Partners Should Make Money, Too

As the news industry embarks on building new relationships with technology vendors and social media platforms, the formation of these new partnerships is a topic of continued debate. Each entity's goal is to provide the best experience for its audience base and meet their demands, yet concerns arise regarding how, and if, each industry will work cohesively together for ultimate success.

I recently moderated a panel on social media platforms at the Media Future Summit organized by MediaPost and the Wharton School. The common view was that newspapers have a product that people want and need while social media platforms -- Facebook being a prime example -- have a tremendously large audience hungry for that product. Isn't this the basis for a mutually beneficial partnership?

It could be. The companies represented on my panel -- The Washington Post, The New York Times and Bauer Xcel Media -- certainly thought that engagement with big social media platforms could be a positive partnership. But a latent fear also persisted, which was reflected in audience members' questions, that social media companies would change the rules over time and slowly drive news generators to their lowest possible level of success. In short, will the social media platforms be as invested in the success of news organizations as the news organizations are in becoming invested in the success of the social media platforms?

This question calls to mind a similarly challenging historic venture that I recently re-heard on one of my favorite radio programs, This American Life, on NPR. The episode focused on the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) auto plant in Fremont, California which began in 1984 and was a joint partnership between two blood enemies in the auto world -- General Motors and Toyota. The advantage of the project from GM's perspective was that it would acquire all of the secrets of "The Toyota Way" of building high-quality cars, and, perhaps more so, would learn the importance and value of strong, trusting business relationships with all involved partners.

At the time, GM had famously difficult relationships with many of its suppliers and viewed them as independent economic actors. In contrast, Toyota recognized the value of its suppliers while both entities had to share one, mutually reinforcing idea of success to prosper. GM not only had to integrate a new system of manufacturing, it had to learn that its suppliers themselves were an integral part to achieve industry cohesion and success. Only recently were efforts enacted by GM to prioritize trust, engagement and mutuality with its partners.

For the news industry and social media platforms to best serve their audiences and deliver sought-after content in a way that is most engaging and accessible, a mutually beneficial relationship is key. The NUMMI example showcases what can occur when a partner and their success is regarded as an afterthought -- such derision simply will not allow either to flourish. Making sure your partners reach their goals and thrive -- and therefore stay invested in your success -- is paramount for strong business relationships and consumer satisfaction.