In Media, Big Data Is Booming but Big Results Are Lacking

This article was published as a guest post in AllThingsD, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

The New York Times named 2012 the crossover year for Big Data:  as a term and as a concept, Big Data broke through from the tech circle and into mainstream consciousness.  (So much so that even Dilbert’s boss was talking about it.)

We’ve seen huge advances in our ability to generate, collect, and store an explosion of data points:  90% of the world’s data has been accumulated in the last two years alone.  We’re generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, and every serious company is dutifully logging and contextualizing every impression, every click, and every purchase with excruciating detail.

That said, shockingly little happens to the information once it’s been stowed in the database.  A good friend gave voice to this dirty little industry secret the other day:

“Nobody wants to use the data.”

He’s remarkably spot-on.  Even though almost every CEO says their company is becoming data-driven, the fact is that most high-level decisions are still being made from bullet points, not data points.

What the data revolution brought us was systems for collecting data – but collecting is the easy part.  And even more importantly, it’s the safe part.

 

The Real Problem:  Data Phobia

The trouble with data is that it asks as many questions as it answers.  Your engagement is down, bounce rate is up, search traffic is up – why is that, and what can we do to make it higher, lower, and higher?  Data almost never hands you the answers or insights directly; it just illuminates the issue.  And it illuminates a whole bunch of them at once, so it’s up to you to figure out what the priorities are.

If this problem is an “opportunity in disguise,” most executives seem quickly scared off by the masquerade.  In truth, Big Data raises the bar for how smart you have to be as an executive.

The easy answer – leaving the analytics to the analytics department – relieves you of the responsibility of figuring it all out, as though it’s unknowable to anyone without a degree in data science.  But it also relieves you of the answers.

What is the executive’s greatest fear?  That exposing the trove of data without knowing what to do with it makes them look worse, not better.  In media, many have hidden that fear behind the veneer of idealistic purism.  I remember talking with Martin Nisenholtz several years ago when he was at The New York Times about how data is used in a newsroom; I asked what would happen if he shared performance metrics with reporters in real time (obviously this was before Chartbeat) to see what their audience cares about.  He said, “They would throw me out.”

Our strong institutions and professional commitment to standards have ensured the journalistic values of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.  None of those values are furthered by closing our eyes and ears to our own audiences.  The result is a paradoxical culture that boldly states “content is king” and yet refuses to quantify its value for fear of tainting the purity of the product.

 

The Opportunity:  Using Big Data to Make Big Bets

Until recently, we have had startlingly few case studies of the transformative power of Big Data on which to model our own big changes in media.  Instead we’ve had IT initiatives that promised big insights, but ended up delivering big databases and bigger IT bills.  For once, it’s not the IT department’s fault – it’s those of us who are using the data (and, more often, aren’t using it) who are to blame.

That’s why I turn to those who have made the big bets to see what’s different.  Netflix has long been the poster child for using data to drive results, and now they’ve proven in no uncertain terms that when you ask your data the right questions you can find hugely valuable insights – even in the sacred domain of content creation.

Before Netflix pursued the option to buy House of Cards, they looked to their massive data stash.  They wanted to know:  Do Netflix users enjoy political thrillers?  Check.  Of political thriller enthusiasts, how many also watch David Fincher films?  A whole bunch.  Oh, and one more thing:  Is this crowd fond of Kevin Spacey?  As it turned out, there was a very healthy crossover in that Venn diagram.

Not only did this insight give Reed Hastings the confidence to bid on House of Cards – it gave him the level of certainty necessary to outbid heavyweights like HBO and AMC for the series.

What I love most about this story is that the questions were so simple, so logical.  Sometimes the sheer volume of data at our fingertips overwhelms us and makes us forget that the fundamental strategic questions haven’t changed.  What has changed is that now we have far better access to the answers.  And when you can give your users what they want based on the signals they themselves have been sending you, that’s when Big Data starts to earn its keep.

 

Five Questions You Should Be Asking Your Data

Forget about Omniture and Google Analytics and all of the data minutiae you’re already tracking.  Forget about little personalization features.  The most valuable data doesn’t fit on the dashboard.  Think bigger and move upstream:  what’s the most amazing new product or service you can create?  Here are five places to start digging:

1. What does my audience LOVE?  Cut the data every way you can to deeply understand this, with nuance – then reorient around that product.  It might be parenting advice, or current memes, or breaking news.  If you can find a common thematic thread in your most-consumed content, you have a great starting point for further segmentation.  Lauren Zalaznick turned the Bravo network around by pinpointing the five key interests of the audience, cutting out the clutter, and giving them more and more and more of what they loved (hence the hugely popular Top Chef and Real Housewives).

