We Are the Media: Blurring the lines between print, digital, and social media

Print is dead. We’ve been hearing that for what, a decade now? Two? But have you been to a bookstore lately? Or a supermarket? You’ll still see a lot of floor space devoted to magazines and newspapers. Real estate inside those stores is extremely valuable and the people who run them are pretty smart. If print publications don’t make the cash register ring, why are they still there?

Many magazines have disappeared in recent years. Many that are still around are quite a bit thinner than they used to be. And newspapers are certainly struggling. Most of them have tried to integrate some sort of digital edition into their subscription model. Results have been mixed at best.

Yet occasionally we find a respected dead-trees media organization that seems to have figured out how to stop fighting digital media and make it work to their benefit. Recently I got a very inside look at one such example.

Cycle World launched in 1962 and by 2001 was the largest motorcycle magazine in the world. Its founder, Joe Parkhurst, was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as “the person responsible for bringing a new era of objective journalism to motorcycling in the United States.” In 1995 the magazine published an article by Hunter S. Thompson called “Song of the Sausage Creature.” (Complete with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.) In it, HST wrote a sentence that has been quoted many times and is often seen in the signature lines of keyboard riders on internet motorcycle enthusiast forums: “Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” Hunter Thompson created a career out of ignoring the lines between observer and participant.

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” —Hunter S. Thompson

Cycle World has teamed up with Honda to help introduce a new motorcycle, the NC700X, to North America. The bike goes a very different direction from the rest of the market and Honda is staking a significant portion of its future on this motorcycle. It has drawn a lot of ink in traditional media and is starting to get some traction in the moto forums. Cycle World named it the best standard motorcycle of 2012.

Then they went way beyond the boundaries of the printed page. The magazine took four of its readers, had them ride the new bike for a week, and built a story around them. This story is being written almost entirely in pixels, rather than on paper. The story is called the Cycle World Honda NC700X Adventure Challenge.

And I am one of those four riders. Here’s me on the bike, and a glimpse of my three new riding buddies.

Cycle World and Honda paid all of our expenses for a week in Southern California. They put us up in nice hotels, fed us like kings, supplied more than a few tasty adult beverages, and generally made us feel like rock stars. The magazine even tapped some of its advertisers to hook us up with a bunch of new riding gear. And all they asked in return was for us to talk about the experience. They didn’t tell us what to say and they didn’t ask us to say nice things. Just talk about the experience.

And that’s what we’ve been doing. On Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and lots of the other social media platforms. I’ve been asked a few direct questions about the bike and have answered to the best of my ability. Two most common questions: How is the fuel mileage? (It’s better than the specs say it is.) and, How is the bike on the dirt? (I don’t know as we didn’t get to take it off the pavement. But if you want a dual-sport motorcycle, this isn’t it.) I’ve also suggested to a few friends who are looking for a new bike that they might want to have a look at this Honda. If I were shopping and had $7,000 to spend, I would buy one.

While we were out hooning around on these new motorcycles a camera crew shot gobs of video and stills of most of our escapades. They’ve released some of that content on the Cycle World website with more to come. So we four are riders, content contributors, and, the magazine hopes, social media influencers.

Should be interesting to see how this goes.

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For Outdoor Companies, Social Media is the Campfire

I bet some of your best memories were formed around a campfire. Making s’mores with mom? Check. Uncle Larry’s story about that huge trout? Check. What about the time ol’ Ranger got tangled up with the skunk and your brother-in-law bought every can of tomato juice he could find?

You’ve heard those stories—or some similar—hundreds of times. And they tend to improve with the telling. The s’mores taste better, the trout gets bigger, and your brother-in-law gets more animated every time that story gets passed around the fire. Especially so if there’s a jar of something getting passed around with it.

Social media is the campfire

That’s the beauty of stories and the power of the campfire. As much as we outdoor gearheads love our carbon-fiber-this and our titanium-that, the real reason we spend time in the backcountry is the stories. We like hearing them and we like sharing them. And most of us would like more opportunities to sit around a fire with a few good friends and a few good stories.

