Publishers Must Get Smarter To Survive The Social Revolution

For those of us of a certain age, the consternation surrounding Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s decision to acquire the Washington Post and related properties has a certain déjà vu sense to it.

Around 13 years ago, new media giant AOL acquired Time Warner, which had far greater revenues but a far smaller market cap. The deal signified every trend, potential and real, in the media industry and was hailed by many as a proactive approach to pending problems. Despite the fact that it was a smart move at the time, we all know how it turned out.  

Is this what’s in store for the Washington Post? Conversely, if the publication enters a “golden era” as Bezos alluded to earlier this month when addressing his staff for the first time, does that mean every veteran content publisher needs a lifeline and a few creative suggestions from a new media millionaire?



It’s not exactly news that print media brands, particularly those with a large footprint in the newspaper business, are staring at doom. Just last week, the Salt Lake Tribunereduced its staff by approximately 20%. However, what tends to get overlooked each time these cutbacks occur is that just as newspapers lost eyeballs and revenue to online rivals, those digital publishers are already losing to social media.

In fact, there are many online-only outlets losing the audience they thought would stay with them forever. Publishers like Buzzfeed have managed to stave off damage and even stay ahead of the curve, but many are in the same predicament as their predecessors.  

The problem doesn’t stem from specific social media brands stealing all the thunder, but rather the mountains of data created by social interactions on these networks. They’ve revolutionized our lives and the ways brands and publishers connect with consumers. Those consumers, in turn, now expect highly tailored Web experiences. And for content publishers, personalization will spell the difference between survival and extinction.

Moving forward, the critical difference will be what I call the ‘intelligence layer.’ Just as we went from, say, broadcasting to narrowcasting—targeting ever-smaller niches with highly directed content—we now have the ability to zero in even more. As content providers, we have to add greater intelligence to our analysis of the potential audience — and shape the content accordingly. We have the arsenal—a wealth of data, a plethora of technologies—to do this. All we really need is strategy and focus.

I’m always surprised when I hear people say they don’t want marketers to target them. Of course they don’t, and of course marketers have always tried to deliver what they believed to be relevant ads. But technology has changed, and with the social-driven intelligence we now have, we can send only the materials that are relevant to them. In other words, they literally get less, not more, and a much higher percentage of it should be of interest.

It might seem like an insult to throw marketing concepts into good old-fashioned journalism, but that’s silly. This isn’t selling out at all, it’s balancing legitimate news with audience tastes, and that’s as old as the hills.

Let’s be clear: To customize doesn’t mean to compromise. The audience out there has specific content needs and wants, and publishers in every field can learn what those are and shape the material accordingly. Providers who get that lesson will profit from it. Those that don’t had better hope to get a call from Jeff Bezos.

2 comments about "Publishers Must Get Smarter To Survive The Social Revolution".
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  1. Robert Rosenthal from Rosenthal Heavy Industries, September 24, 2013 at 11:06 a.m.

    Astute observation. Thank you. RR

  2. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, September 25, 2013 at 9:43 a.m.

    What readers want from publishers is "relevant & engaging content". As publishers collect data from all of these new social media intersections, the key challenge is leveraging dynamic content assembly that is hyper relevant to the reader's profile. Publishers have to become some of the best direct marketers in the world. As their reader engages with digital content ( thru digitally served newspapers) the publisher needs to append each reader profile with behavioral information gained from their usage of the digital product. There needs to be an ongoing committment to optimizing the relevancy of content to that reader in real time in order to keep the audience engaged. We have come a LONG way from the days of "one size fits all". Leverage data - Maintain real time reader profiles & leverage dynamic content assembly to insure reader involvement and engagement. When we do all of this well, advertisers will respond accordingly and spend money back in these digital publications.

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