Category Archives: Online

Don’t Forsake Archives for Ephemeral Content

(Note: This post originally appeared on the PNConnect blog)

There’s a thought-provoking post by Melody Kramer at Poynter today about news organization and ephemeral content. Specifically she’s addressing the question of how – or if – those media companies can or should be archiving the posts they’re publishing to services like Facebook through Instant Articles and Snapchat, in some cases through Discover. Even more minute than that, how are news organizations capturing and keeping the captions they put on a Facebook photo, or the copy in a Tweet that links to an on-domain story?Image via Wikimedia https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Fondos_archivo.jpgAs usual, many of the questions and issues that are asked and raised here about the news world also has implications and applications to the world of brand publishing.

Similar to how news organizations have to, brand publishers have to walk the line between accomplishing a number of goals. We certainly want the brands we work with to be adjusting to market trends and right now there’s no bigger trend than off-domain publishing. Again, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover are leading this trend, though Twitter certainly wants you to do as much organically on their network as possible and YouTube, in addition to being a great video archive, is essentially an off-domain tool where you can host a self-contained presence.

Interestingly, as I’m writing this the story popped the Reported.ly, a new news organization that at first embraced an approach of going completely native on social networks, has launched a website. The reason? To add context, allow for bigger-picture views and act as an archive. In other words, everything that a website should do.

This is a line we walk ourselves as counselors to our clients whose publishing programs we advise on. We know what works – the hub-and-spoke strategy that focuses on owned content being published on-domain and distributed to managed channels – but also want to make sure our clients are going where the audience is and that audience is increasingly living and reading within apps and social networks.

There aren’t the same concerns for brands that media organizations have. Corporate blogs aren’t going to be the paper of record, but those archives do have historical value. There may also be regulatory considerations that mean a brand *has* to be archiving all communications.

Finally, there’s tremendous value in having an archive of content to pull from to combat content decay. The only channel that’s future-proof is the one you control. It’s a bit hyperbolic, but Facebook could disappear next year. Snapchat could fold. Vine could be shuttered. And are you comfortable playing the odds that before they go away that they’ll make sure you can download an archive of everything – posts, comments, engagement and so on – you’ve done over your time there?

Facebook Embraces “Time Spent” to Further Its Own Goals

(Note: This post was first published on the Voce blog)

What Is It: Facebook announced last Friday that “time spent” would be included as one of the important metrics determining what people see in their Newsfeed. The logic from Facebook is that people may read stories that are interesting to them but don’t, for whatever reason, take one of the traditional engagement actions like commenting, liking and so on. So in the absence of those the amount of time people spend reading the story should, by their logic, play a role in what is surfaced to others.

What Does This Mean: On the surface this seems like Facebook moving the goal posts yet again to favor something from Facebook, in this case Instant Articles. The goal of those are to keep the reader within Facebook and not just be a pointer to an on-domain story, so naturally more time is going to be spent with them than something that’s quickly read and clicked on to read more.

Facebook-logo-PSD

Not only does this help that, though, it also is clearly meant to penalize those publishers who engage in what is sometimes derisively called “click bait.” When you think about so many of the new media players of the last few years you think of headlines that end with “…And You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” that encourage people to spend as little time as possible on Facebook or other networks and get to the site as quickly as possible to find out what, exactly, happens next.

While not all brand publishers have engaged in editorial tactics like that most have a similar goal, which is to make the conversion from social network to on-site as quickly as possible for any or all of a variety of reasons.

So what can those brand publishers do to tack and make sure they’re not amongst those taking a hit because people aren’t spending long periods of time on their stories? Learn how to tell concise stories.

There’s a bit of room – not a lot, but enough – between posting a teaser that is meant to be consumed quickly before generating a click and going all Instant Articles and completely abandoning the hub-and-spoke strategy we evangelize here. But that amount of space requires content producers to get really good at encapsulating the story in an engaging way and gets the point across while still leaving enough to the imagination that people want to read more. That’s an interesting trick to pull off, but it can be done.

Outside of all that, it’s also representative of the change that’s happening in the overall online media world, as traditional metrics like clicks, pageviews and so on lose their prominence – at least among forward-thinking sites – in favor of “time spent,” “quality views” and so on.

