Since early this year, the DeseretNews.com team has made a concerted effort to give readers a chance to interact with data, or in the very least, an opportunity to look at information in new ways. Some of the tools we use require (brace yourself) rudimentary coding, but others have been so intuitive, a print reporter could use them. ;)
1. Knight Lab
Northwestern University Knight Lab has graciously provided easy-to-use tools that don’t require any coding and include step-by-step guides. They practically hold your hand through it.
• Our very own DDM Story Lab (which among other things is responsible for producing the Innovation Wire each month) has also used another tool, StoryMap, to make an interactive element for a DeseretNews.com story. The program supplies additional information as it zooms in and around an image in a way that is not dissimilar, but much more pleasant, to a Prezi presentation.
2. Google Charts
Who doesn’t love Google? Google Charts has a slew of possibilities, but does require some coding. No need to fret, though — I was able to figure it out enough to make this stacked bar chart without any previous coding skills, so I have faith in your ability to persevere and Google your questions when it gets tough.
• Most people are already familiar with Google Maps, which can be customized with shaped markers and colors and text to fit the parameters of your project. This can be done with Google Fusion Tables, which don’t require any coding but do require logging into Google.
Tableau is a free data visualization program that allows you to make databases and then build from there. While it doesn’t require coding, it does need some thought and experimentation. Our team has only used it once, but was able to help visualize data around Utah testing.
So you want to start a project — what to be aware of:
- Learning can be hard! Working with some of these tools is a challenge! It’s going to take more than a little patience to iron out the kinks and get your graphic live. But, when you see the end result, there’s a feeling of accomplishment that can’t be denied.
- Budget the necessary time. Even if it seems like you should be able to breeze through because you already have the data, imputing said data can take some time, let alone writing the content or finagling with coding later in the process.
- Just because something can be interactive doesn’t mean it should. Avoid parroting what a good graph could tell you. Because these projects are time-intensive, remember that not everything needs to change when you hover over it.
Now, with this small arsenal of interactive tools, you’ll be a data journalist in no time! Good luck!
Need some more help & inspiration? Here’s the slideshow that started it all for us.
People frequently see me in a Utah.com shirt (I have five of them) and ask me the same question time and time again, “So what’s Utah.com?” Sarcastic me sometimes quips, “It’s a site about Idaho.” The follow-up question is always the same: “So, are you the state’s official tourism site?” Some get the long answer, and some get the short one. You’re getting the long one.
Utah.com has been around since the dial-up days of the mid-’90s. Over 20 years, thousands of pages of content were added and the site ruled organic search results for virtually any Utah travel term. Tourism-related businesses throughout the state relied on Utah.com as their most viable source of traffic. In 2012, after a few years of stagnant revenue, the founder/owner was looking to sell. Serendipitously, Deseret Digital Media (DDM) was looking to dabble in the travel space after achieving incredible success with local classifieds and business directory verticals through KSL.com and a deal was struck in August 2014. Two years later, our team embarked on a massive rebrand, site redesign and business model overhaul. So how did we do it?
We asked ...
... Our users: What do you want from a travel website? The first thing we did was follow Eric Bright’s mantra of asking our users about their experience. We traveled to Colorado, California and Utah to conduct usability sessions. We asked people to complete specific tasks on Utah.com and observed their process. Here’s what we found out: Utah travelers want authentic information, useful (rather than encyclopedic) content, better photography, a better mobile experience, and they don’t want to bounce around between different websites to plan and book their trips.
... Our advertisers: How can we become a more effective marketing channel? We rented an RV and set out on a statewide client research mission. We had a lot of questions, and you better believe they had a lot of feedback.
They were frustrated because of a decline in performance, the lack of advertising options and the difficulty of uploading/managing inventory on the booking engine we had implemented (more on that later). We had our work cut out for us to find an advertising model that worked for our advertisers, and of course, was conducive to revenue growth.
... Ourselves: How was our old business model insufficient? Utah.com had been serving up a bland advertising menu consisting of a directory with a side of display. The directory model was unimaginative and inflexible. In essence, advertisers could choose from a gold, silver or bronze business listing, each with a different price and feature set. Utah.com would send them traffic — in some cases a little, and in other cases a lot — but the pricing never adjusted. We also tried implementing a booking engine in place of the directory model, but soon found that competing in the online booking space was not the most viable path. We didn’t have the traffic volume and couldn’t procure the inventory necessary to generate significant revenue.
... For a lot of help: The Marketplace division of DDM is unique in the fact that multiple teams touch each one of our products. Design, product, development, content, sales and marketing all played critical roles in deploying the new user- and client-inspired Utah.com.
Mobile-first: The new Utah.com was designed mobile-first, creating a responsive product accessible across multiple devices.
Better content: All of the content is being rewritten in a fun, witty, conversational tone. Our deft content manager, copywriter and crew of contributors publish pages people actually want to read.
More, better photography: The new Utah.com proudly shows off the state with big, beautiful images sourced mainly from local photographers.
The three P’s: Of course we had to build a site that would make money because, you know, we like to make money. Here’s what we came up with:
• Pay to play: We created a simple, fair directory model. No more tiered levels of listing pages. Every business pays the same affordable annual fee and we build a comprehensive page featuring photography, video, room/trip types, etc.
• Pay for performance: This is the key to the new model. Instead of paying for an annual listing and hoping for the best, advertisers now only pay when Utah.com sends them calls, clicks or emails. They love it because they can easily measure their ROI and control their spending. And with a growing trend of wanting direct, noncommissioned bookings, the qualified traffic we send is extremely valuable. We love it because the onus is on us: The better the job we do connecting users with advertisers, the more money we make.
• Pay to promote (organic promotion): For those advertisers who want to boost their exposure on Utah.com, we offer organic promotion as opposed to traditional display advertising. We weave client messaging into our content, providing a seamless experience for the user. Instead of sending the user directly to the advertiser’s website, we send them to the advertiser’s Utah.com listing page. This ensures that the user isn’t jumping around to multiple sites (remember, they said they didn’t want to do that) but instead allows them to engage with the business in our environment. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for the advertiser to tell their business’s story naturally.
Online bookings: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Instead of trying to go head-to-head with the big online travel agencies, we secured a partnership with Booking.com to supply inventory for our users to book online. While not our primary source of revenue, this is a useful tool for our users who make it all the way through the sales funnel and are ready to make a lodging reservation on Utah.com.
So far, so good. Since launching the new Utah.com in September 2015, revenue is up 44 percent. Click-through rates on organic promotion spots are up between 1,700 percent and 3,200 percent compared to display advertising on the legacy site. Lead volume has increased every month.
Utah.com is a work in progress. We’re committed to making it the most comprehensive and useful trip-planning tool for locals, out-of-staters and internationals. To that end, we’ll keep doing what we do: asking, testing, measuring and iterating. And we’ll do it together, as the state song suggests.
As the social media manager for a digital media company and two of the news sites it owns, I have come across numerous myths regarding social media. I have encountered them from friends, family, co-workers and, admittedly, myself. In my defense — and theirs — social media changes rapidly.
Several current myths are grounded in partial truths from prior stages in the evolution of popular platforms. It is for that exact reason, however, that we have to take a step back and examine the medium’s current state. It is my purpose here to highlight these myths and briefly explain why they are either mostly false or entirely false.
1. Social media = free marketing
There is a pervasive myth in our industry that social media equates to free marketing. This is true to an extent. It is free to use Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest and a host of others, and a post that effectively presents interesting, entertaining, inspiring or informative information can go viral.
Optimizing all of your content’s potential is another matter, however. With millions of posts, links, images, videos, tweets and more being published daily, most content will require something more.
A good organic strategy can only take you so far so fast. To truly drive engagement, drive page views and drive growth, one has to pay to play. This is especially true for dominant platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Of course, no amount of money can compensate for a lack of quality or substantive content. It will not translate to long-term success. Make sure those who manage your social media have access to quality content and some sort of budget.
2. Social media is for acquiring new people and growing
You can and should be focused on growth. Growth alone, without adequate focus on retention (serving the audience you already have well), is not enough on its own.
There is value in growth, and it is an important metric for determining the value of the content you are producing, especially for new publishers on social media. That said, I have two points for you to consider.
First, you rarely convert social media users into followers. Rather, you find those followers who just haven’t found you yet, thought to look, or had the right incentive to act based on their interest.
Second, growing followers, likes or connections is not the only determinant of success. If growth is the only determinant, strategy becomes tailored to growth. But what about the people you already have? What are you offering them other than publishing “at them”? Balance your strategy to account for growth and consumer retention.
3. It’s all about the following
I want to take the previous myth one step further, because while growth is definitely a positive, engagement with your existing community is vital. Fortunately, engagement is an aspect of social media over which you have a lot more control. You may not be able to grow to millions of likes or followers like other publishers, companies or brands, but you can know your audience intimately and serve it well. This will translate into more engagement.
An account with 10,000 active followers can potentially have a bigger impact on more people than an account of 100,000.
For example, imagine you own a store. Would you rather have 100,000 yearly visitors who only make 1,000 collective purchases or 10,000 visitors who make 3,000 collective purchases? Sure, more visitors means more people recognize your store, but recognition does not translate to profit. Purchases do.
4. Social media is for publishing content
OK, it is for publishing content. I won’t deny that, and it is the biggest part of what we do at Deseret Digital Media. The myth here is that it is only for publishing content. It is so much more than that!
Social media empowers your followers (and yes, that’s a good thing). It also empowers you. You, too, as a brand, can like, share, comment, message, favorite, retweet, vote, pin, etc. These options make social media multi-dimensional, similar to real conversations. And conversations are what you want.
Don’t fall into the trap of publishing “at” people. Publish for them, listen to them, and by all means respond to them. Not everything will merit a response, but some sort of acknowledgement creates a two-way conversation, however simple or brief. Each conversation, in turn, develops your relationship with the person on the other end. Over time, you can transform your audience into a loyal community — one that is engaged and supportive.
5. If you post it, they will come
I have, on numerous occasions, sensed that some firmly believe that starting a page or account or posting an article will be an immediate solution. We all wish it could be an immediate solution, of course, that it acted like chum in shark-infested waters. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
Pages take time to grow, and most content will only reach a fraction of the people you want it to, even on established pages with a sizable community. It takes time, consistency, experimenting and money to frequently get the right content in front of the right people.
6. You have to be everywhere
This common myth and the following one are closely related. You don’t have to be everywhere and do everything. The main factors for determining where you should be are, most importantly, determining where your target audience is, considering what types of content you have to offer and, for many, evaluating how much time you can dedicate.
