Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz on the Future of Digital Media
This piece from Jason Hirschhorn is the sixth in a series of 10 posts about the future of the media industry contained in a report titled: Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.
Q: How does the rise of Facebook change the relationship between media and its audience?
Facebook is obviously a transformative platform. It’s a disruption in the distribution of content. The social endorsement in “sharing” or “liking” a piece of content on a platform like Facebook is almost as important as the content itself. And while they like the digital “word of mouth” I think this scares the film, TV and publishing industries. Why? Because, unlike in the past, they are not controlling the distribution and conversation the way they used to. The “feed” is taking on search, too, because users are ultimately using it as a discovery platform. You may go to Google to find what you already knew you wanted but now the content streams deliver you content you had no idea you wanted, and with an endorsement from someone you know or follow. This social endorsement changes the way you discover and consume content.
Q: What’s changed fundamentally about media with the rise of the social Web, and what do publishers need to do to adapt?
It’s clear that media is becoming unbundled. It’s also multi-platform as the access points are fragmented. It’s real time or archived and it’s on-demand. This sets the trend for what and where people consume. In today’s new and evolving social environment, the packaging and distribution are under less control. Again, the social endorsement of content is just as important as who created the content or what it’s about. Our interests widen on Facebook or Twitter, and we’re able to see the tastes and interests of people we respect or know. We used to turn to TV, radio and print for all our cues, but we’re now going to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr… to our friends and the people we follow. Traditional media seems slightly hindered because it holds on to its traditional standards. Whether it is scheduling in television, definitions of journalism, and creators as curators or controlling the entirety of your brand. But things are slowly changing. New forms of media bring spontaneity, serendipity and personalization. There are always surprises within your content stream. I realize now I only know a little about the things I like. The fun is in discovering those things you never knew you’d be interested in. That’s what I like about it.
Q: We’ve gone from SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to SMO (Social Media Optimization), so how will search change as the Web becomes more social?
My personal view is that search is falling down. People are now using it more for navigation than discovery. “Where is the thing that I want?” Maybe search isn’t about real discovery. I use search less today because of Facebook and Twitter, which are becoming significant parts of my content decision-making process. I’m interested in seeing the news that my friends are reading today. That would keep me on Facebook even longer, and add to the discovery element. Despite its huge impact, though, Facebook and Twitter haven’t even begun to really take advantage of content discovery experiences. They will. It’s going to be a great evolution to watch and positively disruptive.
Those changes will be a perfect match between gathering or discovery technologies and a truly human filter. Ultimately, content discovery needs to have human layers. Without them, it has no “life”, no context. This is where Google has fallen down as a product company. Algorithms vs. Humans. When it comes to content, which always has an emotional bent, humans always beat the computer. Clearly Google+ is trying to address some of that, but they have a ways to go.
Going forward, I believe we need to see more influencer targeting and noise-level targeting. How do you help people or companies find those who are moving the social media mountain? How do you find these influencers and deliver highly relevant and personalized content without infringing on their privacy or conversation and then let them run with it? That will be a key part of the new optimization. These changes will revolutionize advertising and make media spends way more efficient. What it takes to get “lift” will be far different and mediums like television will need to fall in line and adapt.
Q: How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?
From my point of view, curation is the next great layer of value on the Internet. In a world where everything is available, Curating content helps users sift through everything. Trusted sources are coming back. The New York Times is curating when it decides what it will cover. But they don’t seem to curate other’s work. And yet the journalists at The Times pass around links and stories on Twitter that are written by other sources. Those journalists are trusted sources and now curators. I think publications should be establishing relationships with curators; and then they can re-package and re- bundle content into new and important layers. You can build big and important brands with curation today. I know I’m going to try.
Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?
There are five areas I’d touch on here:
1. Curation, for the reasons I’ve explained above.
2. Form factors. Content should be allowed to shape shift.
3. How you distribute. Your site to RSS to email to Flipboard to Twitter and beyond.
4. How you allow social media inside your content.
5. How smart your paywall strategy is. The New York Times has done the best in this area.
Allowing for social media linkages while continuing to build a pay-model.
Jason Hirschhorn, a media and technology entrepreneur, is the curator of Media ReDEFined (@MediaReDEF), a free daily news feed covering the changing world of media, communications, entertainment, marketing and technology. The former President of MySpace, Hirschhorn has also served as President of Sling Media, Chief Digital Officer at MTV Networks and is on the Board of Directors of MGM Studios.
To download the complete report, please click here: “Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web”