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.

Social Leaderboard: March Results

How much social traffic did the top 50 web publishers attract in March?  The results are in – and it is a mixed month.

More Social Traffic

Measuring by total visits, March was the second highest month on record for social traffic to the top publishers.  The number of social (Facebook + Twitter) visits to the top 50 grew by 2.9% in March to 403 million.

But a Smaller Piece of the Pie

Volume growth aside, social’s share of traffic to the top 50 dropped slightly, dipping by 0.3% in March.  That’s because even while traffic from social grew, it didn’t grow as fast as traffic from other sources.

What gives?  It’s possible that each and every one of the top publishers’ social media teams was distracted last month by March Madness and solar flares.  It’s also possible that Facebook’s aggressive mobile push is putting downward pressure on this measurement (the comScore data we use for benchmarking overall site traffic doesn’t include mobile traffic, alas).

The Contenders:  NBC climbs, Us Magazine falls, and Wetpaint stays on top

The solar flares must have been particularly distracting to one publisher’s social team: Us Magazine continued its downward slide, falling out of the top 5 entirely this time after dropping last month from 3rd to 5th.

NBC is on a roll, climbing up another rung (after jumping two spots ahead in February) to #2 on the leaderboard.  NFL also ran the ball for an impressive number of yards, moving from #9 to #5.

Wetpaint Entertainment continued to hold a definitive lead, outperforming the closest rival by 9.3 percentage points.  We’re able to maintain this lead by constantly improving our proprietary social analytics and distribution system through rapid experimentation and a deep understanding of our audience.  The amazing thing is that our social growth has not come at the expense of search traffic.  Indeed, our search traffic has been rising as a result of our social success, and total traffic has recently hit record highs of 10 million uniques and more.

And we’re not done yet – social users are the most valuable users, and we want more.

Social Leaderboard: What Drives Outperformance?

We’re back with the Media Industry Social Leaderboard, fresh off the presses with February results.  For any newcomers, the Social Leaderboard is a ranking of the top 50 media publishers by their effectiveness at driving traffic from Facebook and Twitter.

Overall: No Great Shakes

From January to February, social traffic composition was flat, with the average staying at 7%.  The gap between Facebook and Google traffic coming in to the Top 50, which had been rapidly closing since November, froze in February with Google holding on to its 30% lead for one more month.

At the Races: Us Magazine Falls Behind

Only four publishers in the top 10 improved their social traffic scores this month: NBC (+1.5%) took third place by trading places with Us Magazine (the biggest loser in the top 10 with -3%, now at #5).  Break (+2%) and TMZ (+0.5%) leapfrogged the pack of MTV, NFL and MLB, pushing those three back to #8, 9 and 10.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

But the biggest mover and shaker was Wetpaint Entertainment.  Wetpaint took an even more decisive lead by adding 7% to social traffic composition since January, vaulting it into the elite group of publishers who, based on Compete data, receive more traffic from Facebook than from Google (in good company with People, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Fox Sports, and The Post Game).

With 29% of traffic coming from social, Wetpaint is outperforming its closest competitor by nearly 2x.  Is this a data aberration?  Some kind of leap year phenomenon?

Let me fill you in on the story behind the 29%: over the last two years, we took a gamble by building a new platform for social media distribution.  It wasn’t a sure bet, and not many other publishers were doing it, but we had seen compelling evidence that social was the only way forward for the media industry.

We threw all of our time and talent at the problem, building up a fan base while developing and testing and refining new strategies for delivering content through social channels.  We collected tons of data in real time about the preferences of our fans, and then we leveraged that insight to personalize and program their newsfeeds.

Today, the rest of the media industry is just starting to figure out the value of winning fans and courting likes.  But because of our early investment, we’re already two steps ahead – we’re focusing on what to do with our 1.7 million fans.  We’re delivering over 1,000 posts a week, each one targeted for the right fan with the right content at the right time.

And it’s starting to pay off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shining the Spotlight on the Audience, Not the Stage

Alex Weinstein (@alexweinstein) is the Director of Product at Wetpaint and the author of the Technology + Entrepreneurship blog where he explores data-driven decision making in the face of uncertainty. Prior to Wetpaint, Weinstein led technology initiatives in Microsoft Live Labs.

Every day, we go to our favorite news outlets and get our fix. We land on the same familiar sites. We seek out the kind of news that fits our fancy. We casually share the most interesting news with our friends – over dinner or online. And, tomorrow, it starts all over again.