Social media can be time-consuming. Spend your effort and money where it will provide you the biggest ROI for the key performance metrics you value. Each social platform offers something different.
It never hurts to re-evaluate where you’re spending your time and sharing your content. If a change is needed, why wait? Remember, growing an account takes time.
7. You have to have Facebook and Twitter
Just because you can’t be everywhere does not mean you have to fall back on Facebook and Twitter. Yes, Facebook is still king — at least when it comes to the number of users and the volume of traffic it refers. For media and news publishers, that’s what many of us want. However, many fall into the trap of assuming that these two are, by default, the go-to platforms. I might have agreed with this at one point, but as usual, things change.
Do not spend most of your time on these two simply because they were the staples two or three years ago. According to the most recent Pew research on the demographics of social media users, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn exceed Twitter when it comes to percentage of adult online users. In other words, more adults online are turning to Pinterest (31 percent), Instagram (28 percent) and LinkedIn (25 percent) than Twitter (23 percent). Facebook, by the way, is holding strong at 72 percent.
Social media is a constantly changing landscape. Our strategies need to be similarly nimble. Calling out these myths is either the first step in changing your perceptions of your existing strategy or the first step in changing your strategy altogether.
And how 'scary' can actually mean 'really, super good'
Back in 2008 — in a previous position with a different company — I sat in a meeting with my CEO at the time to talk about implementing reviews on our e-commerce site. I was excited about the prospect — I was running an initiative to increase visible customer interaction and bring a sense of community to the site, and reviews fell right in line with that goal. I was ready to roll. I couldn’t wait to hear what customers had to say about what we sold and the site we sold it on.
And the CEO’s feelings about this idea? Let’s just say she did not feel the same way as I did.
We talked about it for some time. I walked her through the benefits of this kind of content. I showed her examples of reviews on other sites, and explained how it could be a powerful resource for shoppers. Through all of these real-world, data-supported points, my CEO failed to catch the excitement I felt. She gave me a lot of reasons why she was resistant to the concept, but after all was said and done, her apprehension boiled down to one thing: customer interaction can be very, very scary.
Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely agree with that assessment. I did then, and I still do. But “scary” does not always mean “bad,” and in the case of customer interaction, I would go so far as to say “scary” more often can mean “good” or even — dare I say it — “really, super good.”
So what is it about hearing from your customers — the very people who keep the lights on at your company — that can be so terrifying? Well, there’s the fact that humans tend to shy away from conflict in general (most of us, anyway).
And, there’s the fact that you probably feel a lot of passion about your product or company, and you have a natural desire to avoid hearing negative feedback about something you love.
And then there is the fear that (cue scary music) other customers may read the negative stuff if it’s out there.
Okay. All that is understandable. But let’s talk about these fears. I think it’s fair to say that no one likes to be criticized. And it’s harder still to be criticized in front of people that you are in turn asking to invest in your brand and spend money with you.
Yes, all of that is fair. But stop for a minute and ask yourself: do you really believe in what you’ve built? If so, why are you so worried about hearing from your customer base (or your customer base hearing from each other)?
Think about it this way, even if you get negative feedback (and you will — oh, you’ll get negative feedback), you should view it as an opportunity to learn about what you can do to make your product even better, and not as an infallible, public declaration that this thing you love isn’t so great after all.
Let’s talk about a real-world example of customer/brand interaction done right (this is not a company I work for, now or in the past, it’s just one of my all-time favorite feedback success stories).
The Hoover Company has been around since 1908, so you can imagine they’ve had plenty of time to hear all of the negative feedback a customer could come up with. But here’s the cool part: rather than viewing themselves as just a business that makes vacuums, the Hoover Company has created a compelling case for promoting transparency and taking advantage of digital tools to create a solid customer service and customer-driven product development loop.
To that end, Hoover committed to reading every single review that is submitted. It told its customers it intended to do just that. Then it did just that. And talked about it where other customers could read/watch/hear it.
And something pretty interesting started to happen when the company read and responded to the reviews: it found that a lot of times, the “negative” feedback it was receiving turned out to be useful suggestions that could be integrated into its product life cycle.
So let’s talk about where I work now. The marketplace division of KSL.com is an organization led by a vice president who takes customer feedback very seriously. (You may have read an article he wrote about that very subject a few months back.) This means that we in the marketplace division engage in a lot of activities that encourage the very kinds of feedback that most people find so very scary. We do regular, thorough user testing — both online and in person. We have several Facebook pages with active comment strings for our various online products. We include prominent feedback loops to gather comments on new and legacy products.
But we don’t just ask for the goods — we act on them. Just like Hoover, we read all of the feedback that comes in. And our vice president takes it a step further: he actually responds to a great number of the comments — and asks those of us involved in product development to do the same. We tell customers who we are, and we let them know that their comments are not going into a faceless void. More than once we have received comments back along the lines of, “Wow, I didn’t know a human actually reads these things.”
And you know what? Turns out, mostly it’s not as scary as it seems. Many of the people who started as frustrated users have turned into our most valuable ongoing beta testers, giving us the vital intel from the real world to help us build products that people are incredibly passionate about. None of that could happen if we never asked them what they thought in the first place.
We also never shy away from admitting when we’re wrong. If something is correctly reported as broken, we acknowledge the mistake and the frustration that can come from it. If we have to do that in a public forum, we will — and have.
We’ve learned from our customers — by asking them — that a customer will actually put more trust in a brand with some negative feedback under its belt. Especially if they have acknowledged that feedback, and made steps to address it.
As odd as it may sound, there can actually be a negative connotation attached to products or brands that have a disproportionate amount of public positive feedback (such as reviews). An appropriate amount of negative feedback actually adds legitimacy to the positive feedback.
One last thought: not all feedback is going to be relevant, actionable and valuable. Sometimes customers just want to vent. Sometimes their suggestions are not the best suggestions. But hearing all that scary stuff — and responding when it’s appropriate — is the important key to instituting a customer experience that is truly for the customer.
Understanding our audience has always been a major tenet of what makes KSL.com successful. We see ourselves as a service to the community and not as a publisher trying to force content on readers. The more we know about our audience and what they like, the easier it is to align our content with what they expect from a local media outlet.
We have several platforms that produce content for KSL.com — TV, radio, print, outside contributors and a small team of writers specifically dedicated to KSL.com — so coordinating the content to post to the website can often be a daunting task. However, we’ve developed a content strategy called Newsroom Baseball that makes posting content to our website a fairly simple and easy process.
The following is a brief description of how Newsroom Baseball works for us and some of the best practices we’ve found to help streamline the process while managing the various content available to us from the various platforms.
Know the game
Unlike most media websites, KSL.com gets most of its traffic from the home page, with very little traffic coming through the side doors. As a result, we spend the bulk of our time as a content team writing and focusing on the home page audience.
Each day, we post 40 stories to our home page, which we have found to be the perfect number of stories to allow readers to get the most out of the time on our site. This number is based on a historical look at website traffic and the amount of time each user spends on our site on any given day. Our audience tends to be creatures of habit and there isn't much variation in traffic from day to day.
Every website will be different, so find out what works best for you and stick to that number as a goal. We've found that readers tend to get overwhelmed if there is too much new content to choose from and seem disinterested when too little is posted. With 40 stories, we post a story approximately every 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Once we determined the number of articles we wanted to publish a day, we broke the day up into four blocks — 6 a.m.-12 p.m., 12-4 p.m., 4-7 p.m., and 7-11 p.m. Traffic on KSL.com spikes in the morning and evening, so those two blocks see the most content posted — 17 stories posted in the morning, eight in the afternoon, five in the early evening, and 10 in the evening.
This model is counterintuitive to that of TV and radio, which traditionally see the bulk of their content coming in between the hours of 3-7 p.m. — a generally dead period online since most people are traveling home from work or eating dinner with family. To maximize potential readership, the website can't be beholden to when TV, radio or print want to run a story.
Pageviews are often the easiest metric when trying to assess how content does on a website, and it's no different at KSL.com. However, we don't want pageviews to cloud our news judgment when selecting stories for the day or else we'd just post celebrity gossip news or cat videos. We want pageviews to give us a better understanding of our audience so we can make informed decisions about what type of content to post and when.
Each day we hold two Newsroom Baseball meetings: one in the morning to plan most of the day and another in the afternoon to finalize the day’s plans and plan ahead for the next day. In these meetings we discuss all the available content from all the various platforms — TV, radio, print, wires, contributors and our team of writers.
From that pool, we’ll try to narrow it down to the 40 best stories we can post that day. These stories should be an assortment of hard news mixed in with softer news and generally give us the most pageviews possible for the day. However, we may choose some stories knowing that they won't get a lot of pageviews simply because we want to be a responsible news entity. For example, international news does not generally do well on KSL.com, but occasionally a story needs to be posted for its news value.
The leftover stories go into our “Bullpen” and could be called up should one of the original 40 stories not happen or details about a story change. Once we've selected our best stories of the day, we assign a value to each story, namely a Grand Slam, Home Run, Triple, Double or Single. The following is the 48-hour pageview threshold for each value:
• Grand Slam: 150,000+ pageviews
• Home Run: 50,000+ pageviews
• Triple: 30,000+ pageviews
• Double: 20,000+ pageviews
• Single: 10,000+ pageviews
Although we choose the 40 best stories for the day to post online, we strive to predict at least three home runs, seven triples, five doubles and five singles. Should we get every prediction correct, we have likely hit our pageview goal for the day.
In the afternoon meeting, we review our earlier plan, assess the remainder of the day and make any necessary changes to get the 40 best stories. We then plan ahead for the next day, selecting a few stories we want posted in the early hours before our next morning Newsroom Baseball meeting.
As the day progresses, new stories will come up, particularly breaking news. Having the day already planned out and values given to the stories will help you judge whether a story is worth diverting attention to. If you’re taking a reporter off a story projected to be a Triple, the new story should at least be a Triple or higher for there to be value in altering the day’s plan. This process allows our team to filter out “noise” in a simple, meaningful way.
Predicting stories is a fun and mostly subjective task. However, reviewing how content performed is the most important part of the Newsroom Baseball process. Anyone can make a prediction on a story. It’s using our predictions and the 24-hour and 48-hour pageviews that shape our behavior in the future and give us an understanding of the type of content our readers want.
If we predicted a story to be a Home Run, but it only ends up being a Single after the 48-hour period, we’ve done a poor job of assessing our audience and their appetite for that story. Was it a bad headline? Was the content lacking? Was the story posted at a time that didn’t maximize readership? Each of those questions and more will be asked in an effort to better understand why a story didn’t perform as well as planned.
