Brands, Aggregators and Journalists
Brands, Aggregators and Journalists: a Conversation with Intel’s Bob Duffy
Brands, Aggregators and Journalists: a Conversation with Intel’s Bob Duffy

Funny how things work out.

You’d think “journalism” was dead as a door nail. Newspapers, magazines and TV news are in decline, and the golden age of reporting dating back to Watergate is long over. Yet there’s a demand in Silicon Valley, and beyond, for people who can dig up stories, create interesting angles, and write compelling blogs.

That sounds like a journalist to me.

Bob Duffy, a senior social media strategist at Intel, got me thinking about this when I spoke to him a few days ago. Duffy, acting Community Manager for Intel’s AppUp(SM) developer program, isn’t an editor, PR guy or traditional marketer. But he does understand the need for journalism skills – and he’s right in the middle of an emerging trend, with brands taking on new publishing and platform responsibilities.

Bob Duffy - IntelThe way he sees it is that there are several levels of “media” now: the traditional media (ex: WSJ); major influencers (ex: Engadget), independent bloggers/influencers (ex: Steve “Chippy” Paine, product reviewer) , and then, corporate blogs and communities.

Duffy points out that brands like Intel are doing a lot of what independents and other media are doing- interviewing developers, showcasing best practices, creating connections between different tech players. Basically he’s trying to create the platform and context for key industry discussions–and draw in developers (also see his blog here). *

This is a long way from the old PR model, where you court a few select media and try to control the message and outcome.  Duffy’s reaching out to anyone and everyone that could be part of the community, and lets the discussions flow.

“We don’t try to control the conversation or message, we just want to provide the context.”

The key point is Intel is stepping into a new role-it’s not really PR or marketing. It’s more of an aggregator role, a facilitator of conversations around key topics. Even that description comes up a little short since it indicates a semi-passive strategy vs Intel’s aggressive approach.

For instance, Duffy’s constantly reaching out to developers and providing that platform for discussion. “I notice you wrote something on XYZ subject in our forum, would you mind writing a blog for us and giving us your perspective?..”

It’s also playing the role of story-teller, or at least facilitating stories.

The new model- corporation as facilitator, story-teller, and new media-confuses many people who are accustomed to the old media model. When I was driving a new editorial program last year to transform HP’s enterprise blogs, most managers got it-but not all; some (including my old manager) just couldn’t break away from the old marketing model to embrace the new one.

One reason is we all grew up with these old marketing and media models, and there’s  been little disruption to the media model for decades. There was THE MEDIA (the professional editors, producers, etc) and THE CONSUMER. You consumed content. The media produced it. Real media pros (and I was one) looked skeptically at non-journalists who tried their hand at the craft.

Now anyone who can write, produce content and hit a publish button is in the game.

I imagine it was like this after the printing press was invented in 1450; before the invent of movable type, everything had to be written and copied by hand. Suddenly, writing books wasn’t just confined to a select few scribes or monks; anyone could potentially publish. This led to an explosion in books, and other types of publications.

So now we have brands like Intel, the free electron bloggers, the bigger blog powerhouses (Huffington, TechCrunch)  and other hybrids-a crazy mix of new media players, all competing for attention. I’m amazed that some companies are still watching from the sidelines, like deer caught in the headlights.

This doesn’t completely replace traditional media. No one expects Intel or any brand to provide unbiased opinions like a WSJ. But to ignore it is stupid- if Intel and other brands have their way, their voices and impact will grow. Competitors will suffer.

The challenge now, says Duffy, “is to be able to move resources quickly enough to be relevant.”

This isn’t about creating one-shot, message-driven campaigns, and moving on. “It’s about reallocating resources for sustained engagement.”

He also realizes his forums are just one channel for discussions, and that Intel has to be nimble enough to engage across the blogosphere.

Back to the journalist issue: It’s clear the lines are blurring between traditional media and leading bloggers, as Jason Falls recently pointed out. Also clear, at least to me, is companies need to hire more writers and editors, and create editorial systems to drive blogger content.

Some social media advocates like Mitch Joel are arguing  for even more–hiring an army of journalists who  just write non-biased industry articles.  The hell with marketing messages and company-spin, just focus on delivering compelling content that will draw in audiences.

So journalism is back in style, sort of. Intel will have to continue mining the Internet for stories and good sources, writing about key issues that keep customers up at night and trying to stay ahead of rapidly-moving trends.

However it pans out, as Duffy is showing, the world has changed; the cheese has moved. Companies better adapt or get left behind.

*NOTE: According to the blog the Intel AppUpSM Developer Program:

  • Provides developers with everything they need to create and then sell their applications to users of millions of Intel® Atom™ processor-based devices.
  • Gives developers, OEMs, and the ecosystem a framework to deliver great new applications directly to consumers.
  • The Program provides software development support, application validation, and a worldwide distribution channel for applications and application components

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About the Author

Mark Ivey
Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.

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