Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, Part 3

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Very specific content can reach a giant audience through the emotional connections of sharing.

Very specific content can reach a giant audience through the emotional connections of sharing.

Following Jacobson of The Blaze (see second post of this series), Nick Rockwell of Conde Nast presented “How Much does the Product Matter?” Without a doubt, great content is the key. This was a driving point amongst many of the presenters – that quality content will eventually pay off in sustaining readership and engagement. Of course as this is a digital innovation summit, the questions at hand are how to cultivate engagement on the web and across platforms. Rockwell presented a slide demonstrating how much effort goes into UX development. Conde Nast has 70-80 people working on user experience and amongst all the companies at the summit, some 750 to a 1000 UX developers which adds up to an estimated budget of $120 million. Add another big publisher and it’s easily $500 million a year going into user experience. However, a full-site redesign only generates a 7% lift in key performance indicators after 12 months. A 3 month recirculation optimization boosts session depth by 3.5% at best. Rockwell’s point was that all the UX investment isn’t paying off and more money should go into Ad design.

He demonstrated how little ads have changed over the last 120 years by showing a banner add from the 1990s that looks like current day banner ads and then a newspaper ad from 120 years ago that was likely more effective. Considering ad space – television ads have 100% of the screen space, print magazines – 33-50% whereas web 5%. There is currently a lot of ad innovation happening through targeting, following clicks, but there needs to be more innovation in presentation. It’s difficult for me to gauge his arguments as I have Ad blocker on my browsers. I’ve discovered that friends without ad blocker have a very different web experience than my own. However, there has been innovation in content distribution that requires the viewing of ads. Due to my ad blocker, last NFL season, around mid-season I was shocked during my Monday morning ritual of seeing highlights when the videos would not load unless I turned off my ad blocker. And of course, Hulu has attempted to re-established the television scenario, but with multiple tabs open, I just switch to browsing or reading while the ads play out. I imagine that before long, the ads will pause whenever I switch tabs.

Stephen Loguidice of BuzzFeed discussed the historical transformations of content distribution. He started off with a great visualization of the growth of the U.S. railroad system followed by pointing out the transformative power of the addition of photography in print, then the rise of television and the recent move to streaming content. Today, it’s all about the social. The new form of distribution is social feeds. The content that is shared and distributed via social feeds reaches the largest audience. BuzzFeed, of course, is all about how to create something for the way that people are consuming content. He pointed out that there are two underlying goals between sharing:

  1. We share to form community, because people are inherently social beings.
  2. We share to build personal brand.

For companies and brands the questions of distribution needs to be changed from “What do they want?” to “What do we want?” There is no they, it is all of us, we are all consuming and sharing… we are the distributors. The distributors are no longer some other entity or ad company. So we can ask ourselves, what is it that we like to share? Loguidice makes a pitch for the following emotions / sensibility for sharing:

  • Inspiration, we like sharing inspirational, uplifting stories, one example is the batman kid in San Francisco.
  • Identity… things that we identify with and make up part of our identity that may be about sexuality, cultural background, food, sports, location…
  • Humor – it’s inherently social. If one laughs or is sufficiently amused, it will be shared.
  • Nostalgia – memories are social and present a snapshot of oneself and likely others.
  • Capture the moment – related to memories and archiving / snapshot that is meant to be shared.

Loguidice discussed the science to social… studying the real-time analytics to understand how content is shared. For example, a tweet will have the life span of an hour or two, whereas FB a couple weeks, Pinterest a few to several weeks.

Following Loguidice, Tessa Gould the director of native advertising at The Huffington Post discussed the creating of successful native ads. Perhaps the underlying term is Authentic Advertising and the formula consists of appropriate advertising for your content that is informative and or entertaining. If it’s the wrong ad on the wrong platform for the wrong audience it is not only destined to fail, but could lead to a lash back by the readership.

Gould presented The Atlantic’s sponsored ad for the Church of Scientology as a recent example of a poor match. The aftermath for running this ad was so bad that it was not enough to take down the ad, but The Atlantic had to write a letter of apology. (Even today, if you Google “The Atlantic Ad” it’s the first thing that comes up.) Gould summed up by stating that this was an ad that did not bring any value to it’s reader, either as information or entertainment, I’d say that it did worse than not bring any value as it caused so much outrage. So, authentic advertising is appropriate for the platform, reader and brand.

A successful native ad is the collaboration between Trulia and Barbie. The Trulia online residential real estate site ran an ad for the sale of Barbie’s Malibu Mansion for $25 million. There was even a video interview with Barbie discussing her move. In the end, the mansion was taken off market and Mattel put out a new Malibu Dream House – great marketing. Trulia’s audience was surprised and entertained and it was a win for both Trulia and Mattel.

Gould discussed the power of Infographics as infotainment that can effectively combine information and entertainment. Viewers come away with a sense of having learned something while being entertained – the underlying goals.

Gould wrapped up by presenting an example of a perfect storm – The Huff Post’s own sponsored ad for Chipotle “9 Disgusting Things You Didn’t Know You’ve Been Eating Your Whole Life” from this past March. It has over 37K shares, emailed over 1700 times, tweeted nearly 1k and 412 comments. So the questions to ask when considering sponsored ads are:

  • Does the platform and content fit together?
  • Does it offer real value learning or entertainment?
  • Is the content relative to the brand?

The first day of the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit wrapped up with a panel discussion – “Digital Publishing from the Perspective of the Content Creator.” The participants were from HuffPost, NewBeauty, Scholastic and the moderator from Issue. As I tuned in and out of the panel, I’ll just bullet the points that I noted:

  • Scholastic employs games to promote reading
  • People engage with different platforms during the day, so plan and target appropriately:

    1. morning: smart phone
    2. day: desktop
    3. evening: tablet
  • In the recent past there was a focus on SEO, then social dashboard, now built into the editors used by online publishers there are buttons to switch content such as titles and images for the desktop vs mobile.
  • Pinterest is huge at night, Sunday nights specifically.
  • High quality, long form content will always climb to the lead and has the longest staying power.