Even if a story hits its prediction, we’ll ask similar questions to give us a better sense of what the audience wants. Maybe there was something about that story that can help us with the other stories: great imagery, captivating headline, compelling content, etc. The more you know about the stories you post the better.
We're not perfect and constantly work to improve. That said, implementing our newsroom baseball strategy has had a significant, instant and sustained impact on our page views. We know of at least one other organization that has implemented this strategy and saw similar results.
Practice, practice, practice
The above strategy is only a brief overview of the Newsroom Baseball process using pageview metrics. If your platform values time on page or unique pageviews, the strategy is still the same. Although we’ve been using the Newsroom Baseball strategy for the last five years, there’s always more we want to learn. The basic tenet of Newsroom Baseball should remain: get to know your audience and maximize readership potential with a deliberate plan.
Every day, publishers are competing for attention.
As a content manager for the FamilyShare Network, even with a following of 100 million social media fans, this constant battle can be overwhelming. With millions of posts made every minute on social media, how do you make your content stand out? Assuming you already have a killer headline and image, your content will never grab the attention it needs if you aren’t considering these four questions each time you write.
1. What content has performed well in the past?
In the old journalism age, articles were published with little to no input from readers. This isn’t that age anymore. Social media audiences provide instant feedback (good and bad), and that data is worth gold. As a content producer, analytics should be your best friend. If you’re not obsessing over the numbers, you won’t see improvement.
Analytics can provide ideas for future articles. If a topic hits home with your audience, investigate deeper. If a piece of content doesn’t perform, pivot. Data should drive your decision-making.
2. Would I share this?
If you are not willing to share an article, why would anyone else? While page views and likes are good, the most important social media metric is whether or not someone is willing to share it.
In an interview with Fast Company, BuzzFeed senior editor Matt Stopera explained that shares are the most important factor in driving traffic. Shares trump any other social media metric. Sharable content carries the message to people you otherwise would not reach. When writing an article, the ever-present question in your mind needs to be whether or not you would share it.
3. What emotion does this stir?
Viral articles typically have one trait in common: they evoke at least one powerful emotion. Whether it’s anger, fear, curiosity, happiness, nostalgia, amusement, devotion, appreciation, passion or agreement, if your article isn’t cultivating one of these feelings, it won’t inspire someone to pass it along.
Including controversial topics within your article is a great way to spark that passion necessary for people to become invested in the piece. These are the feelings you need in order for that article to reach a larger audience.
Engross yourself in the comments your readers make on your article. What points does your audience feel passionately about? You might be surprised by which topics rile them up. Those issues provide perfect ammo to slip into subsequent articles.
4. Is it unique?
If you’ve made it this far into the article, congratulations! According to a Nielsen Norman Group analysis, readers typically read about 18 percent of an article and spend less than four seconds on the page.
This means your article better offer something the reader can’t get anywhere else. If you can come up with the main talking points for your article within 10 minutes, chances are, it’s not going to be unique or interesting enough for your audience. If you’re asked to write about a generic topic, make sure your sub points are phrased in an eccentric way.
I grew up in the days when life was simple. There were only a few TV stations that you could watch, and the Internet was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eyes. So throughout my youth, I spent time watching reruns of iconic shows like "Gilligan’s Island," "The Andy Griffith Show," and one of my favorites "Bewitched."
For most people, "Bewitched" was only a whimsical comedy about a beautiful witch trying to pose as a normal suburban housewife with an endearing husband, Darrin. However, for this kid, "Bewitched" was more than just a show that preceded the soap operas in the afternoon. It provided me with a vision of my future life. You see, I was fascinated with Darrin Stephens’ career.
I watched with great interest as he developed amazing ad campaigns for supersophisticated products like tuna fish and kitty litter. He would present masterful concepts on display poster boards featuring catchy headlines and win the acclaims of the client and gratitude from his pessimistic boss, Larry (Seriously, what was up with that guy?).
Right then and there I knew what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to be a marketer. What I couldn’t foresee was how different the marketing world would be when I hit the scene.
Shortly after I graduated college with my marketing degree, I entered the workforce with endless hope and excitement. However, I quickly realized that this was no "Bewitched" world and thought, “I can’t believe Darrin Stephens lied to me! Why am I not presenting a catchy jingle for chewing gum? What are all these spreadsheets I have to deal with, and why am I continually hammered with questions about this thing called ROI?”
Well, it was apparent I had to adapt to this new world of marketing. And over the years, I learned a few things that helped me be a more effective marketer in a post-Bewitched world.
Tip 1: Become a story teller – a data story-teller
Ever since those little smartphones made their way into every pocket and purse in America, the marketer’s world has turned upside down. We are now gathering insight on our consumers that just a decade ago looked like a pipe dream. As a result, we are now dealing with waves of data that continually roll over us. We even came up with a fancy buzzword a few years ago to describe this movement: Big Data. Not “Above-Average-Size Data.” We’re talking big, gigantic, behemoth data.
Now data is, or should be, at the center of every marketer’s world. But utilizing all this data consists more than just showing some colorful charts or reporting on your most recent click-through rate. There’s a story behind that data, and good marketers know how to discover and tell that story.
Every month, my team gathers data from the various channels and analytics reports. And every month, we ask myriad questions about the data they collect. Why did our organic search traffic go up by 12 percent last month? What level of impact did that new piece of content have in our syndication channels? If our mobile traffic is now 63 percent of total traffic, how is that affecting our customer engagement?
There’s a story to be told: stories that explain what truly is happening behind the numbers. Make sure that you and your team are always asking questions about the data. What you learn will help you become an expert on your consumer’s behavior. The marketer who knows the most about the customer generally wins.
Tip 2: Remember, just breathe
We’ve all seen that graphic at conferences illustrating the explosion of the marketing channel landscape. Fitting all the logos from the different marketing solutions into on graphic makes them so small that it starts to look like one of those posters where if you stare long enough, a 3-D image starts to appear. “Is that Guy Kawasaki’s face that I see?”
Look, there are those marketers who are seemingly addressing all those channels at the same time and are considered multitasking gods. But sometimes trying to tackle everything at the same time is not the best approach and is unrealistic for many.
In 2013, Brandon Shin wrote an article where he cites research conducted by Stanford professor Clifford Nass, who extensively studied brain patterns and behaviors of multitaskers. In the end, Nass showed how this group’s approach sacrificed quality in hopes of quantity and ultimately lost both.
Given that there are so many channels and options available to marketers, sometimes you just need to sit back and take a breath. Carefully consider the initiative that will have the biggest impact on the business and then attack that one initiative. It’s OK to use a “focus and finish” method from time to time. After you achieve what you set out to do, that sense of accomplishment will reenergize you so you can tackle the myriad other things competing for your attention.
Tip 3: Don’t do it all by yourself
As mentioned in the previous tip, there is a vast marketing world to take on. Trying to do it all on your own can overwhelm even the most capable marketer. A frustrated marketer is usually an ineffective marketer.
I’ll be honest, I am not a social media guru. I’m not on Facebook every five minutes to see that my neighbor’s kid scored three goals in her most recent soccer game. I don’t Instagram that I had a chicken quesadilla for lunch. And I certainly have a hard time staying on top of all the new social media tools that seem to come out on a daily basis.
I came to the conclusion that I was probably not meant to be a social media expert. I humbled myself, acknowledged my shortcomings and hired people on my team who have a passion for social media. Now I find myself more productive by relying on these channel experts.
Consider building a team that includes roles focusing on specific marketing channels like social media, content marketing or that ol’ reliable email channel. Collectively as a team, you’ll be able to cover more ground and be better positioned to stay on top of the world as it evolves.
As a marketing team leader, it’s OK to admit you are not an expert with every marketing channel. Say it with me, “I don’t know everything, and that’s OK.” The best leaders I have worked with are not those that have the highest IQ. They are the leaders that surround themselves with smart people and provide them with the opportunities to do smart things.
I’m sure that there are many of you out there who read this article and thought, “No, duh! Of course, we should do these things.” But you would be surprised on how the most obvious solutions fail to be put into action. I’ve been in the marketing world for almost 20 years and I still find that I have to recalibrate from time to time and make sure I focus on those best practices. I may not be the best marketer around, but I do know that if Darrin Stephens were in today’s marketing world, I’d run circles around him.
I don’t really qualify as an old print guy. I’ve never worked for a publication that didn’t have a web product. And since I started working in the industry in the late 1990s, the Internet has always been at my disposal — even when it was limited to a single computer off to the side of the newsroom that took 15 minutes to download a photo.
But I also don’t qualify as a digital native. My primary responsibilities since joining the Deseret News in 2003 have always been tied to the print product.
That changed in early October, when I took over the role of content director for DeseretNews.com. During this transition, I’ve thought a lot about change and how, despite being painful, uncomfortable and unsettling, it can be so very good for us.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to write for the Innovation Wire about taking over the Features editor role at the Deseret News in 2010. My staff of four full-time employees had been tasked with maintaining the content and production duties once overseen by 22 full-time writers and editors.
We were put in a position where we had no choice but to innovate. In order to survive, we had to change how we operated.
The five years I spent as Features editor of the Deseret News, and the nearly seven years before that in other capacities, were simply amazing. I can’t say enough about the talented mentors and co-workers I have interacted with.
But despite the knowledge, training and experience gained during those years in the newsroom, the learning curve of moving to a digital-only platform has been steep.
Change can be equally daunting and magnificent. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few of the insights I’ve gleaned from my short time on the DeseretNews.com team and what I’ve learned about journalism in general.
Headlines say it all. It doesn’t matter how thorough, well-crafted or important a story is; it can be failed by a poor headline. Writing compelling and authentic headlines for a digital audience is not just an art form, but also a matter of trial and error. Hopefully, the headline I attached to this column is a bit more compelling than what I would have written a year ago ... something to the effect of “Digital transitions: A journey from print to web.”
Analytics are key. The tools at our disposal that monitor traffic, reader engagement and other key performance indicators are not merely interesting; they’re essential to content strategy. Being able to see the reaction to a story in real time creates a completely new paradigm in how to understand and interact with users.
Stories come in different forms. In a traditional newspaper, there are multitudes of story formats: in-depth features, columns, news stories and briefs, short features, commentaries, op-eds, etc. Why should the web be any different? Not everything that’s posted needs to follow a strict formula, as long as the information meets the standards of journalistic integrity. Photo galleries can be stories. Links can be stories. Videos can be stories. They all provide utility for the user — even if they don’t translate to the printed page.
