who are involved in doing what you're learning about (networking)

Knowing the right people leads to opportunities for continued success and learning - this happens through conversations, introductions and collaborations. I've personally found that the best way to meet and connect with these people is a combination of participating in online networks, and attending conferences and courses that are topically related.

Support, mentoring, and coaching is also a key element of this value factor.

"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (A person is a person through other people) - Zulu Maxim

5) Keeping focussed (goals and analytics)

The most useful part of a university degree is the paper you get at the end of it, but not for the reasons you might think. The paper (the degree) is an end-goal that motivates you to finish what you started. The best preventative measure to this distraction is to have goals, milestones, metrics, and an accountability system (once again, mentoring and coaching can play a key role here) that will ensure that you get to a significant depth of understanding and praxis.

"There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

6) Maintaining energy, health and wellbeing (exercise & nutrition)

The modern corporate lifestyle is almost by defined by traffic, desk-bound work, technological dependence, high stress, regular air-travel, junk-food,  and stimulants. If education's role is to improve the lives of the educated, then it's incumbent on educators to embed healthy practices that enable clear thinking, creativity, and well-being.

Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

7) Philosophical Engagement (Mental Models and Ethics)

Perhaps the two surest ways to sustain success and build momentum in the long run are: a) having philosophies, mental models, and paradigms that that allow you to zoom out of the day-to-day activity of your work and see whether what you're doing is truly worthwhile to yourself and others,  and b) A good reputation, gained through years of ethical practice.

"The sacred is all about unconditionals; the profane is all about conditionals." - Nassim Taleb

What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything here? How can we move closer to making this vision a reality? I'd love to hear your views.

"Across consumer markets, attention is becoming the scarcest - and so most strategically vital - resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries it touches; beginning with the media industry"  - Umair Haque, Bubblegeneration

Online tools and resources that enable large-scale participation and media sharing such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia have been adopted into regular use by hundreds of millions of people in the last three years - perhaps because they enable people to collaborate, manage complexity and find information more efficiently than they would be able to without these tools. In South Africa and other emergent markets, mobile phones have been similarly used to not only enable one-to-one communications, but to enable learning, banking, networking, healthcare and access to news.

It is in this context of cheap, on-demand, real-time, and often social media access that newspapers are struggling to retain market share. Quite obviously, a new value proposition needs to be identified, given that the competitive landscape has changed along with consumer expectations.

In this post I will propose that the core value proposition of newspapers is intrinsically tied to what I see as the most pressing challenge of media consumers today: conserving time while maximizing reward.

We will look at three key themes that I believe will distinguish successful newspapers in the coming decade:

  1. Attention as an Asset

  2. Usability as a Differentiator

  3. Free and Fee


Attention as an Asset

The explosion in media types available, and of-course in the amount and variety of content, has created thousands or millions of niche media tastes. Media consumers today are faced with a mind-boggling array of content to choose from. Their challenge is not finding news and information, but finding news and information that fits their needs and lifestyles.

Most media consumers today are operating in a form of perpetual attention deficit: there is simply more content available to them than they could possibly attend to. So, people have books they’d love to read, but don’t; movies they’d love to watch, but don’t; newspapers they’d love to read, but don’t. The media that goes unattended to is not necessarily of an inferior quality, but somehow it doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of the person that misses it.

According to the polymath Nobel laureate, Herbert Simon:
in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it

The concept of an attention scarcity sits uncomfortably juxtaposed with the industrial model of news production. Information is intrinsically valuable in the industrial model because it is relatively scarce, exclusive and hierarchical. It makes sense then, to build empires around a particular access channel that is exclusive and popular - such as print. However, once information becomes freely available on the internet it may be easily accessed and shared by anyone who can operate a search engine and send an email. Thus, in sectors where information is abundant and available, the only ‘cost’ of information is the time and effort that it takes to engage with it.

The good news for the media in all of this is that businesses in virtually all consumer-facing sectors are facing a similar rise in competitors. They too operate in a marketplace driven by demand for thinly spread consumer attention. Media in general, being the purveyors of Attention, stand to benefit from this if they can effectively present advertising and other commercial content in a way that consumers appreciate and attend to.

In order to successfully adapt to this new economy, newspapers may need to start emphasising Attention, over Content. By this I mean that consumers will be drawn to news sources that are able to add value to the information in ways that enhance their experience of it - through having a more trustworthy brand, effective design, accessibility, community and engagement for example.

