Further adventures on the River Styx

The State of the Digital Publishing Ecosystem Part 2.2

(Pic: WIkipedia: Etching of G. Doré)

In Greek mythology the River Styx is the river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, for the purpose of this article it represents the Digital Publishing Ecosystem and it is a place where a digital publisher must be cautious and apply certain rules if they are to succeed.

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Let us now refocus our attention on some survival tactics as we continue our navigation of the River Styx…

Rule #5— Redefine Failure

(Pic: Wikipedia)

The line “fail and fail quickly” is a bit cliché at this stage. However, what this term means is be prepared to fail, but do it quickly using prototypes and software as a service tools to minimise financial cost and opportunity cost (the fail quickly bit, if you are going to fail at all that is). It also means fail at a small thing at a time rather than launch a flurry of features at once.

When most of us think of Thomas Edison (of light bulb fame) we conjure the image of a crazy scientist in a white coat in a lab full of test tubes. Edison, in contrast, was meticulous in his data collection, he had a team of corporate scientists and when conducting experiments they would make only one change at a time and measure the impact of that change while recording what that change was.

There are huge lessons to take from Edison and his team. The importance of A/B tests, which are simply trying option A and then trying option B of a test and seeing which one performs better and then running with that one. One of the easiest ways publishers can do that is by trying A/B headlines on stories on social media and websites. The headlines can be adapted towards demographics and platform. There is a myriad software as a service tools which can help you get started with A/B testing and experimentation Edison style.

Rule #6 — Embrace the Frenemy

(Pic— Wikipedia, Roman Handshake)

The image above is of a handshake, the origin of the handshake was showing the other person you were not bearing a weapon and some even practiced the forearm shake as a way to be absolutely certain. Today, we live in the age of coopetition. We need to embrace our competition and have a quid pro quo relationship of win-win, we should be aware of what we are giving away and what we are getting in return. When Facebook changed their algorithm in late 2014, many publishers denounced them for making them pay to reach their audience and some even decided that they would go their own way and become an island.

The problem with that is you do become an island, absolutely you should focus on front door traffic and growing community, but you also need to dance with the devil and use the hyper targeting capabilities that Facebook, Google, Twitter and many others give you. Take for instance that 77% of BuzzFeed’s total audience is now reading BuzzFeed content across 30 platforms to which it publishes content. This is a case of embracing the frenemy to extend your brand. While this doesn’t lend itself well to display advertising sales it is ideal for clever branded content distribution, for example if I make a 30 second food video which just so happens to include Hershey’s chocolate (who just so happen to be paying me a nice whack for views of the video on all platforms) then using the 30 platforms makes sense.

Another way to embrace the frenemy is to utilise hyper targeting. For example, if I produce sports content and I have a following of 100,000 on Facebook for my sports channel, that is 100,000 fans who like a variety of different sports and not just one. With social network targeting I can target soccer fans only among the 100,000 fans in order to market my latest soccer podcast for example. The benefit is the right content reaching the right customer and equally as important this same content not reaching another customer who is not interested in soccer. The networks have segmented their audiences into hundreds of thousands of segments to allow for such targeting.

Rule #7 — Adapt to the Platform

(Pic — Wikimedia)

When you put content on a non-owned platform you must obey by the rules of that platform. For example a 23 minute documentary won’t do well on Facebook, however; a snack-able piece from that documentary may do well, but go beyond that and create several snack-able pieces and A/B test them. Check your analytics and adapt every time you ship new content.

For example, a video that lasts about 45 seconds works well on YouTube, but your channel will be different from mine so look at your own YouTube analytics and see where people are dropping off while watching your videos and edit your video content to that ideal duration. Also note that despite the fact we may hate vertical video (see video below), it actually performs up to 9 times better than horizontal video because it is mainly viewed on mobile. Now you should also ensure any video content is understandable without sound, this means we need to ensure it has subtitles as many people watch on their commute or while in the office.


Rule #8 — Human Resources

(Air Traffic Controller — Wikimedia)

We will need the right people to make this happen, the tech is easy, it is people with a growth mindset who will learn on the job and embrace new skills that will help grow, save, build your business. As author Jim Collins says, your need to first hire good people and get them on the bus then decide where to put them sitting on the bus.

Some important hires we need are:

  1. An air traffic controller, this resource is essential, this person will decide what content goes on which platform. They will be like an editor for a fragmented world. They will direct the team like a conductor requesting the same piece of content be sliced and diced differently for every different platform. They will take into account context as well as content. More on that on a future Thursday Thought.
  2. A community manager, this person is essentially the ambassador of your company. Tip: good people make good community managers, people who are fun, easy to get on with, creative, energetic and have great emotional intelligence. Putting someone on this as a way to move them sideways in your company or as a way to find a role for them is a recipe social media disaster. Putting a marketing executive on this as well as one hundred other jobs is a recipe for disaster also. This is an extremely important full time role. We need to walk the talk and ensure it is treated as such.
  3. Most importantly, we are now all becoming data companies, most people are collecting data like it is the new oil. However, collecting data, while a mammoth task and one which needs careful attention is only one part of the equation. Once we have that data it then needs to be analysed and “translated” into metrics that matter and a single truth that everyone buys in to. In this respect you need a data analyst and ideally a data scientist as well and they should sit together. They should not be sent trivial tasks such as check the google analytics from X date to Y date, if you think that is not your job then you will drown in the river Styx, this needs to be part of everyone’s job. The tools are easy to use and there are plenty of them.

Next week we will cover some more topics on what we can do to navigate the digital publishing world, and then we turn our attention to some of the threats that await us.

If you like the topics covered here, subscribe to the RTÉ Innovation Show here.

This Saturday, 28 May, we have a fascinating ca=hat with Don Levy, Digital Evangelist from Hollywood and ex-VP of Marketing for Sony Pictures, We talk to Denis Hayes, MD of the IRDG and focus on Design Thinking as well as Ross O’Dwyer, Founder and CEO of Pundit Arena.

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