Why media execs still don’t get social media is beyond me. cnet-networks-company-our-brands-1.jpg

Yes, I get their business model: serve as many pages as possible so they can have enough media “inventory” to sell lots of ads. And then there is subscription. That’s when you collect names through registration forms so you can market the lists and/or prove your readership demographics to advertisers. This is basically the old print media model online. And it, like other old-fart models, is stuck a decade behind.

You’d think media companies would be all over social media.

I mean, media is their business. No one should be better than they are at leading the way. They’re sitting on a gold mine of assets. Awesome writers, tons of video and images, lots of (as Hugh MacLeod would say) “Social Objects.” Media companies are the ones who can get the conversations started and keep it going.

But they’re getting their ass handed to them by blogs. Bloggers are on top of the active conversations and participate in the dialogue without forcing you to jump through hoops before you can chime in. They, like companies in other industries embracing social software and principles, are beating the crap out of the later adopters.


This is killing the talent’s morale.

Folks like CNET, ZDNet, and PCWorld have awesome talent cranking out great stuff, but no one can engage with them without filling out a stupid form. To be clear, all these folks have social software. Some of them even use our software. This isn’t about the software, it’s about their policies. Media companies choose the hoops they make their readers jump through.

Media execs have two choices:

  1. Let people freely add their comments with only human verification (those “HQ7FN” letters you enter to make sure you’re not a spambot).
  2. Force people to register before they comment. That means, name, email, password, sometimes more.

This is a conversation. And advertisers know it.

The folks who buy the ads aren’t stupid. They know who has a vibrant community and who doesn’t. They know who gets it. They read the media they advertise in. And they want media companies to help them become part of the conversation. No media company could ever convince me they could help me do that if I didn’t see them doing it themselves.

Who gets it, who doesn’t.

Interestingly, some of the media properties are inconsistent across their brands. For example, some IDG brands make you sign up to leave comments, some don’t.


Gets it:



I used to be VP Marketing at CNET in the late 90s, so I secretly root for them. Also, CNET Networks is a customer of Jive’s. They use our stuff on CNET, ZDNet, Webware and perhaps some other properties. PCWorld and MacWorld are customers, too.

  • http://Website Joe Cascio

    They could have the best of both and more by taking a commenter’s OpenID to identify them. Even less for the commenter to do than your comment function here that requires me to enter my name and email, and if I want, my website. Taking an OpenID allows the blog to get the commenter’s name and other info from the OpenID provider instead of making the commenter type it in (again!). Plus it authenticates the commenter as being really who they say they are, which will become more important in the future.

  • lisa

    seems old media just does not want to release its hand from the jar. This is the same mentality that on air media has, for instance the CBS – Jericho events of the past year. They (CBS) refuse to let go of their antiquated ratings system, thereby not counting millions of viewers, even though we were downloading the show from such sites as iTunes, amazon, and XBox live….. ignore us at your peril, keep doing the same old same old, one day soon social media will change history.

  • sam

    Good points, both.

    I probably should have included some mainstream media outlets like CBS, etc.

    The people consuming their media are their community, their market. Broadcast media is dead. Time to have the conversation.

  • John Furrier

    Sam: just saw you come across my friend feed and checked out this post. Nice to the point post – forms suck and in this day of engagement they should know better.

    I’d love to hear you thoughts on the video ad market…

  • Paisano

    Ah, what a wonderful way to start the week with a Monday morning lamb basting from Sammy boy! I think your nickname should be the “Social Agitator”! We love ya!

    I like how you aren’t afraid to say what needs to be said and aren’t concerned about any possible fall-out. Most would be too scared to ruffle feathers because it might upset a client/customer/sponsor, but you treat them as intelligent adults which is the right way to do things. Trust me, they didn’t get where they were by being fragile and immature! Sam correctly assumes that they can take the heat, which something all of us need to learn.

    While these media giants are the worst culprits when it comes to neglecting the many benefits of using social media (heck, their name is in the term!), the list of neglectors is endless! Far too many businesses/organizations are not taking advantage of these valuable resources.

    Rachel Rhappe has recently started a very interesting project on her Social Organization blog where she will start tracking organizations that make good use of social media.

