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 Done Right Is a Multiplier

A number of people have asked me to share the math behind something I said last week:  that social users are much more valuable than users from search.

As some of you will recall, I was referring to the most powerful use of social: to build loyal audience relationships.  It’s worth far more than a chance at a viral hit, a millionth fan, or even a social comment or like.  That’s because the social networks are really “relationship platforms.”  The currency of social networks is the data describing what users like.  And with that data, anyone can serve an audience – and build a branded relationship with users – far better than a blue link in Google can do.

In the interest of proof, I’ll share some of my company’s data with you.  We’ve been tracking the long-term value of users from various sources for some time – about 7 months and counting now.  And the results couldn’t be more conclusive:

Users from social visit more often and stay longer. 

How much more often?  Our Facebook users come 70% more often over the course of our dataset.

And each time, they stay on average 50% longer – consuming more content, pageviews, and advertising.

Put that together, and each Facebook user brings us 2.5x the revenue of a search user.  And that’s without yet even adding in the value of engagement and viral referral to drive even more audience!

You may be wondering why that is.  Well it’s not just pure luck.  The reasons are twofold:

First, social users are in a branded relationship.  When your property shows up in a Facebook or Twitter feed, you can be identified with your logo and brand name.  One better is when someone Likes or Follows you.  When that happens, you’re now talking about the chance to build a relationship many times a day – with each and every post.  From a brand building standpoint, this is nirvana – and it’s probably the most important reason why advertisers will spend billions of dollars to get into the social news feed this year.  But even better for content publishers:  if you do it right, you can get in for free.

Second, the social relationship platform actually doubles as a data platform.  It gives publishers real-time feedback data about what works, when.  If you watch and measure carefully, you can tune the content, packaging and timing with real-time feedback so you can give the audience exactly what they want, when and how they want it.

So while social users are outperforming search today, the good news is that next week, if you use all that data to improve what you do, they’ll do even better.  The chart above is an average value over the last seven months, and what it doesn’t show you is that social users have been increasing in value over time.  Take a look:

In January, the average user who came from Facebook looked at 9 pages – that’s more than double the number we were seeing just 5 months ago.

I’m actually not surprised that not every publisher is seeing this kind of loyalty and engagement from social users.  After all, it didn’t come without effort – I credit the dramatic increase in social user engagement in the chart above to our advanced technology helping the Wetpaint team understand and serve our audience.

But that doesn’t mean that every publisher can’t get more loyalty from social users than they’re getting today.  It just makes sense: social users should be more engaged and brand-loyal.  They have a strong incentive to read and watch what their friends are talking about, to be included in the conversation.  The only reason that many brands aren’t seeing the full value of social is that they’re blind to the opportunity of rich connections and data – and ultimately, they’re the ones who will be left out of the conversation.

Is Social a Fad for Media?

I feel like a lot of my posts lately have been beating the social drum, so I need to clarify my perspective.  Social isn’t just a fad.  It isn’t just a channel, or an alternate distribution medium.

It’s actually turning into the new ether.  As in “need it to breathe.”  And while it’s not actually all about friends, it absolutely is about connecting to your audience.

Case in point:  according to Compete, in February Wetpaint Entertainment received more traffic from Facebook than from Google.  Hey, I told you it was gonna happen.  It’s because social has provided a medium for data and connection that lets us deeply relate to our audience.  Increasingly, other publishers are finding the same – The Guardian most recently joined the club.

The best part is that these gains in social aren’t coming at the expense of other channels – our overall traffic (including our search traffic) continues to climb. Social signals have a huge impact on search rankings, and so it makes sense that our social success would drive audience growth outside of social, too.

For the last several years, many a publisher’s greatest fear has been that they’ll lose favor with Google.  Afraid that any shift in strategy from SEO to social will lead to a precipitous fall from Google grace and a drop in traffic, they monitor the search rankings daily to see if the gods are pleased.

But ironically, it turns out that an investment in social is the best SEO there is.