Get them to come. The wonderful thing about digital readership is that it’s not confined to a circulation number. It’s been amazing to watch talented people work to bring in users through social media and outreach efforts.
Keep them there. Photos, graphics, charts, quotes, polls, videos and links all increase reader engagement and give the user reason to stay on the site.
Perhaps the most encouraging lesson I’ve learned since joining the DeseretNews.com team is that journalism does indeed have a bright future. The audience is there, hungry for content. And journalists have more tools and methods to deliver that than ever before. Doing so, and standing out from the crowd, requires creativity, innovation, commitment to a brand and relentless effort.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a digital native or an old print editor facing daunting transitions in the industry. That learning curve can be navigated, and the view can be magnificent.
Editor's note: The is part four in a four-part series exploring DDM's video strategy. Read part one: strategy overview, part two: long-form video or part three: short-form video. Watch the video below.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you how easy it is to create a life hack video — you know, those insanely viral videos that flood your Facebook feed with titles like, “You’ve been doing __________ wrong your whole life. Here’s the right way. ...”
Only, as I sat down to create a life hack video on how to create a life hack video, I quickly realized how challenging it was going to be.
Video is an important part of our content strategy at Deseret Digital Media because video provides excellent opportunities both in terms of audience growth/engagement and monetization. We’ve offered insight into our video strategy, including long-form and short-form videos. This month I set out to tackle life hack or DIY videos — or what we refer to as snack-size.
I am no stranger to video. As a former broadcast journalist and one-man-band reporter I’m comfortable shooting, writing, voicing and editing. But my skill set nearly failed me as I tried to piece together what I expected to be a pretty simple video.
So, here’s the premise. I sat down with one of our great video interns and asked her if I could tag along as she shot a snack-size video. The shoot itself was pretty easy. She found a DIY ornament idea on Pinterest and was going to film herself making it. I would simply film her filming the process. I had planned out what shots I’d need to get and made sure I let the camera roll extra long so I could speed up the clips in editing – as is common in these videos.
The problem came as I sat down to edit. My background in creating videos for the six o’clock news did not readily translate into creating fun and upbeat videos — certainly nothing likely to go viral.
With some great suggestions from our video lab, I think I salvaged the video. You can watch it below and be the judge of that. But more importantly, I learned some important things from which I think you might benefit. These lessons came, in part, from failing to follow all of the tips below.
Focus on your audience
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give someone creating any type of content — at least if you want your content to be clicked, read/viewed and shared. If you’re trying to reach women ages 18-44, you better know what resonates with them. If you’re after millennials, you should have an idea of what content they’re sharing.
You are my audience. So who are you? I assume you’re one of the 2,500+ media executives, sales professionals or journalists who receive our Innovation Wire each month. Or perhaps you’re a fellow DDM or Deseret News employee who also receives the newsletter. The trouble is, I don’t know which. The amount of detail and nature of the detail you need (high-level strategy versus a step by step shooting and editing guide) changes if you’re the person who will be making the video or the one tasking others to do it.
Because you could be either, or somewhere in between, I tried to make a video that would be broadly useful regardless of your title. Again, you can decide if that approach was successful.
Find the right people — video people
If you are in a position where you’ll be tasking someone else with creating the video, find someone who already knows video. More to the point, find someone who knows the type of video you want shot. Find someone who’s already doing it. When we created our video lab last summer, we brought on a few interns who were studying video in school and making videos on their own because they love doing it. We were so pleased with their work — and the results of their work — that we’ve been able to bring some of them on to part-time positions.
Once you find the right people, make sure they understand your brand, voice and the audience you’re trying to reach and then give them the freedom to be creative.
You’ll notice the camera our intern was using (her own personal camera) was pretty nice and probably expensive (a Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, if that means anything to you). By way of contrast, I was shooting it with my iPhone — literally taped to a tripod. With the exception of one blurry wide shot, I think it did a fine job. The equipment you choose to use will depend in part on your level of commitment to a video strategy. If you’re primarily a print organization that’s just beginning to dabble in video for your website, you probably don’t need to go all out on equipment right away. As you begin to see positive results you can upgrade your gear.
The only thing that really made shooting a snack-size video different from other shoots I’ve done is that I knew I would need to let each shot roll much longer because I would be speeding up the clip (up to 20 times faster) in editing. Whereas a typical shot for a news piece might be 5-8 seconds, I tried to get 30-45 seconds worth of video in each shot for this. DIY videos are much faster-paced than anything I’ve done before.
This is where I realized — to my surprise — I was completely in over my head. With a loosely planned shoot behind me, an overly broad concept of my audience and the need to make this video both informative and fun, I stared blankly at my editing software and wondered where to begin.
Two things were particularly foreign to this former broadcaster: adding lots of text and music. There would be no voiceover to tell this story. I knew that I needed to use text sparingly or the video would quickly become boring. I struggled to find the right fonts for the feel I was going for.
While the music was a little easier for me, I knew finding the right music was critical. I found two songs I liked from a music service to which we subscribe, and got good feedback from our video lab as to which fit better.
Well, you’ll have to tell me. Were you engaged? Informed? Or have I wasted your time? I hope not. It’s certainly been valuable for me.
One last principle on which our video lab (and whole company for that matter) is based is the idea that we’re free to experiment. We try new things. We fail fast. We iterate. Hopefully we succeed more often than we don’t and hopefully the successes are bigger than the failures. It’s a strategy that’s served us well and one you might consider as you work out your own strategy.
Other snack-size videos from DDM
It seems like yesterday that the deals industry was ground-breaking and disruptive, yet today many industry experts proclaim consumers and merchants have “daily deal fatigue,” and the outlook for deals websites are grim, especially when industry giants, like Groupon and Living Social, are downsizing.
Once at their peak, local directories services were SEO gold mines. Ask most industry experts, and the overall picture for local directories is one of decline as a whole, with a few exceptions. Deseret Digital Media is one of those exceptions, and we are bucking the downward trend.
Despite the bleak portrait of the deals and local directory industry, DDM’s local commerce products, KSL Deals and KSL Local, continue to deliver value for customers and revenue for merchants. So what makes our local commerce channels different from what the industry is saying? Here are three ways:
1. Commit to serving the businesses in your communities
Merchants’ success is our success. They appreciate our fair splits, how closely we work with them to ensure their brand and messaging come through in their deal, and how quickly we launch their deals. We help control costs by working with quantities and redemption processes to ensure their deal is building their business and not hurting it.
The majority of our local commerce merchants are small businesses, even one-man-shops that have not fully gone digital. They need a way to connect with a digital audience without breaking the bank or significant effort. That’s where KSL Deals and KSL Local offer affordable solutions to grow their business at costs they can afford. These options include revenue splits, flat fees for listings, and paying for promotion or performance.
2. Understand the needs of your local businesses and customers
Our deals platform changed from extreme discounts as a daily deal site to a full shopping cart with both deals and discounts (coupons) on products, services, activities and events. This commerce change gave customers more daily choices, and businesses greater exposure to new audiences.
Recently, Groupon and Living Social adjusted their business strategy to increase their focus on activities and events in local markets. In Utah, we already own this category with more than 55 percent of our deals coming from activities and events. Our customers know KSL Deals is the place to find affordable activities they can share with family or friends.
While consumers are shopping for a great deal, they might also have a need for business services, like a plumber or a landscaper or maybe they moved to town and need to find a baby sitter for their kids. Whatever their need, our KSL Local directory delivers trusted local search results to consumers with businesses in their local communities.
Customers want relevant results for their local searches. Our KSL Local directory has an integral role in delivering those results and along with local SEO. Search engines like Google and Bing populate sites, like KSL Local, at the top of their organic search results when a user is searching for a business with a local intent. That’s good for the customer, the merchant and KSL.
Local directory listings also give merchants presence on the Web, without the upkeep or expense of their own website. It is also a great way to let search engines know they exist.
3. Leverage the power of your media organization
From display ads, classified listings, native advertising, TV and radio, we continuously promote our Deals and Local directory services within the other channels of our media organization. SMB’s can’t always afford traditional advertising channels, such as large display campaigns or TV commercials, but they can afford a split on a deal with no upfront costs, a basic directory listing when they have no website or being included on a native advertising roundup of the best places to eat in your city. They are often even willing to spend more with you when they know they’ll be included in a larger promotion.
While industry predicts declines and “woe, is me” in deals sites and local directories, DDM will continue to disrupt and innovate local commerce. Our dedication to building trust between the consumer and local businesses is pivotal for our future success.
In order to publish more original sports content on DeseretNews.com — and specifically articles that bring in readers and enhance our brand while not duplicating content from our news team or print partners — we work extensively with community writers. Our contributor content enhances the work our sports team does while freeing us to focus on the types of stories that require our credentialed access or professional experience.
The key to working with contributors is to find types of stories that are easy and fun for them to write while also being interesting to read. For example, we came up with templates for pregame and postgame analysis. We’ve also sent out calls for lists, social media roundups and commentaries. For high school and smaller college sports, we’ve asked for simple game recaps and photo galleries because there are hundreds of games to cover in a week and the risk of duplication is low.
The challenge isn’t so much identifying the types of stories we want covered, it’s motivating contributors to write them without having money to offer in return. Make no mistake, we have plenty of other ways to motive them that create a strong value exchange. Identifying the differences in each contributor is the key because each will have different motivations. For us, they come in three different types.
1. Aspiring sports writers
Characteristics: These writers are typically in college or high school. They’re looking for connections and experiences to further their careers.
How we motivate them: First, we provide lots of feedback. This may sound daunting, especially if your newsroom is already strapped for resources. But that’s exactly why it’s so worth the effort. Contributors can multiply the efforts of a single newsroom resource exponentially. A little time spent giving constructive feedback helps their writing improve and keeps them engaged and motivated.
Another strong way to motivate a sports contributor is to arrange for job shadows and tours of the newsroom. Think back to your first time in a professional newsroom. It’s exciting! They’ll love the chance to see behind the scenes of the organization for which they’re writing. It takes little effort on your part, but goes a long way with them.
Sam Benson is one of these aspiring sports writers. He is a student at a rural high school in our market. He started writing for Bleacher Report in junior high. Benson writes features covering subjects ranging from collegiate logos to a feature about a man running hundreds of miles for charity. We invited Benson to tour our office to see what he’s a part of. We’ve also had him cover a few BYU football games for DeseretNews.com. In the past two and a half years we’ve published about 35 of his articles, which have generated 173,000 page views.