2. How do they want it?  Netflix noticed that a significant number of users were watching marathon-style, and so they bucked TV tradition and released House of Cards all at once.  How could you change your content packaging to better match the real habits of your users?  Many have tried and failed with full-length video programming on the web; that’s because (so far at least) most Internet audiences can’t sit still long enough to watch a 30- or 60-minute program.  Adapt your delivery to what your audience wants.

3. How can I best relate to them?  Personality is critical – so which of your brands’ public talents and personalities relate to whom?  It might be a popular columnist, Don Draper, or Boo the Pomeranian.  Figure out which personalities your audience connects with the most, and leverage them into the other themes and packages.

4. What secret signals is my audience sending?  Target famously figured out how to identify pregnant shoppers and even estimate their due dates months before the woman ever purchased a stroller or a pack of diapers.  Find out which clues in your data indicate that a customer may be on the path to a new phase of life, and start messaging them with your relevant content even before they get there.

5. Where is my sweet spot?  Once you discover the key themes, packages, and personalities that resonate with your audience the most (and at which relevant life stages), you can cross the data sets and identify your best untapped opportunities.  Don’t just tweak your existing products and advertising – create whole new products that are designed specifically to thrive at the intersection.  Just as the strong affinity overlap for Spacey / Fincher / Cards gave Netflix the confidence to make a bold bet, your own Venn diagram will spotlight your best chances to create knockout content that is destined to succeed.

 

Rethinking Management:  Ask, Understand, Execute

When it comes to dealing with Big Data, our skills haven’t evolved as fast as our capacity.  We all have a functional specialty, whether it be content creation or distribution or sales or management – so whose job is it to ask the right questions of the data?  Big insights and actions aren’t led by a data scientist; they are led by an executive who has an integrated view of customers, products, distribution, and sales.

But asking Big Data the right questions isn’t just a new practice to add to the management to-do list.  Pulling it off requires a rethinking of the manager’s role entirely.  We’ve traditionally thought of management as the discipline of managing people and managing the business.  Now it’s time to add “managing our understanding” to the job description.

The time of the executives who merely “execute” is past.  The successful executives in this post-Big-Data world first ask, understand, and then execute with the full support of the data behind them.

Now Double Your Audience

Want more traffic?  In a business where more reach and engagement means more advertising revenues, every publisher wants more traffic.  So, what if you could double your traffic with no additional investment in content?

For a while, I’ve been writing about how digital media requires as much emphasis on distribution and audience development as on content; and how social networks offer the greatest opportunity to build audience.   But we just hit a new milestone that finally crosses into new territory:  proving that mastering social distribution can double your traffic.  And a model with twice as much engagement can be twice as valuable.

The milestone for us happened last month, less than 24 months since we launched our Wetpaint Entertainment property:

When you consider that the leading web publishers are getting less than 6% of their traffic from social on average, that’s some serious untapped audience potential.

July Social Leaderboard: Remarkably Flat

Results took a little while longer to compile for July:  social traffic to the Top 50 publishers on the web remains remarkably flat, with the average publisher adding only 0.2 percentage points to their social traffic composition.

What’s up with the slump?  Sure, we could all be a running a little faster, but there are signs that Facebook’s internal priorities are putting a damper on publisher progress.  Search and advertising initiatives have been getting a lot of attention in light of the post-IPO hangover, and platform initiatives seem to be taking a back seat.

 

For the Win:  Wetpaint, People, NFL!

Despite a lackluster performance overall, we did have a few sprinters on the Social Leaderboard.  CBS jumped 6 spots and added 3 percentage points to its social traffic composition to become the 4th most social publisher on the list.  People held a steady pace and was able to reclaim the #2 spot on the Social Leaderboard when NFL and MTV both stumbled and fell into 3rd and 5th place, respectively.

Wetpaint Entertainment held the top spot with a 5.7 percentage point gain that put us at 35% social.

