Feature Stories

Setting the Digital Pace: Meet Alumnus Michael E. Smith '95

Alumnus Michael E. Smith '95

It’s a brave new digital world for publishers, and Michael Smith is at work leveraging the full potential of 21st-century technology as chief digital officer for Forbes Media LLC and president of Forbes.com. Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes magazine and Forbes.com, is one of the best- known sources of news about business, investing, technology and entrepreneurship. Forbes.com, a leading business website, reaches more than 17 million monthly visitors in the US.

Smith oversees all Forbes IT departments and is responsible for electronic advertising. While the reader base for Forbes magazine in paper continues to grow, complementary digital outreach is building readership as well. “Forbes is an extraordinarily innovative media company,” says Smith, who has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. “It’s really great for a technical person to be in a position to lead initiatives that optimize the use of evolving technology and develop new sources of revenue.”

Interested in computing from the time he enrolled at NJIT, Smith chose to major in electrical engineering because it allowed him to pursue that interest at a time when the university did not have a dedicated program in computer engineering. His first job after graduation was with The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. He transitioned to media at HBO and subsequently became vice president and chief technology officer at TheStreet.com.

As for digital challenges Smith contends with today, they’ve been increasing along with the opportunities. Smith says that when he started at Forbes in 2000, Business Week, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal were seen as chief competitors. “Today we compete with Google and social media for the same ad dollars. On the audience front, we’re competing with them for people’s attention.”

When it comes to those ad dollars, the digital pace can indeed be fast. Current technology makes it possible for advertisers to bid on electronic placement milliseconds before an ad actually appears. But Smith says there are also opportunities to collaborate for mutual benefit in the spirit of “competition,” using a term that’s gaining traction in the lexicon of business.

Looking back about five years or so, Smith explains, we spent our time online mainly at portal pages like Yahoo, MSN and AOL. Now, we log more hours on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social-media sites. A publisher must therefore cultivate symbiotic relationships with these networks to capture our attention.

In contrast to the era when the portals decided which content to highlight, it’s the myriad recommendations encountered on social media that have gained greater influence, the voices of friends and others who know how to make themselves heard. Forbes is well ahead of the curve with regard to social media in Smith’s estimation, equipping writers with the techniques and tools needed to build awareness of their individual contributions and the Forbes brand in the digital arena.

Smith does not hesitate to credit his NJIT education for starting him on the path toward his position with Forbes, and he continues to be connected to the university as a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College Board of Visitors. He also chairs the advisory board for the Interdisciplinary Design Studio, a program that encourages students’ entrepreneurial initiative with the assistance of faculty advisors and industry mentors.

From the NJIT Magazine