The story format is a dominant force in social media because stories-style content facilitates user interaction, which drives engagement. The proof is in the numbers with close to a billion Snapchat, Instagram (and IGTV), WhatsApp (Status), Facebook and Messenger, and Google AMP Stories accounts create and watch Stories. According to a new INMA report, Stories Format: News Media’s Next Social Opportunity, the format proposes a shift in journalism and a new venture for news publishers.
Stories are a mobile-centric social media storytelling format. It’s about using multi-media (video, audio, text, photos, emojis, etc.) across multiple social platforms to tell your tale. Stories also differ from newsfeeds in that they:
stay posted for at least 24 hours.
project the personality of the reporter
serve as an overlay and not dependent on newsfeed algorithms
can offer interactivity
receive top placement on every social media app
News organizations can use the Stories format as an way to connect with a younger, mobile centric audience. In particular, the news media should look to Stories users as a special force to channel real-time, fresh content around breaking stories. In this experience, the user also controls the pace and the order in which they consume the Stories content. News publishers can experiment with Stories and participate in the lean-forward Stories experience.
The Story Principles
The INMA report identifies eight key principles (creates the Snapchat anagram) for the news media to use to create effective Stories:
Suspense and Engagement – build intrigue about your story. Think about developing Stories with multiple uploads throughout the day to build suspense and keep your audience engaged.
Native and Niche – create exclusive content for Stories, nothing repurposed.
Artistic flair – exhibit artistic expression in your Stories.
Personality – ensure your Story captures the reporters personability.
Consistency – make sure your story is update and consistent with what’s happening in the world. Stories live for at least an hour.
Hype – build excitement for your story. Use your Stories as teasers for longer pieces.
Arrange and Prepare – think about storyboarding your Stories to help tell the linear narrative.
Thumb – include interactivity and use the thumb for clicking and scrolling. Polls, voting, quizzes and others are great ways to interact with users.
Who’s Telling Stories?
BBC News, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Financial Times are all employing Stories as part of their news storytelling repertoire. Examples include NBC’s Snapchat news show “StayTuned” has 4 million subscribers. BBC News runs a Friday quiz on Instagram Stories, which questions the audience on recent news facts.
Stories offer a huge opportunity for audience growth and a clear path to user engagement. More features will be introduced, and new experiences will evolve (think Augmented Reality). Monetization must now be a focus and there is a need for a new type native ad experience.
Before bringing your “A” game, you have to know your end game.
With digital publishers facing an ever-increasing need for a constant stream of new and clickable content, it’s not surprising that content creation strategies tend to prioritize quantity above all else. But there’s a smarter way to create content – one that focuses on both quantity and quality while simultaneously developing measurable KPIs.
This process of creating content with intent means identifying what purpose your content serves early in the content development process. The key to doing that is matching your content format and distribution channels with your business needs and developing scalable processes for creating that content as cost effectively as possible.
While every company’s needs are different, the process for deploying this content strategy works no matter what your content goals are. Here are five steps to making it happen.
Get Outside the Content Bubble
Before you start developing a content strategy you need to fully understand what purpose content serves for your business. Delivering content to as many people as possible is not necessarily the most important thing for every publisher. For some, the main purpose of their content is driving revenue or leads. For others, content is mainly focused on brand building or customer retention. However, for most companies, it’s all of the above.
Identifying your goals requires involving all stakeholders in the early stages of the content-planning process. From sales and marketing to social and SEO, make sure everyone’s voice is heard early and often. It will result in a more solid content strategy that aligns with your broader business plan.
Once you’ve mapped your content strategy with your business plan, you should determine early on what success will look like. If your goal is to drive traffic, figure out what your ideal traffic growth numbers are. If it’s revenue, do the same. Even if you don’t make your goals, setting them early on will give you something to aim for and help you measure your success later.
Keep in mind that your goals may change. You might discover that your intended audience is misaligned with the content you’ve created for one purpose, but in the process discover a new value for your content you hadn’t considered. Be open to adapting and evolving your goals as you learn what works.
Change the Channel
In the age of content everywhere, many publishers are struggling to find a strategy that targets their core audience and instead find themselves trying to be everything to everyone. With limited editorial resources that strategy rarely works. The result is too much content that doesn’t perform well in any particular channel and a watered-down brand that doesn’t resonate with any one, loyal group.
Before you start developing your content, assess where your desired audience likely lives and how they are most likely to find your content. Identifying a few key distribution channels will help you sculpt your content to maximize performance within a given channel.
Target Your Content
Now that you know what your content will be about and where your audience will find it, it’s time to make sure the content itself is packaged in a manner that aligns with those goals. That means identifying what formats and templates work best for your intended audience. While social media loves eye-catching images and clickable headlines, content designed to drive organic search traffic should be SEO-focused and formatted for search-friendly performance.
Aligning your content format to your end goals means again leveraging teams outside of content to gather data and advice on what works and what doesn’t. This will change over time, so a big part of targeting content requires a willingness to innovate and evolve over time.
The most important step in creating a strategic and purposeful content strategy is the follow up. Find ways to measure the actual success of your content initiatives that are focused on your company goals – not simply based on standard one-size-fits-all approaches. Measuring overall traffic or page views, for example, may not be the best way of determining if what you’re doing is serving your needs.
Make sure your approach to analyzing the success of your efforts is effective by bridging the communication gap between your decision makers and your data analysts. Too often, our data experts don’t understand our broader business goals and end up assessing the data in ways that are logical but not necessarily aligned with predicting the businesses’ desired outcomes.
While each of these steps may appear to be common sense, too often they get lost in the content planning process. Teams are siloed and often don’t discuss strategy until after the content is already created. Discussing each team’s needs and concerns early will result in better performing content and more efficient processes. It may also result in better understanding across teams and shared learning that results in better performance by each.
About the author
Jeanette Mulvey loves telling small business stories. From hardware stores in Saskatchewan to fashion designers in Milan, she’s traveled the world learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and hearing their struggles. As VP of B2B Content at Purch, she is responsible for content and social media and for Business.com and BusinessNewsDaily, where she strives to ensure both sites are the go-to destination for small business advice and inspiration. Follow her on Twitter @JeanetteB2B
Voice technologies are hot right now. Consumers are increasingly using voice-driven services on smartphones and smart speakers, which is changing the way content is sought out and consumed. This escalating trend has clear implications for marketers, content creators, and consumers.
Here’s how this market is evolving and what it means for media companies.