That’s true for us. And if we make or sell things for other people who like the outdoors, then it’s true for our customers, too. They buy our stuff because it helps them with their own stories. If it’s great stuff, better than the stuff they were using before, then their stories are bound to include bigger fish, more epic trails, tastier food, and better what-did-you-do? conversations. They share those stories, those adventures, with the people they know. And the things they buy from us get carried along as those stories are shared.

Except now those stories get told and retold at the speed of Twitter, with the power of Facebook, and the infectiousness of YouTube. It’s not just chatter around the water cooler. It’s around the globe.

Awhile back I was chatting with Kath Baird of Bogong Horseback Adventures. Kath, her husband Steve, and their sons Clay and Lin run 45 horses and take folks into the high country of the Great Dividing Range, in Australia. She wondered if all the effort that social media seems to take might be better spent on other things, like running her business, or sitting around the fire with her guests. We talked quite a bit about the topic, flung out several opinions, and even complimented one another on our choice of hats.

And this entire conversation happened via social media. Kath and I have never met face to face. But we did meet in a group called “Adventure Tourism and Travel Professionals,” on LinkedIn. Prior to that I had never heard of her company and had never thought about taking a pack trip into the mountains in Australia.

But I’m thinking about it right now. Maybe you are, too. A few days high up in the Snowy Mountains, riding with Kath and the lads. Besides wrangling horses, Steve Baird is a talented poet and painter, Clay studied film and television and rode his bicycle across Cuba, and Lin grows organic vegetables. Both of Kath’s sons have spent time in the Sierra Nevada, the mountains that are my backyard.

Those are some interesting people and I know they’ve got some great stories to share. I wouldn’t know any of this if not for the social media campfire.

There must be other people running packtrips in Australia. I bet they do a fine job and take great care of their guests. But here’s the thing: When I go to book a horseback adventure in Oz, I’m not going to spend any time looking for other outfitters. I’m going to go out in the bush with Kath and her crew. Because I already know their story and I want to be a part of it. And I think they might be interested in hearing a couple of my stories, too.

It’s going to be awhile before I make it to Australia for a packtrip with the Baird family. Meanwhile, Kath and her business have gained 100 percent of my personal mindshare for this sort of adventure. I’m just a market of one person, but Kath owns that particular market. Because she uses social media and that’s where I found her. Or rather, she found me. If those other outfitters are using social media, I haven’t come across them. I’m sure some of them don’t and maybe never will. But I’ll never know about them, because they didn’t share their story around the fire where I happened to be sitting.

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What’s Your Story?

We write a lot about the power of storytelling for business. How your story is the foundation of all of your marketing communications. There are a zillion tools for telling your story. Some are easy to use, others require a lot of skill, time, practice, or money.

One of the more interesting tools is Xtranormal, a web-based service that lets you create animated movies. You type words; cartoon characters speak your dialog. Simple enough. As with many technologies, from chainsaws to video editors, just getting the tool is not the same as learning how to use it well. Good results take time and effort.

Here’s a little movie we made with Xtranormal. It’s our first effort, so we’re naturally just a bit proud of it. We created 80 seconds of content, starting with the words we wanted our stick figure actor to speak. We added some movements and one simple sound effect. And we experimented with a number of camera angles to keep it interesting. Getting everything to synch up was a bit of a challenge. It took a lot more time than expected.

Video is a very powerful tool. It’s easy to produce; not so easy to produce well. Mostly, it takes time. Fortunately, Xtranormal is fun to use. We quickly got caught in the time-suck vortex of trying to make our little movie just a bit better. Those 80 seconds of video took several hours to create. If you are thinking about using this tool for your business consider the value of your time. And compare that to the value you could create by spending those hours doing your real job.

Anyway, here’s the result:

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Social Media Strategy, Bursting Bubbles, and Companies that Suck

Social media is just one of the tools in our toolbox. It is not a strategy. It should not be run in a silo, segregated from the rest of the organization. I have believed that, strongly, since at least a decade before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along.