Why? What motivates us to watch the daily news, read an opinion in a magazine, and come back to a favorite TV show? For content creators and distributors, it’s easy to think that it’s all about the content.  This view is based on the notion that people desire the intrinsic value of content, such as the knowledge hidden in a report, or the laugh they experience from a comedy sketch.  But this idea is too flat, and it ignores a more powerful force that’s at work, and that drives the tremendous confluence among target populations when it comes to what they read.

Indeed, in many cases, a deeply human driver is far more valuable than the information itself. And that driver is the desire to be a valuable, appreciated member of a group.

As the graphic below shows, this desire maps directly to Maslow’s pyramid of human needs – the need for esteem.

(diagram from NYTimes – http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/revising-maslows-pyramid/)

After taking this pyramid or hierarchy of needs in, it becomes clear that, as publishers, we must pay attention to the amount of influence, respect, and social value that audiences are able to earn from their friends after consuming content.

Let’s look at a few examples.

For World of Warcraft geeks, a news article on a long-tail site that covers the latest artifacts is true gold – because it will help them be the most informed in the eyes of their guild.

For fans of Bachelorette, watching the latest episode is very much about having a water cooler conversation about it next day – and the potential social connection that brings.

For Politico readers, it’s about exerting influence on their Facebook friends after they share a controversial editorial.

And, for Lolcats readers, it’s about making their friends laugh for the umpteenth time with a new, undiscovered photo.

Each of these examples is about social influence and social esteem.

Here’s the take-away for publishers in all of this: a key component of the value of the 21st century media company is about helping audiences gain the attention of their social circles.

This represents a radical shift from what we’ve seen over the past decades.

Instead of trying to capture and direct the reader’s attention (“Look at my 100-year-old brand! I curate the world and know best what you should look at!”), the publisher becomes a back-stage prompter, helping readers utter the words that will make them the center of attention among those they care about. The reader can then become an even stronger influencer, or taste-maker.

Every time a friend consumes something that you’ve read, you’ve successfully directed their attention. Your social bank account just became more valuable. And every time publishers help make this transaction seamless and smooth, they are helping you earn some social gold.

This is why Washington Post Social Reader and Yahoo Social are such smashing hits.

Readers want to consume content within these apps, because of the feedback loop from their friends.  (“Hey, I saw you read this article, and I read it, too.”) This is a self-reinforcing pattern that creates social value for all the participants. These publishers, and Facebook’s timeline apps, put audiences first; and, in the process, they generate an ever-increasing amount of social value for readers.

Note that curation and brand very much play into this the social value generation; nobody wants their friends to be misinformed or displeased by media that they endorsed. Content is still king.

If, say, the Washington Post wanted to take this experience to the next level, it could make curation even more personalized. Instead of telling readers that they must care about the Russian presidential election via a big front-page photo – completely ignoring the fact that sharing this knowledge will drive zero social value to its readers – the Post could cater to the unique values of each reader. To do so, it could measure the social response from the reader’s audience – and then personalize the content based upon this response. It’s essential to point out, however, that the reader’s interest – and the response of his or her audience – are not mutually exclusive; a smart personalization algorithm will take both of these factors into account.

That said, in the end, publishers must awaken to the fact that social influence and social esteem are key matters for their audiences today.

How Long Until Social Is A Bigger Traffic Source Than Search?

In yesterday’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard, I noted that leading web publishers on the web saw a staggering 17% increase in their social traffic from November to December.  These top 50 websites are now averaging about 8 million referrals per month from Facebook.

At this rate, the question asked by Fred Wilson and others is:  how long until social drives more traffic than search?  Based on data from Compete.com, it won’t be long at all.  Let’s look at the specifics.

Facebook Drives Almost As Much Traffic As Google

When it comes to driving traffic, the gap between social and search is already smaller than most realize.  In fact, for every 100 visits that Google sent to the top 50 web publishers in November, Facebook sent 62.  By December, it was already up to 73 visits from Facebook for every 100 from Google.

At the same time, search traffic to these publishers is stable to declining, with Google referrals falling 0.5% over the same period.

So how long until Facebook outranks Google?  If these monthly rates of change were to continue apace, Facebook traffic would outrank Google traffic for the top 50 publishers in aggregate by March of this year!

Seven Publishers Already Get More Traffic From Social Than Search

Shockingly, Compete.com data shows that already seven of the top 50 publishers get more traffic from Facebook than from Google:  MSN, ThePostGame, Yahoo, Aol, People, Fox Sports, and US Magazine.  These seven publishers received in aggregate 12% more visits from Facebook than they did from Google last month.

And that set of publishers has already grown by five from just a month earlier, in November of 2011, when only MSN and ThePostGame showed more traffic from social than from search.

