Sometimes it seems that when communicators try to help clients understand the importance of utilizing the new digital (social media) channels, we make the arguments much more complicated than needed. An alternative is to look at these communication tools in small parts and examine them separately.

Today we start with Aggregators. Wikipedia defines a news aggregator as “a computer, software, or website that aggregates (collects) news from other news sources.” That sounds pretty simple for something that’s having a huge impact on how and where your company’s story is being told. Attention is often focused on how aggregators have caused negative stories to go viral, causing major problems for many organizations. But it’s important to remember that aggregators can also be a huge force for good.

Aggregators exist because they can very cost-effectively attract individuals with a common interest—anything from ant farming to zebra grooming. They develop a community of followers by providing information otherwise available on multiple sites.

The West Seattle Blog http://westseattleblog.com/ is a successful local news aggregator. While their reporters cover the community, it has a whole cadre of volunteer reporters who also post news. It accepts content and provides a forum for debate on a range of issues.

In the financial world “The Fly on the Wall” http://www.theflyonthewall.com/splashPage.php?action=main&arg=A, is a typical aggregator. They provide a range of information about the financial performance of banks.

Now, consider this example from Washington Federal, http://www.washingtonfederal.com. As a successful publicly traded financial institution, they produce information for investors and the news media on a predictable schedule. Recently, a positive story about the company received considerable coverage due entirely to aggregators.

A New York investment firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, reported that they were now ‘following’ the stock and also predicted an increase in the company’s share price. The story was not generated by Washington Federal and was not carried on any of the national business wires. It moved primarily through the aggregators, gathering a large number of readers along the way. There were several Twitter postings, and it was featured on multiple blogs ranging from “The Fly on the Wall.com” to WSJ.com.

Here are three simple lessons from this example. First, your company needs to know what information the aggregators are posting about you. That means utilizing a media monitoring service to do the checking for you, or having someone using multiple Google or Bing alerts to do it for you. I think you’ll be amazed at the chatter.

Second, as you watch the flow of information in this community, I think you’ll find that there are some people who might benefit from more attention from you. Whether you add them to your media list, set them up for a keep-in-touch program or utilize them as a possible focus group participant, they have already shown an interest in you that’s worth watching.

Finally, reaching out to the best of the aggregators takes some of the fear of the unknown away and will help your executive team begin the real work of planning their overall strategy for the digital (social media) world. That means finding ways to engage customers and build community, become more adept at telling your story yourself on all the channels available and setting programs in place to truly engage critical audiences.

In reality, most small and mid-sized companies are not likely to find themselves the focus of a massive online crisis nor will they post a You Tube video that brings them thousands of new customers. Those chances are right up there with winning the lottery. More likely, they may find that good company news spreads more quickly and widely thanks to some cooperative aggregators who find your story of interest. And in the end, that is probably worth even more.