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The Clip Report Volume II: The Continental Content Divide


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No single industry has embraced social and digital technologies like the press – and to their benefit too. This, however has created a stylistic split between news that’s crafted to find you vs that which you seek out.

This edition of The Clip Report, the second in a series on the future of media, further explores this widening “Continental Content Divide.” It is culled from briefings with dozens of leading media industry innovators and observers.

It is my contention that every public relations, content and digital strategist can learn a technique or two by studying the media and unpacking their best practices. That’s the goal of this report.

Published in: Business, Technology

The Clip Report Volume II: The Continental Content Divide

  1. Insights on the Future of Media Volume II - August 2012The Continental Content Divide
  2. IntroductionIf there’s an undisputed truth in the digital age it’s that content isinfinite, yet time remains finite. This makes it challenging to craftcompelling narratives that span screens, captivate audiences andleave a lasting impression.No one understands this difficult task more than the press. Yet, themedia is innovating even as it stares down disruption. Any businesscan learn to communicate more effectively by unpacking its bestpractices. Thats the goal of this report.The medias rapid evolution, however, has curiously created a stylisticsplit - a “Continental Content Divide,” if you will.Some publishers see social networking as their primary path togrowth. As a result, they are mixing journalism and web culture inclever ways that get their stories shared so they find you.Others, meanwhile, believe the future is in immersive experiencesthat audiences seek out and, perhaps, even pay for.Very few media brands are equally adroit. The reason, according toDarren Burden from Australia’s Fairfax Media, is that “news youread is different than news you say you read.”This report, the second in a series, is culled from briefings withdozens of leading media innovators and observers. It explores thiswidening divide and the tech companies at its nexus. (An expandededition for the Edelman network has specific recommendations forPR, content and digital strategists.) 2
  3. News That Finds You: Journalism and Digital Culture Blur As social network use skyrockets, the public is growing more accustomed to seeing serious alongside silly. This is encouraging publishers to blur news and memes so content finds you. Some call this social discovery. One manifestation of this trend is the growing use of infographics, slideshows and “listcles” (list articles). The press has embraced these formats because audiences find them emotionally rewarding to share. This, in turn, drives traffic. This subtle, yet important, stylistic shift may sound familiar. It mirrors a time, during Google’s ascendency, when the press embraced search-engine-friendly editorial. Headlines mapped to common queries - e.g. “What Time does the Super Bowl Start?” Today there’s a similar focus on Internet psychology. Stories are written in a style designed to trigger sharing. Headlines that are easy to scan and share are more pervasive - e.g. “The 25 Super Bowl Parties You Will Never See In Your Lifetime.” In a more social world, the most successful content creators are both experts in their beats as well as the culture of online communities. Professional communicators should take note. Nowhere is this ethos more apparent than at BuzzFeed where the content is crafted to make you look good for sharing it. The site, which initially started as a place to find fun videos, is fast becoming what co-founder Jonah Peretti describes as “a collision of web culture and news.”BuzzFeed execs Jon Steinberg and Jonah Peretti 3
  4. To that end, in recent months BuzzFeed has recruited a host of Many BuzzFeed campaigns are “native.” Ad creative looks justdigitally savvy beat writers, including Ben Smith (formerly with like editorial except it is labeled “sponsored.” A recentPolitico), Amy Odell (New York Magazine), Matt Buchanan campaign for Pepsi Next, for example, featured “10 Beautiful(Gizmodo), Doree Shafrir (Rolling Stone) and more. Places in the World that Actually Exist.” (Pepsi is an Edelman client)In addition, BuzzFeed continues to hire some of the best“meme creators” in the business. In April it scooped up Stacy Another company thats fluent in online culture, although notLambe, whose claim to fame is “Texts From Hillary.” The to the same extreme, is Mashable.Tumblr meme, which riffed on U.S. Secretary of State HillaryClinton, made headlines worldwide and was eventually “Community is every (writers) responsibility,” said Adamembraced by Clinton. Ostrow, Mashables SVP of Content. During a recent tour of Mashable’s offices, Ostrow explained that the entire editorialThis infectious blend extends into BuzzFeeds ad programs too. team is encouraged to devote 80 percent of their time to content and 20 percent to cultivating a following across various social networks. 4
  5. The strategy appears to be working. A growing share of Mashable’straffic now comes from social network referrals. This, in part, is due tothe teams pioneering spirit. “Journalists are the new early adopters,”explained Mashable Community Manager Meghan Peters.While it’s easy to label upstart digital natives like BuzzFeed andMashable as an unusual breed, this approach is widespread.“Today’s journalists must be equally adept at their trade and in the artof ‘putting on a good show’ to engage an audience,” said CBS/CNETEditor Dan Farber.Slate Group CEO Jacob Weisberg agrees. “Everything relevanthappens first on Twitter.” To that end, Slate is using a suite of analytictools (including one built by BuzzFeed) to study social networks. Thegoal: increase viral distribution.TV news networks are also embracing the same blend.CNNs iReport is staffed by a new breed of professionals that are halfjournalists, half community managers.During a recent visit to the CNN Center in Atlanta, ParticipationDirector Lila King described her team as “professional hallwayconversationalists” who spend a whopping 60-70 percent of their time"managing relationships on the web.”All of this may be just the beginning as social rivals search and directvisits as a primary pathway to news. The Huffington Post, for example,is pushing the envelope even further with the launch of “HuffPo Live” -a highly participatory video network.Not everyone in news, however, is gunning for social network traffic.Some are choosing a different way forward. CNN’s Lila King and Members of the iReport Team 5
