Nov 02, 2011 • By

Arianna Huffington: Navigating new media

Staying true to her belief that people want to engage with content that brings together humor, humanity and purpose, Arianna Huffington tapped into all three of these characteristics today during a presentation to a packed auditorium of General Mills marketers.

Huffington, who is president and editor-in-chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, was in town to share her insights on the popularity of new media and her first hand perspective on what it takes to succeed in this “golden age for consumers.”

She speaks from experience. Huffington launched the Huffington Post in 2005 against the advice of many, including friends who warned her that “the Internet is a young person’s game.” She ignored her naysayers and built the Huffington Post into one of the most widely read, linked to and frequently cited media brands on the Internet. Just last month, the Huffington Post celebrated its 100 millionth comment.

So what does it take to keep brands relevant in this evolving age of new media?

According to Huffington, it takes a keen understanding of and appreciation for the motivations and desires of communicating in today’s environment, and a deep awareness of your purpose.

Among the many great insights during her remarks, here are the top five lessons that resonated the most with me:

1. Disconnect to reconnect. Huffington explained that as we embrace more and more technology, we run the risk of becoming too connected to new media and not connected enough to our own wisdom. She suggested finding time to disconnect with technology and getting enough sleep as critically important ways to keep your mind open and alert for great ideas. “When you are more connected to your own wisdom, you are more likely to see the things that need to be done in real time, verses in the rear view mirror,” she said.

2. Self-expression = Today’s entertainment. People today have unprecedented ways to express themselves online and many view digital self-expression as a form of entertainment. It’s human nature to crave a reaction on what you are doing, feeling or thinking, she said, so it’s natural that people are drawn to sites, tools and campaigns that allow them to receive an immediate reaction to their thoughts. Smart marketers will engage this desire for self-expression by inviting and encouraging conversations about topics that consumers are passionate about.

3. Blend the best of the old with the new. Huffington explained that Huffington Post is a “platform of tens of thousands of bloggers, but it’s not a free-for-all. We wanted to bring together the best of the old with the best of the new. We wanted quality.” For her, that meant having quality editors and journalists on staff, setting guidelines for content, and monitoring comments, but also encouraging rich conversations from passionate perspectives. She acknowledged General Mills’ efforts to continue to tap into the strength of our iconic brands while developing new relationships through technology and said, “It’s that combination [of blending old and new] that for me is the future.”

4. Stay in the arena. While some marketers become concerned and remain silent after reading critical online conversations about their brands or opinions, Huffington emphasized the importance of staying in the arena and engaging your customers in a two-way conversation. “You cannot hide behind a glossy ad,” she said. “It is no longer about presenting a certain appearance and moving on, because word of mouth is everywhere.” She added that consumers don’t just take news in, “we share it, we pass it on, we add to it, and that’s one of the things we love. We love inviting people to participate.”

5. Humor, humanity and purpose attract people. According to Huffington, people are drawn to content that hits on the trifecta of humor, humanity and purpose. They want to hear a funny, personal story. They want to share their thoughts on something about which they are passionate. They want to hear about the purpose behind a brand or a person, not see a graph of data. Huffington said that “inviting people to blog about whatever is their interest and their passion is the modern way of communicating.”

Have you adopted any of these new media insights into the way you market your brand or share your news?