ATLANTA (TheStreet) -- Yesterday evening, as rain clouds loomed over muggy Atlanta, 3,000 of my business neighbors gathered at the Sweetwater Brewery, seeking a value often missing in our working lives: community.
As a result, businesspeople become disconnected. One told me he didn't know what was going on in this town. Another worried he would have to move to Silicon Valley to be noticed.
Why?Many newspapers did not make it through the Internet transition. Their print versions are bereft of ads, and their online versions are hidden behind paywalls. The business papers, technology papers, and even entertainment papers we relied on in the late 20th century are pale versions of themselves online. The reason for that, I realized as the rain finally poured down on us, is that our targeting technology is backward. All the tools Google (GOOG) and other ad networks use to identify us and send us pop-up ads are driving us apart. What if these tools were used instead to bring us together, to aim compelling stories at us, and invite us into like-minded communities? A media outlet is a marketplace. Its content offers ideas that attract a targeted industry, place or lifestyle. Its ads serve that shared interest -- they provide a service. The result should be a community of interest, where common concerns are dealt with honestly, and where members feel both heard and validated. Too many "journalists" think this is a one-way street, that we should tell you what to think and how to act. What I've learned in nearly 30 years online is that it's not that way at all. You know more about this than I ever will, and it's when you feel heard, validated, and valued that you become loyal to a Web site. The vacuum has mainly been filled when it comes to national communities. Whether your taste runs to the left or the right, whether you're focused on new technology or meatloaf recipes, you can find it online, and you can find like-minded people here. That's what social media is all about.
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