Characteristics: Hobbyists tend to be college graduates. They love to write and have a passion for a team or sport. In some cases, they may have studied journalism or have experience writing for a school paper.
How we motivate them: These writers often want to be part of something, so we create a community they can join. The Deseret Connect contributor management platform we use allows us to create groups into which we can invite these writers. Then we do collaborative stories like mock drafts and email chains. We hold an annual NCAA men’s basketball championship watch party in April where we can meet and talk to other contributors. It’s a blast for them and us.
Kincade Upstill is a great example of a hobbyist writer. Upstill graduated from BYU and is a big Utah Jazz fan. By day he manages a Walgreens and is the father of three girls. He writes insightful analysis stories on the Jazz. In less than a year, he’s written 18 articles and generated 111,000 page views.
Characteristics: Promoters — the third type of contributor we’ve identified — have invested heavily in a high school team, minor sport or a small website. They want a bigger megaphone.
How we motivate them: Give them that megaphone, while disclosing their background with an editor’s note. This offers transparency and authority to the piece. Parents and high school boosters fall into this promoters group. If their kid is on the team, will they write about him or her? Sure. But you’ll ensure their athlete doesn’t get any different treatment in the article than any other player in the game. You’ll also disclose their connection to the team in an editor’s note.
The opportunity to write for your organization can have a snowball effect. We’ve had boosters from our writers’ rival schools start writing for us so their team gets more coverage throughout the season too.
Examples: These contributors in our network include photographers, bloggers, the owner of a statewide lacrosse website, a weekly newspaper sports editor, and lots of fans of high school teams. I couldn’t even begin to calculate the tremendously positive impact they’ve had on our sports section.
Each group has its advantages and disadvantages, but they all can be really fun to work with. Many contributors can be your extra eyes and ears for breaking news and for general feedback — becoming a valuable connection between you and your audience.
It’s amazing how a little visibility and perspective can set priorities straight.
We’re always looking for ways to recharge and reconnect as a family. Vacation is how we normally go about it. We decided it was time for a big vacation, one that would cost a lot of money. I am a professional process and product development coach, so I decided to bring my favorite process model home so our family could plan out all the logistics as a team.
Together with my wife and five children, we decided on an Orlando theme parks vacation. We broke down our plan into chunks and made the tasks and milestones visible on a wall. We wanted to make the whole project transparent and keep our tasks and goals continually in our faces.
Although we had a plan and a very simple process for carrying it out (e.g., weekly planning and inspection sessions, daily coordination, and a visualized project board on our wall), we just weren’t making much progress. It all felt forced. My wife and I also had this nagging feeling that something about our priorities wasn’t right.
Our plan exposed something
We realized we were trying to do too many things at once, avoiding effective prioritization. We were pursuing goals that were less important and less practical than alternatives. After a few weeks of spinning our wheels, I decided to experiment with “opening the books” to our children — a deeper discussion about our family budget priorities than I ever thought possible.
Discussing family finances was not something we did in my family when I was growing up. My father taught me much about personal finance, but I had no visibility into what our family finances looked like. And up until this experience, I didn’t think it was appropriate for my own family. But exposing our family budget to our entire family has been the best idea I’ve had in a long time.
I sat down with our children one night and wrote down a number on a whiteboard. It was the number of dollars I make in a month. I then wrote down the number of dollars we pay for taxes, our tithes and offerings, our mortgage, followed by our car payments, groceries, insurance, medical, utilities, fuel, entertainment and the rest of our budget items. I then subtracted all those amounts from my income to show what was left at the end of each month. I circled that number (small circle) and went to the other side of the board to start a different list.
The new list contained all of the big things we wanted to do. Vacations to Hawaii, Disney World, Europe. Major household projects. College, marriage, rainy day and retirement savings goals. A third car for our soon-to-be teenage driver. Next to each of those, we estimated the amounts we would need to put aside each month to attain each of them independently. I added up all of those monthly amounts and subtracted the sum from the circled amount from the first list. This revealed a substantial number of dollars — dollars we didn’t have to work toward each of those goals all at the same time.
The real question
The next question was the one that I find myself asking my colleagues at work often: “We can’t do all of these at once. As a single team, we can effectively do only one at a time. Which one is most important to us?”
I wasn’t sure what answers I was going to get. My 9-year-old daughter spoke up first: “I don't care about going to Disney World anymore, until I know we have emergency savings and some money ready for me to go to college.”
Her older sisters also seemed surprised it was coming from her. Although still in shock over the numbers, they quickly agreed with their little sister.
I was a little surprised too but mostly pleased.
It was their informed decision. We won’t be making big vacation plans this year, or possibly even next year, and everyone’s owning that decision.
Instead, we’re starting to break our savings efforts down into chunks and working on small, incremental progress each week toward these financial goals. We’re exploring ways of freeing up more income each month to accelerate our savings rate. The sooner we have our acceptable base of emergency savings, the sooner we can work on the college fund, and then the sooner we can start adding to the Disney World fund — or whatever becomes the next most important thing.
More (painful) transparency
Speaking of what’s most important …
In 1999, Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of Families and Work Institute, published a study of families titled “Ask the Children.” What she found really applies here.
From Galinsky’s survey of over a thousand children and their parents, clearly parents perceived challenges in the home differently than their children. For instance, when parents were asked what they thought their children’s one big wish would be, they answered that they thought their children wanted to spend more time with them. When asked what their one big wish was, children wished their parents were less stressed and less tired.
Stressed? Tired? Guilty, I admit.
Why so stressed and so tired? We’re constantly bombarded with what the Joneses are doing and with endless possibilities for how to spend our time and money. We want the best for our children. The tireless pursuit of the best things makes us stressed, and we miss out on precious time together if we’re not careful.
As the father of five children ages 4-15, I now realize that even if I make more time for my children, if I’m stressed and tired during that time, I’m virtually useless to them.
Galinsky’s study also revealed that parents think their children will remember the big events (e.g., vacations, five-star living) most once they leave home. The children’s answer? The little things, the routines, the rituals, the reinforcing events at the beginning and end of each day are the things they will remember and miss when they leave home.
Making our family projects visible and making our finances transparent to our children has made us re-evaluate what is important to us and establish more realistic expectations. As we learn how to be more financially and socially responsible as a family, we’re connecting like never before. We’re micro-recharging through daily activities. We’ve introduced focus and removed lower priority distractions. I like that my children are learning to think that way. I feel less stressed knowing we don’t have to boil the ocean. I get better sleep at night knowing we’re working smarter, informed and together.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A smart kid decides that music costs too much. Who wants to buy a CD when perhaps only one or two songs are "worth it"? Why not break the CD into individual digital tracks and make them available via download — for free. The kid builds a peer-to-peer service and puts it out to the world. Suddenly, everyone else agrees: "Music costs too much. Why would I buy a whole CD when perhaps only one or two songs are 'worth it'? I think I’ll just download this song. And that one. And this one. Oh, and I’d never thought about this artist, but since it’s all free, I’ll download this one. And this one. And this one."
Or, stop me if you’ve heard this one. A smart dude sets up a web hosting site and allows users to upload files. Some of these “files” happen to be movies. Full copies. New releases. Some even in theaters at the time they were uploaded. People across the world think, "It's $9-$10 to see a movie in a theater, $15-$20 to buy the DVD, $8-$10 for a Netflix subscription, or free to download a movie from this website. I’ll just download this movie. And this one. And that one."
Yeah, you’ve heard these stories. Both of them. And many others when it comes to disruption. And, since all of us here are publishers (or at least in the digital media space), we’ve had our share of disrupting and being disrupted. It seems like each month there’s a new disruption, either from the competition, from the marketplace, from ad tech, etc. But one of the biggest disruptions going on right now that has all publishers a little nervous is a little thing we call “adblocking.” Yeah, maybe you’ve heard of it?
In September I attended the Digiday Publishing Summit in Miami. Adblocking was one of the top five takeaways from the entire summit.
I’m also a member of the Executive Committee of the Local Media Consortium, which recently tasked a sub-committee with tackling the landscape of adblocking, creating a position statement for what we as LMC members see as the way forward with adblocking, and documenting best practices for publishers to deal with adblocking. In a two-week period this committee did some amazing work and produced a white paper, which can be downloaded here.
So, where am I going with this? As digital publishers we continue to be disrupted, as well as being faced with various hurdles that threaten to impact our businesses revenue — see viewability, NHT, programmatic, etc. These three mentioned here each individually portend future potential impact to digital publishers’ revenues and business models. Enter adblocking, the newest potential impact to publishers’ business models. A recent report produced by PageFair and Adobe places the 2015 impact of adblocking at $22 billion — yes, billion with a B! (Full disclosure: Many in the industry have taken exception with the $22 billion number, as that reflects the cost of all the lost ad impressions as direct sold instead of programmatic. That’s a fair argument. That said, I’d argue it's still a large number with a B, not with an M. Business Insider pegs the iOS 9 impact at over $1 billion itself.)
All that is set up for what I’d like to spend the rest of this article proposing.
Publishers create content. Content has value. Digital media companies have business models. Those models center on content. Most publishers offer their content in an ad-supported model. Some charge for it. Most don’t. Therefore the content which has value, which is core to the business model, can’t simply be accessed for free. There is a quid pro quo. The quid pro quo for digital content is this: You access my content (quid), you pay me for it (quo). The real question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How do we block those who are running adblockers from accessing our content?” That’s a thermonuclear war option. The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Which payment are we willing to accept (the quo) for our content (the quid)?"
Proposal: Acknowledge the value of your content. Take ownership of the relationship with your users. Engage in a dialogue with them that says, in effect, “I see you’re running an adblocker. My content has value, and I’m happy for you to consume it. But, I need to have some kind of payment for my content. Currently the payment model I employ is ad support. Advertisers pay me to have access to my audience (you), and in return I give you my content for free. If you’d like to continue with an ad supported model, please turn your adblocker off or whitelist my site. If you aren’t a fan of ad support, that’s OK. We have other options. You could watch a preroll before accessing my content today. You could look at an interstitial. You could provide me with your e-mail address to be added to a weekly e-mail newsletter. You could subscribe to my digital product. Basically, I have all kinds of options for you to 'pay' for my content, most of which don’t actually involve money. But, my content has value, so I expect to be 'paid' for it somehow."
Why do I make this proposal? Because it’s incumbent on us to step up and protect our business models. My wife used to regularly tell our daughters as they were growing up, “If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will.” So, let’s stand up for ourselves. Let’s stand up for our industry. Let’s let our users know our content has value, and we’re happy to engage in a dialogue about it. But, we will get value back from them for our valuable content.
