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

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

You Can’t Spell Media Without “Me”

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

Without question, one of the greatest gifts of the human species is our ability to communicate.  We can create, transmit, and absorb ideas with immense freedom in pictures, speech, writing, music, and more.  And yet, from the earliest days of man until very recently, the state of the art of media has been about as sophisticated as cave paintings.

Taking this a step further:

Truly great communicators don’t start out by focusing on their message.  They start with their audience.  They research, observe, and monitor every knowable detail – from background facts beforehand to micro-reactions during the conversation – and adjust their content and delivery precisely, so it will make an impact.  But it’s not like this is a secret formula.  Even toddlers do it, carefully measuring parents’ reactions and perpetually tuning in to the behavior patterns that get them the attention they want.  That tuning is carefully optimized to achieve maximum effect from each individualized recipient.

Meanwhile, media has virtually ignored its audiences.

But it’s finally beginning to open its eyes and ears to them through personalization. I believe that personalization has the greatest potential to transform the media business.

But before we get to that, let’s start with what’s gone wrong in media that has made us blind to our audiences’ cues.

In the world of print and broadcast, there was fundamentally no data about audience interests or reactions.  It was impossible to “read the room,” because the room was pitch black.  If media leaders’ eyes were closed, I’d be hard pressed to blame them; there was nothing to see.

As a result, there were two operating principles that made sense at the time, but which have since become outdated anachronisms.

First, that an editor should serve as oracle for what the audience desires (I call this the “Editor Fallacy”); and second, that content created in that vacuum of data should then be distributed as broadly as possible (let’s call this the “Broadcast Assumption”).

These two assumptions – even though they came from the print and broadcast legacy businesses – have errantly managed to drive the entire Web media mentality.

And the resulting misguided formula – across the board – has been Prophesize, Publish and Proliferate.

The big hope with this media Ouija Board has been that the guesses will be right, and that those who broadcast widely will then draw a big audience.  When the guesses miss the mark with audiences (no surprise there), publishers turn up the volume or amp up the sensationalism. To some degree, this is why the Huffington Post succeeds with its brash and blaring headlines, and it explains why, thanks to Henry, we’ve collectively Blodgetized Web 1.0 media.

But to make room for the new media model of the next 100 years, we need to let these old assumptions fall by the wayside.  The new vision is for media to start doing the work that each member of the audience already does; and that means deliberately selecting and contextualizing the media we each consume.

Putting it simply: media’s great opportunity is to bring the right content to the right person at the right place and time.

And this is where things get very interesting.

Bring Me My Very Own World

The social transformation of the Web has already taken us half way down the road toward a personalized future.

We finally recognize that the Web is made up of people, and Facebook and others have made people and relationships the key “nodes and edges in the graph” of the Web, replacing pages and links.  The social Web is now people-centric; and, increasingly, social is becoming the operating system for the Web at large.  Most impressively, “what my friends like” is already proving to be a good starting point to predict “what I like,” and so much of the Web is beginning to get at least a clue of how to serve us.

Despite this tremendous progress, however, when you go behind the scenes, the Web is still organized by data, not by people. Server data is affiliated with accounts; cookies are associated with Web browsers; and activity logs are tethered by IP addresses.

And yet, as the social revolution has proven, the real value of the transformation has been to stop looking at me as an IP address, a browser, or an account; and to start holistically realizing that I’m a person – I am me.

So, the great opportunity is to move from a Web of sites to “my” Web of me.

Media is at a critical transition point today, because we are about to completely redefine our sense of the audience. Starting now, the audience is no longer one massive opaque agglomeration. It’s not a “them” or an “us”; it’s a lot of individual “me’s.”  (This must-watch from Monty Python paints the picture.)

In this context, the Broadcast Assumption of content creators is completely out of touch with the 21st century zeitgeist.  It revolves around the played-out maxim of “create once, distribute everywhere,” which made sense when audiences were opaque and distribution channels were just big dumb pipes.  But it totally ignores the “me’s” in the audience – when it comes to both creation and distribution.