Social Engagement Drives Search Traffic

A year and a half ago, I called an end to the decade-long obsession with search.  I claimed that SEO is dead, and I set my sights on perfecting a strategy for its successor, SMO (social media optimization).

Since then we’ve succeeded wildly in driving social traffic (we are now #1 compared to all of the 50 largest web publishers); but as my friend Jack asked me recently:

Has the success in social come at the expense of search? 

The answer may surprise you, as it has me. By focusing on social, we’ve achieved even more – in fact, unprecendently more, in search.  Here, I’ll show you:

Could it be that by forsaking SEO in favor of social, we earn more search traffic?  Seems perverse.  I went looking for an explanation, and I dug up some interesting info: behind content, social signals are the most important factor in search ranking.

In this interview with Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing’s Webmaster program and former head of SEO for MSN, he offers a glimpse of what really matters in the black box of a search engine’s algorithm – and in his words, what matters most for publishers.  He lays out the three most important factors, in order:

1. Content
2. Social Media
3. Link building

This is big news for an industry that’s had years of conditioning to believe that link building and keywords are the Holy Grail of SEO.  In 2010, 60% of companies spent more than $25K on SEO, while a measly 25% spent that much on social.

Looking at this gap, it’s clear that there’s about to be a whole new wave of investment in SMO.  Not only is social a bigger factor than traditional SEO in search rankings today, but it’s trending up.  “At some point, social could be more important than content,” predicts Bing’s Forrester.  “But that assumes you have excellent content in place.”

Publishers: if you have that excellent content in place, put down your old SEO playbook and start investing in social.  What does investing in social look like?  It means repackaging your content for a social audience, and then delivering it to them at the right time and in the right channel.  At Wetpaint, each piece of content gets a tailor-made package (we tweak the title, the timing, the images, even the content itself) depending on its destination.

The best investment in search is an investment in social.  Really, that’s not perverse at all.  As Bing’s Forrester explains, “When you delight someone with the best user experience possible, we pick up all those signals that person shares about their delight, and those signals influence our perception of your quality.”

Now go forth, get social, and delight in the search traffic that follows.

The People-Powered Web Is Revolutionizing Innovation

This piece from Anthony Soohoo is the ninth 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?

What’s changed is how we reach users at a global level. In essence, Facebook has created an important layer of intelligent recommendations adding more relevancy than previously possible in a broadcast world.  In the process, this will change how the media companies deliver their content. The downside, however, is that there’s less discovery of content going on. But the media has a real chance to build deeper relationships with users now; consumers just aren’t anonymous anymore. They – and we – know what they like, and don’t like.

So, the delicate balance is this: Facebook makes discovery more challenging, but it affords us an opportunity for infinitely more personalization. And that means engagement is a lot more effective.

 

Q: What’s changed fundamentally about media with the rise of the social Web, and what do publishers need to do to adapt?

When they put content together, publishers have to determine who their influencers are. Who do they resonate most with? Then, they have to get to that group first, and build a groundswell with that audience. In the past, publishing was a broadcast type of model. Think of a bullhorn. It’s completely changed with the social Web. The key, as I’ve said, is to reach the influencers first, and then have them add to the story. That’s how you really engage an audience.

 

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?

That’s a great question. First of all, I’d say we’re going to see more personalized search results. In other words, search based upon what someone’s interests are, and what a person’s friends like. It’s putting a personalized interest graph on top of search results. And the efficiency and effectiveness will improve; instead of getting 43 million results, many of which are irrelevant, you’ll get the top 20, and they’ll be of considerable interest. So, in this way, the social Web will add more meaning. The people-powered-Web will be the big driver of innovation over the next five to 10 years.

 

Q:  How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?

