BlogHer Biz – Closing Keynote

Closing Keynote: Is the Ethos of the Social Media World Changing How We Conduct Business Online and Offline? Lisa Stone moderates this discussion about whether corporate leaders are seeing and leveraging more ideas generated from the outside in and from the bottom up as they lead their household brands into the future. Lisa is joined by iVillage President, Debi Fine, Google VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer, Redbook Magazine editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison and WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive CEO Caroline Little for the discussion.

You are being charged with continuous innovation. Can you tell me one thing that you have done that was unthinkable

Stacy – we have built the site twice over the last few years. We used to do all the work inhouse; we were going to put all the magazine content online, we were going to have blogs; the website was first opportunity to set out my vision. Comments were going to be open, we were not going to edit etc, all of this was startling, asking about cannabilising sales etc. The benefits of getting people to read it outweighs any sales lost.

Caroline: we launched 2 participatory blogs, on religion, bring in all sorts of religious leaders, have experts respond, readers ask questions etc. it;s the second highest traffic blog we have done.

Debi: ivillage, the thinking was that ivillage and the today show were synergistic. they are building on each other; we were taking 2 major brands and trying to merge them and make the relationship productive. Trying to integrate without losing either value, it was important, felt is was important to create blueprints for success. It is just the beginning, using that blueprint across the network. As a newly acquired business, have to show up with what we can do for you, not asking favours. Had to give a fully baked, end to end strategy which is now getting traction. It needed to be reciprocal relationship and the today folks were ope to this. we are a content source as well now, we are making progress,

Marissa: as we look at tools that we have built, it is about powering the suers, look at blogger and YT. building a culture that empowers people who have ideas to take the ideas and make them reality, give the 20% time,let them think of their own ideas.

Lisa: do you hire differently, with social media changing how you work (or not)

Stacy – magazine publishing is like a miniature tribe, a slumber party. I’m used to a team that drinks the koolaid, so I hire people that get the same mission. i bought in a team that did not know exactly where I was going; we’ll find out who is good and not, I asked people to edit their personalities, understand what part of their lives belong to NY, what is public, I started to teach my team about managing my persona. When I launched the blogs, we just went to see who was good at it. We coached them, they did not have to do it. I told them I did not know what was coming next and we are working our way through it. You have to be secure in the fact I will figure it out, I tried to reduce their anxiety, keep giving me feedback and we will work it out. Content has doubled, and no-one has quit.

Marissa: Google has a unique atmosphere where teams are fluid, there is not a strong hierarchy. Analysts said to me that orgs tend to mirror the processes they put in place. In google, the culture resembles the networks we work on. People fill in with what they are good at; there is respect for experience and inexperience.

Debi – we have changed what we think of talent and culture. At ivillage, the reason we are seeing the the traction, as the team is hybrid in its nature, different from magazine, but far more similarities. Culture is driven by people and product and that is how you drive a product. We have people from many different backgrounds; there is loyal tenure and fresh perspective.

Caroline: there is a tendency to think the paper will never change; and even in our own group I saw this happening. I hired a skunksworks group, young people, extreme programmers, work differently from team This has been a challenge and gets people thinking in a different way.

Lisa: how often are you in reactive mode vs actually innovative:

Marissa: it varies. on whole, we are much more reactive than proactive. we have lots of users, problems we have to deal with. but a little bit of innovation goes a long way, that yields tools and products go a long way.

Lisa: what is the rate of return for the 20%

Marissa: I looked at last 6 months, what products came from where. About 50% of new features/products came from the 20% time, You do need to do reactive./operation work

Debi: it’s pretty equal, we have a business that has been there for over a decade and trying to lots of new things all the time. we are respectful of our heritage but doing due diligence of what should change. We are 6 mnths in, we are being wisely respectful an mindful.

Stacy: I’m not reactive, I don;’t live in same world. I am recontextualising the brand now; questions of context are paramount, I’m not up to minute. I think about women a lot of time. I spend a lot of time playing games online, the innovation comes from the mundane, thinking about women. You have to create delight, that what makes people come back. And on April 9th we’ll see some results

Caroline – we are reactive. 100% of the time. What I find important is to keep innovating. Contextualise what we are doing and where are we going.