Here’s the other reason why I make this proposal. Regardless of what the PageFair/Adobe study purports, most users aren’t willing to pay for our content with cold, hard cash. And that’s OK. Because I think when push comes to shove, the model they are most likely to adopt is the one that’s currently in place: ad support. I’m sure you remember studying inertia in school? You know, inertia: An object at rest remains at rest, an object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
The textbook definition of inertia is, "Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion including changes to its speed and direction or the state of rest. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.” In other words, our users have a state of motion: They come to our sites regularly, and they consume our content. Sometimes they click on an ad. Most times they don’t. But, we give our advertisers a chance to access our audience multiple times per day and per month. The outside force? Adblockers. See that? Our users will remain in motion unless acted on by an outside force. That outside force changes their motion, their direction. But, we’re also an outside force, and we can put our users back into motion, renew their direction, and get them back where they were going. It’s all about the value exchange.
So, what’s the support for my proposal and my argument? Well, in the case of music and Napster, it was iTunes, Rhapsody and others, which gave way to Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and others. In the case of Megaupload it was Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others. In the case of the digital media industry, we are the solution. Instead of just being disrupted, let’s disrupt. Let’s own our own destinies. As for support, take a look at this blog post from Flurry. Granted, it’s specifically dealing with apps vs. the local media space, but the paradigm and use case are the same. When faced with paying $.99 or more for apps without ads, or accepting ads and paying $0 for the apps in the App Store, 90 percent of users in 2013 chose the free route (up from 84 percent in 2010). Said another way, users who could pay to not see ads decided instead to not pay to allow ads to be served. Will they tap? Will they convert? I don’t know. At some level that’s incumbent on the advertiser to provide strong creative, good calls to action and compelling offers. But, inertia for app users says they’ll stay in motion — the "free" motion, even when an outside force can be applied.
OK. I’ve gone on long enough. I hope I’ve made my case in a compelling manner. Don’t get me wrong, adblocking can and will hurt. We’re all going to be impacted by it at some level. But instead of going all thermonuclear war, I advocate a dialogue with users to determine their “currency” of choice, and then that we “charge” them in that currency.
As for the title of this post, you may have heard the full adage" "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Our users are our audience. Our audience is what we “sell” to advertisers. In other words, our audiences, who are not paying for the product, in essence are the product. As a product myself, I understand the quid pro quo and engage in that value exchange every day. To the extent that I don’t have to pay for it, I consume lots of digital media, a little bit of HD TV over the air, limited music on Pandora or via radio, etc. And I’m fully aware that I’m not paying for the product, hence I am the product.
Decide who you want to be.
Decide what you want to do.
Think bigger than you were thinking.
That is the message I delivered at the International Newsroom Summit, held in Hamburg, Germany Oct. 5, as journalism professionals gathered to focus on the state of the industry as 2015 nears an end. Years into disruption, the media industry continues to search for formulas to support journalism, when what is needed is focused attention on strategies that make each endeavor valuable, and perhaps unique. What can you deliver that others are not delivering? Can you turn conversations of cuts and “we can’t do as much” into conversations centered on “what can we do better than anyone else?”
It starts with an audacious goal, and in our case it was this: “To be trusted voices of light and truth reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”
That is the mission statement of Deseret Management Corporation (DMC), and it is the overarching message that informed the way we approach our information and newsgathering efforts. DMC manages several companies and media properties, notably the Deseret News, established as a newspaper in 1850; KSL Television and Radio, among other broadcast properties; and Deseret Digital Media, which runs the Internet properties associated with the Deseret News and KSL broadcasting (deseretnews.com and KSL.com) as well as unique brands associated with topic areas like “family.” All are separate companies with unique missions but work under one roof — indeed, all are represented in one newsroom — covering news and information.
Decide who you want to be
In 2010, the Deseret News cut its staff by 43 percent and combined its newsgathering operations with KSL broadcasting. Though a painful choice, the goal was to use the strength of the combined workforce to become something greater, not lesser. The total number of journalists and support staff in the combined, multi-platform newsroom ultimately made it the largest newsgathering operation in the market. But it made print and television competitors colleagues, it brought three distinctive journalism voices and operations into one newsgathering force, and offered a management challenge as employees struggled to understand who was in charge, who had decision-making rights over the news and each platform, and provided challenges in maintaining differentiation of the news brands.
This was not an easy task, and there were many missteps. But we learned it required two distinctive traits in managers: trust and cooperation. Those who chose not to work together in search of solutions soon left the company or senior managers made changes. We focused on workflow and understanding the roles in the room — legacy print reporters, legacy TV reporters, Web producers, TV and radio producers, editors for print and editors for TV and a host of other platform-specific functions.
We learned someone needs to drive the daily news report. That is the primary role of the managing editor. The News Division is led by the managing editor and includes four deputy managing editors focused on breaking news, TV and social media, visuals (both stills and video) and print/Web. Reporters from the legacy platforms of print, Web and broadcast are also part of the News Division.
Each platform eventually had its own news director, with direct responsibility for the platform. This was key for understanding workflow: The News Division and managing editors drive the news report and are responsible for the consistency of the report across platforms, working with reporters from all platforms and taking the lead on news decisions, such as when to name underage perpetrators or crime victims, for example. The news directors focus on making their platform — the paper or the broadcast — the best, with decision-making rights over what to put in that broadcast and in the newspaper.
Trust and cooperation are key as it enables the newsroom to draw on the expertise of everyone in the room without compromising news exclusives (on each platform), or the work of colleagues. We work together, but with specific news reporting tasks.
Decide what you want to do
Key to deciding "what you want to do" is developing a brand. The cost of entry into the news business is breaking news. And each platform tries to own breaking news in its brand-specific way (visuals, sound, the printed word). But brand means more than news coverage.
The Deseret News established areas of editorial emphasis and a brand statement to draw from: "When I am well-informed I feel more confident in living my beliefs so I can make a difference in my family and my community." That covers breaking news. We also established areas of editorial excellence, becoming expert in the core areas of the family, faith in the community, excellence in education, financial responsibility, caring for the poor, and values in the media. Each of those areas are specific beats, established with an enterprise team. The focus is also used in daily questioning by news reporters in daily coverage to provide deeper, richer stories. We want to be expert in issues related to faith and family and in the other areas of emphasis.
KSL TV's brand is to own breaking news and weather, but also the following: "KSL provides leadership that builds up, connects, informs and celebrates Utah's communities and families.” Our investigative and enterprise work reflects that message and helps us move beyond breaking news into a place of trust for the community. KSL radio owns breaking news, weather and traffic and is the area leader in news talk. Providing leadership is key to this brand.
The digital brands reflect the above values and brands but use metrics and the finest industry innovations to cross-promote and develop unique, Web-only content. The result has been phenomenal growth and reach.
Think much bigger than you were thinking
The Deseret News and KSL began as regional brands. To suggest this Salt Lake City-based organization could reach hundreds of millions of people was audacious and on the surface seemed unreachable. But it is being realized and it remains at the center of our efforts. It allows us to champion the best in journalism while searching for innovations in a time of change.
• Sixty-seven percent of adults in Utah encounter KSL.com in any given month, making it the most-visited local TV news website in the USA. Combined with the TV audience, KSL has an unduplicated reach of 77 percent.
• The Deseret News has grown to the largest Sunday circulation in its market, established a national print edition and a national website that continues to gain recognition within the industry.
• Global reach continues to impress. Collectively, Deseret Digital Media's brands reach more than 22 million monthly unique visitors, reach nearly 100 million global followers through social media channels and generate 850 million monthly ad impressions.
Business operations used to support the newsroom have brought their own innovations, both in print and in digital. The result is a focus allowing us to be a well-positioned, successful media company with a bright journalistic future.
When the DDM Publisher Solutions team asked me to write a piece for the Innovation Wire, I said I would have to think about it. After hours of contemplation and deep meditation I only had one crucial question to ask:
Excellent. Let's begin. (Wait, whose idea was it to let the engineer write a post?)
In all seriousness, as the director for our CMS team it can feel like I'm light-years away from the newsroom and our journalists. My day consists of building new features, upgrading servers and making sure the correct 1's and 0's go through the correct pipes. My only previous experience in journalism was as a paperboy growing up. It was intimidating learning how to work in our industry. Deadlines, embargos, bylines, revisions, AP style, etc. You name it, it was all new to me. At times, it felt like software development and journalism were two separate worlds. However, how I build and maintain our CMS tools and websites can drastically impact our content team's ability to do its job.
This is why we love collaboration tools, and why we've been so happy moving to Slack. Any tool that helps break down barriers and lets the right people communicate and work together, regardless of team or role, is a game-changer. My co-worker Matt Montgomery wrote earlier this year about how our journalists and developers worked together to produce some amazing long-form pieces. When you work together, you can produce some pretty spectacular results.
We're not the first media company using Slack. Quartz, Vox Media and others have shared their experiences on how they use Slack. The New York Times built Blossom, a slack bot that successfully helps editors decide which stories to best promote on which social channels. While attending SRCCON, a conference centered around designers, developers and journalists, there was an entire session (transcripts) dedicated on how newsrooms could use bots in their respective workflows.
But Justin, isn't Slack just another chat service? We have tools to send IMs already.
While we have used other chat services in the past, there are three crucial differences that take Slack from being another messaging services to being a driver for innovation at DDM.
Reason No. 1: People will use it. This may sound silly and straightforward, but this is where many of our past attempts to unify a chat service have failed. We would try different services and only get 10 percent of the company on it. Other times, we were able to get about 50 percent of the company on a particular service in six months.
We moved about 70 percent of our company to Slack with people using it in three days. This is incredible for us on how quickly this transition happened. Journalists, developers, designers, sales, customer support, you name it, they love using it. The interface feels fresh, the mobile apps are top-notch, and you can fine-tune your notification settings level so you see the messages you need without all the noise.
And there are gifs. You may think that is silly, but between gifs, emojis, reactions and other subtle features, it allows a company to foster a culture instead of just sterile text communication. Heck, we have the channel #gifs for just gifs:
So why is this important? You can't use Slack as a tool to help you innovate if your team isn't there. So having such a high adoption and retention rate was crucial for us.
So the next question is, how do you innovate?
