NextMedia opens with heavy hitters Atwood and UFC

Margaret Atwood and ultimate fighting shared the same bill on the opening day of the 2011 NextMedia conference in Toronto on Monday, proving how deeply social media and mobile technology have penetrated the farthest extremes of both high culture and pop culture.

Canada’s high priestess of literature took the stage in the morning,followed by an afternoon presentation courtesy of the Ultimate FightingChampionship (UFC) mixed martial arts (MMA) league on how it usedmultiple tech platforms to reach global sports brand domination.

Atwood unfurled her views on howsocial media, e-books and other Web-based technologies are changing theworld of writing and publishing. Though some of her fellow scribes fearthose technologies will endanger the long form novel, spell the end ofbookstores and kill paper publishing entirely, Atwood told the digitalmedia conference she sees Web and mobile as merely the newest tools ofher trade.

“(Technologies are) shrinking revenues (for writers) in some areas andgrowing revenues in others,” said Atwood. “Everything’s in turmoil.”

Tech builds new audiences forauthors
Though e-books sell for less than printedbooks, Atwood noted that some Web-based distribution and publishingsites — like UK-based Daily Lit which emails a short story tosubscribers each day to tap into London’s huge captive audience ofcommuters — are building new audiences for short stories or otherfiction by catering to their readers’ tastes by curating writtencontent “marketed to a defined audience.”

Atwood said writers can use new technologies to reach readers anywherewithout getting on a plane (like a virtual book tour), engage in adirect dialogue with readers through social media, and even personalizebooks and other items remotely using e-signature software or the LongPen device Atwood helpedpioneer a few years ago.

Asked during her presentation if the increasing appetite for quick,short headline bursts of online information is creating a generation ofkids with no attention span for novels, the author of classics like“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Surfacing” said the Web can be used to driveinterest in reading and writing since social media requires moreliteracy than the 1980s teen addiction to talking on the phone.

“Reading and writing skills have probably increased because what allthat texting replaced was the telephone. So it’s a great literacydriver if kids are given the tools to harness it.”
Atwood stopped short of advocating the end of printed books, saying shestill buys them despite owning the Kindle and Kobo e-readers.Bookstores still have a place in the world because they encourage theserendipitous browsing and buying of books in a way the Web doesn’t,she said.

And of course Atwood, who engaged in a Twitter feud with the brother ofToronto mayor Rob Ford this year over potential public libraryclosures, declared herself a devotee of that social network.

“I got the cover of my latest book through Twitter,” Atwood said,explaining someone suggested the art via a tweet.

A couple of hours later, UFC‘s Canadian reps pulled nopunches in outlining the key to their brand’s astonishing globalgrowth: constant, real time interaction with fans across multipledistribution channels.

“Ultimately it’s the fan that owns the sport and it’s the ability toconnect with those fans on various platforms,” said Tom Wright, UFC’sdirector of Canadian operations.

Those platforms include content and branding pushed out through mobile, Web, social media, pay-per-view, cable TV, radio, video on demand, and gyms, clothing and magazines bearing the UFC name. Though UFC was sanctioned to hold fights in only two U.S. states in 2001, it’s now sanctioned in 47 U.S. states (and as of this year, Ontario), claims to be the fastest growing sports organization in history, is the largest pay-per-provider in the world and produces the top rated cable TV sports programming for males aged 18 to 34.

UFC’s magazine is also, perhaps surprisingly to some, the number oneseller among all men’s magazines in North America. In addition, theaverage UFC video generates over 350,000 views on Youtube and theleague has the fifth highest social media engagement of all prosports leagues worldwide with 1.7 million Twitter followers and almostseven million Facebook fans.

How did they do all of this in just a decade? Social media has played abig role, with UFC fighters, owners and managers interacting often withfans on Twitter and Facebook.

UFC’suse of social media
“Our fans speak directly to the people who own the sport and our fansspeak directly to the people who run the sport,” Wright said.

Another cornerstone of UFC’s success is making specific local contentfor each major market around the world. It doesn’t just have a CanadianWeb site, for example, but also has one specifically for the Quebecmarket. UFC also makes sure bloggers who play key roles in the CanadianMMA scene generate a lot of content to build buzz before big CanadianUFC events instead of just relying on centralized American content. AndUFC is now developing a version of its U.S. cable TV reality series“Ultimate Fighter” specifically for the Canadian TV market.

With Atwood and UFC extolling the virtues of using social media andmobile technology, another session focused on using analytics tomeasure the success of those tools. All members of that panel agreedthat analytics is only useful if the information it contains is used ina timely way by people who actually act on it to change or improve theway their company uses those technologies.

“Getting all this data is easy. Getting something out of it is hardwork,” said panellist Alex Brasil, analytic lead at Google Inc.

Most companies are now using social media and mobile technology in someway but aren’t doing enough to measure their effectiveness, the panelsaid. In a poll taken during the session itself, just over half (57 percent) of the audience said they have a person or team dedicated toreviewing and reporting on analytics results. Even businessesutilizing analytics may not be doing anything useful with it yetbecause they either aren’t sure how to interpret it, don’t have theresources to act on it, or don’t have the support of key players intheir company (like IT, top executives or marketing people) needed toact on it.

“It’s great to have real time data but it’s hard enough to get people(in one company) to act on it just monthly,” said audience memberMatthew Ames, director of performance marketing at Toronto digitalservices agency CX Interactive.

“A lot of organizations are just using analytics to validate thedecisions they’re already making,” Ames said later in an interview.

Companies that are using analytics should make sure to analyze datafrom more than platform, suggested panellist Matt LeMay, platformmanager at URL shortening site Bitly, noting that one client’smarketing push on Twitter actually ended up having more traction onFacebook.

“You need to see what people are doing with your content even outsideyour efforts to share that content,” LeMay said.

NextMedia wraps up today, culminating tonight in the Digi Awards honouring digitalcontent producers from across Canada.

Christine WongChristineWong is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow her on Twitter,and join in the conversation on the IT BusinessFacebook Page.

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