What would Katie Couric do?

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When Katie Couric took over as anchor of The CBS Evening News in 2006, media watchers lined up with bats to take a whack at her like she was some sacrificial journalism pinata. The former Today show host was always thought to be too perky, too eager, and not evening news material.  Her arrival at CBS was highly hyped and endlessly promoted while Couric’s salary was rumored to be astronomical. The overwhelming consensus after two months, however, was that CBS had made a big mistake. Her ratings were awful and the reviews were unkind to say the least. So how does a television whipping post like Katie Couric wind up winning the Edward R Murrow Award for best newscast in both 2008 and 2009? Tracking the anchor’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes is valuable seminar in new media marketing, technological innovation, and good old fashioned “never give up” persistence.

Katie Couric’s morning show fan base always admired her happy-go-lucky and friendly demeanor yet this persona simply would not fly in a nightly news format where anchors are expected to be stoic like Walter Cronkite. Instead of abandoning the personality that put her on the map, the newswoman struck gold at the 2008 Democratic National Convention with original web content that featured a relaxed Couric who could be seen clowning with crew members, ribbing politicians, and offering personal insights into the event’s goings on. The popularity of the coverage lead to the creation of @katiecouric, an online news program that allowed her to let her hair down and be the Katie viewers fell in love with. The show features a looser format, frank talk and opinions, and most importantly, original content not to be found anywhere else. This week the show featured a blow by blow of the President’s first State of the Union address.

With @katiecouric, the anchor was reinventing CBS’ longstanding reputation as, ” the old people’s channel” and the makeover didn’t stop there. Couric tapped into the social media craze by supplying more original content on her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Daily updated, her social media sites promote The CBS Evening News as well as her original web content.  Moreover, she communicates directly with her viewers by asking them to send in questions for interviews, suggestions for stories, and photos from news making events.

The most important thing any struggling business can learn from Katie Couric is to never give up. Instead of quitting and opting out of her big bucks contract, Couric rolled up her sleeves and got creative.  When she famously grilled what’s-her-name from Alaska, Katie asked the questions that were on her viewers minds without apology or cynicism. The interview, in turn, has become one of the most famous political train wrecks of all time while the interviewer gained respectability for staying true to who she is.  Producing webcasts, diving into social media marketing, and tapping into your own marketable identity are tasks that virtually everyone can do. So the next time your scratching your head to come up with a new marketing plan ask yourself, “What would Katie Couric do?”

Social media connects us in troubled times

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Harrowing firsthand accounts of this weeks earthquake in Haiti weren’t  first delivered by Katie Couric or Anderson Cooper. Instead, locals and visitors like  hotel manager Richard Morse used social media sites to provide a glimpse into the devastation around them. According to CNN.com, Morse described the aftermath of the 7.5 earthquake via Twitter. Other Haitians communicated through text messages, Facebook, video chat, and even a popular local online entertainment program. As the reports began to roll in from the traditional media, social networking sites were already abuzz with information about where to donate and how to contact loved ones. We still rely on the big news outlets to bring us in-depth and hopefully honest coverage of the day’s important stories. Still, the power of average people giving a name and face to worldwide news can no longer be ignored, thanks in large part to social media.

This is not to say that one should substitute Myspace for, say, NPR in their news diet. Mainly, social networking sites stay true to their primary purpose of telling you where P. Diddy is eating a burrito and what bikini your high school class president chose to wear on her vacation.  Undoubtedly, silly tweets from reality stars and dancing hamster videos provide their own sort of escapist relief.  Therefore, the power of the message whether it be for news purposes or for entertainment can’t be ignored.

Harnessing this power for social media marketing is where it gets tricky. On one hand, social media is a quick and easy way to give customers updates on the latest happenings at your company. On the other hand, too many rambling infomercial like posts can quickly cause a “de-friending” epidemic. Using a first-hand style of reporting can be a perfect way to achieve balance.  Stories like Richard Morse’s are powerful because they belong to someone real. Nobody enjoys receiving messages that feel like they’ve been churned out by an anonymous robot. True passion, humor, and information are easier to convey when the person composing the posts has distinct language and unique thoughts. Conversely, an honest dialogue with clients opens the conversation for an equal exchange of ideas rather than just a cold, calculated advertisement. People don’t mind being sold things, but they want to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Social media continues to grow and change. The messages transmitted  by these sites truly run the gamut from poignant to mundane. And there are still many who argue that social media is little more than a creative way to kill time.  However, when sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter are at their best, they are able to connect us to people we might not otherwise know, to give us a front row seat to world events, to make us laugh, and to slowly make our differences seem smaller.