Internet

Matthew on the move

Top talent adds to Naspers' highly successful global media ambition.
Read time 6min 20sec

Naspers has been quietly taking on the world with a slew of social media brands in double-digit growth economies like China, Russia, India and Brazil. Very smart strategy, because Tencent generated R600 million in profit for Naspers during its last financial year.

Part of this strategy has included scouring South Africa for the best digital talent to add to the fold, and they don't come much brighter than Matthew Buckland. The co-founder of award-winning editorial blog, Thought Leader, and blog aggregator amatomu.com, Buckland has added significant value to Mail & Guardian during his tenure there as GM of Mail & Guardian Online. Buckland is set to join 24.com as GM of Publishing and Social Media.

The online business at Mail & Guardian underwent a turnaround with Buckland as GM, achieving record revenue and readership numbers, featuring as one of the country's top 10 Web sites and third biggest news site as measured by Nielsen//Netratings. There have been massive redevelopments of the flagship news site during his eight years there, and Buckland launched 11 new online brands and seven new mobile sites for Mail & Guardian.

There has been major kudos for Buckland's work. Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader "editorial blog" and newsinphotos.co.za were recognised by the 2008 Webby's, alongside big international brands like the New York Times, CNN, CNBC, CBS, New York Observer and Washingtonpost.com. It also won "SA Blog of Year 2008".

Naspers aside, Buckland believes businesses are still working out how social media can fit into their business models. "Business can benefit from social media in three ways externally: 1) Perform a customer relationship management function; 2) Use social media applications as an additional marketing channel to position their business and solicit new business; and 3) Look at building or acquiring social media applications that would support their business or niche. Internally, social media could benefit business by enhancing human resource functions and internal networking functions. Instead of a boring intranet, you could have an "intranet 2.0" with added social networking -- this would facilitate communication and help unlock the latent knowledge that often exists within a business."

Buckland says media companies have seen the obvious benefits of social media and are embracing the trend wholeheartedly.

Matthew Buckland, GM of Publishing and Social Media, 24.com.

Buckland says media companies have seen the obvious benefits of social media and are embracing the trend wholeheartedly, but that business in other sectors, like the financial sector, are still trying to work out how it applies to their businesses. "In many senses social media preaches openness, which is in tension to the "walled garden" approach of many companies. The key is to manage this tension," says Buckland, who adds: "Some major commentators maintain that the breakthrough of digital interactivity as the dominant form of communication is a paradigm shift that entails a shift in power of the same extent as when the bourgeoisie - aided by the invention of the printing press and mass media - wrested power from the feudal aristocracy. As ordinary users begin to create networks and communities around themselves that bypass traditional communication channels, so those who control the networks and flow of information will wield power. The above all assumes an era where Internet is ubiquitous, fast, mobile and affordable to all."

15 minutes with Buckland:

Mandy de Waal: What creates critical mass with social media?
Matthew Buckland: People are able to create their own media and distribute it, cheaply and quickly. That in itself is the main attraction.

In social networking, what's just a trend and what is here to stay?
Networking is fundamental to us as human beings and the desire to network has existed since the dawn of human kind. The Internet has enhanced this innately human desire, making it cost-effective, efficient and offering the ability to do it on a grand scale. Social networking, as in the Internet phenomenon, is, therefore, here to stay.

Do local advertisers understand social media?
There are some advertisers who are embracing social media. I think the key is to understand the social media platform that you are targeting. You can take out simple advertising on a social networking platform like Facebook, or could create apps that add value to people's lives.

What does 'social media' mean to traditional media companies?
Social media application in a publishing context is a way of attracting new audience and developing a closer relationship with your existing audience. Harnessing your community to write for you, contribute to the news gathering or copy tasting process is not only an inclusive form of publishing, but a cost-effective one too.

What are the big things in social media?
In the blogging context, I think we'll see a stronger social networking layer added to blogging software, allowing you to connect with fellow bloggers and market your posts from your dashboard. I think we'll also see more niched social/business network applications developed to serve specific communities, businesses and interest groups. We may also see the rise of super social networking aggregators.

What's the next big thing?
Mobile media. It's already the "now" big thing. There are three billion cellphone users in the world. The mobile phone will become the dominant platform for Internet access, eclipsing desktop Internet access.

Semantic Web. I think we'll see the rise of more sophisticated, machine readable content, which allows publishers to do more with their content.

TV and radio via the net. TV (aka Internet video) and radio (aka Internet audio) will eventually be delivered via the Internet.

What gadgets do you use and why?
I'm a PDA phone nut. I've been using PDAs since the mid 90s and I've had them all, from Psion, Palm Pilot, iMate to my current HTC that I swear by. The new iPhone 3G, however, will be my next phone and PDA. I wish it came with a keyboard and haptic touch though. I got my first computer (ZX Spectrum 48k) aged seven when I was in Grade 2, where I programmed games in BASIC, and then also used to build robots out of old circuitry boards. I think that ensured I'd be a gadget and technology freak for the rest of my life.

What Web and mobile apps do you use and why?
Web: Twitter, Linked.in, Facebook, Google Bookmarks, Gmail, Google notepad, Muti, online banking, del,icio,us, flickr, picasa, mybloglog, slideshare.net, digg and you tube. Mobile: fring every now and again, Twitter, Facebook and Gmail mobile.

What's your favourite technology and why?
I love user interface innovation.

Who are your gurus and why?
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder. The Google founders. My former colleague Vincent Maher.

What are the best books to read about the digital or new media?
I'd read Wikinomics and Netocracy. Great reads.

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Mandy de Waal is a freelance writer, columnist and investigative journalist. A former broadcast journalist, De Waal writes for Brainstorm, ITWeb, MoneyWeb and is the editor of MoneywebLife. She writes about technology, convergent media, corporate rot and whatever else takes her fancy. Read the riffs on her blog.

Follow her on Twitter.

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