Dan Blank: Putting the “Social” in Social Media

Dan BlankBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

“In deep recession, with my job of 10 years ending [in June], and a baby on the way in August, I haven’t looked at a single job board or sent out a resume,” says Dan Blank, former Director of Content Strategy & Development for Reed Business Information. “I’ve just been talking to people, identifying problems, and considering ways I can help. That is how We Grow Media is forming.”

Having spent the past decade helping an impressive variety of editorial teams leverage the web — including Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and School Library Journal — Dan Blank’s understandably excited about his newest project, We Grow Media.

Half of WGM is consulting with media companies and online publishers to create compelling content and attract a vibrant community of fans and customers. “The other half,” he explains, “is working with writers, authors, editors and journalists to train them in building their online skills. Most of what stands in people’s way of growing is not lack of information, but fear. Working together, we can move past that. I work with creators one-on-one or via online classes I am creating.”

Blank is highly regarded by his peers because he really understands the “social” part of social media.

“So many people talk about the business or technical changes, but what I find even more interesting are the human changes. The economic meltdown, coupled with the business and technical changes affecting media have reshaped attitudes and the career paths of everyone in publishing and media.”

Which of these changes are you loving?

BLANK: I love how everyone has access to the world’s information and to each other. That we can not only dream, but take a step down the road to BECOME. That a 17-year-old in Alabama can create a piece of art and sell it to someone in London because of Etsy.com. That a college newspaper reporter in Montana can network with established media folks all over the world, and build credibility with them years before they enter the job market.

That a poor, struggling 13-year-old anywhere on the planet can access not just information, but the best teaching tools, and other people who can help them experience their passion. If astronomy is not taught in their school in India, that’s no problem. Just go online, and discover thousands of resources and thousands of passionate astronomy buffs to connect with.

This is the opportunity that I see for publishers.

What’s the biggest challenge?

BLANK: The fear that I know many people are going through. The sense that this is not where they wanted to be and they are powerless to know which way to move forward.

The sadness of institutions dying.

Who in publishing do you really admire? Whose creativity do you want to emulate?

BLANK: How much time do you have? I define publishing very broadly, so bear with me here:

  • Debbie Stier (@DebbieStier): We have only met in person once, and I already feel like I would lie down in traffic for her. Brilliant energy.
  • Betsy Bird (@FuseEight): Her passion, her work ethic, her ideas – she simply never stops amazing me.
  • Heather McCormack (@hmccormack): So honest it’s frightening, and willing to try anything to better serve her audience.
  • Calvin Reid (@calreid): When I grow up, I want to be Calvin. Nobody experiences their passions more openly and fully than he does.
  • What I’ll call “the new generation” of movers and shakers who form their own clique on Twitter: Ryan Chapman (@chapmanchapman), Ami Greko (@ami_with_an_i), Kate Rados (@KateRados), Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (@glecharles) and several others: not only are they smart, not only are they savvy, not only are they doing things for the right reasons, but they are so open to helping. It’s astounding, and I feel incredibly lucky to know them.
  • Gary Vaynerchuck (@GaryVee): I’ve become a bit obsessed with Gary. I think what he is doing is critically important – he is building the future. 
  • Andrew Warner (@AndrewWarner): More than anyone else in the past six months, Andrew has reshaped how I view the world. Every day, he interviews an entrepreneur on Mixergy.com, and shares their story online via video/audio chats. His line of questioning goes beyond just the facts, to the emotional side of building something, and exploring in detail how decisions are made. If you want to build something – ANYTHING – I can’t recommend Mixergy enough. This is not just the business side of how to build something (although that is there), it is the human side.

 Clearly – a huge number of people are missing from that list, those are just the first who popped into my mind.

How are you staying up-to-date with industry news?

BLANK: Staying up-to-date comes down to this: sleep is optional.

Twitter is a great resource for me, because it’s not just that I am finding so much great information, but the context of who shared it makes it more meaningful. I know what people are talking about and what they are saying about it. I now follow 550 people on Twitter, five times as many people as I thought I ever could. And I get so much out of each of them, that I can’t bear to unfollow anyone! 

Conversations are a huge way to stay on the ball. I love – LOVE – grabbing a drink, a coffee, breakfast, lunch with someone, and just chatting for an hour. That takes you behind the facts, to the real-life transitions we are all going through.

I often try to take online conversations offline – even if it’s just via phone or Skype. I love learning about what other people are working on, their goals, their passions, their failures.

We have so much to learn from each other.

Future of publishing – half full or half empty?

BLANK: COMPLETELY full. If all you care about is protecting an established business model, then you are missing the point. And missing the future.

Dan Blank is the founder of We Grow Media, and was most recently Director of Content Strategy & Development for Reed Business Information where he worked across 40 business media brands, including Publishers Weekly. In April 2010, Dan was named to the Folio: 40 list of top innovators in magazine publishing. He doesn’t own a television, but goes to the library at least twice a week. “It’s like candyland for the mind.”

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Dan Blank: Putting the “Social” in Social Media

  1. Pingback: Nice compliment from Dan Blank

  2. Wendy Keller

    Great comments, Dan. Especially “If all you care about it is protecting an established business model, then you are missing the point. And missing the future.” As an agent for more than 20 years, I see all literary agents caught in the crossfire. It’s an exciting, scary, painful, thrilling, fascinating thing to be pioneers, as all publishing professionals have been forced to become, in the new world of information dissemination (the artist formerly known as “publishing”.)

    At my office, we see a few savvy authors out there harnessing new technology, growing their Twitter or Facebook or YouTube presence, really digging into what’s available for brand creation prior to approaching a publisher. And then we have the challenge of soothing them once they are sold to a publisher and find out that, like the dog that actually catches the car, the publisher has no idea how to support or capitalize on their emerging social media success and is just hoping really hard that the author will carry the day.

    In other cases, some authors still believe the publisher really will be writing them a six figure check for their great idea on their first book and Oprah really will be sending the limo, they can just sit back and relax now that they’ve found me. You really wouldn’t believe how many “I’ll prove you wrong for turning me down, you blind fool!” types of comments I get annually from authors whose big claim to fame is they joined a writers critique group in Des Moines so they could finish their memoir and throw it my direction. (We don’t even handle memoirs!) Publishers/editors need to be CANDID about what they won’t do help market/promote a book and authors need to wake up to the reality – your book will be one in a million, literally! My voice grows hoarse when I’ve spent the entire project development stage (which may be months) trying to convince an author that they need to build their own marketing platform and then in one conversation with the publisher, who glosses over macro marketing efforts they may or may not make, the author decides to just sit back and wait to be famous.

    While we all fuss around hoping to change the psychology of the publishing industry, all of us (not just a few of us!) need to tell the potential writers that the library book they found, published in 2001, that is supposed to help them get published basically NO LONGER APPLIES. Unless they get involved on their own with social media, invest the time to learn it, grow it and expand; AND do other things (paid speaking, columns online and other; radio, print, television, anything and everything to build PLATFORM) they really don’t have much of a chance of getting a publishing deal and making a successful book out of the tsunami of product we create every year in this industry.

    I deeply respect what you’re doing – we need more people out there pointing out that each company and individual who hopes to differentiate themselves/their service or book or product must employ social media effectively as part of the strategy. Thanks for your great comments and best wishes in your new business venture. It’s just what we all need.

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