Mobile and the rise of voice-based tools
Nearly ubiquitous smartphone adoption has created opportunities for a plethora of new products and services, including those driven by voice. Perhaps the best known of these are personal digital assistants like Siri, which was introduced by Apple in 2011. It was followed by Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft) in 2014, and Google Assistant in 2017. Today, nearly half of US adults (46%) use these tools.
And as voice recognition programs become more accurate, they are impacting online search habits. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of searches on Android were already being made using voice. GlobalWebIndex also observed that, in the 34 markets it covered, 25% of those aged 16-24 had used voice search on their mobile in the past month. In fact, by 2020, comScore predicts that half of all searches will be conducted by voice.
Voice on Smart Speakers
Smart speakers are one of the top consumer tech trends right now. The 2018 Digital News Report, produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, found that in major markets such as the US, UK, and Germany, usage of these products had more than doubled over the past year.
A March 2018 study from Voicebot.ai and the voice app company, PullString, found that “19.7% of US adults [about 47.3 million] have access to smart speakers today. That is up from less than 1% of the population just two years ago.” By 2022, according to Forrester Research, 50% of US households will have a smart speaker.
The rapid adoption of voice technologies – from voice search to smart speakers – is noteworthy, especially when benchmarked against the take-up of many other more established technologies.
Why these technologies are growing
Typically housed in shared spaces like the living room and/or kitchen, smart speakers can be used by multiple people. Google has noted how “in a short period of time, voice-activated speakers have become part of people’s routines.”
Reasons for this include the ability to use the technology while doing something else (multi-tasking), the fact that people speak more quickly than they can type (speed), and increasingly “human” interfaces.
Indeed, “People perceive the devices as more than just an electronic toy.” Google found that “they’re more akin to another person or a friend.” In 2017 research with over 1,600 users of voice-activated speakers, 41% said that using the technology feels like they’re “talking to a friend of another person.” All of these traits are only going to grow as these technologies continue to evolve and improve.
What this means: Four key considerations
Given the rise of voice-enabled devices and tools, here are four strategic considerations and opportunities for brands and media companies:
1. Ensure your content is optimized for voice search
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) never stands still, but the voice revolution presents some new challenges. Recognizing this emerging trend, back in 2016, Campaign advised “savvy marketers” to “write content in a natural, conversational voice that answers the questions your consumers are asking.”
“Website content in the era of voice search isn’t about keywords,” they wrote, “it’s about semantic search and building the context related to answering a question.”
On smart speakers, as Trustpilot’s Jason Barnard and Chee Lo have explained, there’s a further consideration. Unlike traditional search engine results on desktop or mobile, where you get a range of options, voice searches tend to be highly specific and typically result in a single response.
As Rebecca Sentancereflected on Search Engine Watch, “the rise of voice search is transforming search engines into “answer engines,” which require a different strategy and set of ingredients for success. This strategy has come to be known as AEO, or “answer engine optimization”.”
There’s a raft of tip sheets and detailed articles on this topic for those new to this topic. In one of them, Bryson Meunier, SEO Director at Vivid Seats, recently outlined 12 recommendations in an article for Search Engine Land, advising: “Focus first on optimizing for conversational keywords and implement Actions for Google to get more traffic from voice search.”
2. Harness opportunities for content innovation and delivery
To date, most activity on smart speakers tends to be functional. Consumers typically ask for a weather updates, jokes, or travel directions. consumption of news content and podcast playback typically fall much lower on the list. But that doesn’t mean that publishers and media companies are not experimenting with content and new interactive formats for these platforms.
Publishers from NPR to Reuters, the New York Times and CNN, as well as local news providers such as the Tennessean, IndyStar, and Texas Tribune, are all creating short audio briefings designed to be heard on smart speakers. Apple’s new HomePod will feature content from the Washington Post by default.
Alongside more broadcast-like content delivery, 2018’s Digital News Report noted how “media companies like Quartz are also developing apps (or ‘skills’ as they are known) that allow conversational interaction with the devices.” One such experiment, produced by the BBC in late 2017, featured a 20-minute “interactive science fiction comedy story” for Amazon Alexa and Google Home – called The Inspection Chamber – which encouraged listened to “play your part through voice interactions.”
And in April 2018, Netflix launched an interactive audio drama to promote its Lost in Space reboot. According to Variety: “The audio adventure, which lasts between five and six minutes, features a branched narrative and multiple-choice questions and answers. It was recorded with participation of the show’s cast, and produced in collaboration between Netflix and Google.”
These examples show how international, national, and local players across the media spectrum are experimenting with content being heard through smart speakers.
3. Explore opportunities for consumers to make voice-activated purchases
Jeff Malmad, managing director, Head of Life+, for WPP Group’s Mindshare North America, argued at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact conference earlier this year that “depending on your marketing category… 30 percent of your sales will be from incidental loyalty, based on voice searches, and based on voice purchases.”
Although this functionality perhaps lends itself more naturally to other products (Malmad highlighted an advert featuring a couple placing their usual Starbucks order through the Alexa app in their Ford car), voice shopping is predicted to be a $40 billion market by 2022. That’s up from just $2 billion today.
It could be used by media companies for on-going, or one-off, subscriptions, memberships, micropayments, downloads, or access to exclusive content.
Either way, this is an emerging vertical which – like voice technology per se – that cannot be overlooked.
4. Determine if there are new revenue opportunities
Although the eCommerce functionality of this technology remains relatively nascent, companies like CNBC are exploring more traditional advertising packages, such as sponsorships, on these platforms.
John Trimble chief revenue officer of Pandora, has highlighted the advertising potential, given the ability of consumers to respond to audio messages in a manner not previously possible. As he wrote in Recode earlier this year:
“Radio ads have been around since the days of Marconi, but listeners to this day still can’t respond to an ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.”
That this happens in an increasingly screen-free environment will require creative solutions in order to unlock the commercial opportunities. Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”
Screen-less, voice-only platforms, will not only represent a very different way for consumers to find information online. They will also disrupt a number of traditional online advertising models too.
This technology is still relatively nascent, but it’s playing out against a wider background whereby voice technology is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives. And, in case you’re not yet convinced that the voice market merits your attention, keep in mind that this trend is global and impacting devices of all kinds.
