Amy Vernon of Internet Media Labs on Why It’s Gotten Better for Writers [INTERVIEW]

This post is part of the Content Q&A Series, featuring interviews with top content strategists and bloggers about their work and insights about the industry.

The Internet’s changed a lot over the years, but once newspaper journalist, now social strategist Amy Vernon tells The Content Strategist about one content type that hasn’t gone out of style.

She was a power user of Digg in its heyday and still holds the title of top female submitter of all time.

Now general manager of social marketing for Internet Media Labs, Vernon says the web is becoming a better place for writers and the best is yet to come.

How did you get involved in Internet Media Labs?

Internet Media Labs is a New York City-based tech startup. I’ve known two of the four founders for a while — Peter Bordes and Robert Moore — through mutual friends and the NYC tech startup scene. They’d been working on a relevance engine for examining your Twitter followers and I was, of course, intrigued.

As a hard-core Twitter user, I started unofficially advising them on that platform and other related projects as far back as last October and as time went on, we realized we were a good fit for each other. So we took our time to figure out how we could best work together. I started working there full-time in July.

Though we don’t desire to become a standalone digital agency the likes of a BigFuel, we have the skills in the team, so there’s no reason to outsource those services.

I work with clients on overall digital strategy, including social bookmarking sites consulting, community engagement on Twitter and Facebook and building out strategies for emerging platforms, such as G+, Instagram and Tumblr.

What’s your personal background and how did you get into digital strategy?

I was a professional newspaper journalist for 20 years. I was an active part of the Pulitzer-winning staff of The Miami Herald back in 1992 for Hurricane Andrew coverage, and also worked for papers in Arizona and suburban New York City.

My last job was as metro editor, but that job had a bunch of other roles added to it — education editor, blogger, blog superuser (meaning I was the person everyone else came to when they had technical problems while blogging) and social media “expert.”

I found Digg as I was trying to figure out ways to help drive traffic to our newspaper and eventually became the top female submitter of all time on Digg — somewhere around 1,300 front page submissions in all.

When I was laid off in the newspaper’s third round of job cuts in 2008, the editor told me to keep doing what I was doing, that I’d be OK. He didn’t have to tell me that, though — I had my first contract for consulting the day after the layoff and never looked back.

There’s a lot of definitions for content marketing — based on the work you do, how would you define it?

The kind of content marketing I’ve been most involved in has been marketing the content itself.

From my years in newspapers and having used Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon over the years, I have a strong sense for what kind of content does well. I know the memes, I know the types of news articles, the kinds of infographics that people enjoy.

I remember, for example, hearing people complain back in 1993 about how played out lists were. Yes, back in 1993 — long before the Internet became inundated with Top 10 lists and sites. Guess what? They’re still around and still popular. What people say they like and what they actually read are not always the same thing.

What skill or personal trait do you find to be a differentiator in developing content?

To do well in content development, you have to understand people. People consume content. And if you don’t understand what makes them laugh or cry or get mad or fascinated, you won’t succeed.

How has the content industry changed over the past five years, for better or worse?

I honestly believe it’s gotten better for writers. The “content farms” are not doing as well as they were, opening the door for writers to charge more for their writing again.

There is a huge desire and need for quality content, more than ever before. While writers may not be able to charge the same rates they used to for magazines, writing was never a high-paying profession for most. There are more platforms and publications than ever where writers can hone their craft, and more avenues for them to be “discovered,” if you will.

Though many places journalists and other writers once worked for have disappeared, so many more are available. The shakeout has not ended, but once it has, I believe writers will have greater opportunity than they’ve ever had.

What are you excited about in the digital realm?

I’m very excited about the evolution of analytics. We’re gone past page views and likes and now we’re diving deep into data.

I’ve always been a secret data wonk — used to love when we got huge data dumps from the state education department and I had to create spreadsheets and sort them and figure out the stories that were there.

We have more data than ever before and are using so little of it. Now we’re starting to get the tools to be able to use it, and that’s cool.

Any industry-related pet peeves?

I dislike it when people proclaim themselves to be experts in digital strategy, social media, whatever. No one is an expert. You may have expertise in Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or any combination of platforms. You may have a strong foundation in marketing and public relations. You may be a fantastic writer or be excellent with blogger outreach.

But the second you think you’re actually an expert in anything, you stop learning and then you lose your expertise.

The entire digital realm evolves every day. The best you can do is to learn as much as you can about what you’re most interested in, and surround yourself with other people who have expertise in other topics you’re not as skilled in.

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