Sales start with targeted content

From the brass blog:

In a saturated media landscape, straight sales pitches are dismissed. But digital tools provide great opportunity to indicate when customers are considering a purchase, and therefore more likely to welcome some help, which you can provide in the form of quality, relevant content.

Tl;dr: Understand the pain point, post in the right place, don’t drop the ball once people are engaged.

Page views are dead. Finally. Now let’s do some work that matters.

With leaked information about changes to Google’s AdWords and plans from Facebook to roll out an ad network of its own, it’s clear that if your revenue model is ad-based and isn’t driven by Google or Facebook, find a new model. Automated ad-buying is making the value of page views an outright commodity, and the effectiveness of banner advertising (while always dubious in my view) is at rock bottom.

Page views (as a measure of value) are dead:

An analysis of one international brand’s traffic from display ads found that of the thousands of visitors they bought over a multi-week period, only two users registered a non-zero engaged time. Meaning only two people read any of it.

Meanwhile, even social engagement is an unreliable indicator of real reach among an audience, when thousands of likes and followers can be had for meager investment.

I say good riddance!

Much hand-wringing has gone on about page view chasing causing a loss of focus on the mission, but with no real alternative to present. I think we always knew in our gut that counting hits or suffering trolls wasn’t a good approach to build lasting relationships with the communities (geographic and topic-based) we set out to serve. And that’s what good content — good journalism — is all about.

I’ve been reading Jeff Jarvis’ posts on Medium on this subject and found resonance with the concept of advocating and enabling:

We need to use or build platforms that enable a community to express and discern its goals.

What’s great about this is that it provides a crystal clear “Why” for the organization. Considering a new product/service/platform/event? Does it enable the community to express and discern it’s goals?

Such a position also allows for an organization to layer its approach and slate of offerings. Small, focused platforms provide specificity for both the community and those who want to reach and support them. By crafting many of them, each with a clarity of purpose and how it makes money, the organization becomes less at risk to disruption. Antifragile, even.

It’s not easy, and there’s probably plenty of pain yet to come as the old model (even the newest old model) grinds to a halt. But I suggest that the fun part is around the corner.

Don’t be intimidated by the complicated social media landscape. The path forward is clear.

Graphic showing the complexity of the social media landscape.

Infograph by Buddy Media via Business Insider.

A coworker sent me a link to this graphic, illustrating the complex web of social media tools available for marketers. It was created by Buddy Media at the unveiling of their suite of monitoring tools.

It’s an interesting graphic, but I think it misses the point for social media marketing. I see this as a warning to “me-too” companies who want a piece of user’s social time and attention (and it’s also effective to make a case for content monitoring).

Social media marketers only need to know a couple of things to get started:

    • Have a story that’s worth sharing;
    • Tell it consistently where people are, and;
    • Make sure it’s easy for people to share with others.

My take is the biggest reason content marketing fails to deliver for many is – if they’re honest with themselves – the story just isn’t compelling.

How the Web watches TV

Via Tim Carmody at Wired

With live television, we flip; with video on demand, we binge. This means that shows have to catch and hold our attention in very different ways — not just over the commercial, but from episode to episode, season to season, and from television to videogames, Facebook, or whatever else might capture our attention on a web-connected device.

Content and audience lessons from Walt Disney

“The one thing that [Walt] never let is forget was it is all about the audience…

…It’s tough to hear… but no one cares about us … If we can find ways to deliver news and cultivate communities that engage, inspire and inform readers, they will find real value in spending their time and attention with us. And when value is delivered, value is received, whether that be through subscriptions, advertising, event admissions, donations or other forms.”

Via: Online Journalism Review

All the stuff you think you need on a news site? Irrelevant.

Andy Rutledge takes digital news to task, specifically over the cluttered, distracting design of news sites.

Besides the design notes, though, are some key points for conceptualizing news vs. opinion, comments vs. social media, and sections vs. content types:

  • “Featured” sections are irrelevant, opinion-shaping editorial promotion; not news.
  • Headlines matter and can be scanned; intro text does not and compromises scanning.
  • Author, source, and date/time are important.
    Opinion or Op Eds are distinct from news.
  • Article ratings or “likes” are irrelevant in the context of news.
  • Comments are not contextual to news, but to social media.
  • Media types (video, gallery, audio) are not sections. These are simply common components of each story.

For the record, I think Rutledge is wrong about paywalls (remember TimesSelect?) but dead on about site design and the role of comments/social media therein.