Q: With all the innovations.brands, what have been the biggest hurdles measurement wise.

Debi: the toughest area is budget. We have to understand for ourselves and then communicate well throughout GE which is numbers driven. We have to fit into corporate structure. Education is focus.

Stacy – the Hearst digital group is new; we are in the honeymoon phase and we will figure it out later. They made a significant investment; it is early for us. 2 teen sites went live last monday and things are going really well, all inventory sold. The company is feeling confident.

Q: Content distribution..we have 3 destination media sites and a search engine to find the sites. What is the future, who is the key portal, are you dependent on the consumer knowing where to go or will we see more partnerships. exclusive content.

caroline: search on the web is a big challenge. I don;t think anyone will hold the door. Findability is a huge issue on a site, within a site. navigation and usability is one of the biggest challenges.

Lisa: the old model, build it, market it, hope they will come. is there a destination site anymore.

Stacy – I do not think there will be, except the super retailers. with redbookmag.com, it will never be a big giant. ivillage gave us a lot of traffic but replaced this by making simple content deals with MSN.com, drive 25% of online subscriptions. We get partnership deals. I’m not looking for a lot of big deals, looking at a lot a small sites as well. Create community by finding women where they are. The long tail relates, when talking about how big brand need to relate.

Lisa: Caroline, you have a ad network

Caroline: I don;t think like a destination site, we look t engage, our bloggers, trying lots of different things.

Debi: the portfolio approach is important, we are looking at existing audience and the new stuff. we are trying the new stuff ans see what sticks but in a way that is strategic

Lisa: Marissa – what is the future of search, where do you want to be

marissa: there will continue to be the notion of a destination site, with brands that have fans. a lot is about growth, finding new content. there are trends, we see breaking down paradigms. see google, netvibes, my yahoo, small modules of content. we have google gadgets, on macmac OS, vista, there are pockets of in that are coming important for distribution, they are less of a commitment. I would not make netflix my homepage, but will take a module to put on desktop or homepage. the commitment is less, I will make it part of my experience. the modules are interactive, functional, content flow by and that is compelling.
I think that search os just starting; keywords are limiting, instead of what the page is about. we want to see richer forms of interaction, contextual finding, desktop follows you and have modules that change as you go. new forms of asking the question and answering it, video and images etc. looking at how to bering back richer results and extend how people interact with google.

Q: Sue Thomas – I run online degree in new media. they students want careers in providing people with new media. Often those who write best for new media are not the traditional people. what qualities are you looking for?

debi: we talk a lot about what works and does not. There is a sense of urgency for immediate result. We can try people out and see if they work and get immediate response. they have to find a place their voice resonates.

Stacy – still think traditional trained journalism schools make the best, can be trained in formats but the core skills about research etc are still valid. You need a bit of everything…you also need to do sizzle copy, (hardest to find people) to do short and to do long form.

Caroline: we run online newsroom; I think abut flexibility. A print journalist may take video and photographs that go on site as well as story in paper. Think about how to tell story with different assets.

marissa:> You need to have the fundamentals, in a growth industry, new media can give all of these and so a lot of opportunities.

Lisa: what are people used for searching:

Marissa: mobile is very small and we may have to invent something different; keyword search is bad on the phone. Google has a lot of data from phones, look at Japan, they do train schedules, news, games etc, we need to put together something for the space, eg maps is the highest used tool. Find places. easy to find things. as we get gps on phone will get even better. Web-based searches are interesting, some come to destination site and others use the search box in the browser and in the desk top. The browser box, 30-50% use the box, a lot of people skip the homepage, so we have taken our doodles and echo them on the results page as people are skipping all the time.

Q: are you monitoring, how are you identifying people.