 

Average Social Volume Gain: 110,000 Social Visitors

We’ve been measuring social performance on two metrics:  1) Social Composition (percent of traffic coming from social) and 2) Social Volume(total number of visits from social).  On the second metric, the average publisher was up just slightly this month (by 110K social visits).  The Huffington Post is still the publisher to beat on this list, and the publishers who topped the list this time are the same publishers we saw in last month’s Top Ten.

 

Details for Social Leaderboard Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

Jul

Jun

May

Name of Publisher (Owner) URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 3,756,818

35.0%

5.7%

2

4

2

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,512,843

10.3%

-0.1%

3

2

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 5,054,004

10.3%

-1.6%

4

10

6

CBS CBS.COM

                 5,255,065

9.1%

2.9%

5

3

3

MTV MTV.COM

                 9,743,751

9.1%

-1.7%

6

5

7

TMZ TMZ.COM

               13,350,933

8.5%

-0.2%

7

6

4

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 6,545,231

7.3%

-1.2%

8

7

8

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             148,433,777

7.2%

-0.1%

9

12

28

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 7,850,359

7.2%

1.3%

10

8

10

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,203,530

6.9%

0.0%

11

9

9

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,476,566

6.5%

-0.1%

12

11

11

Aol AOL.COM

               46,783,960

6.2%

0.0%

13

13

15

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 6,392,260

5.9%

0.4%

14

14

14

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 6,160,054

5.3%

-0.1%

15

15

16

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,773,566

5.2%

-0.1%

16

18

20

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               26,898,357

5.1%

0.3%

17

21

13

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

                 9,416,222

5.0%

0.5%

18

16

19

CNN CNN.COM

               43,781,596

4.9%

0.0%

19

17

18

MSN MSN.COM

               92,238,832

4.9%

0.0%

20

34

30

FORBES FORBES.COM

               11,280,333

4.8%

1.5%

21

20

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               13,046,671

4.7%

0.2%

22

26

24

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 4,940,584

4.5%

0.8%

23

19

17

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 7,563,554

4.4%

-0.3%

24

23

22

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               38,522,868

4.2%

0.1%

25

29

26

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               25,357,128

4.1%

0.5%

26

22

21

TIME TIME.COM

                 7,710,128

4.0%

-0.2%

27

24

12

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 9,043,234

3.8%

-0.1%

28

32

32

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

               10,580,640

3.7%

0.3%

29

28

25

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,076,403

3.7%

0.0%

30

33

27

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               11,952,616

3.6%

0.2%

31

27

35

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 9,178,171

3.5%

-0.2%

32

31

31

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,636,527

3.5%

0.0%

33

30

33

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

               10,319,657

3.4%

-0.2%

34

35

38

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               15,454,530

3.4%

0.2%

35

25

29

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               11,964,397

3.1%

-0.6%

36

37

34

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               14,706,293

3.0%

0.3%

37

36

36

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 9,284,076

2.7%

-0.3%

38

38

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,631,777

2.6%

0.1%

39

40

40

Reuters REUTERS.COM

               10,594,538

2.3%

0.3%

40

41

39

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               18,774,614

2.1%

0.1%

41

39

41

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               21,971,854

2.1%

0.0%

42

43

43

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,876,301

1.8%

0.0%

43

42

42

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,282,989

1.8%

0.0%

44

44

44

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 6,344,855

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

45

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,539,164

1.7%

0.1%

46

45

46

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,717,095

1.5%

-0.1%

47

47

48

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               15,249,509

1.1%

-0.1%

48

48

49

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               50,908,931

1.1%

0.0%

49

49

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

                 6,096,594

1.1%

-0.1%

50

50

50

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

                 9,860,926

0.8%

-0.1%

51

51

51

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               51,587,708

0.8%

0.0%

June Social Leaderboard: Traffic from Facebook Flat to Slightly Down

Facebook has maintained its squeeze on sending traffic out to web publishers for another month.

The average publisher on the Social Leaderboard lost 0.1 percentage points in social composition from May to June.  The most social publishers fared the worst, with the top ten losing an average of 0.6 percentage points month-over-month.

The Top 3:  Wetpaint Entertainment, NFL, People

Even after losing 1.5 percentage points since May, Wetpaint Entertainment held the top spot on the Social Leaderboard with almost 30% of traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter.  The #2 spot was taken by NFL, which climbed three spots on the leaderboard and drew 12% of total traffic from social channels in June.  After holding second place for two months, People fell to 4th place, and  MTV held steady at 3rd.