Reason No 2: One click integrations. There are so many tools and services we use that integrate seamlessly into Slack. As a development team, we use GitHub, Travis CI and Pivotal Tracker to manage our process. We have channels in Slack that receive notifications from these tools, allowing our team members to stay up to date on what's going on. An example is our CMS project's activity room:
Anyone can add these integrations, not just developers. Spencer Hall, our content director for KSL.com, wanted to keep an eye on the headlines for KSL.com over time. Using the online service If This Then That aka IFTT he was able to have new entries in the KSL RSS feed posted to his team's Slack channel:
Without the help of a single developer, a content director implemented a solution to a problem he was trying to solve. This is just one example out of many, and we're always looking for ways to "slackify" our workflows.
Many one-click integrations work and solve all of the problems for a particular need. However, there are times where a little additional work from the dev team can take an idea and make it magical.
Reason No. 3: Fail fast and quickly iterate on what works. Slack is an excellent place to experiment with new features, workflows, processes, etc. If my team spends weeks or months in a feature that doesn't solve our users' needs, it becomes a huge waste of time and effort. We don't like that; we like to make things that are useful.
So Slack is a great place to test ideas and see if and how people use them. Slack has several powerful, robust ways to interact with your team. From simple webhooks to a robust real-time messaging API, there are easy-to-use technical solutions for any development team — large or small.
Going back to Hall's RSS feed channel, he was happy with it, but it wasn't solving all of his needs. There could be up to a 15-minute delay with new items being posted, and it could look a little nicer.
Because people were already using the channel, we knew spending a little more time would be a wise investment. We set up a bot called "newsie" that crawls an RSS feed every 15 seconds and post a nicer formated message in a channel we call #our-news. We also added some of our other sites like Deseret News. The result turned out nice and was worth the few hours of additional effort from the dev team.
If there is anything that has me sold on building tools into Slack, it has been these last two weeks.
Case Study - The Deseret News Bot
For the month of September, the Deseret News content team set a goal: double the number of video views we serve. It was a lofty goal, but members of the team felt we could hit it. Every day, Matt Hartvigsen, the content director, would manually send out an email with the following information: yesterday's video views, top videos and how many video views we had for the month. The content team felt the emails were super helpful, but they couldn't do a lot about yesterday if they had a slow day.
So our dev team thought, "why don't we make a bot in Slack that can tell them the stats in real time?" So we created DN Bot. We based it off of "hubot" from GitHub, and had an initial version working in about two hours. DN Bot was simple and polite.
You could ask it to tell you what commands it could do:
But the most important part is asking it "@dnbot: stats videos for today":
Our content team got hooked. Our team went from checking daily to checking hourly. In the afternoon if it had been a slow day they would go out and turn it around. And guess what? We totally hit our goal! Our dev team can't take the credit, our amazing content team deserves that, but we were glad to help out.
Now that we know people will use DN Bot we've added more features. You can now check many types of stats for any type of date range. We're now looking to expand it to let other teams like KSL.com and Utah.com use it. It has been a huge success, especially given that only one developer spent a few days working on it.
That's the beauty of Slack. We can try, experiment, tweak, adapt and innovate. We can spend just a few hours on an idea, and if it is a total flop, that's wonderful. We learned something new at a very small cost. I don't have to worry about putting weeks (or months) into a project hoping I'm building the right thing. Then if something becomes so successful it outgrows Slack's interface or features, we can move that successful project into a full-blown product.
If you're not using some sort of communication tool like Slack, I highly recommend it. If you're successfully using another tool like HipChat or Campfire, wonderful. Look for ways to experiment with it. It is extremely cost-effective and a lot of fun. When your developers and journalists start to enjoy working together and trying new things, you'll start to do awesome things.
P.S. If your developers want some more technical insight into how we built the things we did, feel free to let them contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Native advertising is hard. Sure, publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox and many others make it look seamless, but not all of us have the Midas touch (and by Midas touch I mean thousands of dollars, full-time employees and countless other resources to dedicate to our native products).
One of native’s most challenging components is striking a balance between audience and advertiser. It’s hard for an advertiser to justify allocating advertising budget to a premium product that isn’t meant to drive direct response results.
These three tips will help you appease an advertiser while maintaining a shareable, consumable native product.
Focus on the audience
Dollars and cents don’t equate to editorial muscle. Native gives advertisers unprecedented access to a loyal, trusting and engaged audience. Their content will not appear on the right rail or as a pop-up; rather, it is mixed directly into the editorial queue. Because you give advertisers a portion of this most sacred real estate, audience experience must be the pinnacle litmus test for content quality. Advertising dollars do not supersede reader experience.
Sure, this principle sounds great, but pragmatically how is it implemented? After all, advertisers are spending money on this premium product. At Deseret Digital we developed a native advertising style guide that sets basic editorial ground rules. Our style guide assuages myriad potential contention points by outlining our creative/editorial standards up front. It covers everything from topics we won’t write about to how many in-text links we will include in a native article. In many instances our sales representatives introduce the style guide in their initial conversations with a potential advertising partners, thus allowing everyone a clear understanding of how native will work.
If you want to create awesome native content you must focus on your audience. Giving up ground to advertisers will only hurt the performance of their branded content and lose you the trust of your audience — ultimately damaging your native product.
Randy Jackson rule
To keep our audiences engaged and consuming, native cannot come across as a blatant pitch for the advertiser. We call this the Randy Jackson rule. It seems that even a cursory understanding of the nuance of this American Idol judge yields the fact that he simply doesn’t like anything pitchy.
We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Jackson. Pitching an advertiser’s service, product or offering is a sure-fire way to watch an article’s performance plummet and the negative comments skyrocket. You have worked for years, and in most cases decades, to cultivate a certain brand promise — something that a pitchy article can destroy in one fell swoop.
The aforementioned style guide is a crucial tool that helps explicate your brand promise for advertisers. The importance of creating a style guide and ensuring that both advertiser and publisher see eye-to-eye cannot be stressed enough.
In football there are two means of advancing the ball: Running and passing. Both can be extremely effective, but rarely does one work without the other. If a defense knows that an offense has a poor passing game, they can stack their players on the line of scrimmage and better prepare for the run. Conversely, if the run game is weak they can take the players off the line and better cover the pass. Native is analogous. When our chief goals aim to raise brand awareness and show thought leadership, we must take a balanced approach.
Think of articles that aim to purely entertain an audience as the passing game (examples here, here and here). The passing game is sexy. It wows the audience with little effort and has the potential to do this:
Conversely, articles that employ a heavier dose of thought leadership and expertise from the advertiser are like the run game (examples here, here and here). The run game is where the rubber meets the road. It allows the offense to control the tempo of the game and bring the fight to the defense (or for our purposes, allows the advertiser’s expertise to take a prominent role). These types of articles may not appear as sexy as their high-flying counterpart, but analytics show that they perform at the same rate and have just as much potential to score touchdowns.
Continuing to pivot and evolve is crucial to your native product’s success. Don’t be content with simply producing articles. Incorporate infographics, videos and other forms of digital media. In keeping with our football analogy, consider these forms of native multimedia your special teams. And just like special teams on the football field, these offerings give you the opportunity to break the game wide open!
We should always strive to bring the best content to our audiences, for at the end of the day they decide whether or not our native products are successful. So focus on them, avoid being pitchy, and don’t be afraid to entertain and leverage your advertiser’s expertise.
Editor's note: if you're interested in learning more about native advertising, register for our free webinar based on our popular whitepaper: The 7 Deadly Sins of Native Advertising.
Editor's note: The is part two in a four-part series exploring DDM's video strategy. Read part one, the overview, here.
No one could have predicted the seemingly overnight explosion that was the rise of online video or the way that it completely shifted — not only our viewing habits — but completely disrupted many industries. Who could have imagined that this website called YouTube that was disregarded as a pointless cat video site would be the second largest search engine in the world serving billions of video views to people who can’t seem to get enough? Or to be an insider in the Blockbuster boardroom when the topic of Netflix mailing DVDs to a person’s home was discussed? It seems laughable now that Blockbuster didn’t see it coming until too late. I’m sure the idea that Netflix’s mail-order service would morph into direct content delivery over the Internet was never even imagined.
This is the world we are in now — a world where consumers expect to have excessive options for both education and entertainment at their fingertips. This is also where we, as an industry, are failing in terms of looking forward in our own communities. What do our customers/viewers want and expect, and what really matters when we look at how we cover events in our community?
As Russell Banz, our vice president of product, explained in a recent Innovation Wire article, Deseret Digital Media has a three-pronged approach to video: long-form video, short-form video and snack-size. That first prong, long-form video, allows us to be hyper-local and really connect with our community in a meaningful way.
Typically, long-form videos are longer than 10 minutes and can include a variety of content types: documentaries, sporting events, conferences and community events (like parades). They could also include newscasts and other styles of programming. For simplicity, I will focus on live events (sports, conferences and community events).
The unique opportunity these events have is that more often than not the largest viewing audience will happen while the event is live, and the production of the events will also be live. This saves in two ways: you are where your audience is when the event is important, and you are not required to pour resources into postproduction and editing.
There are a lot misconceptions about a live streamed event that seem to always come up when ever the topic of producing live events comes up:
1. It costs too much money.
2. We do not have the staff.
3. No one will watch it without
Here is the truth about what really should be considered when looking to produce a live event:
1. Is the event important to your audience?
2. (Nope that’s it, no #2 needed)
We have learned that if your audience really wants to watch something, they will watch it — even if it is not up to television broadcast standards. Will some people complain that it doesn’t have some of those missing items from above? Absolutely, some will. But the vast majority will be grateful to you. They’ll realize they had no other resource to view the event, short of being there in person, and you provided that opportunity.
We have streamed many events where the video consisted of a single camera panning back and forth to cover the event. Periodically, the operator would take a shot of the scoreboard. Some were bothered that the production value was far less than they would expect from an outfit like ESPN, but most were grateful they could view the event at all.
At the heart of what a site can hope to accomplish when producing a live event is to effectively cover the event without breaking the bank. I’m not suggesting bad quality, rather good enough.
This thought process flies in the face of every instinct and lesson that I have been taught in my previous 17 years of broadcast, and it will do the same to anyone in the broadcast industry. Broadcast training is centered on creating the biggest splash with all the bells and whistles you can to make great TV.
Well this is not TV, and anyone who starts to lecture about how terrible it will look and that no one will watch it can be reminded of that. In the immortal words of my colleague Matt Sanders, senior director of DDM’s Publisher Solutions team, “keep it crummy as long as you can.”
Those words are so true! The difference in cost between a single camera covering an event live to the Web and a TV-produced event is enormous. This is why TV does not cover more “down home” local events; recouping the cost is too difficult.
