If you are one of the few that didn’t fall into Monday’s link bait trap put on by Politics Daily, you might not know about Emily Miller’s piece in which she argues that the National Enquirer should be considered for a Pulitzer for breaking the story of John Edwards’ extramarital affair and love child.
Ignoring the basis of her argument, let’s examine the excellent social media marketing at play here.
The entire tone of the piece is aimed at stoking the fires behind a largely-imagined competition between the National Enquirer and “mainstream media” that is widely-believed and argued by a certain corner of the political spectrum. Never mind that a vast majority of the Enquirer‘s stories – think weight gains/losses, celeb rehab, who’s sleeping with who – are not of any interest to most “mainstream” news outlets anyway (but that’s besides the point).
Note the only quoted source in the story. Note the author in the comments of the story stoking that political fire. See her later the same day actively campaigning for the Enquirer getting the Pulitzer on Twitter. Note the National Enquirer, the same day, writing its own story about Miller’s story, praising her campaigning. Watch the Twitter stream reaction from said media competition theorists. Then see the link bait everywhere (you too, Mr. Romenesko).
The entire Issue-with-a-capital-I has been re-framed as Biased/Mainstream Media is preventing the Upstart/Misunderstood National Enquirer from getting a Pulitzer instead of asking if the story is worth journalism’s highest honor in the first place. Miller and the National Enquirer fed the beast in just the right ways to both get huge gains from their regular bases and a whole new crowd of big media haters who bit the competition bait.
It’s brilliant marketing and more media outlets should take note.
See, the National Enquirer has been using social media to change its brand’s reputation ever since the Edwards story started rolling out in 2007 and 2008. I don’t know how it started, but somehow they have managed to market themselves as a certain-kind-of-conservative’s go-to brand, along with Fox News, of news that is perceived by fans as non-mainstream and unbiased in a world of mainstream and Left-leaning news outlets.
Every day I keep a cursory eye on a Twitter search for the word “enquirer” (to keep an eye out for mentions of my own newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer). At least a half-dozen times during my work day that stream will feature someone saying the National Enquirer is a more reliable source for news than “mainstream” news. You can’t really buy that kind of word-of-mouth love, especially after decades of having such a negative brand reputation.
We as an industry are generally awful about marketing ourselves and managing our brands. I’m not saying you need to actively wage a campaign like this to get noticed, but baby steps help a lot. Somewhere along the line, journalists got the notion that you can’t be good in this business unless everyone thinks your newspaper sucks and to hell with them if they don’t like it. I don’t think this works anymore.
Right now, when bloggers and users in social media denigrate our reporters or brands, the strategy is to keep quiet and don’t let them see you sweat. At worst, some outlets and media companies go further than that to actively alienate and discredit the detractors as a defensive maneuver, which never seems to go over well in the long run.
What we should be doing is contacting the writers, leaving comments and answering questions. We should defend our work and people when necessary and apologize when it’s warranted. We should go on record for interviews, return phone calls and emails – you know, do all those things that companies do when they want to be liked. Even when you don’t have to respond to criticism, we should be out there putting our best foot forward. Start by talking up your work and your paper’s efforts to local bloggers, your competition and your Twitter and Facebook friends. Involve the community in upcoming changes (eve the bad ones) and seek feedback whenever you can.
At the very least, take a cue from the Enquirer on this – you need to have fans somewhere. Find them, court them and keep them in the loop…then you can say to hell with everyone else.