Alibaba sold 1 million Tmall Genie X1 smart speakers in the last four months of 2017, a device they plan to install in 100,000 Marriott hotel rooms across China. And closer to home, Roku TV’s will soon feature built in voice assistants, while Dish already allows you to search and surf for content using voice functionality in their TV remote control. In the era of the Internet of Things, domestic appliances – such as those from Whirlpool – can already be managed by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Undoubtedly, voice technology will become all-pervasive. In November, Amazon announced Alexa for Business, “a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale.” This is just one way that voice-triggered activities – from search through to content discovery and shopping – will move out of the home and into the office and car.
Voice search and screen-less content consumption are areas that are already beginning to take off. And this trend will increasingly impact media and information habits in the future. As a result, understanding the potential – and pitfalls – of this technology is an area that brands and publishers need to be exploring, if they aren’t already.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off last month’s Google I/O by stating that “there is more great journalism being created today than ever before.” Pichai and Trystan Upstill, Head of News Product and Engineering at Google, went on to highlight the programs and products Google was working on to help publishers sustain quality journalism. A lofty approach by a company often on the receiving end of publishers’ ire. They are making an effort, however, by doing the work and committing the resources to change the narrative.
The core of Google’s strategy relies solely on the Google News app. Typically, social feeds aren’t aligned with publishers’ needs. This is because social lacks brand awareness, revenue opportunity, and data about the end audiences. Furthermore, social feeds are often blamed for creating “filter bubbles” that negate a holistic approach to a topic and disintermediate the publisher/reader relationship. The Google News app has put some serious work into addressing some, but not all, of these concerns.
Here are the top four concerns that they appropriately addressed.
1. Featuring the Publisher Brand
The publisher brand is well-featured and prominent in the app experience. This helps bolster publisher brand awareness and avoids the “I read it on Facebook” dilemma. (This is what over 50% of readers answer when asked which publisher authored an article they read online.)
2. Avoiding the “Filter Bubble”
The “Headlines” section of the new app lets readers view what everyone else is reading. This helps address the “filter bubble” effect that comes from a 100% curated social experience. Discovery of new content from outside your social circle or creating more engaging ways to expose interesting content is critical.
3. Delivering Full Coverage
Our favorite geek-out feature is “Full Coverage,” which is a link placed under most news topics. Full Coverage provides multiple points of view from many different sources. As stories evolve over time, Full Coverage hosts a timeline so readers can understand the changes in the storyline. To enable Full Coverage, Google uses temporal co-locality. In layman’s terms, Google can understand the people, places and things related to a story in real-time and then package them. Even tweets, fact-checking and commonly asked questions are included in Full Coverage.
4. Creating Better Content Experiences
In the ‘make it easier to consume content’ category, “Newscasts” is a new user experience for packaging content. It neatly combines articles, videos, quotes and other types of content on a single topic, no matter where you are in the app. Upstill referred to it as “a preview that allows you to get a feel for the story.”
At Outbrain, we applaud any effort that helps readers discover new content, and addresses publisher concerns. We aren’t ignoring the legitimate business issues publishers have with Google, but are more than willing to highlight a great product, we’re all readers at the end of the day.
There’s a good chance that you have a cell phone within arm’s reach right now, maybe in a pocket, next to you on your desk, or even in your hand as you read this post.
Even so, when you imagine a reader interacting with your site, do you tend to picture a person browsing on a laptop or do you see a commuter reading on her phone? Getting a clearer picture of how readers discover content via devices starts with checking in with the data.
As recently as 2013, peak dailymobile usage only accounted for 20% of traffic. Parse.ly network data shows that on average over 65% of traffic to publisher and brand sites in 2017 was “pure mobile.” Now, at the beginning of 2018, mobile and tablets drive 73% of traffic to our network.
With the mobile audience growing faster and bigger than ever before, it’s essential to understand the media habits unique to those readers. Here’s what the data suggests about people’s habits when it comes to when, where, and why we’re on our phones.
When: Desktop during workdays, mobile all the time
The times that people are more likely to browse on mobile vs. desktop vary. Desktop still has a weekday cadence (following peoples’ work schedules), whereas mobile is “all day every day,” including some morning and night-time peaks. People also tend to use tablets on weekends.
We also consistently see a drop-off in desktop traffic between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm in every local timezone in the U.S.. Of course, this makes sense because many people head home from work around 5:00 pm.
Desktop ended 2017 at only 25% of total traffic across all our publishers, and kicked off 2018 at only 23% of traffic.This does vary quite a bit on a publisher-by-publisher basis. For example, some international publishers are almost all mobile traffic, and some subscription or workday reads lean desktop. However, overall, it’s a safe bet that mobile and tablet have firmly overtaken desktop for “casual” news reading.
Where: Five big movers of mobile traffic in 2017
When you break down the services or referrers that drove mobile growth in 2017, five bigs ones stand out. People are discovering content on mobile devices via:
1. Plain old Google Search
Google experimented a lot with highlighting premium publishers in their mobile search experiences, and unifying Google Search with Google News, which drove more traffic back to publishers’ sites.
Traffic from Google AMP increased by 87% in 2017. Not only that, but making AMP available to other platforms contributed to mobile growth. AMP drove 3% of visitors to our network by way of non-Google platforms, including Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
2. Google’s non-search connected services
These services include Google Now and Google Play Newsstand, mostly on Android. Though these services did not grow the most out of the five listed here, the absolute number of visits delivered was substantial, and contributed to Google overtaking Facebook as a primary source of traffic. AMP and Android platform dominance propelled Google’s shift from news search to content discovery.
Flipboard was the big independent (read: not Google or Facebook) traffic source growth story of 2017. Especially in the latter half of the year, as they launched their formal partnerships with major publishers, Flipboard grew over 300% over the year in mobile.
Twitter and Flipboard are now sending similar levels of mobile visits to publisher sites. Twitter has reinvested in news partnerships, mobile speed, and their mobile apps. Notable changes to the app include the shift to the 280 character limit, AMP embeds, and algorithm changes.
Why: We feel the need, the need for speed on mobile
Speed heavily factors into why people are browsing the way they do on mobile.
With people using their phones everywhere—in transit, waiting in line, you name it—it’s likely that they’ll be off wifi and on a network. The speedier the network connection, the better the experience. This resonates with a finding from a recent Pew Research survey: half of Americans say an unlimited cell data plan would help them get information to make decisions.
“A majority of digital news consumers report it is very important to them that ads not interfere with the news (63 percent); that the site or app loads fast (63 percent); that the content works well on their mobile phones (60 percent).” — American Press Institute
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Flipboard, and others were right, we think, to focus so aggressively on mobile page speed improvements. For example, Google recently re-emphasized the fact that their search algorithms would penalize slow sites on mobile.