But seven is just a snapshot in time.  Based on recent trends, by the middle of this year, I’d expect it to grow to a dozen publishers or more.

 

Facebook is Over-Taking Google as a Traffic Source to Top 50 Web Publishers

Social Leaderboard: 17% Growth in Traffic from Social; and Wetpaint Is the New #1

Regular readers know that  it’s only a matter of months before social becomes the most valuable source of traffic for most publishers.

And this month’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard is sure to make you even more convinced.  So let me get straight to it:  From November to December, the amount of traffic the top 50* publishers received from social grew by a whopping 17%.

And, when it comes to who is best benefiting from social, let’s just say I’m personally very proud to announce the new leader, which, for the sake of modesty, I’ll do lower down the page.


Social Traffic Surging

As noted previously, the major changes Facebook announced at September’s f8 event caused a significant blunt in traffic to publishers last fall.  Well, the hangover has ended.  With 385 million aggregate visits to the top 50 publishers in December, volumes have recovered to pre-f8 levels.

The average top 50 publisher is now receiving almost 8 million visits per month from Facebook and Twitter.  And in December, 48 of the top 50 publishers saw increased social traffic levels over November, with these publishers averaging a 2.1 percentage point increase in their composition.

At the same time, Twitter has grown in its contribution to the traffic pie, increasing over the course of the fall months from 2.2% of total in September to 3.4% in December.

A New Leader: Wetpaint Ranks #1

As you know from my prior columns, one of the reasons I’ve published this leaderboard is because we set a goal for Wetpaint to reach #1.  What I didn’t tell you previously is the timing: our goal was to do so by the end of 2011.  And there is nothing we get more proud of here at Wetpaint than meeting our goals.

In December, Wetpaint Entertainment social traffic benchmarked at 20.8% of visits, even as our total traffic was at near-record levels.  (Our internal numbers show an even higher contribution.)  This outranks all of the top 50 web publishers, besting the number-two by nearly five points.

Allow me a moment to kvell:  I could not be more proud of the entire Wetpaint team who have achieved this goal.  Beyond the amazing results, they have built an amazing social distribution system and playbook that leads the industry.  With the virtuous cycle the team has built, we are getting significantly better every month.


Other Movers and Shakers

How did the other leaders from prior months do?  People, the previous leader, improved with 16.1% of traffic from social, increasing by 3.9 percentage points even as it fell to the #2 position.

In third place now, US Magazine vaulted all the way up from position 19, improving from an average 3.9% to achieve 14.3% of their traffic from social.  If you have any idea what drove their results, let me know.

As for places #4 and #5, CBS and NBC traded their two slots, with NBC gaining by 4.2 percentage points while CBS gained by only 3.5 points.   And all of that activity pushed MTV down to #6, gaining far slower than the others.  All the details are, as usual, in the table below.


Facebook Is Sending More Traffic Out

Publishers are clearly benefiting as Facebook delivers on its potential to be not just a network but a social operating system for the internet.  In December, we saw the best increases go to the most social publishers (top 10 on this leaderboard), who saw a 4.5 percentage point increase in social traffic composition month to month.

Innovation is attracting large audiences on Facebook.  In particular, the four publishers driving traffic via social readers have increased their share of Facebook traffic to the Top 50 web publishers by 70%.  Yahoo (not included in the 4 just described) has also begun experimenting with social reader tools across select sites and is seeing strong early results as well.  In just two months, Yahoo! News US has reportedly seen a 300% increase in Facebook traffic, driven by 1 million “reads” shared daily.


The Traffic Land Grab Is On Now

We are clearly in the land grab phase on the social web.  Those who are investing early in social as a top objective stand to gain the most – while others may be left behind.

But as my discussions with other media companies show, social is not a simple check-box initiative.   It requires complete buy-in from the CEO to transform the organization with social distribution technology and expertise.

It can be done, as our own experience at Wetpaint as shown:  In less than two years, we have launched a new property and already outranked all of the top 50 publishers on the web.  Now we want more.  And I hope you do too.

 

Details for all 50 top publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

PUBLISHER

 

 

Dec

Nov

Oct

Name of Publisher (Owner)

URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

2

3

Wetpaint Entertainment

WETPAINT.COM

                3,076,202

20.8%

10.1%

2

1

1

People

PEOPLE.COM

              13,203,882

16.1%

3.9%

3

21

19

US Weekly

USMAGAZINE.COM

                9,339,801

14.3%

10.4%

4

5

5

NBC Universal

NBC.COM

                6,972,501

12.3%

4.2%

5

4

4

CBS

CBS.COM

                7,367,642

11.7%

3.5%

6

3

2

MTV

MTV.COM

                9,920,294

10.7%

2.1%

7

6

7

TMZ

TMZ.COM

13,208,667

9.6%

2.2%

8

13

16

Break Media

BREAK.COM

                8,603,649

9.4%

4.2%

9

8

6

Major League Baseball

MLB.COM

                6,653,288

9.3%

2.3%

10

9

11

Patch (Aol)

PATCH.COM

9,917,563

8.7%

2.2%

11

14

12

Discovery Channel

DISCOVERY.COM

             12,769,340

8.5%

3.4%

12

7

9

Yahoo!

