As a marketer looking from the outside in on the media industry, circulation and content pick-up looks simple. Almost organic. You write something good. You publish it. People read it a ton, and they Tweet it even more, and then you get a lot of subscriptions, paying readers, and BOOM there’s your ROI.
Of course, that’s not how it works, in content marketing or in the media world. Though it might seem like whenever The New York Times publishes a story it gains immediate traction, that’s denying the company of all its previous hard work in building a leaned-in audience since 1851.
Imagine walking into the office today and telling your CMO that you can absolutely, 100 percent, build a media engine the size of The New York Times, but that it would take 164 years before you’d turn a profit. I’m literally LOL-ing about that right now. I might even tell my CMO that I need that long for the Content Standard just to see her reaction. If you see me on LinkedIn tomorrow sending out SOS flares, it’s because she’s thrown me out of the building, permanently.
But in all seriousness, the lesson here is that as content marketers, we can only compare what we’re doing to the media industry to a certain point. There are differences. Though we might try and adopt much of the same language and disguise our work in familiar formats, it all comes back to the audience factor. Some brands have audience—others don’t. Some will find it easy to drum up attention, and others shouldn’t ever bother. But that’s not helpful for you right now. Let’s talk content amplification, distribution, promotion, circulation, and any other term meaning the same thing. Let’s talk about getting your stuff out there to your audience.
In my piece published a few weeks ago, I outlined six trends marketers need to pay attention to going into 2016, one of which was content amplification. Relevance’s VP of audience, Chad Pollitt, calls the overall practice of disseminating content across the Web to various audiences as “content promotion,” so let’s use that term for now.
Content promotion is really hard. In some cases, the way we approach social media marketing still follows the traditional interrupt advertising model. We ask our followers to opt into every single article we publish when we know up front that not every piece will appeal to every reader. This creates a ton of noise and not a lot of filtering capabilities for users. Don’t even get me started on the trash found in hashtags.
In my trends post, I stressed the importance of developing a content amplification (promotion) strategy instead of using ad-hoc tactics to blast a piece out every now and then. But what does a strategy really look like, and how does it fit into a broader content strategy? That’s what I’ll cover in today’s post.
I’m breaking down an amplification strategy into three parts: social media, native advertising, and internal and external newsletters.
Publishers have been the best at distributing media since the printing press was invented. Brands, on the other hand, have only needed to get into the circulation game over the past decade. While marketers can’t measure their success compared to an institution like The Times, they can learn and adopt some best practices, especially when it comes to social media marketing.
Media companies have begun to develop social publishing strategies to broaden the reach of their daily content. In a recent Content Standard interview, Unmetric CEO Lux Narayan said that, “For many of these brands, their content is their currency—whether behind a pay wall, subscription, or ad revenue model.” Meaning, media companies understand that in order to monetize editorial, they need to expand their domains across platforms and pull in viewers and readers no matter where that information is being consumed. To some extent, there’s this new ideology that traffic to a social site might be worth the sacrifice if it builds audience long-term.
In brand marketing, most have been touting how crucial it is to build an owned domain and drive all traffic to that content hub. But if social media becomes the top platform for news consumption, more brands will be forced to change their tune. Therefore, it makes sense to get ahead of such dramatic changes now by focusing on audience development through emerging and veteran channels.
The biggest benefit of this social media evolution is that it has forced both media companies and brands to rethink their social departments. Instead of employing community managers who reactively respond to conversations, new professionals are hitting the workforce to optimize and personalize the social experience across the Internet. For example, we’ve seen new editors hitting the newsroom—Engagement Editors—as a way to continuously promote information as trends break. Brand marketers need this same mentality and access to the same tools to ensure that what’s being shared and said via social is in association with what’s trending, breaking, bubbling up, or whatever else.