    It inspired me to create a public wiki called where Rachel and I will add the names of these organizations that are wisely taking advantage of what social media tools offer today. We will also list those that are not using these tools.

    I’d like to add the information that Sam has shared on here as well. I think it all fits in very well. Everyone can contribute to the wiki of course because it is public and open.

    Great stuff, Sam “Social Agitator” Lawrence!

  • Jeremiah Owyang

    There’s two things to look for:

    1) Barriers that prevent people to get in where you want them such as logins. Note: this is not always the case for companies that have their products behind logins –like analyst firms

    2) Adhesives that limit how quickly and how easily the content can spread off the website.

  • Sonciary Honnoll

    They need a re-fresher course in Social Media, something like…Social Media 101: Breaking Down the Barriers.

    I haven’t personally registered for any of the sites on your ‘Don’t’ list for this very reason. Forms like that give me the creepy feeling that I’m being used.

  • Eric


    Very insightful, and spot on. I think that like Lisa pointed out in her comment, old habits die hard across the entire spectrum. I’m hopeful for change eventually, but sometimes it is a long time coming. Right now, the ad industry is starting to feel the effects of this as well. The reality is, we’re all in this boat together, and the people leaving comments and writing the blogs are the same ones buying the products and subscribing to the media. Maybe not everyone has quite grasped that yet. It’s not us vs. them. It’s, “Okay, now what can we all do to make this work?”

  • http://Website Oliver Marks

    As Joe suggests it would be so great if your openID was all that was needed to verify you’re not a spambot.
    Forget to uncheck/check the ‘please send me spam from both your company and the people you sell my details to’ everytime you want to chime in on a discussion and you just asked for yet more email to process…

    I like the idea of controlling my online identity, not having toopen 50 different user accounts every week…

  • Offbeatmammal

    something like disqus is the best of both worlds… and gives the generators of the comments a feeling of ownership

  • Stewart Mader

    One thing I look for as an indicator of whether an organization gets it is the comment functionality. If, when I leave a comment, my name is linked back to my site, then they get it. That’s the social currency of the blogosphere – a link to my site in exchange for a comment that adds to the conversation on their site.

    When they don’t do this, and artificially block people from exploring blogs so that they can keep them on their site to drive up pageviews, then they don’t.

    Every site on your Doesn’t Get It list does this.

    The saddest thing about this: I like some of the sites on that list. But I don’t give them nearly the attention, pageviews, etc. because I get nothing out of it. I’m not going to spend my time contributing to a walled garden when I can engage more effectively with sites like yours.


  • Stephen Howard-Sarin


    Ouch — a very unkind blogger forwarded me your note, and I read it before my morning coffee. Since I manage two of the three CNET Networks brands on your list (BNET and ZDNet), I figured I should reply.

    1) Our current, lengthy registration is based on the idea that a) making people cough up a lot of data at once is better than pinging them multiple times for different pieces of info, and b) demographic targeting is a good thing. We do customize ads, Web content promotions and newsletter content based on registration data. (Hey, we’re an ad-based business; they might as well be useful ads.)

    2) The non-embeddable video player on BNET is…embarrassing. We use a very simple Flash player for video, and it doesn’t support support many modern features. We’re swapping it out in the next few months.

    We’re having a lively debate with the ZDNet bloggers in particular about the registration barrier to commenting, and about the quality of the comments — and whether there’s any relationship between the two. Stay tuned.

  • Jim Goodrich

    “Broadcast Media is dead.” How true. When the last Newspaper shut down its presses over 85 years a…Ummm, when the last Radio Transmitter was torn down in 195…Errr, When all Television became paid TV…OH, shoot.

    At some point every innovating wave has declared the last one dead and it’s rarely the case. It’s an adapt and move on, find your niche in the new way approach. the “CBS – Jericho” instance is an almost perfect example. And it’s slow because they have to find a new revenue stream in a place or a way they’ve never looked before. Are things changing? Yep. Does anyone know how it’s gong to play out? Nope. Is it fun to be along for the ride? I think so.

    The real winners are the ones who figure out how to exploit all the media tools to their benefit without exploiting the community it serves.