  6. News You Find: The Economist shares this point of view, too. This year it launched a major marketing push under the “Lean Back 2.0”A Renaissance in Immersive Storytelling umbrella to underscore the demand for long-form journalism.Although social networking’s hold on the news business looms It’s not just stalwarts, however, that are addressing the hungerlarge, some publishers are making depth, context and visual for context.experience the cornerstone of their strategy. The goal: enchantaudiences on tablets, where brand preferences are still nascent. Upstarts like The Huffington Post, The Next Web and Engadget have all launched magazines on Apple’s iPadThis is the modus operandi at the Financial Times, where subscriptions recently surpassed print circulation. RobGrimshaw, Managing Director for, said he believes Hyperink, meanwhile, is helping indie bloggers unlock the“quality media,” rather than a “wild chase for page views” will value of their archives by turning them into eBooks. Some earnprevail. upwards of $50,000, according to Hyperink CEO Kevin Gao. There are mobile natives banging on the gate, however. 6
  7. Newcomers Flipboard and Pulse, which aggregate content from around the web in a highly visual way, are rapidly racking up users across all of the major mobile platforms. Pulse co-founder Akshay Kothari projects the service will reach 35 million users by year’s end. The Pulse audience is highly engaged. They’ve read two billion stories so far this year, he said. This growth has prompted some publishers to ally with these apps. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal formed premium content partnerships with Flipboard and Pulse respectively. Other media execs, meanwhile, view the category with trepidation. They still syndicate content to them but privately voiced concerns over their growing influence on traffic. Another class of apps that’s also growing aims to help people time- shift content for reading/viewing in an ad-free zone. This group, which also reflects the appetite for reflective reading/viewing, includes Instapaper, Pocket and Readability. Pocket co-founder Nate Weiner sees Flipboard as a tablet newsstand and his app as its nightstand. Weiner said that Pocket users squirrel away one million new pieces of content each day. Much of it, notably, is long form and how-to content, he said. With demand for depth growing, the media is also facing competition from corporations and NGOs. Many have hatched their own content platforms for engaging customers directly. Qualcomms Spark and GE Reports are two such examples. (GE and Qualcomm are Edelman clients.)Pulse’s Akshay Kotarhi (top), Pocket’s Nate Weiner (bottom) 7
  8. This is even creating new career opportunities for veteran scribes.Forbes Chief Product Officer Lew DVorkin calls this “the fullemployment act for journalists.” Forbes Advoice is helping firms likeNorthwestern Mutual publish on too are hiring journalists in content roles. Britt Godshalk(CBS Evening News and NY1) and Joanne Colan (Discovery andRocketboom) are now two Edelman senior content strategists.Others, like Forbes’ Melanie Wells and ABC 20/20 co-creator VictorNeufeld, also bolted the news business for PR.Regardless of whether publishers are going for what USC’s Dr.Henry Jenkins describes as “spreadable media” vs. “drill-ablemedia,” five technology companies loom large.The Nexus:Five Tech Companies Guide News DiscoveryAs this report details, social and mobile technologies are reshapingthe news business. Some publishers are betting on social discovery.Others are doubling down on context. Few do both well.At the nexus of this divide there are five companies – Twitter,Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon. Together they influence theflow of all digital news.On one side there’s Twitter and Facebook. They control the socialdiscovery of information - but in different ways. “Twitter is for yourhead, Facebook is for your heart,” said BuzzFeeds Peretti. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (top) and 8 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (bottom)
  9. Apple CEO Tim Cook (l), Google CEO Larry Page (c) and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (r)On the other side there are the various app and content stores. Mahalo, a how-to media company, successfully pivoted awayWith more content consumed on tablets and phones, Apple, from the web toward iPad apps when Google changed itsGoogle and Amazon wield great influence. (Google too runs algorithms.the worlds top two search engines - Finally, when Facebook tweaked its news feed, several media companies saw their referral traffic plummet without warning.The media must adhere to every move these companies make -although some may loathe to admit it. In the near term future, the media companies that understand, adapt to and partner with these five players will be in the bestThe FT, for example, pulled its mobile apps off the iTunes App position to succeed going forward.Store when Apple began to demand a 30 percent cut ofrevenues. It has moved to HTML5-based web apps, which are Businesses and NGOs too must adopt the same mindset andgrowing rapidly. master the five rivers that run through the divide. 9
  10. Conclusion The bets that media companies are making today - the pursuit of social discovery vs. doubling down on immersive content - will have a tremendous impact for years to come. It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game either. A few are straddling both worlds. Reuters, for example, is seeing a lot of success with its highly engaging live blogs. These are quickly set up for breaking stories that require context. Anthony DeRosa, the newswires social media editor, calls this a “hover and dive” approach. Whether there will be others like Reuters remains to be seen. The skill sets required to straddle both worlds are different. Regardless, PR, content and digital strategists must not only comprehend this widening divide, but they must also appropriately map their programs to and/or mirror the media’s approach in a more social and mobile world. The challenge: tell compelling stories across what Edelman calls the “Media Cloverleaf ” that find an audience and are worth finding. (An expanded edition of this report for the Edelman network outlines specific strategies.) Edelman’s “Media Cloverleaf ” comprises (clockwise from top left)traditional, hybrid, social and owned spheres with search and visual ### content at the center. 10
  11. CreditsSteve Rubel is EVP, Global Strategy and Insights for Edelman - theworlds largest independent PR firm. In his role, he helps teams andclients understand the future of media and develop appropriateintegrated strategies. Rubel can be contacted on Twitter(@steverubel) or via email ( opinions expressed within this report are his and do notnecessarily reflect those of Edelman or its clients.)Photo credits: practicalowl on Flickr (p2), LoggaWiggler on Flickr (p3), DavidBerkowitz (p4), yuhwangwu on Flickr (p5), DG Jones on Flickr (p6), FelicianoGuimarães (p6), Emily Steffen (p7), Roadsidepictures on Flickr (p7) and nikoon Flickr (p7).