A hundred years ago, organizations looking to spread awareness had a handful of media options to get the word out: newspapers, magazines, catalogs, and out-of-home placements like posters in town halls. Soon came radio, and then television, but earning air-time on these platforms was an uphill, nearly impossible battle for small independent businesses. At the time, media conglomerates and news organizations dominated these channels, with access to mass media belonging exclusively to the powerful and the rich. A handful of people had hegemony over national public discourse. Mass communication was very much top-down.
Then the Internet happened. And thanks to rapid technological advancements in the past twenty years, the democratization of media across the globe has engendered the redistribution of that power to the many—to the “little guys.” Small businesses, consumers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and individuals all have access to many of the same mass media channels as major corporations (except for, say, Superbowl commercial spots….but most of those get more views after the game on YouTube, where they then have to compete for views with viral cat videos uploaded by someone’s 13-year-old niece).
Today, mass communication is very much bottom-up. What’s trending on Twitter gets covered in the nightly news. A viral TikTok video will land someone on Fallon. And a small grassroots movement fueled by a hashtag campaign on Instagram could lead to national policy change.
But with so much power comes — you guessed it — so much responsibility. Because there are so many pathways to independent publishing, content producers face the burden of choice; where will my message be heard the loudest? On what platform will my message resonate most with my intended audience? Through which medium can I feel the freest to express myself, my cause, or my mission?
As content strategists and creators at WriteVest, it’s our job to keep a finger on the pulse of the media landscape and understand which channels align best with which communication goals. So we’ve created the following short guide to “Media for the Overwhelmed,” to help you figure out where your attention is most deserved.
- Mainstream Print/Digital/TV: Great for Widespread Brand Awareness. Legacy, “mainstream” news outlets — like NBC, the New York Times, Fox, Wall Street Journal, CNN, etc. — still dominate public discourse. And now with the convergence of broadcast, print, and digital for many of these organizations, their reach is stronger than ever. Yet, as mentioned above, they have become more reactive than proactive in their storytelling; for many news outlets, their mission is to tap into existing conversations and report on their findings. Getting covered on mainstream outlets as a business or organization can still be seen as a pay-to-play “rich guys club.” To get your message out, work with a PR group or content partner that already had connections with journalists to facilitate relationships with your target outlets. Or start small with pitches to local publications, and then use those media hits to attract bigger networks over time. Just be cognizant that mainstream isn’t for everyone: if your target consumers make up about 2 percent of the population, then your time, money, and resources are better spent elsewhere.
- Social media: Great for Community Development and Engagement. Social media can be classified as either “mass media” or “private communication” depending on context. Organizations posting tweets to their 1.5 million followers are leveraging mass media communication; however, organizations using Facebook Messenger to communicate directly with customers are leveraging private communication. For the best results, focus on social media if your product, service, or mission is niche. Search Facebook groups, subreddits, and hashtags on Instagram and Twitter to find people talking about the topics your business cares about and add to the conversation. Just remember that once you strike up a conversation, you need to follow up on a consistent basis. Engagement is everything on just about every social media platform, so be sure to carve out time or resources to actively engage with your audience as your following grows.
- Podcasts: Great for Brand Storytelling and Message Retention. Podcasts are a fascinating addition to the media landscape and present great opportunities for brand storytelling. While podcasting started as a very niche, “indie” (independently produced) craft, it has since grown to a billion-dollar industry with 116 million monthly listeners in the U.S. as of 2021. Organizations looking to leverage podcasts for their communications can either 1) seek interviews or coverage on big-name podcasts in your industry, or 2) launch your own podcast. With the latter, you can use the audio experience to deliver messages to your employees, your customers, or to general consumers. Whichever course you choose, having a representative “personality” (spokesperson) from your brand will help to humanize your organization. Plus, audio storytelling is one of the best ways to ensure message retention, and therefore move you closer to your communication goal.
- New platforms: Great for Attracting Early Adopters and Building Influence. New or emerging media, such as the blogging network Medium and the audio community Clubhouse, hold the potential to be powerful communication channels for the savvy organization. Hopping on the bandwagon early will put you in a higher position of influence as the platform grows, and as it hits critical mass, people will be more likely to listen to you. Still, do your research first: question if the vision of the platform or industry is aligned with your vision, and if the risk of investing in a platform that could potentially fail is worth the potential reward.
Content producers have never been in a more powerful position in directing national conversations. How and where you say something is just as important as what you say. As media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” So choose your media mix wisely, and always, always align your media strategy to your overall brand goals.
Credits: Alexis Anthony, writer; Pixabay, image