Open Position: Media Earner

Once again, the revolution is breathing down our necks. I’m not sure why we’re drawn to the world of interactive advertising. We could certainly find a good deal of comfort and satisfaction in any number of other industries. But we insist on being here, where things seem to change on a pretty regular basis. One day, we are the bold renegades, unsettling the natural order of things. The next, we’re being unsettled ourselves by some other new technology or smart thinker.

The particular revolution that I’m thinking about today is in the media world — the heart of the advertising industry. Media, of course, are the pipes of the system. They are the particular place into which we place our messages, so they can be picked by the audience. If advertising is paint, media are the canvas.

For the last century or so, we’ve been able to work efficiently on that canvas by leveraging networks, both online and off-. Networks are clusters of similar nodes connected to one another so that a message dropped in one place can spread out to all the other nodes quickly and efficiently.

The origin of the modern network was actually at AT&T Labs a bit less than a century ago. AT&T and other companies were puzzling over how to squeeze more power out of radio transmissions. A radio wave only traveled about 10 miles before it dissipated into the atmosphere so much that the signal was lost to the noise.

Some engineers hacking away at this problem were trying to build bigger antennas that sucked up more power. It was the brute force approach to solving the problem and wasn’t proving to be all that successful. But AT&T engineers tried another approach. They figured that a station with an antenna producing a signal that spread 10 miles could also make a phone call to another station, 10 miles away, with the same content. That station could broadcast the content over its antenna and call another station, another 10 miles away. Pretty soon, you had a collection of stations, all across the country, broadcasting the same content. If you were an advertiser, you could put your message into this stream of content and, quick as lightening, the whole world heard it.

It was a great solution that lasted all the way up until the moment Jeff Zuckerberg went away to college.

The New Network: People, Not Nodes

You can place an ad on Facebook, but, it’s hardly worth the effort. Click-through rates are dismal for these things. You can let your brand live there, in that space on the right-hand side of page, but you have to share it with all sorts of products that seem a better fit for late-night TV infomercials.

That’s because the way to get any sort of effective scale on Facebook — or on Federated Media, MySpace, or YouTube — is to not treat these sites the same way you treat traditional media buys. In fact, the entire notion of a media buyer is the single biggest job that must undergo a massive transformation, if we are to take advantage of this new medium and connect with consumers in ways that are far more authentic and interesting than previously seen.

Therefore, I (humbly) propose that we evolve the concept of a media buyer into a new position that we’ll call the media earner. The reason is simple: in these new networks you don’t buy the media that generates results. You earn it. And earning something is a significantly different process than buying it.

Job Description: Media Earner

If I were on the look out to fill the position media earner, I’d post the following job description:

    Wanted: Media Earner

    We here at the (company name) have an open space in our media department for a Media Earner. The ideal candidate must have the following qualifications:

  • Serious understanding and appreciation of the fact that consumers are totally in control of social media sites and networks and that trying to use these services to broadcast messages completely misses the point about how powerful they are.
  • Experience communicating directly with consumers in ongoing relationships, responding to their questions, suggestions and issues.
  • Ability to perform detailed research, finding where conversations about a brand are already happening, and the nature of those conversations.
  • The desire to add value to those conversations in ways that enable the brand to naturally and authentically participate.
  • The ability and knowledge to perform deep measurement of the actions you take to determine the amount and value of the media that you are earning.
  • Also, must have accounts on the following services: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, BallHype, Flickr, Blogger, World of Warcraft, YouTube, Vimeo, Digg, delicious, Reddit, MetaFilter,, and Bebo.

Media Buyers and Earners Should Be Friends

The idea of earning media for a brand certainly isn’t new. Public relations has been doing it for years. What’s different is that a media earner would work in the media department of an agency, sitting next to the media buyers, executing a strategy set out by a media planner. That is, earning media — getting people to talk about your brand in their own words — should become a part of a daily practice of marketing products.

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