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Is there a place for the media in the age of Facebook and blogs?

A bogeyman has appeared on the internet, in the form of social networks and the social media. Facebook has recently announced its 500-millionth member. If we also take into account the fact that blogging has become the favorite hobby of people all around the world, with more supporters than football, the power of what we call social media and social networks – places on the web on which registered users can publish and share content or interact among themselves – has become truly terrifying. We are witnessing an emergence of a whole new universe that is self-reliant and is becoming self-sustainable. "Google is the media with the biggest advertising potential in the world", said professor Vilkos at the recently held lecture at the Media Center. And he knows what he is talking about – his book about the fundamentals of PR is used as a textbook on dozens of universities in the world.

From the viewpoint of PR, social networks and social media are becoming a dangerous competitor – especially in the area consumer goods-PR – to the traditional media, especially their online extensions or the independent online media. What is exactly our job? Since the beginning of February 2007, after leaving journalism, I have been leading the E-PR sector (internet, online PR) in McCann PR. The simplest definition of the job performed by me and the guys in my department was offered by a lecturer and consultant in the field of internet, Dragan Varagic: "The aim of PR is to create a positive image of the company (product, service or an individual – M.S.) using the internet". No more, no less. But internet services are becoming more and more numerous, offering us an increasing number of possibilities to use various creative ways to reach members of target audiences and convey the messages of our clients. And possibilities are truly extraordinary.

If we consider a consumer product like beer, it is possible to bring together its fans in a form of a Facebook group, and to engage them by organizing sweepstakes, notifying them about promotions and communicating with them, like what we did for the Lav company. Communication does not have to be direct, text and pictures are not necessary to announce a fact. There are other ways. When it became necessary to inform consumers, mostly youth, that Bambi had shrunk the package of the Kolo biscuits, allowing it to be easily taken outside or to school, we have made a video game in which the user takes the role of a worker packing the biscuits, six at a time – which is the new number of biscuits in a package. There are many such examples and new possibilities emerge every day. In Serbia, we have only scratched the surface. The rest of the world has gone much farther. How about the fact that the clothing chain H&M has more than three million fans, while Starbucks cafes has more than 13 million. The day is not far off when they simply will not need the media as a platform to communicate with their target audience.

If, as a media professional, your reaction to this was: 'Well, we don't need them too', think again about the advertising money that is the main source of income to most of the media. Except the ones who can manage to live off their circulation. Although their number is decreasing because the internet is taking away their readers as well as viewers. Online editions can be a solution, although unsatisfactory. Mere transfer of content from print editions cannot guarantee visitors and survival. The solution lies in adaptation of the traditional media to the internet as a communication channel, to habits of its users, and to its multimedia possibilities. This means regular updating of content, even if that means that the same piece of news will be updated several times in a day with each new fact. This also means integration of text and the gallery of pictures and videos. Utilization of all the potentials of a newsroom (of newspapers, for example) in the process of creation of a web edition is only the first step. After that, you must allow the visitors of the website to express themselves, because in the age of social networks and social media they expect such functionality, and not only in the form of comments or forum discussions. You should allow them to be your amateur journalists. Engage them and stimulate them to post video or photo comments about current events. During registration, give them the possibility to receive news versions enriched with comments of reputable analysts, to personalize the look of web pages, to use services that cover certain content... For example, a calculator of remaining credit together with articles about them. Simply stated, build a community. The community, together with the number of visitors, is necessary for the next step, which is development of commercial content like shops, programs to share revenue with service providers or introduction of various ad services. The money will begin flowing and you will survive not only in the battle for attention of internet users with other "user generated content" web locations, but in the market as well. Keep in mind that in during the last year in Great Britain the online advertising budget was bigger than the budget for any other form of advertising. I am aware that in our country this budget does not exceed three percent, but this is the moment when starting positions are being defined.

Miloje Sekulic

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MC Newsletter, September 10, 2010

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