Promotion isn’t solely a brand issue—it’s a challenge that any content-oriented brand or department faces daily. Unfortunately, top social networks like Facebook and Snapchat look at their products and solutions in silos. As a brand, you do not have access to publishing products, even if media distribution is your biggest goal in 2016. Why can’t a content marketing manager tasked with developing a digital publication for his or her employer gain access to new tools from Facebook? What qualifies a person as a journalist when the lines continue to blur and it’s all just a race for fast cash now?
In a recent interview with Re/code, BuzzFeed Founder Jonah Peretti cited Snapchat as driving 21 percent of total traffic to BuzzFeed content. This massive chunk of viewers inevitably comes from the company’s premiere placement in Snapchat Discover, which some have proclaimed “the cool kid table in the high school cafeteria.” It’s unlikely that you’ll see a brand in that section, though you will see media companies that often create content and advertisements on behalf of brands.
As a content manager, you’ll need a renewed respect of social channels in 2016 to be successful. Take ownership of these hubs as they can offer you access to trending information, and don’t be afraid to bullishly request access to free tools like Facebook Signal (a dashboard geared toward helping journalists find, source, and embed content from Facebook and Instagram). When you view social media as a publishing extension, posting content and getting quick hits will inevitably become easier.
By now, you’ve heard about the uproar in the media industry around Apple’s decision to allow mobile ad blocking on iOS 9. No matter what side of the debate you’re on, data shows that consumers don’t like ads, period.
In a recent study by Experian Marketing Services, only 11.4 percent of Millennials, 9.3 percent of Gen X, and 5.2 percent of Baby Boomers are interested in receiving ads on their mobile devices. When it comes to Millennials, the most-targeted group via mobile, Moz and Fractl found that 58 percent are likely to use ad blockers this year.
We know that consumers prefer an experience over interruptions, and while native editorial content doesn’t exactly nail the transparency card every time, there are some amazing examples of media and brands using this new medium to leave lasting impressions with buyers.
In a recent MMA report, consumers respond well to native content, but also claim to either not know what sponsored media is or that it hurts the credibility of the publisher in question. Some notable findings:
In addition to these positive results, the report had a few dark clouds on the horizon. See below:
This data, while most likely true, offers a confusing outcome for media companies. The most credible publishers in the industry today—The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post—all have robust native and ad offerings. These stories are praised by both marketers and readers alike. So while 61 percent may claim credibility is at risk, there’s business to be won in the grey area. Who believes in polls anyways?
Email remains a powerful tool for reaching and engaging audiences everywhere. According to Adobe, people spend six hours per day checking their email. And according to the Direct Marketing Association, for every dollar spent on email marketing, brands see an ROI of $44.25.
For publishers, monetary returns might not be as much of a draw as repeat traffic and loyalty. But the same mantra can be applied when brands focus on driving audience development through email nurture tracks and programs. The more time you put in, the more time your audience gives you back.
As part of any smart content promotion strategy, content managers need a game plan for working in both internal and external newsletters. Similar to how you need to build relationships with editors, other marketers, and influencers, you need to learn the ins-and-outs of newsletter creation and consumption.
Content promotion, amplification, distribution, whatever you want to call it—it will become crucial to your program’s success in 2016. You may have been able to squeeze by this year by throwing a few bucks at a paid social post here and a native ad buy there, but without organization, your vision will blur and your audience will disappear.
When it comes to putting the pieces together and developing a strategy, start by listing out every social channel you manage, the publications you share an audience with and that also offer native ad options, and begin to invest both time in finding external newsletter partners and in redesigning and coding your own custom newsletter. Once you’ve done the legwork, start mapping out scenarios of when to use one tactic over the next. Writing rules to live by will give you the strategic skeleton you need to start becoming a smarter marketer. From there, take notes on what works and what doesn’t, always expanding upon your strategy until it becomes engraved in everything you do as a brand editor.
This is just one of the major trends impacting your 2016 marketing strategy—stay tuned to the Content Standard this month for 5 new installments to this series.