  • Rachel Happe

    This, as always, is a great thread. I’ll just add on consideration that I see missing. Many of the “old” media companies do see the change and know they need to do something about it but it is a huge operational shift from the way they have been set up and that is not a trivial consideration. Old media has huge capital plants in some cases, cultures and individuals that understand the broadcast model but can’t turn on a dime to accommodate a conversational model, employees whose jobs may no longer make sense, the need for new skills that they don’t have, and a business model that is hard to support and outdated. None of this issues are trivial and it takes years to re-orient a larger organization. Bloggers don’t have legacy and they have always operated in the online environment. Makes sense that they are taking the lead.

  • David Martin

    Sam, bravos on the post. Two factors at play here. A massive failure of imagination and a lack of leadership. My sense is these are temporary conditions; leading media execs will “discover” the value of their digital assets (once others have shown the way).

  • Dennis McDonald

    1. You pay a price for any type of online interaction. The most basic is time, the time you spend linking, reading, watching, or writing.

    2. Moving up from there, any organized group with an online presence will potentially ask you — directly or indirectly — for more information to determine your potential for participation, your value as an advertising target, or your relevance for interacting with others in the group. You basically make your decision to participate on a personal cost benefit basis — should I fill out the big hairy form in order to comment or see the “premium” stuff?

    3. Next up is forced interaction — you have to watch the ad in order to see the video. Again, it’s a personal cost benefit thing; that’s why I no longer pay attention to news videos on Yahoo — too time consuming. Same goes for most amateur produced videos on blogs — too much time taken by talking heads that could be reduced to a few good sentences or paragraphs.

    4. FInally there’s paying a price to see the content.

    If there were a clear correlation that content value increases as you go up the list, that would make things a lot easier. But that’s no longer the case. Plus, some of the “fill out form first” sources also bombard you with crappy ads that in theory are targeted but in fact act as visual pollution that slows page low time and detracts from the editorial message of the content you’re trying to access.

    I’m much more concerned about this last problem. I don’t mind filling out forms or supplying information if I think I’ll be getting access to good content or high quality commercial messages, but I absolutely hate filling out a form and then having to wait while a poorly designed page and all its badges, counters, popups and other doodads load.

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  • Brent Terrazas

    …hey now, maybe we’re all just being a little hard on these guys.
    Grandma could have been right with that old saying of something regarding cobblers children having no shoes…. they’re too busy covering whatever the next big trend is going to be that that they don’t have any time to re-analyze their own Usability.

    Ok… just kidding, what a joke…. they’re loosing so much potential!

  • Dennis Howlett

    I’m the ‘unkind blogger’ to whom Stephen refers and I can confirm there is an ongoing debate. I give ZDN full credit for listening and responding intelligently because I have to respect that while I may have my individually branded space, I am a tenant on someone else’s property.

    What I find interesting here is that despite all the criticism, I sense that commenters have an affection for the brands and that despite the rise of the blogs, they don’t particularly want to see the brands go away. I’d go further.

    I think ZDN has aggregated some of the smartest people in their respective fields (yes I would say that wouldn’t I) but don’t you think it says something that a person like Dan Farber can step sideways, Larry Dignan takes up the reins and n’er a heartbeat is missed? I think that says something about the depth of bench quality that can’t be matched by the TechCrunch, RWW etc crews.

    If this post help ZDN take one more step towards protecting its position in the face of a new environment and continuing to provide curmudgeons like me with a platform to reach many people then it’s done its job. And then some.

  • Mohamed

    Nice post but just one thing on Fast Company – they make you sign up since they’ve re-built there site as a social network as opposed to just an online version of their magazine. So in a way…they actually do get it!

    I only know this since I spend way too much time in the Drupal community – the open source CMS that they built the site on.

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  • Brent Terrazas

    Well i will say this… they responded… 2 years ago I don’t know of a single company that would have even considered replying to a negative blog post.

    …the train is moving.. just really slowly… sadly a few people in the dining car might have to be let off a little earlier than expected but that’s the game.