The bottom line, then, is that media experiences, which used to be one-size-fits-all, must now be customized so they’re just for me.

In other words, the media experience of the future must take a cue from Facebook, and bring my world to me – regardless of where it originated. 

The Six Elements of Ultimate Digital Personalization

Social represents progress toward this vision of fully personalized media, but it’s only one part of the game.

In my view, there are six key elements that contribute to ultimate digital personalization – and these elements are the basis for the ultimate success model in digital media:

  • It’s social – What happens to people close to me is important, because these people are important to me.
  • It’s curated – People aren’t just content sources themselves; they’re also curators. To know me is to know my tastemakers.
  • It’s an experience, not just a stream –Newsfeeds and timelines are a meager start.  Twitter’s 140-character format is great for insiders, but it’s inscrutable for Grandpa. Personalized media should come in all formats – not just a feed.  And it will be more powerful (and more profitable) when it creates an immersive experience.
  • It’s incredibly, incredibly smart about what it recommends, and what it doesn’t – But better than today’s Facebook and Twitter, it brings me the right content, not all content. I trust it to filter the world for me, and to highlight what’s important to me out of billions of pieces of information.
  • It’s self-refining – Speaking for myself, it would know to bring me news about digital media; about my company; about my friends’ reviews of great restaurants in Seattle, LA, and New York; and, in the winter, a helpful article or two on snowboarding tips would be greatly appreciated. It would also turn down articles about Glenn Beck, and turn up the latest find from Brian Stelter. And, before you cry (or scream) “filter bubble,” let’s get it straight that this is what I do already.
  • It’s not just the content that’s personalized – It’s the advertising, too. Today’s version is very primitive: I go to a Web site once and its ads follow me around for weeks. But, instead, my demographics, interests and intent should all combine to inform what ads to show – and not show – me.

After considering these six elements as a whole, I’m most inspired (and encouraged) by Facebook, Twitter, AOL Editions, the recent Flipboard clones, NetFlix, and the potential of a new Siri-powered Apple TV.

Each of these demonstrates the central aspect of this new vision for media: bringing my world to me.

Data Is the Currency of Personalization

To be successful, we all need to be data companies – as data is the clear way to know what our audience wants.  Data is the currency of personalization, and so it is our best path to delighting our audience.

News sites should know by now what topics and stories to program for whom; and no sports site should serve a balanced home page when no sports fan likes all teams equally.

It’s an approach that, of all companies, Yahoo! ‘gets’– and for them it’s been paying huge dividends for a long time.   And so it should for the rest of us.

What this means for media is that it’s not all about the content – instead, it’s all about the audience.  And that means the nature of media has changed.

It’s all about you. It’s all about me.

That’s the digital media future. And we need to start going there today – because audiences are asking (and even demanding) that we pay attention to them, that we really know them, as true individuals.

So, if you’re a publisher, here’s the challenge as you try to create meaningful content experiences today: Each member of your audience – no matter how vast it is – has to become the most important person in the world to you. Or, looking at it in a slightly different way, you have to become deeply involved and digitally intimate on a global scale each and every day.

Does Search Limit Us?

I just read a provocative review of a provocative new book – “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You,” by Eli Pariser.

The board president of MoveOn.org, Pariser muses about the perils of excessive personalization on the Web. He’s also concerned that technology companies are narrowing our digital experiences.

“Personalization filters,” he writes, “serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.”

This point of view echoes that of legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who worried about Internet users getting stuck inside “information cocoons” in his book, “Republic.com.” 

Pariser has a solution for this, and he calls for greater openness and diversity when it comes to search results and recommendations so that unfettered and serendipitous discovery can take place.

My opinion is more intricate. I believe that personalization lives on a spectrum, as opposed to an all-or-nothing scenario. At one end, overdone personalization can produce an unhealthy bubble of self-ignorance as Pariser and Sunstein suggest. But at the other end of the spectrum, where no personalization exists, things are equally bad. The key is determining what’s best for the individual customer experience.

