Like It Or Not, Media Companies Are Tech Businesses

Deanna Brown, CEO of Federated Media, has seen it all in the digital space. As an AOL and Yahoo veteran and a co-founder of Conde Nast’s CondeNet, Brown understands the way the Web works for brands and publishers. Digiday caught up with her to discuss the melding worlds of media and tech companies, Facebook’s parallel Internet, and why brands need content strategies.

Many of today’s digital publishers view themselves as one or the other. Do you view Federated Media as a media or tech company?
We’re both. If they’re not both, they’re not going to win. You can’t be in the media business without having a true technology platform and a differentiated tech point of view. You can’t succeed if you don’t have really talented tech execs or teams. It’s platforms with a differentiated point of view and talent that succeed. You’ll fail in media business without those pieces. On the other hand, there’s a glut of tech companies who want to take advantage of media models without understanding the media world, and they ultimately become vendors. It’s my point of view that we need to be both.

How is content on the independent Web essential to the growth of the social Web?
Independent Web content is the source of the majority of social engagement. Sure, consumers will trade personal information and what they had for lunch, but what is really the worthwhile and engaging part of the Web is the the content. It’s all  goes back to the Independent Web and the content creator and curator. They’re the ones that matter, that are influencing conversation and amplifying those conversations on those platforms. It’s those conversations that are the make up of the social Web/graph. The context. Imagine a dinner party without context: It’s a lot of chatter but not interesting. Content creation and content curation is an influential combination; content plus community in context equals the social graph.

Do Facebook’s changes and products announced yesterday mean brands are publishers?
If imitation is the finest form of flattery, we’re flattered. They have not only restated that brands are publishers, they are also using conversational media and the conversation as the point of reference. We are using the same language around valued opportunities around small/medium/large brands. We’re all saying the same thing. The execution, I think, falls short of what a publisher might do as a brand. It falls short because it’s a template approach: Content creation and curation are still missing. Facebook is not an environment for content publishing creation/curation, and they basically have dressed up their existing platform and allowed brands to be “publishers.” In my mind, it’s not a shift to where brands as publishers want to play. Facebook’s saying the right things, but their product needs to follow and needs for room for improvement.

Should brands and publishers be wary of overemphasizing Facebook in heir digital strategies?
There are pitfalls to allowing external companies putting its eggs in one platform, as opposed to owning it as a brand. Facebook is a great partner for publishers, in terms of amplification and sharing, but it cannot be your sole pub platform. Imagine saying you’re going to let a 30-second spot on a prime time TV show be your destination website. Even though “Friends” was a huge platform, you wouldn’t put your eggs in that basket. Facebook is one of many ways to reach many audiences — parents, affluent adults, CEOs of major companies. However, being somewhat agnostinc to one platform is the advice we give to our marketing partners.

Is Facebook the new AOL? Is Facebook an independent Web company?
It’s a good analogy. I worked at AOL in the early part of this century, and that was a tough transition from a walled garden — that all things can and should live on a destination website. There are a lot of parallels there. We believe in the distributed Web. While we love Facebook as an amplification tool for our author partners, we see Facebook as a huge amplification tool. Our author partners have mastered their communities; the experiences are distributed happening real time. It’s a different point of view; it’s a destination experience. I think Facebook provides a dominant media company point of view that really doesn’t take advantage of the medium. No, Facebook isn’t an independent Web company. The one that resonates is the idea that the experience is dependent and that your experience changes. The independent Web is a host of a conversation who has a community that is formed, a lot of which comes to bear on the influence of that individual. That conversation is real, as opposed to a machine serving you. Look at Facebook or Google; it’s dependent on who you are and how you interact with it. We believe the independent conversation is truly all those participating and having the same experience.

Is the separation of earned and paid media in agencies and brands a problem?
I used to get the question: “We need an earned media strategy.” My retort was, “You need a content strategy.” We affect content strategy by having the right tools for the right job. Earned media comes from the right assets in the right context, and in order to move boxes off the shelf and show a return, you need to amplify that with paid media. Earned media comes from a smart content strategy. You need to have owned assets that are conversational in context, like we talked about earlier, to generate earned media. In order to get a return on that owned asset, you want to spend some dollars on paid media to amplify those conversations that are truly of value. Owned plus earned, owned plus paid equals a true content strategy.

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