  • Chris

    I think (as Joe mentioned above) that OpenID would be a great way to break down this barrier. Not only does it eliminate a huge form, but users can then choose what personal details they want to share. It’s a win-win: media companies reduce the barrier to participation, users control their data. It’s certainly not that simple, but you can bet that there are plenty of smart people employed by these media companies who can find ways to make it work.

  • http://Website crazy eddie

    Seems like the media you mention are all in the digital media feild. How about those media companies who actually publish material. Take Time , Conde Nast and Martastewart as examples of true “media” companies that just dont get it

  • Carter f Smith

    So how can we get that message to the companies who keep pushing their products and services on us, without so much as a real follow up?

    Perhaps we should just walk out on them and take our business elsewhere . . .

    Is it that easy? Do you think they’ll get it? NO!!! Not without a united effort by the people formerly known as the audience . . . we touched on the need for new strategies in our post on marketing in The Relationship Economy. Remember the peanuts that brought Jericho back? Well, that campaign worked (though not for very long), but this one is different, and it won’t cost you money.

    How ’bout this?

    . . . go to as many company feedback sites as you can in the next 7 days.

    Post something like this.

    I (and a lot of people like me) have been trying to convey our sincere desire to have a real relationship with those who provide products and services for our consumption and enjoyment. The benefit of this relationship for you is that you get to know EXACTLY what we need, not only what you think we need, based on your research, focus groups, and late-night brainstorming with people who are so entrenched in the marketing model of the 20th Century that they wouldn’t know a real conversation if one bit them on the nose. We want you to know what we need, when we need it, and why . . .

    If you really care about our relationship, please invest two minutes and three seconds in it, by watching this video –

  • Phil Hodgen

    I would have happily participated in a recent comment-test instigated by @dahowlett’s column on ZDNet but for the forced registration. Of course, ZDNet helpfully has you compose the entire comment before presenting you with the screen demanding that you register or die.

    They (ZDNet) are demanding data about me that they don’t need and don’t deserve. It’s all good. They have declared themselves irrelevant. Thanks for playing, ZDNet, here’s your party favor.

    Wait. Didn’t Ziff Davis own PC Magazine at one time? Whatever happened to that magazine? Same brainiac executives still in charge there?


  • http://greg.abstrakt,ch Gregor J. Rothfuss

    Who cares, really? Does anyone read those trade rags anymore?

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  • http://Website Sharon

    That screen shot (step 1 of 2), made me concurrently grimace and laugh out loud in an insolent manner. And then I thought something disparaging that involved the words ‘ass’ and hat’.

    How is that not so obviously interfering with the user from having a good user experience? What were they thinking building that?

  • Lionel Menchaca

    Sam: Good stuff. I’m in the midst of working out a user authentication strategy for Direct2Dell. Since we currently don’t have one right now, I have to moderate comments, and frankly, it kills conversation. Once we get it in place, I believe we’ll be able to switch to moderation after the fact like we do in IdeaStorm.

    We’ve talked through some ideas, and want to make it as simple as possible. And we want to make it clear that the authentication process is just to give them access to our community stuff, not to add them to our mailing lists.

    I like the OpenID idea–that’s a good one, Joe Cascio!

  • Kellie Parker

    Hi Sam and everyone —

    My name is Kellie Parker, and I am the Online Community Manager for PC World and Macworld. I’d like to talk further about the points raised here, and provide some response & background as to why we are doing some of the things that we are.

    First, I want to say that we know that there is room for improvement in our registration systems and identity practices. Some of the points that you raise are valid, and have really helped get the conversation flowing here about things like Open ID and ways that we can make registration and identity easier for the user without causing an undue burden on ourselves. I also agree that our writers and editors (and to some extent, the non-editorial staff) can do a better job (in some cases, a MUCH better job) at interacting with and engaging with our readers and commenters.

    I also agree that many of the registration processes out there are confusing and long. As a user, when I’m faced with a page full of blanks asking for very personal information and the minimums aren’t clearly articulated, I very well may give up and decide not to register. I’ve worked with our marketing, design, and engineering teams internally to make our forms ( and easy to understand, and ask for a minimum of information. We’d love for everyone to fill out the optional information, as it does help us with lead generation and other marketing promotions, but we don’t require it or bother the user for it again later.