Average Loss: 100,000 Social Visitors

Each month, we measure social traffic two ways:  by composition (percent of traffic from social); and by total volume (number of social visits).  In June, volumes also saw a slight decline.  Wetpaint fared better than most, adding 100,000 visitors in June and becoming the 11th  most social publisher by volume (not counting portals) with 1.4 million social visits.  The Huffington Post still holds the top spot in the volume ranking, with 6.5 million social visitors in June.

Guess Who Squeezed Traffic Even More? 

While Facebook traffic to publishers was down this month, Google traffic was down even more.  This could be a turning point – the gap between Google’s and Facebook’s traffic contributions to publishers has been widening in Google’s favor since March, but the June results show a reversal of the trend.  Will Facebook finally close the gap and officially become a more important traffic source for publishers than Google?  Check back next month to see if  the trend continues.

Details for Social Leaderboard Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

Jun

May

Apr

Name of Publisher (Owner) URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 4,172,874

29.3%

-1.5%

2

5

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 4,005,954

12.0%

1.6%

3

3

4

MTV MTV.COM

               10,314,480

10.8%

-0.1%

4

2

2

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,424,002

10.5%

-1.0%

5

7

9

TMZ TMZ.COM

               11,485,750

8.7%

0.1%

6

4

3

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 5,210,665

8.5%

-2.0%

7

8

10

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             155,141,946

7.3%

0.1%

8

10

11

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,857,814

6.8%

0.1%

9

9

8

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,178,542

6.7%

-0.4%

10

6

7

CBS CBS.COM

                 5,130,686

6.2%

-2.7%

11

11

12

Aol AOL.COM

               48,274,409

6.2%

0.0%

12

28

31

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 6,036,527

5.8%

2.1%

13

15

16

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 5,648,180

5.5%

0.3%

14

14

19

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 5,701,617

5.3%

0.0%

15

16

17

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,385,741

5.3%

0.1%

16

19

21

CNN CNN.COM

               42,355,439

4.9%

0.1%

17

18

22

MSN MSN.COM

               93,297,562

4.9%

0.0%

18

20

20

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               25,048,343

4.8%

0.0%

19

17

18

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 6,349,666

4.7%

-0.3%

20

23

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               12,572,110

4.5%

0.3%

21

13

15

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

                 9,501,796

4.5%

-1.0%

22

21

13

TIME TIME.COM

                 6,980,029

4.3%

-0.1%

23

22

27

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               38,557,478

4.1%

-0.2%

24

12

14

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 8,666,861

3.9%

-2.0%

25

29

29

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               10,818,073

3.7%

0.0%

26

24

26

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 5,410,317

3.7%

-0.3%

27

35

6

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 8,035,982

3.7%

0.7%

28

25

24

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,253,595

3.7%

-0.3%

29

26

25

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               25,415,028

3.7%

-0.3%

30

33

33

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

               10,489,580

3.6%

0.4%

31

31

30

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,449,740

3.5%

0.3%

32

32

36

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

               10,126,821

3.4%

0.2%

33

27

28

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               10,775,680

3.3%

-0.5%

34

30

32

FORBES FORBES.COM

               11,733,587

3.3%

-0.1%

35

38

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               14,005,725

3.2%

0.5%

36

36

38

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 9,270,980

3.0%

0.1%

37

34

34

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               13,629,536

2.6%

-0.4%

38

37

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,259,307

2.5%

-0.2%

39

41

40

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               17,869,805

2.0%

0.0%

40

40

39

Reuters REUTERS.COM

               10,285,882

2.0%

0.0%

41

39

41

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               16,604,354

2.0%

0.0%

42

42

43

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,952,061

1.8%

0.0%

43

43

42

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,956,989

1.8%

0.0%

44

44

44

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 6,373,252

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

45

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,426,117

1.6%

0.0%

46

45

46

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,490,385

1.6%

-0.1%

47

48

49

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               14,265,338

1.2%

0.1%

48

49

48

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               51,103,478

1.1%

0.1%

49

47

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

                 7,594,651

1.1%

0.0%

50

50

50

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

               10,112,971

0.9%

0.0%

51

51

51

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               50,306,160

0.8%

0.1%

 

 

 

 

Facebook Giveth, and Facebook Taketh Away

Social Leaderboard Results for May:  Traffic Is Down Across the Board

Facebook threw publishers a curve ball in April:  an algorithm change combined with a pullback in social reader promotion.  And it had a big impact, causing the top 50 web publishers to lose more than 10% of their social traffic in just one month.  The May Social Leaderboard shows that they still haven’t recovered:  the average publisher’s social traffic was flat in May, matching April’s dip.

