Media platforms: A 5,000 year-old novelty

Books stacked high in modern-day Iraq

Humans started writing around 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia (and also in China, Central America and Egypt). For a good millennium, writing was a state-building tool. As people moved into cities, those in charge needed instruments of governance and control. Early writing is not emotional; it doesn’t tell stories. It’s bean-counting: bureaucrats writing down stuff too complex to learn by heart.

It wasn’t until around 2,000 BCE that we started writing down stories. And when that did happen, perhaps inevitably, facts and ideas were paired with morals — things happened for a reason; that’s what made them great stories.

From record-keeping to the best tales, early writing was about controlling a narrative.

Clearly, a lot has happened since humans began to write. But there is a loose parallel with the twenty-first century that interests me.

Today’s companies, and the individuals within them, are faced with the same opportunity as the pioneer scribes of the ancient world: the ability to create, and grow, institutions through words, and stories.

HSG talks about media platforms because we know that the digital era (now we’ve all spent 30 years getting to grips with it) is the one in which every single institution is also a media company. (This isn’t a narrative I’ve invented; people have been saying it for years. We just haven’t been doing it for years.)

Now, we all have to compete with the best content producers in the world. Rather than using words to invoke command and control, institutions have to compete for readers’ attention.

A “media platform”, therefore, is a scalable vehicle (read: online) for talking to, and influencing, a growing audience.

Perhaps this gives us a new, straightforward approach to content.

If you’re commencing big content function build-outs or doing tonnes of content marketing, you might be too late. Better to go back to fundamentals: integrate the written and recorded word with your core business. Make concrete your value-add, in order to be even more valuable.

We are currently building a New York Times-style microsite for a client which will house original research and analysis, intended to position them as both an authority, and category-definer. Not only will this compete as a publication across their target audience and the wider market, it is also a product, entirely amalgamated with, and shaping, the institution itself.

A media platform; several steps towards a media company.

A nod to the past, and ready to compete well into the future.

PS Hat tip to the wonderful A History of the World in 100 Objects podcast series, which inspired much of the above.

PPS “Media” and “Meso”(potamians) are synonymous — ‘in the middle of’, or ‘between’ :)

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