It’s worth noting that just because people want content to load quickly, that doesn’t mean they want to move on from content quickly. Long-form articles get more than twice the engaged time of short-form articles on cellphones, according to a 2016 study from Pew Research.
Keeping up with the pace of mobile growth
With the fast growth of mobile, and especially now that Facebook referrals are declining, building direct mobile channels allows publishers to meet readers where they are.
People still spend a lot of time checking email, and having a “daily read” newsletter is a great way to drive traffic to your mobile site, without requiring a native iOS or Android app strategy. According to a study by Campaign Monitor, 41% of email opens happen on mobile devices, exceeding the amount of opens on both desktop and tablets. If you can’t build your own app, integrate your content into users’ habitual engagement with their email app.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that readers are less likely to click through on mobile. Campaign Monitor reports, “As more people consume email on mobile devices, the standard for compelling content is higher than ever.”
As mobile grows, checking back in with the data helps ensure that you’re connecting with readers when and where they are on mobile, and delivering content that resonates with them.
The shift to abundance is a very well-known trend in the media industry, and something that most publishers are struggling with. But the dynamics behind this trend are not unique. As soon as you get too much choice in a market, it starts to split in in two very different directions.
The Supermarket Effect
One direction is what I call the “supermarket effect,” where you focus on building scale with content that covers people’s general needs. This works great if you are big publisher, because then you can use your size to drive revenue, even though the value per article is extremely low.
But this is also where the problem is. Because, if your editorial strategy is to be a supermarket, being small just doesn’t work. There is no market for a smaller supermarket.
This is the problem we now see in the media. Most publishers have traditionally been centered around creating “packages of random content,” which, fundamentally, means the they are designed to be a supermarket of content. This worked great for a while. But in today’s world of abundance, it puts a lot of pressure on smaller publishers.
The Local Papers
We see this very clearly when we look at local newspapers (especially outside the larger US cities). Think of it like this: A local newspaper is like a small grocery store with a little bit of everything for the local community. And for many years, it was the go to place for everyone in its community. But imagine what happens when, one day, Amazon opens a Whole Foods store next door.
The answer is obvious, the smaller local store is outcompeted.
Being local is no longer viable, because you can’t compete with Amazon’s many advantages of being able to offer more items, at lower prices, with bigger marketing budgets, Amazon Prime, and a hugely scalable back-end logistic system.
We can see this in play when with companies like Meredith acquire Time Inc. Their strategy is to become a bigger supermarket by consolidating not just how many publications their own, but also how they work. And, as a strategy, this is a good approach if they can build up enough scale.
The Selective Approach
But this isn’t the only way to win the future. Another way is to become the opposite of a supermarket of content … which is to “get picked.”
People use supermarkets when they are just filling their daily needs without really thinking too much. So, the opposite of this is to get people to think and to choose to spend time with you. To do this we have to change the way we exist as publishers. Instead of focusing our editorial strategies around creating packages of content, we must start to build publishing products that people can (and will) pick.
Let me give you an example.
Most traditional magazines do reviews, but they are not designed for people who have a specific need. Instead, they are just published like any other article. This is not what people want when they are looking for a review. There is a very big difference between people who just sit down and flip through pages (or randomly come across links on Facebook), and people who are actually looking for answers. So, what we see now are companies like The WireCutter, which was created in 2011 by Brian Lam, to be a new type of review site that only focused on bringing you very high-end and very detailed reviews.
And look at what has happened. Because The Wirecutter designed itself around people when they need a review, they have become the destination for people to go to when they want to figure out what products to buy.
This is the difference between just having a “supermarket” editorial focus where the reviews are just another random story and having a “product” editorial focus where the content is designed to solve a specific need.
Product Makes Perfect
And this also applies to many other things. For instance, a traditional fitness magazine often has a wide-ranging selection of stories about health, nutrition, and exercise, but there is no real goal or structure to them.
Then look at the digital native publishers. They are not creating random articles. Instead, they are building fitness publishing products. They offer you actual training, they create meal plans for you, and they actively help you achieve your health goals.
Consider business publications: Are you just giving business people random news? Or are you helping them do their job better? Are you providing them with content, data, and insights that they can put to work?
On YouTube, for instance, YouTube itself is the “supermarket of random videos.” And, because of this, every single YouTuber knows that the only way to be successful on YouTube is to instead do something that people will specifically pick. So, every YouTube channel is defined around a very narrow focus, because you need that to create something for people to connect with.
YouTubers know that you can’t be a supermarket within a supermarket. Meaning, you can’t just give people a little bit of everything in a place where there is already a lot of everything.
This is now the reality of the media.
A few larger publishers will attempt to become the modern supermarkets of publishing and they may succeed. But next to this is another marketplace, where individual publishers create publishing “products” that are designed to be picked. The kind of specialty places that they turn to when they have a more defined moment and want something specific.
This is your challenge for the future. What will you do to get picked?
Thomas Baekdal is a media analyst and publisher of Baekdal Plus.
It feels like déjà vu all over again, harking back to the not-so-distant past when we had “Internet Slowdown Day” (2014) and “Internet Blackout Day” (2012) in support of net neutrality. Those battles seemed to have been won with the FCC changing its rules to protect net neutrality so that ISPs don’t block or throttle traffic.
The new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, formerly an associate general counsel at Verizon, recently released a proposal that would undo the Obama-era regulations that enforced net neutrality. Undoing net neutrality would give telecoms and ISPs the power to charge more or slow down services at will. Though they would have to be “transparent” about it (maybe in fine print somewhere).
In fact, as social media has become a larger source of news, and streaming video services are replacing traditional television, dismantling net neutrality regulations will upend how users access content. It also stands to change who can deliver news, information, and entertainment in the first place.
This is not a strictly conservative agenda — even Donald Trump’s supporters are now debating the potential consequences of upending net neutrality. Here’s a roundup of some of the winners and losers if the FCC’s proposal comes into play, with an eye on publishers and online content.
Internet Service Providers: AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, et al
ISPs will have more leverage over what they can charge consumers, and be in a position where they can slow or throttle the delivery of content from their competitors. Telecom companies have resisted net neutrality regulations by insisting they can offer more or less to consumers at different price points. In other words, offer audiences a wider variety. But that also means they can favor their own offerings, including streaming services. Take this example Wired’s Klint Finley assembled:
“When AT&T customers access its DirecTV Now video-streaming service, the data doesn’t count against their plan’s data limits. Verizon, likewise, exempts its Go90 service from its customers’ data plans. T-Mobile allows multiple video and music streaming services to bypass its data limits, essentially allowing it to pick winners and losers in those categories.”
