TBD: Strategy & Lessons Learned

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This is a presentation about TBD.com: It's strategy and lessons learned. This is focused only on TBD.com, and not the 24/7 cable station that was part of TBD.

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TBD: Strategy & Lessons Learned

  1. 1. TBD.com: Strategy & Lessons Learned Jim Brady Former GM, TBD
  2. 2. Today’s Agenda <ul><li>The TBD Experience </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The TBD Concept </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Struggles </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Successes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lessons Learned </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Questions </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. The TBD Concept
  4. 4. The TBD Concept <ul><ul><li>The time had come for a new kind of local digital news operation, one that: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Engage the community in real and meaningful ways </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Curate the most relevant information about the region, regardless of source </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Geotarget content in order to deliver unique hyperlocal information to every user </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Embrace the power of social media and crowdsourcing to build relationships and improve our journalism </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Build mobile apps that are useful to mobile users </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Pick your spots, and don’t cover everything. Identify a few beats, and kick ass. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Community Engagement <ul><ul><li>This is how most news organizations view “engagement.” </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Community Engagement <ul><ul><li>This is how news organizations should view engagement. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Community Engagement <ul><ul><li>The TBD Community Network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>More than 225 sites joined </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We sold advertising for about 75 blogs </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We linked to them aggressively, and put them in our geo-coded feeds to expose them to relevant audiences </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Provided training sessions for network members on blogging, SEO, social media, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  8. 9. Community Engagement <ul><ul><li>In-Person Meetups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Held in-person meetups all around the region to get to know local bloggers and community activists </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Staffers held office hours to meet with local residents </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 10. Curation <ul><ul><li>We wanted to be the instinctive first stop for Washington-area news consumers, so… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We linked out to all members of our community network </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We linked out to other local news organizations </li></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 11. Geocoding <ul><ul><li>We delivered geographically relevant news to users. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We had a team of real humans reading and adding geo-codes to stories from TBD, our blog network and other local news organizations. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>TBD’s home page had a module that delivered news to up to five zip codes that a user signaled as important to them </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 12. Social Media <ul><ul><li>We were aggressive on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare and other social tools </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We had one full-time staffer dedicated to social media, and the community engagement team was also active on all social platforms. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We were conversational in tone on all social platforms </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We used social tools not just to disseminate information, but to gather it as well </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We leveraged the audience already using social media for TBD crowdsourcing projects </li></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Mobile <ul><ul><li>We hired our own mobile developers and were planning on having a dedicated mobile team </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We launched Droid and iPhone apps right around when the web site launched. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We built our mobile sites with a very different focus than the web site: heavy on utility, less focused on general news. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 14. Beats <ul><ul><li>We decided to pick just a few coverage areas, and throw all our resources behind them: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Transportation & Commuting </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Arts & Entertainment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Sports </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Weather </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Crime </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The reason for this: There’s no business in just being OK at a lot of things. You need to be great at a few. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 15. Struggles & Successes
  15. 16. TBD’s Internal Struggles <ul><ul><li>Site was still trying to find its editorial voice. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some of the unique beats we’d crafted didn’t appeal to our audience as much as we’d hoped. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mobile apps were well-reviewed, but didn’t get the pickup we’d hoped for. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We were a little too cute and self-satisfied at times. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our coverage was a little too D.C.-focused. We needed to get better at covering the suburbs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Two-thirds of bloggers chose not to be in the ad network. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 17. TBD’s External Struggles <ul><ul><li>The company did not spend a dime on external marketing of TBD. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>WJLA provided almost no on-air promotion for TBD. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>WJLA’s newsroom management didn’t push its reporters to help TBD at all (that is, of course, until after they took over). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The WJLA sales staff had little success selling non-traditional inventory like the blog network. </li></ul></ul>
  17. 18. TBD’s Successes <ul><ul><li>We were viewed as being part of the broader digital community, and not working against it. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Because we were partners, local bloggers were invested in our success, and thus linked to us and drove significant traffic via social media. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We had a 225-blog network that we could turn into a massive news operation in a breaking news situation. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We became a go-to site quickly because readers knew we would always have links to the latest news, regardless of source. </li></ul></ul>
  18. 19. TBD’s Successes <ul><ul><li>We were able to leverage the community to produce better journalism than we could have by ourselves. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our coverage of the Discovery Channel hostage situation was lauded by sites across the web. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our unique visitor numbers suggested we were on the right track: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>November 2010 715,000 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>December 2010 838,000 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>January 2011 1,500,000 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The result of these successes… </li></ul></ul>
  19. 21. So … What Happened? <ul><ul><li>Corporate decided to change the strategy, moving away from things like social media and aggregation, and towards more of a breaking news model. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They put TBD’s staff under WJLA’s management. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They laid off a dozen people, and pretty much all of remaining original staff has voluntarily departed. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They dramatically cut back links off site, and started writing abstracts of the work of other sites. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They stopped geo-coding stories. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They shut down the blog ad network. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They relaunched WJLA.com to compete with TBD.com </li></ul></ul>
  20. 22. So … What Happened? <ul><ul><li>Corporate decided to change the strategy, moving away from things like social media and aggregation, and towards more of a breaking news model. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They put TBD’s staff under WJLA’s management. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They laid off a dozen people, and pretty much all of remaining original staff has voluntarily departed. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They dramatically cut back links off site, and started writing abstracts of the work of other sites. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They stopped geo-coding stories. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They shut down the blog ad network. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They relaunched WJLA.com to compete with TBD.com </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other than that, it’s gone great. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 23. So … What Happened? Source: Alexa.com
  22. 24. So … What Happened? Source: Compete.com
  23. 25. Lessons Learned <ul><ul><li>Sites like TBD are better done as pure startups than within a legacy media organization. Why? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Entrenched and threatened legacy culture </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Revenue imbalance equals power imbalance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of patience in difficult times </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If you do this via a legacy organization, you’ll need: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A management team that will support you when the inevitable conflict occurs with the legacy media organization. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A dedicated sales staff that can handle the very different kind of sales you’ll need to make at a local/hyperlocal site. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Organizational separation from the legacy media side so that you can freely innovate and experiment. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A runway of 3 to 5 years </li></ul></ul></ul>
  24. 26. Thanks!

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