All of these vehicles, venues, and platforms are just tools we can use to tell our story. If our story sucks, if we are not a good company, if our products are lousy, then the last thing we need is tools to help more people learn about us faster.

If we have a strong story, make good stuff, sell it at fair prices, and treat our customers, our prospects, and our competitors with respect, then using social media to tell that story far, wide, and fast can help us succeed.

Social media is not social selling. And it is rapidly moving away from social marketing. It is just a very efficient way to have conversations with people who might buy our products, or not buy them, or influence others who might or might not, or interact with a million other people who might have some effect on whether or not we succeed.

And so it must always be focused on the people outside our organization, as they ultimately determine whether we live or die. When we get a tweet that is essentially a customer service question, it is a fatal error to think, or to say, that the question needs to be directed to our customer service department, which is not on Twitter. Either we have good customer service, or we don’t. How the question comes in the door is irrelevant, unless we don’t really care about our customers. And if that is true, then we are irrelevant, or soon will be.

I see social media following a similar trajectory to the web, although much more quickly, with much sharper climbs and probably a faster descent. It really wasn’t that long ago that just having a website was a novelty. It didn’t need to be any good, or do anything useful. Just having a URL meant you were a sexy company. That lasted about three years. Then people started to demand that the website add value to the customer experience. So good companies began to install online help systems, and answer their email around the clock. The best ones began to see their online help system as a sales tool. Customers could now decide to buy from a company because they could clearly see how much support they would get after the sale. And they could see that before buying. Before even showing up on the company’s radar.

A bunch of groovy new startups arrived on the scene promising to take companies that suck, put them on the web, and magically turn them into great companies. Companies that suck, and some that don’t, bought into the hype, made a few people rich, the web collapsed, and a zillion internet gurus were out of work. This entire scenario played out between 1995 and 2001. The web didn’t go away. But the people who didn’t know how to make use of it did. And the web is a better place today.

Fast forward to today. You have to be a company that doesn’t suck. That’s always been true. Just two years ago, just being on Facebook meant you were a cool company, and you felt all sexy and warm inside. But if your company sucks, now it sucks on Facebook. And Twitter, and YouTube, and the other next best things to come along. And your customers, former customers, and competitors have yet another way to share the story of your sucky company. And leave you in the weeds. Lots of people claim to be social media gurus and sell a lot of snake oil. I think that we’ll see the social media bubble burst in two years or less. Social media won’t go away, but the hype will. The gurus will be unemployed. Meanwhile, the people with good storytelling skills will remain successful.

So, be a company that doesn’t suck. Have a great story. Tell it well, meaning listen more than talk. And use social media tools to help share that story with more people faster.

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Around the World by Bicycle: A Few Words with Rick Gunn

“The hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.”

Rick Gunn spent nearly three years traveling around the world by bicycle. He pedaled 25,000 miles in 33 countries on four continents, wearing out three bikes along the way. Now he shares that experience with others via a multimedia show that he calls “Soulcycler.”

We caught up with the Lake Tahoe resident, adventurer, photographer, and writer for a few moments in between trips.

American Sahara:
So one day you decided to get on your bicycle and ride around the world. After you made the decision, how long before you actually hit the road?

Rick Gunn:
Most people don’t really give much thought to the preparation phase of my journey. Often they think I just randomly jumped on a bicycle and set out to ride 25,811 miles around the planet. It took me two years to prepare for, as I tended to list after list. This included financing, bikes, equipment and supplies, camera gear, medical vaccinations, insurance, house and dog sitters, and on and on and on. The truth was, as I say during my show, the hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.

And that still remains the truth. Imagine working at the same job for 10 years, then suddenly deciding you’re going to venture out on a brand new life–one in which you will see a different horizon night after night for three years straight. There is no real planning for a trip of this magnitude. There were only the things I tended to before I left, and the things I failed to tend to after I’d launched. The true decision to go was really 90 percent of the planning.

American Sahara:
Would you do it again?

Read the rest of this entry »

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