When we announced our new partnership with LinkedIn last week, it provoked a flurry of controversy within the B2B media space (you can see the highlights of the partnership in a letter from our CEO). The arrangement evinces some of the dramatic changes happening in the media business today, and dramatic change often creates confusion.
The Openly Social CIO
We pursued this partnership because it helps us reach more of our audience and enhances their networking by showing them with whom they’re connected at the companies we write about and at the events we host. It also provides us with not just any old platform for pro-social networking in the future, but the most well-established and trusted business network there is.
CIO has some experience in the networking realm. We launched the CIO Best Practices Exchange in 2001. That morphed into the CIO Executive Council, a peer-to-peer advisory service with over 500 paying members today.
But our efforts until now have been closed and proprietary. Recent, rapid developments in publishing as well as in social networking have convinced us we need to extend our relationships and get our content out into the places our readers spend their time. We started a CIO group in Facebook a few months ago (not surprisingly, our CIO group on LinkedIn, launched at the same time, has three times the members as the Facebook group, and it’s growing fast, with over 1,000 members as of last week). We have a CIOMagazine feed in Twitter. And every day, our journalists promote our content to dozens of social media sites around the web.
The New New Thing
Part of our agreement with LinkedIn involves the use of APIs – widgets of sorts that, associated with companies mentioned in our articles, display how many people in your LinkedIn network work at that company. These are not ads for LinkedIn or the companies mentioned; LinkedIn does not pay us to insert them. Rather, the widgets provide functionality we believe will be appreciated by our audience. But because it’s a first, it has drawn a lot of attention, some of it very positive, some of it less so, including a post by industry consultant and blogger Paul Conley (Conley could have had many of his and his readers’ questions answered in advance if he had taken me up on my offer, extended twice, to discuss what we were doing).
At issue is an established industry guideline that states “whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors,” and further, that “contextual links within editorial content should not be sold.” While CIO’s LinkedIn widgets aren’t strictly links — they don’t take the visitor to a separate web page — the same standards should certainly apply.
As editor in chief of CIO, I was privy to the developing partnership with LinkedIn in its early and confidential stages, as was CIO.com’s online editorial director. We both approved the use of these APIs. While the initial test of the APIs was implemented by our technical staff, eventually the implementation will be automated based on rules agreed to by the editors. In the meantime, editors indicate which companies merit the treatment (i.e, which companies are most significant to the story) by inserting the names of those companies in the keyword field of their article; our technical staff does the actual coding, which is more extensive and labor-intensive than a simple hypertext link.
Our current use of the APIs inserts the button next to the company name in the body copy of the article. If this proves too intrusive for readers, we may move them into a sidebar-like text box. Regardless of where it resides, what we’re doing does not violate current guidelines (ASBPE’s Ethics Committee intends to issue its own ruling on this sometime soon.
In our efforts to stay ahead of the curve with social networking and other online media developments, we’re moving fast and adjusting as we go. We move fast not for the rush of excitement, but because in case anyone hadn’t noticed, our industry is erupting beneath us. I’ve taken away a few lessons from this week’s events.
- It’s an illusion to think you can “manage” change. For executives and managers in dynamic industries, the experience is more like being at the helm of the Andrea Gail as storms converge and the waves build and shift beneath you. You need to think three steps ahead, anticipate different outcomes and adjust on the fly.
- To continue the sea-faring metaphor, the crew needs to be in the loop. For one thing, in this environment we need everyone pulling in the same direction. If we want people to feel invested and engaged in what we’re doing, they need to be included. In the absence of information, it’s human nature to assume the worst. In our desire to move fast, the test went live before the internal communication happened, and people were caught off guard. If there’s anything that’s worth a little extra time, it’s this.
- We need industry watchers to comment on new developments — and to challenge them if things aren’t right. If something like this had happened without my and our online editorial director’s knowledge or consent, it would have been a violation and I’d want the industry to back me up. But to have third parties sound alarms without first getting at the facts isn’t helpful. As ASBPE President Steven Roll writes on that organization’s blog: “Failing to condemn unethical practices would destroy our profession. Being too quick to condemn new practices would likely have a chilling effect on innovation.”
- None of the above should inhibit publishers — or any business in the midst of massive change — from taking risks. Complacency at this moment in time will be the surest path to a media business’s demise.
When I started this blog, Difference Engine, about the profound impact technology could have on business, I had no idea I’d be writing so much about our own experiences. Sometimes we find ourselves at the center of our own tale.