“We see this odd cycle in media where there’s a heavy overdependence on a platform that can be used and abused for views,” he said.
The problem, Flanzraich says, is that migrating to a “hot new platform” can be unsustainable for a “next-generation” publisher in the long run.
“This idea that you have to be on every platform is a particularly dangerous idea. It suggests that you have to play the same game that other people are playing — and most of the time, you will lose if you do that,” he said. “If you’re doing what’s worked for other people, you’ve already lost.”
For example, many respectable publications jumped on the click-bait bandwagon, only to have Facebook punish those articles when it changed its algorithm to demote click-bait content in users’ news feeds.
“The reason why you don’t sensationalize your headlines is because you want to create long-term brand trust. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to get our articles clicked on, but the balance and intention comes with a longer mission and vision. It’s not sexy. But I’m not building this [brand] to be sexy. Sexy doesn’t last,” he said.
In the future, we “will laugh” when we think back on publishers’ fight for unique visitors and traffic, Flanzraich predicted. In his opinion, traffic isn’t a great judge of success -- it’s more about engagement and loyalty.
“It’s harder to swallow your pride as you watch people get a hundred million views on Facebook,” he said, but what really matters is “consistent, long-term, steady growth and value through brand trust and brand awareness and brand engagement versus viral hits… and users giving a s**t about your brand.”
The advantage is that an engaged audience is a ripe one for marketing campaigns. While building an impression-based brand based on page views is “not a good business,” it also makes it more challenging to reach audiences with advertising in a meaningful way, Flanzraich said.
“If you can sell a brand on a real partnership, then you really, truly engage them and have real value to the brand. That’s almost limitless, really knowing your audience and building that engagement,” he said. “We can just do a better job than impressions ever can, no matter what platform we are on.”
In many ways, this means the challenges publishers have faced in the past are not that different from the hurdles they face today.
“How to reach people and create a relationship with that brand that makes them want to come back to you in the future -- that hasn’t changed dramatically,” he said.
What has changed is the new distribution model. “We are in an era where it’s never been easier for people to adopt a new platform, and it accelerates how brands can reach out,” Flanzraich said.
However, a new publisher faces distinct obstacles. The days of general-interest publications are over -- now, success lies in niche, vertical brands. And while bigger publishers have a presence on nearly every platform, a younger brand has to “be amazing” on just a few, he said.
That’s not to say Flanzraich doesn’t believe in social media platforms. “Pinterest put us on the map. Greatist wouldn’t exist without Pinterest,” he said. “It drove the majority of our traffic for the first couple years of our existence.”