Taking search as an example, the future of personalization is getting the right resources or results to answer your needs as effectively as possible. But personalization doesn’t mean that we have to change the answer. Rather, it means having – and using – much more context about you than what’s available in technology and user interfaces today.

Personalization done well will generate the results you want, without forcing you to sift through the results you would have ignored anyway. And personalization still leaves room to access diversity and alternatives: done right, it will center the bullseye of its results right on your most likely interests; but that doesn’t mean it needs to block out the rest.

In fact, as long as we are interested in diversity, search engines and other content discovery engines will deliver it – because they are in the business of serving our interests. And if they stop doing so, the reason won’t be the technology’s preferences – it will be our own preferences.

In the meantime, the best companies will enable users to have control on the privacy front. And even with those controls, most consumers will almost certainly trade personal information for spot-on content and the right kind of delivery.

So, once again, I come down on the side of Web users. I’m in favor of personalization done well, and I’m all for letting consumers decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t online.

 

SEO Is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’

This article was published as a guest post on paidContent.org

Over the past five years, Web publishing has been so heavily dominated by search engine optimization (SEO) that, to many publishing executives, the right keywords have become far more important than their sites’ actual content or audience. But this movement toward SEO has been dangerous, as it’s moved publishers’ eye off their most important job of creating great content, and onto the false goals of keywords, hacks, paid links, and technical engineering that their audience doesn’t know or care about.

Even venerable publishers like Forbes have traded in their leadership legacy to chase the Huffington Post pufferfish strategy of filling up Google’s database with more posts, more frequency, and more low-cost content; while stalwarts like Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) are still chasing SEO basics like getting keywords into their URLs.

But the recent announcement of the Facebook/Bing partnership to integrate social and search results clearly marks the beginning of the end of SEO, and the smartest digital publishers will drop everything to rethink their distribution strategy entirely.

With the rise of Facebook, we’ve entered a new era of digital media: personalized discovery. The balance of power is shifting: Already sites at Wetpaint and other publishers are seeing more audience coming from Facebook than from search.

Search was critical when answers to questions were scarce. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) can find an answer to almost any keyword query from among the zillions of pages on the web. But at a time when such answers are abundant, it’s far more valuable to find the best content for me – and increasingly, find it before I’ve even asked for it. The sort algorithm that works best for that is more correlated to who’s doing the asking than how they would phrase the ask.
For that level of personalized results, no abject algorithm can keep up without deep knowledge of its users.

Advantage: Facebook.

The encouraging implication is that the audience values content, not keywords. And Facebook sides with the audience. And so it’s time to christen a new era of social-media optimization, or “SMO.” The era of SMO liberates publishers from the exercise of tricks, hacks and keywords. Instead, the big opportunity is now once again creating and refining the most appealing content possible.

Imagine that.

SMO recognizes that Facebook already has the best position to introduce content to users. Already, audiences are using Facebook as the news interface to their favorite sources (both media titles and their friends) in a way that Google News hasn’t cracked the code on; products like Flipboard that take this to the next level are captivating.

As Facebook takes its immense database of “Likes” and pivots it to inform search results, there’s no question that it will have a huge advantage in delivering a better result set for almost every user. It simply knows more.

SMO strategy means appealing to the audience, not an intermediary; knowing what drives interest; and activating people’s desire to consume and share. Sure, there is buzz among many publishers around Facebook logins and likes, and the traffic bumps that come with them. But SMO offers more far than that. It’s about creating a positive feedback loop, where users are rewarded for both consuming and distributing content. The key is to develop virality in media like that of Zynga games and Groupon offers. Beyond, of course, creating great content and experiences that are worth sharing, publishers need to then reward their audiences with the full range of possibilities, including prestige, access, exclusive content and enhanced experiences.

For those who are still working on implementing search strategies: if you haven’t turned your focus to SMO, you will be left behind as the allure of gaming search engines fades into the past.

Update: After numerous requests, I posted a follow-up piece to this on how to implement an SMO strategy.