Reversing the decline in print ads is likely an impossibility, but publishers can develop digital-media strategies that emulate the best parts of social media and deliver audiences to advertisers.
In the early days of the Internet, former Apple CEO John Sulley -- perhaps best known for firing Steve Jobs in 1985 -- used to talk about interactive marketing in terms of "communication, computing and content." The idea was that the Internet was opening a two-way channel for direct interactions between marketers and consumers.
Those "three C's" of digital media have changed over the years as "communication" and "computing" have become so embedded in media they don't deserve a separate mention. Instead, "content, community and commerce" are now seen as key elements in digital convergence. Yes, "content" managed to survive, which should be good for publishers who know how to produce high-quality editorial work.
Social media has elevated and monetized user-generated content that's free to obtain, inexpensive to store and costly to police. Still, that content is a key opportunity for publishers seeking to build online communities and commerce around a brand.
Unfortunately, many publishers don't allow readers to post comments on their websites, which is a missed opportunity for engagement that social-media companies continually tout. That's because many publishers saw their unmoderated comments sections spoiled by trolls, bigots and a general mean-spiritedness.
When artfully managed, comments sections are a big draw. Oftentimes, the first section I read on a news site is the comments section, if it’s available. There is a surprising amount of wit in reader remarks, and they can be hugely entertaining.
If there is one lesson that publishers can learn from social media, it would be to urge their audiences to engage in a mediated forum that screens out the garbage and promotes civil discussion. Advertisers will appreciate the reader attention in a brand-safe environment.