YAHOO.COM

            167,257,797

7.6%

0.5%

13

10

10

Aol

AOL.COM

              50,093,953

7.4%

1.1%

14

15

15

CNN

CNN.COM

              45,650,334

7.1%

2.1%

15

12

13

IGN (News Corp)

IGN.COM

              10,263,828

6.7%

1.4%

16

23

25

MailOnline

DAILYMAIL.CO.UK

              16,656,093

6.4%

2.8%

17

25

22

TIME

TIME.COM

                9,256,468

6.3%

2.7%

18

16

14

TV Guide

TVGUIDE.COM

                7,546,763

6.0%

1.3%

19

11

8

The Guardian

GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                8,495,543

6.0%

0.0%

20

19

18

FOX News (News Corp)

FOXNEWS.COM

              24,444,163

5.9%

1.3%

21

29

23

CBS News

CBSNEWS.COM

              12,064,240

5.7%

2.6%

22

24

26

CBS Local

CBSLOCAL.COM

9,574,168

5.7%

2.1%

23

20

27

The Washington Post

WASHINGTONPOST.COM

              18,671,039

5.5%

1.4%

24

18

17

MSN

MSN.COM

           111,990,691

5.3%

0.7%

25

30

32

New York Daily News

NYDAILYNEWS.COM

                9,585,617

5.1%

2.1%

26

17

20

BBC News

BBC.CO.UK

              14,480,236

5.1%

0.4%

27

41

36

FORBES

FORBES.COM

              12,232,929

5.0%

3.0%

28

26

31

The Huffington Post (Aol)

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

              36,196,784

5.0%

1.6%

29

31

28

New York Post

NYPOST.COM

                8,085,270

4.8%

1.8%

30

37

41

Bleacher Report

BLEACHERREPORT.COM

                9,178,003

4.7%

2.4%

31

22

21

New York Times

NYTIMES.COM

              30,575,839

4.6%

0.8%

32

34

29

Cartoon Network (Turner)

CARTOONNETWORK.COM

              10,600,092

4.5%

1.7%

33

33

30

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks)

NICK.COM

                9,752,977

4.5%

1.5%

34

27

24

IMDB (Amazon.com)

IMDB.COM

              38,220,405

4.3%

0.9%

35

32

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune)

LATIMES.COM

              17,080,642

4.2%

1.2%

36

40

39

FOX Sports (News Corp)

FOXSPORTS.COM

              22,401,409

4.2%

2.0%

37

36

34

Food Network (Scripps)

FOODNETWORK.COM

              19,614,352

3.8%

1.2%

38

39

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp)

WSJ.COM

              12,521,560

3.6%

1.4%

39

35

33

Allrecipes (Readers Digest)

ALLRECIPES.COM

              25,288,480

3.5%

0.8%

40

45

42

CNET (CBS Interactive)

CNET.COM

            28,948,963

3.1%

1.5%

41

38

38

Reuters

REUTERS.COM

              11,692,493

3.0%

0.7%

42

44

45

CNBC

CNBC.COM

                5,674,719

3.0%

1.3%

43

43

44

Bloomberg

BLOOMBERG.COM

                7,515,601

2.8%

1.1%

44

46

47

Businessweek (Bloomberg)

BUSINESSWEEK.COM

           7,964,543

2.6%

1.0%

45

28

43

USA Today (Gannet)

USATODAY.COM

              17,222,775

2.6%

-0.6%

46

42

40

WebMD

WEBMD.COM

              11,901,016

2.5%

0.5%

47

47

46

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media)

LIVESTRONG.COM

                9,464,669

1.8%

0.5%

48

48

48

About.com (NY Times)

ABOUT.COM

              58,684,194

1.6%

0.6%

49

50

50

eHow (Demand Media)

EHOW.COM

              45,015,977

1.5%

0.8%

50

51

51

ThePostGame (Yahoo)

THEPOSTGAME.COM

              18,321,581

1.4%

0.8%

51

49

49

Mayo Clinic

MAYOCLINIC.COM

                9,198,317

1.4%

0.5%

* 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. 

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.