“Relevancy” is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. Ads online are “contextually relevant” to the content they appear next to. Brands strive to remain relevant to customers who have many (a plethora?) of choices in whatever category that brand operates in.

Relevance to the mind of the consumer is, like trust, something that needs to be earned. And like trust it needs to be earned time and time again, at every touchpoint through which the brand interacts with its audience.

All of that is especially true when we’re talking about media choices. Established players need to work harder than ever to remain relevant to an audience that sees more of what they’re looking for in blogs and other outlets created by people who they feel a connection to.

So what is a media company to do?

  1. Start your own blog: Seems like every media outlet is going bloggy. Inc. just launched four new ones to add to their existing roster of blogs that cover a variety of business niches. The Chicago Tribune, like other papers, has a ton that roughly replicate parts of the paper. Creating journalist-produced blogs is great since it can add depth and personality to news coverage. But it’s also important for these writers to join the larger community writing about their beat (whatever it is there will be one). That’s the kind of practice that brings about more readership, more engagement and ultimately leads to trust and relevance. Blogs do not exist in a vacuum and so their writers need to be commenting elsewhere, linking out generously and otherwise acting like a part of a village.
  2. Pay attention to what others are doing: Entertainment news brands like Entertainment Tonight have found themselves flanked online by TMZ and others and are only now looking for ways to catch up. I’m sorry to say but it’s probably too late. The online audience is now turning to sites like TMZ and others for their celebrity gossip and not ET. Established players have a finite window of opportunity to mimic developments by upstarts before the audience decides those established brands apparently aren’t interested in servicing this particular need and move their attention elsewhere. They’ve essentially broken the trust and it’s harder to earn BACK then it is to earn in the first place.
  3. Recognize that online is its own entity: If you’re looking at your website simply as a way to gain print subscribers (or TV viewers or anything else) then the online strategy you have is probably not going to work out. There’s no halfway here. If you’re faking it and don’t seem to be fully committed to being an online outlet the audience will be able to sense that a mile away. That sort of thinking also likely means you’re not interested in playing in the larger sandbox, resulting in no one sending traffic your way, no one interacting on the site (what’s the point?) and just getting little to no traction in general. The web needs to be more than simply a means to an end, it needs to be the end itself.
  4. Don’t mess with the trust of others: Whether you’re CBS looking to utilize Digg to expand online content, a newspaper who adds Sphere links to stories or anyone else, don’t mess with the success of an existing brand in order to bend it to your control. If you’re really interested in harnessing the power of something the audience is using and trusting then the best approach to meshing it into your business is to do so in a hands-off manner. Don’t try to game the system, don’t try to utilize control over how its used and don’t – and this is the most important part – honk off the existing user base. That’s a good way to make sure that powerful tool you’re integrating loses almost all its power, defeating the purpose of the purchase or partnership.
  5. Go where people already are: You can hope and pray and strategize all you want, but the simple truth is that the Internet is now simply too big for one outlet to try and become the sole outlet for whatever content it might be we’re talking about. That’s why networks are sending their shows to Fancast, Joost, Hulu, Veoh and a multitude of other sites. The old network model simply doesn’t hold water any longer and so, if you want to reach eyeballs, you need to go where those eyeballs are. Everyone has their own favorite online video site so there’s little to be gained by signing “exclusive” deals or deciding your homepage MUST be where video is viewed.
  6. Make it easy for people to take it with them: The distribution of content is not restricted to officially partnered with sites. Make it easy for people to grab video widgets, graphics or any other materials they want so they can put it on their own blogs, Facebook pages or any other site they wish. They’ve just increased the reach of your content and you didn’t have to sit in 50 hours of meetings with lawyers to make it happen. They’re site is better and your stuff reaches more eyeballs. Isn’t that the very definition of a win/win?
  7. Let people play: We live in a creative society online. People are either creating their own stuff or mashing up existing works and you know what? That’s really OK. Seriously, settle down and realize that someone likes your TV show clip, movie trailer (natch) or other video enough to mess around with it a bit. Even if they’re poking fun at it a little bit, that’s simply because they’re trying to add a bit of humanity to content they considered too self-important or stuffy to be relevant to them. They’ve adjusted the content and adjusted the relevance. That’s a good thing – you should be thanking them for that, not filing C&Ds.