Do you ‘get’ new media?

I had the chance last week to speak to a group of non-profit executive directors from about 80 local Denver/Boulder/Longmont non-profit agencies as part of a session sponsored by the United Way on “Getting the Word Out – a Mass Communication Seminar”.  I sat on a panel with a bunch of local newspaper editors which consisted of an hour of the editors talking about the best way to fax or e-mail them stories so they’d get their attention followed by 15 minutes of me saying that instead of all of that, their organizations could actually be their own media, that there was larger conversation going on across a much broader community which they could/should tap into, and that perhaps rather than pitching stories to newspapers they should think of the newspapers as added distribution for the stories they’ve already created.   Don’t get me wrong – I think print media is great and I enjoy reading (on-line, of course) many of the local papers in my area.  But the power of new media is that it takes away the control that traditional media has on the flow of news (not to mention the determination of what is news-worthy) and puts it into the hands of the masses.  And while a story in the local paper may reach one set of constituents, a well organized (but not very costly) web site (or even just an organization blog that doubles as its web site) can get multiple messages out to multiple constituents (i.e., flickr photos of a recent fundraiser; a MySpace page to recruit college-age volunteers, dynamic web site or blog for posting updates, responding to national stories, etc.). My message was really that there’s a whole lot going on out there that non-profits (or any organization) can tap into to raise the profile of their group or cause and ultimately spread their word more broadly. The key take-away for me, however, was not all the great things that organizations can do to broaden the reach of their message or influence the media related to their work, but rather how foreign this all was to this group of relatively tech savvy execs.  Most had some kind of web-site, although the vast majority didn’t update the content on the site even monthly; and while more than half had heard of blogging (and other forms of new media), almost none had any experience either reading, commenting on or contributing. For me this was a fundamental disconnect and good to keep in mind for future conversations. I sometimes take for granted that this world in which I spend so much time has gone mainstream, but the reality is that it hasn’t yet. I was thinking of all these great Web2.0-ie  things they could do to broaden their web presence, engage their constituents in conversation and generally spread the good word; they were thinking “what’s blogging again?”

Slow and steady wins the race….