The dramatic drop in traffic set off alarms with some social publishing pioneers – the Social Reader had been the one bright spot on an otherwise dark and winding path into digital media.  Is the honeymoon over?

 

Facebook’s Relationship With Publishers:  It’s Complicated

Publishers who embraced Social Readers have every right to feel like Facebook’s scorned lovers right now.  Facebook seemed to have pulled the plug, right when the relationship was blossoming.  But through the tears, might this actually be good for the relationship?  In the long term, what’s in the best interest of publishers is also in the best interest of Facebook:  if users are being served the right content at the right time in the right way and clicking through at a high rate, everybody is happy.

Facebook, it seems, has decided it needs some space.  Before they fully commit, they’re sowing their wild oats by experimenting with user experience, testing and tuning.  This experimentation happened to take the publisher-friendly form of heavy Social Reader promotion over several previous months – but now they have turned the dial back.

Presumably, Facebook is dialing back social reader promotion to figure out how much friction is right for sharing.  Frictionless sharing may be part of our future, but accidental over-sharing could undermine the present.  Imagine the scenario:  I unwittingly broadcast “Ben is reading Home Hair Removal for Men,” and the phone rings:   It’s my mother with her assuredly well-intentioned advice.  And yet, how mortifying.  Who could blame me for deleting my account forever?

More tuning will bring about the right controls to manage private activity.  Ultimately, those controls will support more sharing.  At that point, the lead-out dial on Facebook’s dashboard will likely be turned back up, and we can all start planning our second honeymoon.

 

Strugglers and Survivors

As for the top publishers this month, nobody on the Leaderboard made great strides in social traffic, but a few publishers kept their heads above water better than others.  MTV gained 2 percentage points in social traffic composition, bringing them up to 10.9% social and making them the third most social web publisher.  People held onto the #2 spot on the board by holding steady at 11.5%.  NFL and TMZ were the only other publishers to improve their social composition this month, each gaining 1 percentage point.

Wetpaint Entertainment had a cushioned lead – we lost 7 percentage points of social composition from April to May, making us the most hard-hit publisher by the Facebook changes, even while holding on to the lead.  While my company is still the leader on percentage terms, total volume tells a different story, as the benchmark data shows we slid seven spots (to #14) in that ranking.

 

 

