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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers need to work together—not against each other

April 10, 2018 | By Dennis Yuscavitch, VP of Product Marketing—Outbrain @dennisy

Recently, a close family friend said “I actually liked getting my news on Facebook. It was relevant for me and easy.” We went on to discuss Facebook’s focus on “time well spent” and how the social network plans to emphasize content shared by family and friends. However, lovers of the News Feed on Facebook have certainly not been the only ones affected. Given that they are on the losing end of Facebook’s algorithmic attention deficit disorder, publishers need to give some thought to the ways in which they will continue to attract high quality audiences. 

In fact, publishers should seriously consider working together on this one. An option that isn’t getting enough attention is allocating part of their owned and operated pages for other premium publishers’ content. This would allow publishers to recapture the monetization, brand awareness, and data they’ve lost from Facebook while creating a healthier ecosystem for all. If done properly, publishers will have an audience that is more engaged, something the early data from Outbrain’s Sphere initiative has proven out. Put another way, audiences referred between premium publishers are simply more engaged than folks who come via social referrals.

Facebook audiences were always a challenge, mostly “side-door” with high bounce rates. But, it was a trade-off most publishers accepted until their brand awareness, monetization opportunities, and knowledge about readers were undermined by Facebook’s decision. Rather than relying solely on Facebook, publishers have an opportunity to band together and expand the personalized discovery experience to include other premium publishers. By linking out to other publishers and gaining the benefit of similar inbound audiences, publishers can establish a “flywheel effect” that nets them either referral revenue or engaged inbound audiences. Win, win!

Three important characteristics are needed to ensure such an audience exchange is truly reader-focused. First, transitioning audiences between publishers can’t be based on a ratio, whether 1-to-1 or 1-to-many. The reader wants the best experience possible and by requiring content from a publisher to meet ratio requirements, the reader will get overlooked. Second, publishers must have the controls and input to decide what other publishers are allowed in the club. Third, data must be provided to all participants that clearly shows the number of engaged users in order to prove out the value of the exchange.

While these three characteristics are critical, the biggest concern we hear is “why should I link to a competitor?” Given the changes in the landscape over the last several years should we all rethink our competitive set? Do I compete with publishers or social platforms for readers? In his 2007 article New Rule: Do What You Do Best and Link to the Rest, Jeff Jarvis discusses the benefits of linking to other publishers. Frederic Filloux built on this idea in Why Publishers Should Consider the “Smart Curation” Market, which supports selective linking based on editorial preference. These are great examples for linking to other publishers meant to create a healthy and vibrant ecosystem while establishing trust with readers.

Bottom line: Providing readers the best discovery experience, even linking to other publishers,  establishes a deeper level of trust that will pay-off for everyone in the long-run.

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