The quality of Attention is determined by the intensity of its focus. In other words, the more it excludes to concentrate on the matter at hand, the better its quality.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observes that our nervous systems are only capable of processing 110 bytes of information per second. We therefore have a limited physiological capacity to process information. Concentrating on someone giving an average presentation, for example, consumes around 60 bytes of that capacity and it is what makes it difficult for one to concentrate on more than two voices at a time (Shannon, 1948)1.

Thus it follows that moving towards cheaper news prices (free in many cases) and more advertising may be adversely affecting the quality of reader’s attention. A lower quality of attention may translate into a lower quality of experience for the reader, and hence less likelihood of a repeat encounter with the offending news outlet.

Usability as a Differentiator

For many people, the ‘instinctive’ response in the face of all the variety of content available to them is to go faster, multitask, and spend more time engaging with media. Even the most casual observer would notice, for example, the compulsive engagement of smartphone users with their devices.

Newspapers may need to start focusing more on the holistic experience of news consumption in the context of their readers’ lifestyles. On a simple level, this may mean changing the ways news is laid out and written, as well as ensuring a seamless brand experience across other channels such as internet, mobile phones and e-readers.

Herbert Simon’s research (1996, 143-144) points out that designers of under-utilised information systems incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity, and as a result they built systems that excelled at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information.

Simple ways of helping people to filter irrelevant information can be applied to print newspapers. For example, The Daily Maverick, a new online publication based in South Africa makes navigating it’s email newsletter simpler by formatting informative article abstracts into three useful sub-categories:

  • While you were sleeping” (news from the world that happened overnight);

  • Coming up today” (important events for the day ahead); and

  • In case you missed it” (the previous day’s news that missed the last publication deadline).


These categories would be different for publications with different readerships, but in this case they fit perfectly into The Daily Maverick’s value proposition to make their reader “the smartest person in the room” by equipping them with tidbits of news to spark conversation.

In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Professor Barry Schwartz asserts that “too many choices can paralyze people into inaction, and cause them to be dissatisfied with even good decisions”. To build on that idea, I would suggest that strong brands help reduce the cognitive dissonance that media consumers may experience when faced with the overwhelming variety of content from various outlets. To illustrate this, I would cite Apple as a brand that has so effectively distinguished it’s brand that to many people their choice of which laptop to buy may amount simple to “do I want a Macbook or Macbook Pro” (as an Apple fan, that was certainly my experience).

Free and Fee

Few people would argue that newspapers shouldn’t operate online. The online news channel, along with online advertising and payments continue to grow even as print readership and advertising revenues decline.

However, in the online environment content is abundant. When faced with the choice of marginally better content for a fee, or good-enough content for free, they tend to choose the free content.

Much news content online is serendipitously encountered - consumers haven’t gone out looking for it specifically, but have been referred to it by a peer or encountered it via a Search Engine. It is difficult to get people to pull out their credit cards to read an article they have encountered by chance and with cursory interest.

In the case of serendipitous encounters with news, it would be a mistake to hide content behind a password protected “walled garden”. The main argument against this is perhaps that Google and other search engines will not index password protected content, so a significant channel of new readership will be foregone.

On the other hand, the challenge with completely free content is that it tends to rely on more advertising and advertorials. The problem with this is two-fold: firstly, it may lower the quality of the reader’s experience, and secondly, it may begin to infringe on editorial and journalistic independence.

There have been alternate calls for newspapers to go free or to continue charging fees, whether in print or online. I would argue for a blended approach, often called Freemium pricing.

Freemium pricing works with two basic pricing levels: free and premium. Free content is used to attract attention and showcase the product. Premium content is exclusive and may offer greater access, functionality, or a better quality of experience.

In the context of the Attention Economy, we would assert that all the newspaper’s content should be freely available online, since content is no longer a distinctive value proposition for newspapers. However, consumers should be charged for features that enhance their experience of the content - for example, to remove adverts, to receive the print edition,  the mobile application, or even the email newsletter.

Consumers of free news may have lower expectations of free content and may make advertising viable. However, serious news consumers would be willing to pay for a better quality reading experience. A blanket approach to either make content free or paid for is shortsighted and limiting.

Conclusion

I would assert that media consumption is not only driven by the quality of content, but also the quality of the experience in engaging with the content. Increasingly, considerations such as branding, integration with social-communities, personalisation and elegance need to be integrated into the core value proposition of newspapers.

News content should be free and easy to share, but a small percentage of users who are prepared to pay for a better quality experience of the content may ensure the continued viability and freedom of the press.

(This piece was originally written with Elaine Rumboll for the World Association of Newspapers' project "Charting the Course for Newspaper Companies,” a compilation of visions for the future of newspaper companies)
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