Overall this is a change that will, as just about every such change has, have some sort of impact on brand publishers. Organic reach has dropped like a stone in the last couple years and this will continue that trend. But, as stated above, there’s at least some way for publishers to do what they can to counteract that. Now they just need to do it.

Medium Embraces Email for Distribution, But Email Is No RSS

Medium-logo-dark500The only way you’ve been able to read or be alerted to new posts by writers on Medium has, up until now, been on the site itself. The site – which seems to embrace how it is both a publisher and a platform at the same time it says it’s neither, really – has adopted this model because the emphasis has been on it being a network where you connect with people you know and enjoy reading. It’s essentially Twitter for long-form.

Now they’re embracing off-site distribution with the launch of Letters, a feature that will deliver new posts you write to the email inboxes of the people who follow you. Medium positions this with the following statement:

Letters have the potential to provide what blogs used to through RSS subscriptions.

That is representative of a shift that’s been underway for a couple years now to not only prioritize email as a distribution point but actively move away from RSS. If you visit many sites, particularly those of the new generation of media outlets or corporate blogs, you’ll notice the RSS icon that was pervasive for the better part of a decade is no longer there amidst icons for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, email and whatever other networks the publisher feel is relevant to their audience.

(I’m a well-known and long-time advocate of RSS since I feel it’s a superior syndication tool. But while my allegiance remains strong (RSS remains how I consume 95% of my news, with email and apps like Circa filling in the gaps) I understand that I’m not representative of the general public in this and many other ways, such as my contention there’s no better band in the world than Huey Lewis & The News. So I’m always going to think RSS is the superior delivery platform.)

Whether it wants to be a publisher or a platform, Medium has always exhibited the attributes of a social network. You followed people and got their updates in a system that was essentially Twitter but for long-form updates. But those updates, like Twitter and other networks, went into a feed that was fine as long as you didn’t follow to many people/publications. When you hit a certain scale the same problems cropped up that happen on Twitter: the updates fly by you if you aren’t looking at it regularly and you miss things.

That’s obviously at least one of the issues Medium is trying to address here, allowing publishers to push their updates in front of readers. But even then, the influx of emails is going to become overwhelming. That’s because email is a dog, begging and whining to go outside and barking every time someone walks down the sidewalk, constantly alerting you and wondering IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS!!! RSS is a cat, ready for your attention when you have time but also quietly chilling out while you’re busy and whatever.

I’ve long wished Medium would support RSS but email is…alright, though obviously a less efficient option. The site is at least finally acknowledging that off-site distribution is a good idea.

I’m a well-known and long-time advocate of RSS since I feel it’s a superior syndication tool. But while my allegiance remains strong (RSS remains how I consume 95% of my news, with email and apps like Circa filling in the gaps) I understand that I’m not representative of the general public in this and many other ways, such as my contention there’s no better band in the world than Huey Lewis & The News. So I’m always going to think RSS is the superior delivery platform.

I’ve long wished Medium would support RSS but email is…alright, though obviously a less efficient option. The site is at least finally acknowledging that off-site distribution is a good idea.

Social Headlines Very Different From Search Headlines

(This post originally appeared on Voce Nation)

There have been countless stories written over the last few years about “click bait” headlines, most of them full of hand-wringing about devaluing the reader’s time and so on. But there’s another angle on this that doesn’t get the attention it deserves and which (and yes, I’m aware of the contradiction in saying this) is summed up by one perfect headline.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.23.08 PM

That headline – and many more like it – shows a bigger shift than just toward “click bait,” though that’s part of it. It shows an almost complete abandonment of search visibility in favor of headlines that work well on social, at least for the moment.

Contrast that, though, with the URL for the story, which is still very search-oriented:

http://time.com/3914492/blythe-danner-madoff/

These sorts of headline tactics have obviously moved out from publications like Buzzfeed, Mic and others into more…what do we even call them anymore? Is Time mainstream? Do we measure that by page views? Print versions? Perhaps “legacy sites” is a better nomenclature. Regardless, this is now commonplace across the web on sites of all shapes and sizes as everyone seeks to get the attention of the Facebook and other social audiences.

