Why casinos need to pay proper attention to new media

I’m coaching the National Student Advertising Competition team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this semester. It’s a great group of bright students who will be going head-to-head with some fierce competitors in May. Each university that enters the competition uses the same case study as the basis upon which to develop an integrated marketing campaign. Typically, each year’s client selects a product or issue related to college-age people, so they have the benefit of students developing a campaign for young people in a similar age demographic.

While I’m teaching strategic thinking and planning skills, at the same time I have to say I’m learning a lot about the next generation of communicators and the future of communications. If you haven’t had the opportunity to interact firsthand with 20-year-olds, you might be interested in some of the insights they’ve shared with me since January.  

The biggest eye-opener to me has been learning how 20-somethings communicate. Most significantly – what professionals have typically considered “traditional media” might as well be called “obsolete media” in their minds. In a brief survey, the class found that 40 percent of college students get most of their information from the Internet, 30 percent from TV, and 24 percent from social networking sites. Ask about the more mainstream media channels (“mainstream” to those of us not in our 20s, that is), and you’ll hear comments like: “I can’t remember the last time I listened to the radio.” Magazines or newspapers? There’s virtually no readership among this age group.  

It’s staggering to consider the implications for casino public relations and marketing to the just-over-21 crowd. If you consider your Web site your company’s main Internet presence, you have a foot in the door. But there’s so much more to communicating on the Internet … and so little that the casino industry is doing.

Start with blogs, for instance. Consider that these Fortune 500 companies have chosen to engage in active, genuine blog conversations with their publics: Disney, Southwest Airlines, Nike, McDonald’s and more. Even the venerable Bill Marriott has adopted the new technology. The formal CEO address is evolving into an informal conversation with constituents in real time. Statistics show blogs are being read: Nearly three-quarters of active online users have read a blog. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a blog authored by an executive in the casino industry. On the other hand, the list of blogs about casinos is lengthy. We appear to missing out on our opportunity to join in the virtual conversation. 

Why social networks matter

Moving on to social networks. When asked what channels influence them more – social networks or the media – students answered an overwhelming 88 percent “social networks.” That number corresponds very closely to the 80 percent of college students who have Facebook accounts, and who use this social networking site as a significant means of communication. The college students, by the way, have already progressed past MySpace, which they perceive as geared toward a younger, high-school age demographic. Social media is for much more than just socializing: Ernst & Young has used Facebook as an effective recruiting tool, giving college-age prospects an unparalleled peer’s-eye view into the world of the firm.

Twittering away

Then there’s Twitter. Recently, the 90+-year-old National Public Radio commentator Daniel Schorr set up his account live on air during a Weekend Edition broadcast. And Twitter was all the rage among the audience during the President’s State of the Union address. Senator John McCain has an avid Twitter following. All that aside, what Twitter has done for (or to) the world of PR and media relations, according to new technology guru Shel Holtz, is to create “the 140-character news cycle.” No longer does the PR department have the ability to control a legal-department-vetted message. “Journalists” now include anyone with a cell phone or PDA, reporting in real-time. Just one recent example – people with cell phones and a view of the Hudson River were among the first to break news, both in words and photos, of the US Airways plane crash.

Going beyond media to message, the “i-you generation” –  as in iPhone, iPod and YouTube – is highly individual, which directly impacts what they consider to be credible sources of information. This age group trusts each other much more than outside sources. The information targeted at them from outside their network is often received with a healthy dose of skepticism. Again, the implications for the roles of PR and marketing are clear: the old “control the message” model is evolving to influence and persuasion among communities united by relationships.           

All this only represents the tip of the iceberg. Mobile marketing may hold huge potential for businesses. New social network users sign on every day – witness Daniel Schorr and John McCain. And as the 20-somethings take their penchant for social networking with them into their 30s and beyond, this formerly “nontraditional media” is bound to become the norm.