Most traditional newspapers and magazines are distributed to limited geographical regions and scale by building more distribution infrastructure, but social sharing has replaced this system. Historically, expanding and scaling a newspaper required building up additional infrastructure such as trucks, equipment, warehouses, personnel, management, and door-to-door salesmen for example, all in a new location. Today’s publishing distribution is dependant on peer-to-peer sharing through social networks, leaving the legacy infrastructure extremely ineffective by comparison. This concept isn’t new, but the methods to capitalize on it are always evolving. To capitalize on social sharing, publishers will have to change their approaches to the value they offer, the type of content they produce, how they build their distribution infrastructure, how they find new viewers, and how they communicate with their customers.
A Shift in Value Provided
The value proposition of many newspapers and even magazines has been to give generalized content for a wide audience and they must drastically change to deliver value to narrow audiences that viewers would want to share. General content for everyone doesn’t speak strongly enough to anyone in particular to cause them to share it. Narrowing content categories to niche topics with smaller, more focused audiences increases the relevance of the content and therefore increases the value it offers which enhances sharing.
Type of Content Changes
To be able to adopt an effective niche strategy, the content has to change. People don’t need the package of generalized content any more. There used to be a much bigger risk for publishers to focus on too narrow of a niche and that there wouldn’t be a large enough audience within their geographically limited readership to support producing content for it. Now that those geographical barriers aren’t there, people across the globe can be reached through relevant content rather than being reached with irrelevant content just because of where they happen to live. Which do you think is more effective? Naturally, the relevant content resonates with readers in a much stronger way and will increase the likelihood viewers will share the content through social networks (and also be willing to pay good money for it too).
Simply put, newspapers and magazines need to focus on a few narrow content categories that they can be the globally dominate publisher for and pour all of their resources into that. They need to be the best at covering something rather than marginal at covering everything. Keep in mind that being “globally dominant” could mean being the best source on a local topic that no one else is covering in quite the same way.
Distribution Infrastructure Transformed
Giving the right content to the right people is key. The niche concept not only applies to a content area such as digital marketing, but also within digital marketing to users with different levels of sophistication. Executives and entry level people in the same business care about and need different things. Additionally, someone who is just introduced to a publication and someone who has been following for years, may need different content.
Competitive publishers need to know how many of which kind of reader they have, what sub-topics they care about, and how to engage them more. Traditional newspapers and magazines are for the most part not able to track this information very effectively or efficiently. They put out the business section that covers all kinds of topics that may or may not appeal to their specific audience and don’t get much feedback about what to change to make improvements.
Today, digital distribution offers plenty of free or relatively cheap analytics tools (ie. Google Analytics) and talent to be able to track all of this. Other very economical tools such as Hubspot’s internet marketing software can track individual people moving along a conversion path giving them just the next type of content that that individual user wants and needs. For example, Hubspot categorizes their eBooks into advanced, medium, and beginner levels so that they deliver the most relevant eBook to each reader level.
To capitalize on social sharing, businesses need to make everything very accessible:
- Every device needs to be able to access the content and overall website at all times. Users are platform agnostic now and constantly switch back and forth from tablet, to desktop, to mobile devices.
- Set up the best website hosting available to even handle the Opera affect (massive, sudden surges in traffic) and not have any down time. If users can’t get to the content because the site is down, they can’t view it or share it.
- Good website design allows users to find and consume the content easily. If it isn’t easy to find and consume what they’re looking for, they’ll leave.
The best way to expand readership is to have influencers within a particular niche share it to others in that niche. This is one of the best ways to find the members of this community and one of the best ways for a publisher to get introduced to them because the recommendation from the influencer is unbiased. The lack of bias builds trust because the reader giving the recommendation has nothing to gain monetarily or otherwise to slant their opinion. This is why people trust Yelp more than they trust an advertisement.
These new readers could live around the world and not increase the distribution cost beyond what is required to reach one region alone. No additional personnel, equipment, or management is needed. As soon as content goes digital, it automatically has the potential and will most likely reach people outside of a particular geographical area whether you want it to or not. In fact, it’s very hard to limit anything online to only a certain region anyway.
Publishers will have to change their measures of what success is to include how well they engage their readers. This point is worth mentioning, but is commonly made in the blogosphere so I won’t belabor it. In a nut shell, social tools have allowed readers to interact with content making publishing a two-way conversation rather than a one-way monologue. An article can start the conversation, but the next step is to listen and respond in a timely, authentic, and meaningful way. The best publishers will adjust what they’re producing based on what their readers are saying and responding to.
Another commonly missed aspect of this is the need to be pursuing a bigger goal for the publication than just to make money. Making money is focused on self gain rather than pursuing a greater purpose or good. You’d be surprised how well profit objectives are reached when the organization is pursuing more meaningful goals that the employees AND customers or readers can get behind. Steve Jobs wanted to put a ding in the universe. That is a bigger goal and vision than to just make the next slightly faster computer. As authenticity and transparency continue to become staples in businesses, social media will help seep these more meaningful goals out to the public in an organic way.
All of these changes will require publishers to innovate and change their business model in some cases which will likely bring a lot of push-back within the organization. Change is often expensive, not effective at first, and risky. The old, generalized, location limited, traditional distribution model used to work and the new model seems uncertain so it can seem to make sense to stick with what has been proven to work. However, its’ days are numbered. It will feel like a safer option for the next 3 months, but cripple the organization within 3 years.
On the other hand, this new approach can’t just be tried for 3 months, see how it went and effectively evaluate whether to stick with it or not. To be effective, the organization has to be restructured, retrained, develop a new short and long term strategy, begin consistently executing it, communicate the new changes to the customer base and then adjust to improve along the way. Each organization will implement this process at different speeds, but having an executive sponsor to support the new approach will be key to ensure that it isn’t abandoned prematurely.
This is where the two-way conversation begins. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Do you see any examples where this shift is being poorly or effectively implemented?
Listen to me speak on 7 Social Media Trends on November 27th in San Diego.