It seems to me that you have to recruit and engage your influencers. And you have to make certain you’re hitting the right audience. Finally, you have to layer content down in a very social and personalized manner. Blasting content out like a billboard takes the uniqueness out of the social Web. I believe the stories of the future will actually integrate tidbits from influencers, and they’ll also be more rhetorical and open-ended. Publishing will become more Wiki- like. People can – and will – contribute. And those contributions will matter as much as the stories themselves. The role of the editor will be to get the fire started by determining which channels and influencers are necessary to ignite the story. The editor will bring up worthy discussions across the Web and highlight them, too. This is how the stages of conversation will unfold. At first, it will be unfiltered and like the Wild West, however. Then it will get reined in, and most stories will go through a filtered version via friends or an editor. This filtering process will allow content to live a longer and richer life on the Web.

 

Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?

Facebook could be a winner. And the two guys in the garage that we don’t know about will be winners. There are five to 10 big winners that we don’t know about yet. But the critical success factors are clear: know your audience; serve users and delight them; and then go beyond this. Content will change over time; and these changes will change because of the social Web’s profound influence. What we’re really talking about here is content plus one.

 

Anthony Soohoo is the Co-Founder & CEO of Rumpus and former SVP & GM of Entertainment at CBS Interactive. Soohoo joined CBS in 2007, when it acquired Dotspotter, a fast-growing community-powered entertainment property where he served as Co-founder & CEO. Prior to Dotspotter, Soohoo was Vice President at Yahoo!, where he was responsible for the strategy, management, development and financial performance of various business units.

To download the complete report, please click here:  Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web

How ecommerce Is Blazing a Trail on the Social Web for Publishers

This piece from Theresia Gouw Ranzetta is the eighth 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 becomes the jumping off point for many browsers who count on their friends to curate interesting media for them. How news gets “found” becomes less about searching Google news, and more about checking your Facebook newsfeed.

 

Q: What’s changed fundamentally about media with the rise of the social Web, and what do publishers need to do to adapt?

Publishers need to understand the “start” point for their digital users. It used to be a portal, so you cut a deal with one of them. Then, it was a search box, so you SEO-optimized your content. Now, it is a social media platform (Facebook or Twitter), and publishers need to understand how to optimize their content for maximum social sharing and social media amplifications. Don’t get me wrong: in each phase, it has always been about great content. But that is just the necessary first building block. Then you need to figure out the distribution to get maximum audience engagement.

 

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?

Reference or informational search will remain relatively unchanged (for example, “What is the capital of Iowa?”). But “search,” where you are looking for guidance or information that has a subjective or has a taste aspect to it, will be completely transformed by social. Instead of typing in “Best sushi restaurant in Palo Alto,” you will ask your friends, or go to a site with a like-minded social groups (foodies, vegans, etc.).

I think we are still in the early days of SMO. Many large publishers have not yet even thought about this, nor are they aware that they should be. As with SEO, they will need to upgrade their content management / publishing systems and processes. Many will turn to start ups, like Wetpaint, to help with this.

But SMO can be even more. Unlike in the search world, where a supposed Chinese wall existed between SEO and SEM, leading platforms can now encourage their advertisers to also invest in SMO as well. So a very savvy company can leverage and get synergies from their investments and learnings from SMO + SMM (Social Media Marketing) in a collaborative way.

As with the early days of the portal and search platform eras, the ecommerce players were the first to experiment, invest and learn about the power of the new platforms to get broader distribution / audience. This is understandable, given that their business models more easily lend themselves to direct data gathering and learning for marketing spend. Once again, in social, I see the ecommerce players blazing a trail for publishers: the GroupOns, Zyngas, ModCloths, and Birchboxes of the world are good places to start.

In parallel to social, I think we are also seeing a platform shift – from PCs to mobile Internet devices. So, clearly the rise of iOS and Android are important platforms for publishers to understand and adapt to, both in terms of the technology and the distribution nuances.

 

Q:  How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?

You need to learn how to build your brand following on social media and realize that, no matter how strong your brand is in other channels, this is a whole other effort. It is not just an add-on and thinking of how to get “Likes.” The “packaging” of your content needs to be social media optimized for sharing and tie to your social media presence on your Facebook page and Twitter. It is an interconnected ecosystem that cannot be thought of as separate pieces.