The end of net neutrality signals that more packages like this one may become the norm.
Publishers Owned by ISPs
The publishers under the umbrella of large telecom companies could also get a leg up when it comes to favored distribution. Verizon owns AOL, Yahoo, HuffPost and TechCrunch content, among others. Comcast owns NBCUniversal Media, which includes all NBC channels, USA Network, Telemundo and a stake in Hulu. If AT&T closes its deal to purchase Time Warner, that means it owns HBO, CNN and TBS. Bundling packages that favor these subsidiaries could very well be a part of new subscription plans. The downside is that while one telecom might favor owned content, the others might throttle it.
The chairman of the FCC wanted to undo net neutrality rules for a long time, and with the odds of voting stacked in his favor, this would be a clear victory for his deregulatory point of view.
Deregulating the internet by abolishing net neutrality is in line with Donald Trump’s conservative government agenda. It’s a huge boost to an administration looking to favor business at all costs (and undermine Obama-era accomplishments).
Streaming video players: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, et al
If AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which the Department of Justice is currently trying to block, comes through, that means that a telecom company owns HBO. Imagine what that could mean for HBO’s competitors? That’s exactly the situation that streaming video players find themselves in. The intuitive understanding is that the price of internet streaming will go up — for the streaming services that want to deliver video, and subsequently, the consumers who want to access those videos. Netflix has already announced that it will increase its monthly subscription rate, and loyal users seem intent to pay without fail. Yet this is with net neutrality still intact.
Ironically, streaming video players have succeeded where complicated and expensive cable subscription packages have not. However, as the internet looks to replicate cable subscriptions, it seems just as likely that not every Netflix consumer will be able to afford the cost of streaming their favorite content online.
Publishers not owned by ISPs
As the publishers who are part of large telecom conglomerates stand to receive the benefits of dismantling net neutrality, independent publishers could have the opposite experience. And that means everyone from the New York Times and Washington Post, which rely heavily on subscriptions; non-profits such as ProPublica; and local newspapers, which already struggle to compete with larger publishers of any kind online.
Small online local news startups have been trying to bridge the gap in coverage as newspapers have declined. This could hit them hard, according to Dylan Smith, chairman of the Local Independent Online News publishers.
“Giving a clear go-ahead for a tilted playing field would be the result if the FCC tosses out net neutrality,” Smith said.
Not having as many resources as larger competitors — but being able to access the same-speed connections — has enabled small companies to stay competitive and innovate when the odds were stacked against them. That’s how once-small startups like Etsy and Pinterest found their success. The chance that telecom companies would charge more for faster connections clearly puts such businesses at a disadvantage and could impact who will even be able to do business in the first place.
Technology giants: Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al
Tech titans have been some of the staunchest advocates for net neutrality. However, with telecom companies amassing more power if the regulations are upended, they too face potentially exorbitant rates. Sure, it’s hard to feel sorry for them, as they have plenty of money to pay more for a faster connection. But YouTube, Amazon Video, and now, Facebook Watch, have also made heavy investments into original video programming. An already competitive landscape stands to become much more volatile if the benefits of these video investments don’t outweigh the costs. And consumers will feel the trickle-down effects with the likelihood of more tiered-access and less access to programming they will want to watch.
If the internet becomes more expensive for different kinds of websites, services and content, this will likely lead to consumers paying more. Online education startups like CodeAcademy have made their mark offering courses online, for example. The internet, which helped equalize access to such opportunities, will now make them more stratified.
In the end, it might come down to the courts to stop the FCC’s move to roll back net neutrality protections. As Tim Wu wrote in the New York Times, Pai will have to prove that the FCC is justified in repealing net neutrality, and it will fall short in proving that telecoms haven’t been investing in infrastructure or that there has been harm done. For publishers and tech companies – and consumers – that’s the last best hope that the rollback can be stopped. Otherwise, cue Internet Slowdown Day 2.0.
In the early days of digital, media companies believed that more was better. However today, they are waking up to a hard truth. Stockpiles of content – without technology platforms to make it widely available in ways people find valuable, meaningful, and dead-simple – can destroy competitive advantage, rather than build it. National Geographic, an iconic brand with over 360 million social fans, including a significant audience across desktop and mobile for its editorial and video content, is exploring technology platforms and partnerships to open the aperture of the content they offer and the audiences they reach.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – caught up with Marcus East, National Geographic executive vice president of product and technology. They discussed the company’s strategy to build strong emotional engagement with global audiences through deep personalization, intuitive access, wider app distribution, and an intelligent platform codenamed CHIP. National Geographic has no shortage of compelling content. Here’s a look at their strategy to deliver experiences to match.
PAS: You joined National Geographic from Marks and Spencer, where you ran e-commerce, digital product, digital operations and technology platforms. Before that you ran e-commerce solutions for Apple in EMEA, and later at HQ. How does your experience prepare you to define and drive mobile strategy at National Geographic?
ME: Spending half of my career in technology and the other half in consumer brands allows me to understand what it takes to deliver mobile content consumers love. Your app is only as good as the content and the utility that sits within it. And for us, the emphasis is on making sure that we’re investing in both of those areas. That means having the right technology platforms and the right app strategy, but driven by content. Ultimately, it’s the content that our consumers love and why they come to National Geographic.
PAS: So, we are back to Content is King…
ME: Yes, and everything we do has to be about making the content king. The content is what drives the experiences that consumers love. That’s fascinating for me because I’ve worked in e-commerce environments where consumer value is very much about utility. At National Geographic, it’s about bringing our brand to life on mobile. The reality is many of our consumers are right now interacting with us through their mobile the way they want, which may be on Instagram or it may be on Facebook. So, what we do need to be complementary to that experience.
Social reach and engagement is important to us. We have 360 million social media fans, and that’s an incredible footprint. However, we also think there’s an opportunity to build upon that and to extend and optimize our mobile experience for that audience that is dedicated and comes directly to National Geographic and wants to get deeper and further into the stories behind the pictures.
PAS: Your mobile app is work in progress. It’s already breaking some exciting new ground when it comes to helping users navigate and personalize content. We can’t all access it yet, so what can you tell me about the user experience you offer?