What’s lost, though, is the broader web. If we’re not creating stories that are findable via search (and as long as search on social networks ranges from merely bad to wholly unusable) then we’re quite literally losing our archives.

We used to fret over whether our headlines were packed with enough search keywords and that there was a date not only at the top of the page but also in the URL slug. Now we’re operating in a world where headlines should be as vague as possible to encourage clicking from Facebook and many publications are eschewing dates because they want their content to be evergreen. The latter is also fairly unfriendly to search since it makes it difficult to gauge the timeliness of what you’re reading.

This isn’t meant to sound nostalgic for some idyllic time that’s past, but this is definitely a time that is if not in the past at least not not in fashion at the moment.

It’s incumbent on content marketing strategists (you know, like the ones you find here at Voce) to walk the line between staying current with these trends and advising clients on long-term best practices. That can be a tough balance to achieve and, honestly, will require some experimentation as tactics are tested, reported on and adjusted as necessary.

Owned Channels The Only Port in Shifting Media Seas

(This post originally appeared on Voce Nation)

Vox Media bought Re/code, which stars Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and a host of others and which spun off from All Things D, a Wall Street Journal-hosted blog.

GigaOm might be coming back after Knowingly recently purchased the domain name and archives of the site, though since its writers have scattered (most of them to Fortune), it’s unclear who’s going to writing new stuff.

Verizon recently bought Aol, including the latter’s portfolio of news and editorial sites, though the future of Huffington Post is reportedly up in the air as everyone figures out what they want to do and where they are or aren’t comfortable.

In short, the online media world is up for grabs and more than a little unstable. If you’re in PR, the journalist you’ve worked with for years may be gone tomorrow, either off to a new publication or completely out of a job. And, as we’ve seen, the site that has previously covered your client’s news regularly may disappear altogether with little notice.

Instability is nothing new for media. The difference these days is there’s an alternative: Owned channels.

If the constant stream of site closures, journalist changes and related activities has you unsure of how your earned media efforts are going to work it may be time to instead evaluate if what you’re doing on-domain and on managed channels is working and how you can use those to more effectively reach the audience you’re looking for.

This is not to knock in any way practices like press outreach. Even in a world of owned media channels there’s still an essential role for the outside press. But we’re moving deeper and deeper into a world where companies are getting their message out to both press and consumers directly. Our list of past and present clients is filled with examples of both.

If you want to learn how to best mix earned and owned media (along with paid and shared, of course), drop us a line.

Pew’s Report on Millennials and Political News

(Note: This post first appeared on the Voce blog)

pew millennials politicsWhat Is It: The Pew Research Center is out with a new study showing 61% of Millennials – broadly defined as anyone born after 1980 – get political news primarily from Facebook, almost exactly the opposite proportion of those in the Baby Boom generation, for whom local TV news still dominates.

What Does This Mean: There are all sorts of interesting data finds in the study that are well worth reading, particularly those that deal with how trusting members of the various demographic groups are of media. But the question that should cause the most discussion isn’t raised until the end and it’s roughly this: What does it mean that so many people are getting their news through social media?

The answer is incredibly complex and requires consideration of a multitude of factors, but at the core it comes down to how some social networks, particularly Facebook, are filtering the user experience in ways that sometimes can’t be controlled and are invisible to the audience, who often aren’t even aware there are filters being applied which a vast swath of people aren’t.

Facebook recently released a study where they essentially washed their hands of responsibility and said people themselves for whatever diversity they were or weren’t seeing in their Newsfeeds. While that may be true (to an extent…Facebook is still ultimately the one that governs the algorithm that creates the Newsfeed), the results of getting your news from a system that’s almost uniquely designed to reinforce your own point of view and limit outside opinions is felt well outside of Facebook and informs people’s behavior on a local, state and federal level.

Facebook plays a unique role in today’s information ecosystem, as this new study shows starkly. But the impact of that role is, I’d wager, only beginning to be felt.