 

Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?

Understand that we are in a new era. Social media distribution, branding and user-driven pull – not your push distribution – will win. Also, understand how your mobile approach is intertwined with what you need to do. The winners today will be the companies that have created these new social and mobile platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Apple iOS and Google Android), as well as the market leaders who have successfully built the first leading companies on top of these platforms (Zynga, Groupon etc.). As for the winners in 2020: I’m in the business of funding start up innovation, so I would say it’s the companies that may not even yet be formed – but they will be, in the next year or two.

 

Theresia Gouw Ranzetta joined Accel Partners in 1999. She is an investment Partner in Accel’s Palo Alto & New York offices and focuses on companies in the social commerce, vertical media, consumer mobile applications and privacy/security markets.

To download the complete report, please click here:  Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web

Turbo-Charging the Web’s New Personal Recommendation Engine

This piece from Wenda Harris Millard is the seventh 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?

I’m not sure that Facebook is media. But Facebook has changed everything. I see it as a platform for connection. The challenge for marketers is in connecting effectively with audiences in these kinds of social environments. I think advertising by its very nature is often intrusive, but it tends currently to cross the line and be disruptive in social media. It may violate trust with audiences. So, how are advertisers going to reach people most efficiently and effectively in a social environment? Advertising or commercial messaging is going to be like nothing we know today.

 

Q: What’s changed fundamentally about media with the rise of the social Web, and what do publishers need to do to adapt?

If you’re a brand marketer, you can no longer interrupt the discussion. You have to be part of the discussion. This has a lot of implications. And you have to ask yourself whether people come to you, or do you look at social platforms as a way to build and distribute content and your own messaging. The economic models have changed. In the past, in a siloed world, you had your own site, and you went about the business of attracting an audience and monetizing that site. That’s a simple formula, and it’s not nearly as relevant anymore. We are now living in a world where you have to find your audience where it aggregates. You have to find the audience on someone else’s platform, and then figure out how to make money. This throws everything we’ve known in traditional marketing on its head.

 

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?

We’ve learned so much about the value of recommendations from friends and colleagues. Now, with the continued advance of the Web as a social environment, what’s going to happen is that, instead of typing certain things into the search box, there will be an increasing tendency to go to your social circle for input.  If you need an address, you’ll go to the search engine; but if you need a great back doctor, you’ll ask friends or colleagues. This is the personal recommendation engine, and it will be part of our lives. Think of it as personal optimizations  – how do you get the best information from your social circle?

 

Q:  How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?

Publishers are worried about the abundance of user-generated content in the whole social media experience right now. The plethora of choice for consumers is almost overwhelming. Yet I believe that consumers are still looking for a trustmark. Of course, you’ll be able to read your friends’ recommendations, and you’ll share on whatever platform you’re using, but when you’re looking for information, I still believe that brands represent a level of trust or a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. That said, when you’re growing a brand today, you can no longer just build it and expect that they will come. Building and enhancing your brand as a .com online is only one element in all this. You need to be where people are – that’s the Facebook phenomenon.

 

Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?

New media, digital media and social media – it will all be called media. And the winners will be those who find a way not to define themselves by their tried-and-true or historical practices, or by their distribution channels. You can’t define yourself as a magazine publisher; you’re a content provider. You need to step out of the channel you live in and understand how each of the pieces fits together. How does TV fit with Facebook, for example? Or search engines or print with anything in social media? The key is knowing where commerce is – online and offline. What is the relationship among all media channels? The winners will grasp these interrelationships.

 

Wenda Harris Millard is President & COO of Media Link LLC, a leading advisory firm that provides critical counsel to clients in the marketing, media, entertainment, and technology industries. Prior to this, Millard was Co-Chief Executive Officer and President of Media, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Chief Sales Officer of Yahoo. She has also served as the Chief Internet Officer at Ziff Davis Media, President at Ziff Davis Internet, and Executive Vice President at DoubleClick.

To download the complete report, please click here:  Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web