ME: Right now, we’re redesigning elements of our website to really be optimized for that mobile experience. Around 50% of our traffic comes on mobile, which is no surprise. At the same time, we’re also building a new app strategy, which we’ve launched and tested in one market: Australia. We launched the app with a telco partner, and we’re seeing a great deal of success there and that is informing our wider global mobile strategy.
Content is king in the app and so the experiences that we deliver through our app put the content front and center. We have a 129-year heritage of photos and articles and, more recently, videos. We don’t want the interface to get in the way of that. The interface has to allow our consumers to explore the content and go further. That means moving the navigation into the background so that it really highlights the content. We achieve this by thinking about what the consumer wants to do first, and there are three concepts. Rather than presenting consumers a complex navigation that groups content into pictures, video and articles, we’ve decided to design it the way people to engage with content. We have ‘Read,’ which is where users can engage with the editorial and the magazine; we have ‘Watch,’ which is where they can access to our video content.
Our app approach is about the consumer and the content. For this reason, the app experience also provides a level of personalization, allowing the user to specify what’s most interesting to them. Over time, the app will learn exactly what things are most interesting to that consumer based both on their preferences and on what they’re actually consuming.
PAS: The navigation is invisible and intelligent. What about the platform that powers it?
ME: We want users to log in to the app and experience the content that’s right for them, and we’re applying this same principle to our websites. We’re also looking at how we can, using some advanced techniques like progressive web apps, for example, to create a more personalized experience for consumers. This is why we want to build an intelligent platform to support the ambitions of our business.
So, what we’re exploring and building is what we’re calling a cohesive intelligent platform, codenamed ‘CHIP’. We’re building an innovation lab here in our headquarters in Washington, D.C. and we’re working with lots of technology partners and companies to explore all that. The idea is, as users come into our platform, we want to learn more about them, give them an opportunity to tell us about their preferences so that we can improve that experience, and let them see the content that’s most valuable for them. Offering personalized experiences where content is front and center – this is really the future of mobile.
PAS: It’s an ambitious strategy. But what is really interesting is how you are building the platform to deliver it because you are also orchestrating the best pieces of the other platforms, like social …
ME: I like your choice of the word “orchestrated” because the platform that we envisage is, you could argue, a virtual platform because we aren’t going to build every component of it. We are making it by orchestrating the right content management systems, the right personalization engine, the right distribution system. For some parts of the platform we may work with third parties, and for others we may build it ourselves. It all starts with experimentation; we are iterating in an agile way and building.
We’re unique in that we’ve got unparalleled global reach. We touch over 745 million consumers across 172 countries, and that’s every month. But it’s also across lots of different content types. People watch our TV channel, which is the most widely distributed in the world. People read the magazine, and they also interact with us in social.
As we build out and execute our digital capabilities we want to create a way to allow our consumers to go beyond how they experience our content today. Take consumers who read the magazine. We want them to also be able to consume our digital content on our website and watch our TV channel. It’s all about pivoting away from the different products and channels that we have and bringing it to life for the consumer and giving them new ways to explore National Geographic and the world around them through National Geographic.
PAS: You want to enrich consumers’ lives through content. That also sounds a lot like you may have a new twist on native advertising. Where does monetization fit in and how do you plan to also put content front and center in that experience?
ME: We’re exploring all the ways in which we can create the best experience, including sponsorships and e-commerce opportunities that can become part of that experience. Let’s imagine we have a consumer who absolutely loves penguins and they are on our website where they search for and engage with lots of content about penguins. We see that as an opportunity to maybe share with them details about our products that are related to penguins. It might be a penguin cuddly toy, or it might be a book about penguins, or ultimately, it may be a trip to Antarctica to go and actually see penguins in real-life. This is where we will have delivered on the ultimate promise of digital and making content part of everything that we do.
PAS: You also offer educational content. How does personalization of content and advertising extend to that audience?
ME: Ten years ago, media brands and publishers would’ve expected people to come to the website, do the work, go through the navigation and find the content that’s right to them. The Nirvana, for us, is to create a personalized experience, one that allows us to know enough about those two personas – the consumer and the educator. So, when they interact with our brand, we can give them access to content that is relevant to them, and that meets their needs.
To that point, one of the things that we’re embracing is the Jobs To Be Done paradigm that Clayton Christensen and other academics have proposed. Yes, we look at all the metrics as any media company would, but we’re also deep diving into what consumers really want and why they come to our website. Getting a deeper understanding of those consumers want to do, powered by technology. We need to have the right technology platform in place to do that in the first place. This will allow us to maximize the brand opportunity.
PAS: You can also maximize your opportunity by getting your brand in the hand of all your readers – across all 172 countries. How do you see this global opportunity and what are you doing to grasp it?
ME: There is a real opportunity at distributing apps using alternative channels and app stores. And it’s a cost-effective way to reach and interact with consumers and markets where we haven’t necessarily had a strong proposition. We recently did an audit of app stores globally – of which there are over 200 – to better understand their focus and their audience. We have a good relationship with many telco partners around the world that have their own app stores. Various technology companies have also come to and asked us to publish out app in their app stores as well. So, right now, we’re auditing to make sure that we, in a deliberate way, prioritize which of those app stores are right for us.
PAS: I am researching this alternative app store landscape, which is over 350 stores and counting. In China, for example, alternative Android app stores dominate…
ME: I was quite intrigued to see the range of app stores in China. From WeChat to handset maker, there is a wealth of opportunity. We also want to minimize the cost of being in all these different environments, and that’s why I attach so much importance to orchestrating an intelligent platform so that if our teams in Asia, for example, can identify a new app store and a new partner in the region and be able to embark on a relationship without having to build everything from scratch, and without having to do lots of development work.
The number of app stores is quite remarkable, and as you well know from your research, many of them are quite different – with different audiences and different demographics. So, it’s fair to say that in the short term our priority will remain the best known and most established app stores, but we are exploring all of them.
PAS: Of course, being in app stores – even if it’s just Google Play and iTunes – means investing effort to ensure brand integrity. As a global and iconic brand, how do you ensure this?
ME: On the one hand, protecting your brand online and in apps is incredibly important. One of the things I’m responsible for here at National Geographic is information security. However, I believe if you build the best experiences for your consumers, ultimately, that’s the best way to protect your brand. Consumers will come directly to you to get content because they know your website or app is the right destination – and the only way – to get the most up-to-date content and personalized experience. It’s all about creating a compelling content story and a compelling user experience because that will make sure consumers come to us first.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
In a world of ever-increasing choices in digital content experiences, 140 character limitations, chatbots, filters, conversational interfaces, and virtual reality, it may come as a surprise that senior executives still value long-form, research-based content and, yes, even the printed page for their business insights.