Details for Top 50 Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

May

Apr

Mar

Publisher URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 4,012,641

30.8%

-7.3%

2

2

3

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,174,195

11.5%

0.1%

3

4

8

MTV MTV.COM

                 9,674,892

10.9%

1.9%

4

3

2

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 7,964,950

10.5%

0.4%

5

5

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 4,821,558

10.4%

1.4%

6

7

4

CBS CBS.COM

                 7,190,888

8.9%

0.1%

7

9

9

TMZ TMZ.COM

               12,288,156

8.6%

0.9%

8

10

15

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             154,820,184

7.2%

-0.2%

9

8

12

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,746,588

7.1%

-0.6%

10

11

10

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,100,489

6.7%

-0.2%

11

12

17

Aol AOL.COM

               46,798,608

6.2%

-0.1%

12

14

7

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 7,987,804

5.9%

-0.1%

13

15

13

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

               11,213,913

5.5%

-0.2%

14

19

18

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 6,077,003

5.4%

0.2%

15

16

11

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 7,348,060

5.2%

-0.4%

16

17

16

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,612,512

5.2%

0.0%

17

18

6

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 6,873,880

5.0%

-0.2%

18

22

26

MSN MSN.COM

               95,931,716

4.9%

0.0%

19

21

21

CNN CNN.COM

               42,308,122

4.9%

-0.1%

20

20

22

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               24,392,403

4.8%

-0.2%

21

13

19

TIME TIME.COM

                 8,870,094

4.4%

-1.8%

22

27

31

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               39,361,623

4.3%

0.4%

23

23

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               14,030,015

4.2%

-0.4%

24

26

20

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 8,096,974

4.0%

0.0%

25

24

24

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,415,782

4.0%

-0.4%

26

25

27

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               28,401,893

3.9%

-0.3%

27

28

25

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               11,668,152

3.9%

0.0%

28

31

35

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 6,905,095

3.7%

0.3%

29

29

30

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               10,059,573

3.7%

0.0%

30

32

28

FORBES FORBES.COM

               12,413,284

3.4%

0.1%

31

30

33

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,981,883

3.3%

-0.2%

32

36

32

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

                 9,248,603

3.2%

0.2%

33

33

29

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

                 8,960,646

3.2%

0.0%

34

34

38

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               13,652,316

3.0%

-0.1%

35

6

14

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 8,481,112

3.0%

-5.9%

36

38

40

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 8,035,517

2.8%

0.0%

37

37

39

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,792,880

2.7%

-0.2%

38

35

34

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               15,064,947

2.7%

-0.3%

39

41

42

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               17,570,870

2.0%

0.0%

40

39

41

Reuters REUTERS.COM

                 8,928,289

2.0%

-0.4%

41

40

36

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               19,207,713

2.0%

-0.1%

42

43

46

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,441,556

1.8%

0.0%

43

42

37

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,672,657

1.8%

-0.2%

44

44

45

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 7,351,621

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

43

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,256,325

1.7%

0.3%

46

45

44

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,883,208

1.6%

0.1%

47

47

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

              10,242,755

1.1%

-0.1%

48

49

48

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               14,378,579

1.1%

0.0%

49

48

49

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               57,358,285

1.1%

-0.1%

50

50

51

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

               10,746,954

0.8%

0.0%

51

51

50

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               54,128,475

0.7%

0.0%

The publishers included in the Media Industry Social Leaderboard are the top 50, as ranked by comScore-reported uniques, whose primary business is web publishing.  Once they are selected, data from Compete.com is used to estimate the amount of traffic referred to each by Facebook and Twitter. 

Forget About ‘Content Management’– and Focus on ‘Audience Development’

This article was published as a guest post at PaidContent, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

Media companies have collectively spent billions of dollars on content management systems.  As they upgraded their offline businesses to the digital world, they turned to big enterprise systems to organize their content in an orderly digital database.  And whether via internal systems or a purchased system,  each piece of content knows its place, and the digital migration of media is a fait accompli.

But after so much investment in such important systems, why are media companies still miles away from a profitable model?  In part, it’s because these intricately designed systems have been based on one big misunderstanding:  that a media company’s most valuable asset is content.

Content is just a means to an end.  The end – and media’s greatest asset – is audience.

Advertisers don’t pay to reach content – they pay to reach audience.  And building an audience that will earn you advertising is only partly about content.  In truth, just as much hinges on distribution.  If your delightful content can’t find and catch the attention of your audience, the value of your content drops to zero.  If a tree falls in a forest

Media companies over the last 10 years have invested in an enormously expensive card catalog, while spending only pennies to bring people into the library.  The big opportunity with digital media is not to organize your content closet or have efficient workflow – it’s about driving demand and building an audience using digital channels and all of the rich data that comes with them.  That’s the way to use systems to multiply the topline, not just streamline the expense line.

Other industries made the leap a decade ago.  The ERP category boomed as manufacturing companies’ inventory tracking systems evolved to fully manage and even stoke demand, with the realization that driving sales is far more valuable than just knowing what you’ve got in the back room.

The time has come for companies to step up from tracking data to driving results.  And over the last 24 months, huge advances in technology have enabled us to not just capture, but harness, data.  The next generation of CMS won’t be CMS 2.0.  The technology that powers media companies going forward will be ADS: audience development systems.  And it will help media companies that use it multiply their topline and improve their offering to their audience.

What does it take to add the last, most important part to your systems?  Here are five steps every content manager needs to take to make the shift:

1. Manage across the many channels of distribution.

Stop thinking it’s just “the web.”  Today’s web is composed of myriad channels:  Google’s search index, Facebook’s news feeds, Twitter’s tweets, and YouTube’s video marketplace, not to mention pins and tumbles.  Each of those channels is more than a dumping ground – it’s a pipeline that, if well optimized, can deliver compounding results for your audience.  The TV networks have recognized this for decades:  they carefully arrange lead-in and lead-out to maximize audience compounding.  Now every content publisher has the opportunity to maximize channels this way – alas, their CMS isn’t built for that. Shift your systems to be oriented around the channels, not the asset.