Why the watchdog is only as good as the chicken dinner

Dog and ChickenMy friend Jason posted a comprehensive list of items to consider when crafting a mobile strategy for local media. It’s solid, and I found myself drawn to the “Audience approach” portion of the post:

  • Recognize mobile users are task driven and formulate everything around that
  • Know what users are doing on mobile devices in the market
  • Sharing+Location+Socializing

My takeaway from the list, and the audience-centered approach in general, was that it outlined not just a mobile strategy, but a real set of targets to shoot for across an organization. I got a little picky about this in my response to the post; after some further thinking, I’d like to elaborate.

I live in Salem, Oregon and work about an hour south in Corvallis. Of course, when I worked as a reporter here, I knew pretty much everything that was going on in Corvallis. About Salem, however, I knew very little. Part of the curse of commuting, I suppose. My wife is active in the community and plugged in to a range of groups, but we decided to take the local paper, thinking it’d help us broaden our knowledge of chicken dinner stuff.

Keep in mind that we decided to subscribe for three primary reasons:

  • Reporting on community issues so we’d be better citizens
  • Community events information to get involved locally
  • Timely listings of fun stuff to do

Also keep in mind that this would be a bit of an experiment for me: reading a paper in a town I lived in without working in the newsroom that produced the product.

It didn’t last long. I found the reporting incomplete with just a few local stories and all the usual national and international stuff I’d read elsewhere fully 18 hours before my paper arrived. The papers kept getting thinner, with less room for the events and community information I wanted. A few months after we started subscribing, the paper went on a major campaign to promote their columnists, none of whom I found very insightful or entertaining. The truth is, the useful information just wasn’t there and we decided that it wasn’t worth the money we were paying.

This week, I read that the paper had been recognized by APME for “Digital Innovation in Watchdog Journalism.” The award-winning story was of waste, corruption and fraud in a local education service agency. It was a great series: deeply reported, with great online tools to sift and visualize data, and led to overhaul of the agency staff.

I don’t mean to detract from their good work, but my concern is that an award like this will tell the editors and managers that what they are doing is just right. We were subscribers when this story unfolded. Award-winning watchdog journalism couldn’t overcome the paper’s lack of day-to-day utility.

I read or heard a long time ago that journalism is information people use to organize their lives: who to vote for, what to do Saturday night, things to talk about over dinner. It’s all about utility and it’s only as good as it is useful (newspaper’s called fishwrap for a reason). In a competitive information market, we all have too many choices to put up with mediocre options.

In my experience, starting with what’s essential for maximum utility and relentlessly simplifying around that core makes for a more focused and useful product. For media companies, that utility generates habit and trust. You’re there when they needed you. And when you have deep or broad stories to tell in a narrative and multimedia way, you get the eyeballs and time you’ve earned, without reservation — even pride. Without the recognition of a customer’s real needs, you do your finest work and lose them anyway.

A mobile strategy is essential. When it’s the starting point, it’s even better.

Doc Searls on staking out beachheads for TV

Doc Searls makes several great observations about where television’s going, especially in light of Al Jazeera’s online streaming (free of goofy cable restrictions) and complete ownership of news coming out of the Middle East for the past month and more.

Most compelling are his reference to Terry Heaton’s beachheads, each of which set a goal for capturing an aspect of online viewership without necessarily obsessing over “where the money is.” Heaton likens it to Wayne Gretsky’s “skating to where the puck is going to be”:

This strategy is to get us ahead of that and let the revenue grow into it. None of these will break the bank, and they’ll position us to move quickly regardless of which direction things move or how fast.

We all know how well the strategy worked for Gretzky.

Will Ping break Apple’s Reality Distortion Field?

“In shield fighting, one moves fast on defense, slow on attack” (via wikipedia)

For the first time in a long time, we’re really hearing from Apple users that one of Steve Jobs’ products is weak, at best. Maybe Ping isn’t quite ready for primetime, or maybe it’s all-too-blatantly a scheme to get iTunes users more deeply entrenched in the store, pandering to stars that record execs want to push. Either way, between the iPhone’s antenna trouble and recent disappointment over iTunes’ “social network,” Apple’s had some issues.

Dave Winer sums up the essence of the problem as Apple being green, ill-experienced, in knowing what customers want. I think that’s true, and wrote about the company’s denial of (and need for) market research a year ago. But I also think that behind that research needs to come a little humility about where great ideas come from.

Not to dredge up Windows v. OSX angst, but Microsoft’s ads for Windows 7 (the ones about new features being “my idea”) are a pretty cool foil to Steve Jobs’ elitism. Who hasn’t thought about a feature that would make something easier to use or more accessible? Maybe none of Windows 7’s features really came from customer ideas, but the pitch is near perfect: We’re listening to you and it shows in the stuff we make.

A complete reversal of corporate culture isn’t going to happen, but doing a little listening isn’t going to hurt. If Apple combined their art of craft with transparent customer service, they’d be unbeatable again.