To find out how they want to receive business insights, Forbes Insights and Deloitte conducted a survey of almost 300 CXOs globally. We asked them about the types of content they want to read, what channels they prefer and where they get their most valuable business insights. Some of what they told us may surprise you. The report based on that survey, “Thought Leadership in Action: Strategic Content to Help CXOs Learn and Lead,” explains how to become a trusted, respected and sought-after source of thought leadership.
The study shows that many C-level executives defy prevailing wisdom, with more than one-third of them preferring traditional longer data-based formats, in print. The interest in long-form content may seem counterintuitive. In the era of “snackable” and omnichannel content, CXOs do find value in short-form content. However, they consider it “icing on the cake.” The needs of this particular audience are key: CXOs need to think and act strategically. Thus, they often opt for longer pieces that take them from hypothesis, through case studies, to conclusion, and are based on credible data.
While content needs to be designed for and distributed via multiple digital channels, there is still room for print, with half of CXOs saying that reading business insights in print is still important to them. Print tends to be the preferred format for taking in longer pieces. However, the preferred format also varies by type of publication. Output from consulting firms is usually read online, while management journals are consumed offline.
Our analysis of how CXOs want to receive business insights shows that they are most interested in strategic content. Such content delivers a narrative based on curated data that spells out the hypothesis and proceeds to prove or disprove it. In other words, strategic content provides guidance and actionable takeaways instead of simply signaling issues by presenting reams of data.
Thus, CXOs tend to favor organizations that can produce such long-form, credible content based on deep experience, which can help them set strategy or take the pulse of the market. Business publications and consulting firms come out on top of the list.
Different channels work for different types of content. This includes print, the most traditional—which is favored for longer pieces—and digital channels, which are preferred when reading general news media. What is most important is that each piece of thought leadership is presented on its most preferred channels for a given audience, and that it is designed for each specific channel to make it easily readable.
Bruce H. Rogers is the Chief Insights Officer for Forbes Media. He is responsible for managing the Insights division, which creates and distributes thought-leadership, research-based content for blue-chip customers such as IBM, Google, KPMG, SAP, CIT, and Deloitte and he oversees the Forbes Insights content channel. He is also responsible for the company’s CMO Practice overseeing the group’s creation of content through the Forbes CMO Network section of Forbes.com, and events such as the annual Forbes CMO Summit. Prior to this role, Rogers was the Chief Brand Officer responsible for all integrated marketing, brand communication, research and sales support activities for Forbes Media.
In a time when the email channel is becoming increasingly clogged, you would think email newsletters would take a back seat to other forms of audience interaction. But just the opposite seems to be happening as media outlets see the newsletter as a way to communicate directly with their core audiences. Email newsletters are popular and proliferating.
Perhaps this trend is being driven by the success of newsletters like TheDailySkimm, an email-only news briefing delivered every morning with a colloquial tone that treats the news with a sense of humor and gives you what you need to know in an entertaining fashion. Regardless, every major media outlet seems to offer a variety of newsletters. These are often segmented into subjects like finance, politics and sports, full of links and information, and designed to provide the core audience with details tuned specifically for them.
A little something for everyone
Newsletters remain popular because they deliver value to both the audience and the producer. The audience gets the information they want delivered straight to their in-boxes, often tailored to their specific interests.
The publisher gets something valuable as well. While interacting with people who clearly like your media outlet and the content you produce, you also get to own the information about your readers, says digital strategist, Jacqueline Boltik.
“For newsletter producers, having an email newsletter is smart because it’s the only way to really own your audience online. Ultimately Facebook owns your Facebook fans, Twitter owns your Twitter followers. Building your digital base anywhere other than email is like building a house on rented land,” she said.
She says beyond owning your audience data, there are many other reasons to offer a newsletter. These include driving traffic, monetization, and the ability to leverage your email data to strengthen your digital strategy on other channels.
Building connections to your audience
While the data certainly has value, a newsletter is much more than simply a data collection exercise. It’s also about building a strong connection between your audience and your publication, and in some cases to your journalists or other content creators.
“The best newsletters feel personal. Even though email is one to many, it feels one to one. In general, the more you can make your newsletter feel like it’s from a person while still fitting in with your brand, the better your newsletter will be received by readers,” Boltik said.
Quartz publishes a newsletter called the Daily Brief that it sees as a key way to interact directly with some of its most avid readers. “For audience engagement, it’s immensely valuable. Daily Brief subscribers are among Quartz’s most fervent and dedicated readers, and they’re also what advertisers consider to be a “premium” audience. About half are senior leaders at their companies,” Mia Mabanta, Quartz’s executive director of product and brand marketing explained.
Beyond that, Andrew Golis, general manager of Vox Media’s news brand says that newsletters provide a way to understand the news from a trusted source in a world where social media is bombarding us with stories. “We’re all more and more overwhelmed. As consumers, newsletters allow us to connect to a curator and analyst we trust. We get a finishable wrap-up of what’s important to pay attention to and why.”
The value proposition
You would think that driving traffic back to the site would be another primary goal, but publications don’t necessarily see it that way. Email newsletters build and maintain brand loyalty with core audiences—which is valuable in the long term. If they drive traffic, that’s a bonus, but it’s often not the objective.
In fact, Quartz includes links to other sites besides their own says Mabanta. “We explicitly don’t use the email as a way to drive traffic back to our site. It’s meant to be a self-contained experience. The user can click through if she wants to dive deeper, but she doesn’t have to. And oftentimes that link doesn’t lead her to QZ.com,” Mabanta said.
Vox’s Golis feels the same way. “We don’t approach newsletters as traffic drivers. Instead, they are distributed media experiences valuable in and of themselves. We love them because they give our loyal audiences a way to establish a permanent relationship with Vox. They also give our journalists the opportunity to build that connection and a set of stories and insights with a consistent community over time,” he said.
A valuable proposition
That engaged core audience also draws in sponsors and advertisers, who are willing to pay a premium to get the attention of a known quantity, and because you own your email data, you should have a good sense of who that audience is. “Better leveraging email data is a significant opportunity for many companies and as combining data sources becomes more flexible, digital advertising is going to become much more efficient and effective,” Boltik explained.