2. Adjust the focus from audience to individual.

The idea of publishing once for “the audience” is absurd today.  In the past, we didn’t have the ability to see the “I” in audience.  Today, technology enables us to connect with individual users, and to actually get to know them.  Showing the same featured article that you showed me last time I visited your home page is a waste of precious attention.  Your users expect better, and you should too.  A CMS that knows and exploits the differences between you and me will dramatically enhance the value of any media company’s content.

3. Use abundant user data to know what works.   

Thanks to the social rewiring of the web, Big Data technology, and real-time analytics, data is available to provide feedback and allow programming on all major channels in real-time.  Everyone recognizes the incredible audience-building potential of behavioral data, but most companies still don’t know how to leverage it.  It’s time to measure not just what you publish, but who interacts with it – and how.  Use that data to know what content works for what audience, and what audience works for what content.  Personalization is the future of media – and it starts with data.

4. Make your systems look forward, not back.

The CMS model of the web is retrospective:  it’s a trackling log of content, created, edited, and published once and forever, set on a URL and then forgotten.  But today’s web prizes relevance – and relevance right now – above all else.  Past performance should impact all your actions – in real time.  Predicting, programming, and optimizing your distribution can multiply your ROI on content by many times.

5. Fully socialize your distribution.   

According to comScore, audiences are spending 1 in every 5 minutes of their online lives on social networks.  Social will soon surpass search to become the #1 traffic source to companies’ websites.  It’s not what’s published to the web that matters, anymore – it’s what’s published to the newsfeed.  A CMS built with Google in mind will soon become irrelevant, while one built to optimize social distribution can capture growth to the tune of many millions of users.

Digital distribution, when done right, can have a multiplicative effect:  a great piece of content delivered to the right person at the right time in the right package is worth 10x that same content paired with the wrong (or non-existent) distribution strategy.  A company that can fully incorporate social, real time, data, channels and personalization into their distribution strategy will dramatically enhance the value of their offering by developing a loyal audience relationship.

You heard it here first: the Audience Development System will be the killer app for web companies in the next five years.

Social Leaderboard in April: New Heights

While top publishers pull 5% of traffic from social, Wetpaint breaks a record at 38%

I was pretty excited in December when Wetpaint Entertainment became the #1 social publisher on the web, but this month’s Social Leaderboard chart is like that rare but spectacular sunny day in Seattle.  For the sake of modesty, I’ll explain further down the page.

Mostly Cloudy

Unfortunately, the sun isn’t shining on everyone.  Total social traffic to the Top 50 publishers fell by 13% in April.  As for social traffic as a percent of overall traffic, the average publisher lost 1.5 percentage points.  In fact, 48 of the Top 50 publishers lost ground on social traffic composition this month.

Facebook’s April experiments and changes to the EdgeRank algorithm are likely to blame.  Publishers who put Facebook at the center of their distribution strategy were able to rebound quickly, while others fell behind.

Who’s Weathering the Storm?

MTV made good on its reputation as one of the most social-savvy TV brands by breaking into the Top Five (and bumping CBS down to #7).  People reclaimed the #2 spot that it ceded to NBC in March.

Three new players showed up in the Top Ten this month:  welcome, The Guardian, Patch, and Yahoo!The Guardian gets the “most improved” award for advancing from 14th place all the way up to #6.

Of course, as in The Hunger Games, we can’t all be winners on the Social Leaderboard.  MLB, Break, and Us Magazine – three publishers who have consistently been in the Top Ten since January – were washed downstream in April.  Us Magazine in particular is all wet:  after slipping slowly from #3 to #5 to #6 over the last few months, it plummeted to #18 in April.  Ouch.

And Who’s Outperforming the Rest by 3X?

Not only is Wetpaint Entertainment the #1 social publisher for the fifth month in a row, but we’re now getting 38% (a Leaderboard record) of our traffic from social.  That’s more than 3x the social traffic of the second-best social performer (People), and almost 8x the average publisher (Top 50 average = 5%).  All in a month where we had record reach, as well (more on that soon).

Thanks to the team for working so hard to build and execute a best-in-class social distribution strategy that’s a cut (or two or three) above the rest.