    We comply vigorously with CAN-SPAM laws, and we see those as the minimum we should do, not the maximum. It’s easy to think of us all sitting in our conference room rubbing our grubby little hands together and thinking of more ways to screw our readers. That’s simply not the case. We think and talk a lot about the reader experience, the perception of spam vs. actual spam, and we do our best to make the best experiences for our readers. Yes, we sometimes have to do stuff that some of them might not love. We do our best to run our business and protect those interests with the minimum of impact on the reader. We are not perfect. But we try really hard.

    To address the question of why we require registration. First, it’s important to understand my goals as a community manager. I am not simply trying to get the most comments on an article or blog entry. I’m trying to build a community. Community is ultimately about relationships with other people. If all I were interested in were number of comments, of course I would open the floodgates and let everyone post anything they wanted. That’s easy to do. Community building is hard work and it takes a lot of time. It requires different stuff.

    A reader is only required to register in order to put text on our website. Occasionally, we require registration for participation in other initiatives, such as our current Dream PC contest. But that’s more the exception than the rule. We have interactive features on the site (such as polls, surveys, and article recommendation voting) that do not require registration at all. It is only when the reader puts text (article comments, product reviews, forum posts) on our site that they are required to register and/or sign in.

    There are three reasons that I have this policy: identity, quality, and moderation.

    In the real world, you identify people by their physical characteristics. You look at their hair, their face, their body, and their voice. Online, you do the same thing, only the identifying characteristics are username, avatar, signature, and profile. Without these things, people are not consistently identified, and relationships cannot form. I want people to register so that I and other readers can recognize them when they post, and we can form attachments and relationships to them. It is these attachments that create a strong community and ultimately keep people coming back. Some people, maybe even most people, will use the same username. But some won’t, and it is those people that are disruptive and are harmful to community formation.

    When users are allowed to post anonymously (and I would argue that being able to select a new name for each post is the same thing as posting anonymously) they are generally not as… polite. Personal attacks, spam, profanity, etc all go up dramatically when users post in an anonymous space. For a long time, we didn’t require registration on our PC World blogs. It was like Lord of the Flies in there. We had a lot of comments, but the quality of the conversation was very poor. Of course I would love to have a high volume of quality comments, but if I have to choose between the two, I will choose quality. I am trying to build a space for people to have intelligent conversations and to help each other. Allowing personal attacks and everything else that often comes with anonymous postings tends to kill this conversation and make the serious folks go elsewhere.

    Finally, moderation. Due to the increase in posts we’d receive as well as the increased percentage of posts that require moderator action, it would take my moderation team at least twice as long as it currently does to deal with posts. Especially when I have no information on the user, all I can do is delete your post, and wait for you to post it again. Rinse/Repeat. My hands are tied when it comes to quickly and efficiently weeding out trolls and spammers, and preventing them from posting in the future. I’d rather we spend our time building a quality community. That’s not to say that we don’t have any trolls or spammers now… we do. It’s just that they are fewer than they would be without registration, and they cause a minimum of disruption because of the information on them that I have (and the action I can take because of it).

    Many of the most successful blogs require registration too. Some even go further than that. For example, all of the Gawker blogs require commenters to “try out” first. They require you to register, then to make a couple comments. If they like what you write, you are approved to comment. If they stop liking what you write, you are “executed”, usually publicly in a blog entry. So it’s not entirely the blogs vs media battle when it comes to registrations.

    Thank you for a thought provoking blog entry, and thank you for inviting me to comment here and explain our policies and my thought processes. I welcome further discussion on the issue.

  • Kathy

    An important point that I’ve not seen anyone address is that of scale. IOW, the blogging comment model doesn’t scale on several levels: for the blog author to read, assimilate and respond to … for commenters to do the same. So, for publications with very large audiences, I can understand why they hesitate. That said, using OpenID or “typeTheseLetters” are clearly superior to yet-another-registration. has a good twist by adding the “thread” model to its comments (replies can be threaded, with the initial comment as a parent). However, it is a community site, and you can’t comment unless you’re part of the community.

    For anyone who is really *interested* in the conversation related to a specific post, there needs to be an easy way to know if someone else has commented that is more granular than “subscribe to this blog’s comment feed.”

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