You can get those sponsors or premium advertisers on board to directly monetize your newsletters. Or you can simply use them as a way to stay connected with your most ardent readers. Whatever the strategy, newsletters remain a valuable way to understand and interact directly with your core audience. And that, in the era of distributed content, is a valuable connection indeed.
As we start communicating with smart devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, how will this technology impact news audiences? How will news consumers be able to use voice commands to access stories on demand?
In 1899, The Associated Press used Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless telegraph to cover the America’s Cup yacht race in New Jersey, the first news transmission test of what would later be called “radio.” Today, the media industry is once again enabling the exploration of audio news – this time in a new field: voice-activated technologies.
From point-and-click to voice-enabled commands The internet used to be in a “point-and-click” phase where desktop websites flourished, but now it’s in a “touch” phase as mobile devices and apps have increased digital access to content and services.
Soon, voice commands will usher in a third phase through the “internet of things” and all types of connected devices and experiences. These commands carry promise and the potential to link the fragmented on-demand experiences we see emerging in connected cars, homes and voice assistants.
Global revenue estimates from the smart audio market have increased to $5 billion by 2020, up from $1 billion this year, according to Juniper Research. Devices in our homes (think smart refrigerators) are forecasted to be the biggest driver of growth.
“Audio is a powerful interface for connected ecosystems,” said Mari Joller, founder and CEO of voice-technology company Scarlet. “Other than being efficient – your hands and eyes are free – and often the only viable option for certain use cases like driving, it is also perhaps the most human way to communicate information.”
How do voice-activated systems work? While these devices can recognize that someone is speaking to them, they cannot necessarily understand what those words mean. The challenging part appears when the system needs to make sense of “What did the president say today?” That requires natural language processing, which is driven by definitions and relationships between words.
The most fascinating opportunity involving natural language processing is the ability to ask specific questions and receive answers. In order to deliver, a smart device needs to analyze the words in a question, retrieve the right answer from a specific data set such as a news archive or feed (like weather forecasts or sports scores), and finally utilize text-to-speech technology to speak back to the user.
It’s likely that news consumers will be able to stop and rewind specific stories on demand in the future. For example, if I asked, “I heard there was an earthquake today. Can you tell me more about it?,” a device would be able to surface a relevant news article or video and then play it to me on command.
“It’s a very exciting time for voice assistants and on-demand audio news,” said Tom Januszewski, a director of business development with AP. “The Amazon Echo, in particular, has surprised everyone with its broad acceptance, and the large number of news organizations already participating on the platform.
“It shows these news organizations recognize the importance of the technology and that they want to get in early.”
What are the ethics surrounding voice-enabled platforms? According to Victor Vina, an assistant professor at the Pratt Institute, these smart devices raise the idea of “ubiquitous computing,” where we’re surrounded by technology without even realizing it. But we still know very little about the psychological effects of using these devices.
“What are the benefits to our personal lives?” he asked. “As artificial intelligence evolves, it is crucial to consider values such as empathy, identity and privacy, in addition to intelligence, efficiency and productivity.”
It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that printing was the only option for publishers. Then came the web, podcasts and apps—and an ever-proliferating number of new ways to deliver content—one of the latest of which is Echo, the voice-driven device from Amazon.
You might be thinking that broadcasting on the Echo wouldn’t be a fit for many traditional publications. But the fact is just about everyone is looking for the next big delivery platform and many big names have already started exploring the Echo including NPR, The Guardian, TechCrunch (where I also write), The Washington Post, Harvard Business Review and Slate. It doesn’t hurt that Amazon has been aggressively recruiting publications to deliver content on the platform for its Flash Briefing, which tells listeners the news in a few minutes or less.
In case you’re not already tuned in, the Echo is a voice-controlled device that users interact with by using the trigger word, “Alexa” to listen to personalized content that’s been configured through a smartphone app. With Flash Briefing contents, users can select the publications they want to include in their daily briefing.
The technology is so new it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about it just yet, but content producers are experimenting with different ways of creating content, measuring audience and even early forays into monetization. It’s nascent area, but today’s most successful publications are quite used to consistently testing new delivery methods, and they’re open to the opportunity presented by Alexa.
Building content The first step is producing content, which is not unlike a podcast. In fact, for companies that have been producing podcasts, the transition to Alexa has been relatively smooth. For instance, Slate came on board by invitation from Amazon, and created a program called 90 seconds with Slate, which they produce three times a week.
David Stern, who is head of product development at Slate said the publication has been producing long podcasts of 20-40 minutes. And while many of the lessons they’d learned were a help in the transition, it was somewhat of a challenge for them to produce short-form audio simply because of its brevity.
Harvard Business Review was also approached by Amazon so it carefully considered the best way to dip its feet into the Echo platform. “Like other publishers we are watching trends like voice user interfaces, artificial intelligence and bots and we are looking strategically to smartly experiment in these spaces,” Adam Bucholtz, product manager at Harvard Business Review said.
HBR decided to repurpose its popular daily management tip on the Echo and hired a voice-over artist to do the recording. In fact, they recorded 80 tips up front for about three months’ worth of content, and they will revisit how well it’s doing after they exhaust the first batch and decide how to proceed.
Measuring and monetizing It’s still so early for voice platforms that it’s hard to determine how to make money on such short-form content, but Joey Marburger, director of digital products at The Washington Post says his company has been running a short ad at the beginning of each episode. The ad obviously needs to be really short—about 10 seconds—because the content itself is so brief, but Marburger says the platform makes it easy to include an ad because it allows you to load multiple files. That means you can load the ad as a separate file in the package, then run the briefing. As an added plus, production for the extremely short ad content is lightweight.
In terms of ROI, he says the platform includes some basic tools to measure how many people listened to the ad, and when they started and stopped listening to the briefing, and so forth. However, he points out that there is no way to measure demographic data as there is with web ads, and he doubts there ever will be.
Marburger says he’s been happy with the ad performance though, as have been the advertisers, who want to appear to be on the cutting edge and reach an audience of people who like new tech like the Echo. He also reports that they are making “quite a bit of money” from the ads and the sales team has taken to selling them like any other ad product.
Other companies we spoke to are staying away from ads for now, but could see including them at some point if the projects move beyond the experimental stage. Marburger acknowledges that the novelty will wear off for both users and advertisers eventually, but still sees opportunities to expand the content over time.
For now, publishers are feeling it out and seeing what works, and if there is an audience for it. As HBR’s Bucholtz says, “If it resonates, we will look how to keep the content going.”