Stacy – no, not yet.
Caroline – we use technorati and we keep an eye on what is being said but not full monitoring.
Debi – when i think about the force of the consumer, that customer rules and has always done, but now with a much tighter hand, she’s in charge now, we need to be in a predictive state. Our users crated our ads.
marissa -obviously we are! google analytics, lots of tools. we are a data driven culture and less political. we have the law of large numbers. the designers, whose design gets picked becomes political, we can just run them both and do a/b testing and see what wins. really sophisticated tools. Google alerts was one of my projects, so I run it for google and see daily snapshots. assume the PR dept is aware of all the stories were placed, fro their reports you cannot tell which are largest etc, the alerts give me the digest of what is happening. I use that. Look at Tech, daypop, slashdot, you get a lot of excitement

Lisa: you describe something that is revolutionary -you tell us.

Stacy – but magazine covers have been done. there is precedence.
i
Q: how do you predict the audience readiness? once we do it we know the audience was ready, but how do you know what to pick?

Marissa: we look a lot at growth, we look at the trends, the growth. earlier eric asked which questions are products are successful. we looked at month over month growth, some were 5%, but that is what the web is growing at. Look at YT, MS they area growing really fast, 25%. less than 10% then not good, over 15% are great. Comcsore etc ad at actual number, but good at relative numbers, growth rates, has less to do with buzz but with broad growth over a number of months.

Q: are you paying attention to AI research, natural language processing etc?

Marissa: by background is AI; a lot of the researchers look at it, we think that is where the big wins will come from.. Look at our overall infrastructure. Look at our spelling feature. it is built off our query stream, we look at patterns, we can do amazing corrections over time, Now we see people using google for spelling. We offer it in 140 languages, This is a UGC effort. we do 20-30 languages and take volunteers from round the world to translate. Weather Underground offered more languages than google – it got people to help, now we get people to help on the pages. Spell correction is in about 50 languages.

Q: you are all ad supported, so how have all these changes affected your outlook

Debi: Advertisers are more interested in integration; align assets with advertisers. they are looking for us to be solution driven. The expectation is for us to address their solutions. The onus is on us to align assets, and raise the bar with performance.

Stacy – I worked in the bridal market, it was deeply colluded – buy ads, get dresses in mags. I challenged this strategy. We worked away from a million dollars of unprofitable ads. And changed it. Bridal was so backwards it was ahead of its time. I want to have relationships with advertisers, they are not ness smart enough in what they want. I don;t run a magazine I create a tribe of people, I know women, I can help you advertise. I can drive it forward and create the partnerships, it is experiential not an advertising platform. All about being the driver seat.

Caroline – it’s a little different for a news organisation. it’s a fun time for integration, and innovation.

Q: UGC on sites – what is the future on sites like yours.

Debi – we are open that we are aggregating content. you need the receptivity of audience and the organisation.
Caroline – about half of our blogs are by non-employees. I want more content like that on our site.
Stacy – when we relaunch..you;ll see. YOu have 2 layers. You tell us, what is your recipe, what do you do after a bad day. In magazine, it;s been there for a while. We are inviting specific bloggers, doing blogs to tell stories.

Lisa: you are describing how you are educating advertisers? And the former audience are educating us. Where do you see yourself in 1, 2, 3 years.

Marissa – changing the paradigm of computing for people. storing everything on google, accessed from anywhere. Makes sense to store in the cloud. Easy to share, facilitate sharing. this is our vision. making computing portable.
Debi – our audience is loyal, we have no1 site in UK and that is our blueprint for moving forward.
Caroline – we want to make the difference to keep news gathering alive and well.
Stacy – I have no ideas, but want to reinvent the mag, that we are relevant.

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3 thoughts on “BlogHer Biz – Closing Keynote

  1. Rachel, great live-blog, thank you! I’m linking it from BlogHer Business ’07’s page.

    Really enjoyed meeting you. Your comments on the value of social media to your clients were enlightened. Let us know next time you’re in the Bay Area.

  2. “Marissa: as we look at tools that we have built, it is about powering the users, look at blogger and YT.”

    Google didn’t build either of those. They bought them.

  3. @Anon (who are you, why not leave your name, or at least a name!)

    i agree that they bought those, as they have a lot of other tools. Hopefully they will continue to do stuff with thme – but how long did it take them to update blogger?