Blogging for Business
Rex Hammock’s blog, RexBlog.com, has become a must-read for magazine professionals. The president of Hammock Publishing—a Nashville, Tenn.-based custom publisher of print and online media, including 60 award-winning recurring titles created for various corporate and associations—uses his digital soapbox to talk about industry news and offer links to interesting headlines on the Web. He’ll also post observations about other completely unrelated things that engross him as the day goes on. Hammock jumped onto the Web in its earliest days, and in the years since, he has worked to incorporate his love for online media throughout his entire organization.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced in the past as president of the company?
Rex Hammock: Our company has been in the process of deciding what we want to be when we grow up. It’s hard, especially when you’re successful in a niche and are known for doing great work in that niche, to expand outside that niche.
For example, we love magazines, and we are well known in certain areas—especially associations—for the custom magazine work we do. However, we have been involved with very innovative media online for over a decade, activities and approaches that are now called conversational media, or community or Web 2.0—or, we like the term conversational media. While I’m personally known (perhaps because I was such an early blogger and have done so much early wiki-based development) for online media, our company still has not fully evolved in the marketplace as a source for conversational media solutions.
Again, we’re proud to be known for our custom publishing, but like others in traditional publishing, we are facing the challenge of communicating to our potential marketing that we are a “media” company, not just a print company.
What move are you most proud of, in terms of incorporating multiplatform delivery into your business model?
Hammock: I have set in motion several things that probably won’t start showing up until later this spring.
However, internally, at Hammock, we’ve made digital tools and online collaborative approaches a way we work for as long as I can remember. Or, at least, whenever something new comes along, I typically dive in as a guinea pig and then roll it out to others if it makes sense to me.
We have recently gone through the process of integrating the administration of all our approaches into a cohesive product that we are introducing to our clients. We didn’t start out to create a product, we merely pulled together those things we use to manage our work online and discovered it was an elegant solution to a lot of challenges our clients—and probably other publishers—face in trying to manage all the challenges of introducing social networks and wikis and blogging to the mix of content we’re all dealing with these days.
When and why did it become important for you to take a personal interest in the online world?
Hammock: This is a hard one, because I was never a computer geek, but from the moment I discovered that I could move type around on a monitor, I was hooked. One of my first jobs out of college was a three-year stint in a congressional office in [Washington] D.C. I was a speech writer and legislative aid, and quickly discovered the amazing power of having a monitor and keyboard at my desk on which I could access the databases maintained by the Library of Congress and Nexis, and some of the other commercial services just coming online in the early 1980s.
Once you drink from that firehose of information, it’s hard to go back to depending on traditional methods of research. I was one of the first people to purchase a Mac computer back in 1984, and there are many subtle developments in the early days of the Mac—most notably a program called Hypercard—that I used, which later provided a philosophical foundation for me to understand what was taking place 10 years later when a graphical interface was applied to the Internet.
Frankly, by the time Netscape appeared, I … immediately started integrating a Web strategy into the way we work …. I’ve made some business blunders related to my enthusiasm and personal interest in the online world—primarily because I don’t have the patience to wait until the market catches up with where I think it should.
What advice can you offer other corner office executives to get personally involved in blogging, photo sharing and online communities?
Hammock: I think most “office types” bring the wrong metaphors to conversational media. Digital natives (our kids) don’t think in terms of static, packaged content when they think of the Web. They view the Web as alive and sharing and personal. The term “blog” is perhaps unfortunate, because it allows “office types” the opportunity to dismiss it as something superficial. Once you start dismissing blogging, it becomes difficult to grasp the power of sharing and tagging and creating what are called social networks.
We all aim to optimize our Web presence. So, what’s the next big thing for magazine publishing companies?
Hammock: The critical thing is to accept an online world where your Web site is no longer a “destination.” Your site may become a filling station for people to fill-up their RSS news reader or mobile phone. They may depend on it for making connections with other readers or doing deals. They may see it as a place to share their knowledge.
But today—and moving forward—we are all media. And there is no way one company can be all things to those whose lives it touches.
Have a great brand. Create valuable services and content. But realize you are a part of something bigger going on. PE