Want a Paywall Around Your Site? First Get Your Content House in Order

Last week Jason Abbruzzese wrote on Mashable about how he believes the “free” phase of the internet is coming to a close and it’s time for people to start opening their wallets. As an inciting incident for this new wave he cites the recent news Entertainment Weekly is introducing a metered paywall which will allow people to access only so many articles (the number changes depending on where they’re coming from) each month. As with all such hybrid models, the idea is that if you offer readers a taste they’ll come to see your outlet as important and be more than happy to shell out for even more.

While he doesn’t mention it, the same argument is happening in the music world, where some record labels are pressuring Spotify to either do away with or more strictly curtail free (albeit ad-supported) access levels in favor of one that does more to encourage – nay force – people into a “Premium” membership that is more lucrative for the labels. Spotify’s rebuttal is that the free, ad-supported level (something that won’t be part of Apple’s rumored streaming service) may generate just 10% of revenue but it’s how people come to the service and accounts for the vast majority of its user base.

The idea that media should erect paywalls around their content, as opposed to letting the freeloading masses get away with not giving them money, is as old as the internet itself, or close enough at least. But it’s not the hippie audience that’s to blame, it’s a combination of online advertising models and media that has been in a race to the bottom for the last 15 years on multiple fronts.

paywall

First, online advertising: Back in the early days online ads were sold by media companies as add-ons to print buys, not given a value in their own right. And the realization that an ads effectiveness could be finitely quantified based on audience interaction meant advertisers weren’t willing to pay for “awareness,” just for actual click-throughs or other actions. Finally, publishers added as many pages to their sites as possible in an effort to increase available inventory, further driving down the value of each individual ad. So, in short, if publishers aren’t getting the revenue from advertising they used to they largely themselves to blame for, at every available opportunity, making the choice that would hurt them the most in the long term. Advertising has always been the core revenue source, not subscription or individual issue sales, so to now think that equation will flip is to ignore a hundred years of media history.

Second – and here’s the real kicker and why a paywall isn’t a solution in and of itself – every publisher is now writing about the same 12 things each day, leading to a monoculture where nothing unique has the chance to thrive. Everyone’s writing about “the dress,” the latest quote from The Rock’s press junket or so on. But the crux of the paywall argument is that there’s something unique behind the wall. People aren’t going to pay for access to someone reporting on who Katy Perry is feuding with on Twitter because there are 327 sites doing the same thing. But they will – or at least there’s a better chance they will – pay for something no one else is doing.

But at the same time they want to erect a paywall, sites and publications are ditching seasoned, talented writers, reporters and producers in favor of cheaper “content producers” who can churn out posts quickly in order to, again, create more ad inventory.

Let’s think about this from a retail standpoint: I know I can get toothpaste from any of a two dozen stores within a few mile radius of my driveway. So when I’m looking for toothpaste, something about which I have no particular brand loyalty, it comes down to some combination of price and convenience. The closest to free and the closest to where I am when I need toothpaste will usually win. But I know there are just a couple – maybe even just one –  places that sell high end comic book statues and collectibles. So I’m willing to pay a premium for those items because it’s unique, in limited supply and from a store that I’m loyal to for a handful of reasons. They stock something no one else does.

So here’s the question that every publication considering erecting a paywall should ask: What are you stocking that no one else does? And what are you doing to make sure to retain that value?

Here’s the catch, though: If you think the answer is “Our brand is the premium” you’re doing this wrong. At this point few media brands have that sort of value attached to their name of masthead. People get their news from Facebook or Twitter, where they may follow any number of publications or sites, not from a brand specifically. We’re living in a post-media brand world, some just haven’t realized it yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of publications of any stripe assigning value to their content and asking people to pay for access to it. But without being able to clearly articulate and then deliver on a value proposition all that will result is them learning the same lesson Variety did three years ago, when they saw overall readership decline to the point where they tore down the wall. That’s hardly the only example, as recent history is replete with cases where sites have flip-flopped repeatedly on the paywall decision. And it’s because either they didn’t make the value proposition effectively or, in some cases like Variety, the audience willing to pay for that value wasn’t large enough to sustain the model.

A paywall, is a tricky thing. But it begins, as most things do, with good content. Once that’s solved you can move on to all the other issues.