Again, we come back to signal and noise. I generate content primarily to reach both a wide and interested audience. As a digital marketing consultant, there is a financial incentive to grow my own personal brand, but to be honest, my reward is probably more tied up in the concepts of social capital and my own ego. I publish because I want to be heard. And I want to be heard by people who find my content valuable. I have almost 2,000 followers between my blog, Twitter feed and other social networks, but those people already know me. Hopefully, MediaPost will introduce me to new people who don’t know me. I want MediaPost to be my matchmaker.
Now, the second question to ask is, why are you reading this post on MediaPost? While I don’t presume to be able to know your own personal intentions, I can take a pretty good shot at generalizing: You are a MediaPost reader because you find the collection of content they publish interesting. It’s certainly not the only place online you can find content about marketing and media. And, if they chose to, any of the MediaPost writers could easily publish their content on their own blogs. You have chosen MediaPost because it acts as both a convenient access point and an effective filter.
This connection between content and audience is where publishers like MediaPost add value. Because you trust MediaPost to deliver content you find interesting, it passes the first level of your filtering threshold. I, as a content creator, get the benefit of MediaPost’s halo effect. The odds are better that I can connect with new readers under the MediaPost banner than if you’re introduced to me through a random, unfiltered tweet or alert in your newsfeed. And here we have a potential clue to the future of revenue generation for publishers. If publishing is potentially a matchmaking service, perhaps we need to look at other matchmakers to see how they generate revenue.
In the traditional publishing world, it would be blasphemous to suggest that content creators should be charged for access to an audience. After all, we used to get paid by publishers to generate content. But that was then and this is now. Understand, I’m not talking about native advertising or advertorials here. In fact, it would be the publisher’s responsibility to filter out unacceptably commercial editorials. I’m talking about creating an audience market for true content generators. In this day of personal branding, audiences have value. The better the audience, the higher the value. It should be worth something to me to reach new audiences. Publishers, in turn, act as the reader’s filter, ensuring the content they provide matches the user’s interest. Again, if the match is good enough, that has value for the reader.
Of course, the problem here is quantifying value on both sides of the relationship. I would imagine that both the content creators and content consumers that are reading my suggestions are probably saying, “There's no way I would pay for that!” And, in the current state of online publishing, I wouldn’t either -- neither as a creator nor a consumer. The value isn’t there because the match isn’t strong enough. But if publishers focused on building the best possible audience and on presenting the best possible content, it might be a different story. More important, it would be a revenue model that would realign publishers with their audience, rather than pit them against it.
From the reader’s perspective, if a publisher was acting as your own private information filter, and not as a platform for poorly targeted advertising, you would probably be more willing to indicate your preferences and share information. If the publisher was discriminating enough, you might even be willing to allow them to introduce very carefully targeted offers from advertisers, filtering down to only the offers you’re highly likely to be interested in. This provides three potential revenue sources to the publisher: content creators looking for an audience, readers looking for an effective filtering service, and advertisers looking for highly targeted introductions to prospects. In the last case, the revenue should be split with the prospect, with the publisher taking a percentage for handling the introduction and the rest going to the prospect in return for agreeing to accept the advertiser’s introduction.
While radically different from today’s model, what I’ve proposed is not a new idea. It was first introduced in the 1999 book "Net Worth" by John Hagel and Marc Singer. Granted, my take is less involved than theirs is, but the basic idea is the same: a shift from a relentless battering of prospects with increasingly overt advertising messages, to a careful filtering and matching of interests and appropriate content. And, when you think about it, the matching of intent and content is what Google has been doing for two decades.
Disruptive innovations tend to change the ways that value is determined. They take previous areas of scarcity and change them to ones of abundance. They upend markets and alter existing balances between forces. When the markets shift to this extent, trying to stick to the old paradigm guarantees failure. The challenge is that there is no new paradigm to follow. Experimentation is the only option. And to experiment you have to be willing to explore the boundaries. The answer won’t be found in the old familiar territory.