Producing your own events is an endeavor that can solidify your place in the community and, as you’ll see in a minute, not all of the events that are produced even need to come directly from you.
So what does it take to create a live stream of an event? In its simplest form all you need is a camera, a computer, a method to get the video into the computer (capture card) and the Internet. Where you take it from there is limitless. The depth of gear and resources you can buy that will enhance your productions to make them television quality could fill chapters. When you are in the beginning stages think small and keep your ROI in mind. It takes a whole lot longer to pay off a $10,000 camera than it does a $300 one. In the basic beginnings they accomplish the same goal.
We have explored many ways to help generate long-form video that is engaging and relevant to the viewers. We suggest the following:
Involve your high schools
Many media organizations wear themselves out when self-produced events are the starting and ending points of their video strategies. It is important to produce some events, but when covering large areas and trying to produce everything yourself, the cost can get expensive quickly.
A number of high schools have broadcasting programs that students participate in. We have approached principals and teachers at schools with the concept that if they produce the event, we will place it on our website to get viewed. In those cases, we don’t even need any of our people at the event — the students handle the production; we just make sure the stream is working on our end.
We do not dictate the quality that we expect or equipment that they must use. We simply train on how to create a live stream. We also offer the schools the ability to place their own advertising into the production as a way to offset their cost. We only ask that they follow our advertising policy.
With schools handling the production, you can increase your coverage to geographic areas you might not otherwise have the resources to cover as often. This is a huge win in reaching more remote communities in your market. Once you provide them with an opportunity to live stream, you can see high schools covering a surprising number of events.
In addition to coverage of every high school sport you can imagine, we have streamed choir concerts, robot competitions, marching bands, dance performances and graduations. Each of these events is important to your audience, and now you’re the hero who cared enough to stream it for them. The cost to you for this hyper-local content is little to none.
In the same sense that we have schools producing their own events for us to stream, we have worked hard to partner with as many local media producers as we can to gather as many events as possible. There are many groups, cable networks and TV stations that would produce more if they had a venue to display it where people would actually view it. We provide a method for them to reach a broader audience and they reward us with content.
The basics of how this works is that we offer them exposure through our website, and they are able to place advertising within the produced event. We place our advertising as pre-roll and on the surrounding Web page.
With schools and partners producing many of the events for your site, you’re free to focus your resources on strategic, significant events that you will produce yourself. This lets you keep some control over some of the must-see events that are important to your community. It also gives you a revenue opportunity for inside event advertising and sponsorships.
Producing live events is a great way to show direct involvement inside the community and it is an important activity — but avoid the pitfalls of trying to do it all yourself. In the process of deciding what events to cover, make sure that you have worked to gather content from as many low/no cost alternatives as you can.
One of the main ideas that we use is that there are tons of events to produce so you don’t need to be greedy. The goal is to have as many events covered in your community as possible and to let your audience know that it can consistently find events that matter to it on your site.
Long-form video is not always easy, but when done right, we’ve found it to be effective on many fronts. As mentioned above, it is just a piece of our overall video strategy. Over the next couple of months our video teams will share more about our short-form and snack-size video strategies that are generating tremendous buzz and page views.
At Deseret Digital Media (DDM) we have a strong belief in growing the consumption of video on our various digital platforms. As almost everyone inside the digital media industry knows, video presents a wide variety of opportunities, both on the revenue and audience growth side of things. Targeted video pre-roll ads can garner well over a $30 CPM rate. Video consumption across the globe is growing at a rapid pace and is predicted to account for 85 percent of all Internet traffic by 2018.
Not only does video provide new growth opportunities but it also helps deal with some of the current challenges facing digital advertising. For instance, “ad blockers” could potentially diminish some revenues associated with traditional display ads. And there is a general migration from desktop digital experiences to the mobile environment where there are less viewable ad units. Video provides advertising opportunities that could be considered both “ad blocker safe” and “mobile ready.”
So what is DDM doing to take advantage of the opportunities in the digital video space? That’s where long, short and snack-size video comes in. We are addressing the opportunity on three different fronts as described below. Future articles featured in DDM’s Innovation Wire will give a more detailed look at each front, while this article will give a brief overview.
Long-form video: live events
A few years ago, we gave ourselves the challenge of creating engaging video content that would keep viewers around for longer than just a few minutes. Our specific answer to this challenge was to launch live coverage of high-school athletic events on both KSL.com and DeseretNews.com. In order to do this in a sustainable, cost-effect manner, we made some minor modifications to our Deseret Connect contributor platform and began partnering with high schools throughout the state of Utah. We made it easy for high school video departments and their students to launch live streams of any sporting event at their schools via our platform. We also made it easy for viewers to find these events on our WatchIt Channel on our websites.
Here’s an example of a high school playoff game: 4A State Tournament — Bountiful vs. Murray
Over the course of a year, we will cover hundreds of high school events — even beyond athletics. This includes dance, drill team, band, graduations and so forth. In addition, we formed a major partnership with the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) and provide coverage of most all of the state championship games — this includes games featuring smaller schools in Division 1A to the large 5A events.
Pre-rolls, display advertising and in-game mentions are just a few ways we monetize our live streaming activities, enabling us to provide this valuable service to the community.
At DDM, we consider short-form video anything in the 1-3 minute duration range. Over the years, our primary source of this type of video has been repurposed video from our sister company, KSL Television, as well as curated video from YouTube, Vimeo, etc. We have been able to grow consumption from these internal and external sources to over 2.5 million video views a month on our properties. Some of our most popular videos in this area include our KSL weather video, KSL.com’s “Have You Seen This” daily video feature, and DeseretNews.com’s “The Clean Cut” franchise. In most cases, a pre-roll ad is introduced before the video plays.
We also know that there is tremendous opportunity for original, in-house produced video content. Therefore, this summer we launched a new activity called DDM Video Labs. The purpose of our Video Lab is to experiment and test a wide variety of video types and formats. We hired young, bright and creative video interns who were already experimenting with different types of video on YouTube, etc.
The DDM Video Lab team has turned out some creative and amazing short-form videos. A few examples include:
Our Video Lab team will continue to experiment and iterate. Hopefully we will develop a few home-run video franchises that will appear on our digital platforms on a regular basis.
At DDM, we have figured out that there is an appetite (no pun intended) for very short, one-minute or less videos that we are calling “snack-size” video. Most of our snack-size videos are consumed and shared socially — primarily on Facebook — where video is easy to watch and most often auto-plays.
There are at least three different types of snack-size videos that we have found to work. They include:
We plan on continuing to explore and test a wide variety of other snack-size video types as we have seen that this format is highly shareable and significantly increases the engagement of our numerous Facebook channels.
A final note
With over 200 million Internet users currently consuming digital video on a monthly basis and digital video ad spending expected to surpass $12 billion by 2018, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to exploring and growing video content.
In future editions of the DDM Innovation Wire, we will be taking a deeper look at some of the video formats and projects mentioned in this article. We look forward to sharing some additional successes as well.
In the meantime, enjoy another video created by our DDM Video Lab for our FamilyShare team: Staycation: You don't have to go far to get closer
KSL.com recently launched a new, fully responsive site for the news product. The purpose of moving to a responsive design was to give users a full KSL.com experience, regardless of screen size or device. It also gave us a chance to re-evaluate how we present paid content and advertising on the site, with the goal of finding ways to improve the ad experience for both users and advertisers.
The redesign rollout was the culmination of nearly 12 months of work and collaboration between several teams. We learned a number of valuable lessons that we think will help any organization make the transition to a responsive site.
1. Communication with stakeholders is key
You can’t create a site in a vacuum — responsive or not. Make sure to bring all of the stakeholders together on a regular basis and give them updates on the process. Communicate any roadblocks you are encountering and encourage them to give feedback.
In our case, the major stakeholders were our news team and the sales team. After we had a preliminary comp that addressed the needs of the news team, we took the design to the sales team. This back and forth helped us meet the needs of both teams. The process was complicated because the ad products were changing dramatically. Meeting regularly with both teams to share data and ideas was key in getting the sales team on board with the new site layout.
By the time we started the rollout of the new site, the entire sales team was excited about the new ad products they were selling. They were then able to help clients navigate the transition and adjust the ad inventory. No one was blindsided by sudden changes to the site. Yes, compromise was necessary on both sides throughout the process, but in the end, we had a sales team that trusted us and knew we were invested in their concerns.
2. Be prepared to throw everything out the window
We initially worked with a design firm to come up with some comps for what the new responsive site would look like. However, after we began coding up the new site, we realized that while the comp looked great on paper, it wasn’t going to transfer over to the kind of experience our users were used to. We took some of the basic elements we liked in those initial comps and started from scratch for much of the redesign. While we continued to use some static comps in the early stages, most of the design work was done in browser, allowing everyone to get a feel for the product in a functional environment.
This also allowed for quick changes on the fly and easy experimentation of ideas. Static comps definitely have their place, but in the world of responsive design, being able to design in browser is not only a huge timesaver but will also allow you to discover any UI/UX issues quickly.
3. Designers aren’t the only ones with good design ideas
Based on user interaction data, we made the decision very early that our home page would be a single column for the main news queue. New ad products were put in place to take advantage of the wider ad space, but we realized very quickly — again, through in-browser designing — that we had an issue with initial ad visibility on certain browser heights.
We were already accommodating different device sizes (mobile, desktop, tablet) via what are called media queries. These media queries are traditionally used to measure the width of a device screen and adjust the content accordingly. It had never occurred to me that those queries could be used to alter the page based on height. That idea came from KSL.com’s general manager, Brett Atkinson, during a brainstorming session. Taking that idea, we were able to create height-based media queries that adjusted portions of the page above the ad product, allowing the ad to be visible on a variety of browser heights. If you visit KSL.com and change the height of the browser, you can see that idea in action.
All along the design process, sales team members, VP’s and developers were all helpful in providing feedback and ideas for improving the new site. Listen to everyone on your team. While they may not be designers, they use the Web and have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
4. Users are mean
OK, not all users. But when you make any kind of major change (and sometimes minor) to your site, be prepared for some of your users to become unglued. Let’s face it, most of us don’t like change, and that goes for changes on the Web. We like knowing where everything is and take comfort in that. Mess with that, and you are risking the ire of your audience. In the case of our responsive redesign, it was a major change. And much of the feedback was … not nice. As someone who was deeply invested in what we had created, many times my initial reaction was, “Well, you're wrong!” However, in responding and corresponding with some of these irate users, we were able to glean information that can’t be found on any analytics suite.
We also found many users who were initially irate ended up being extremely helpful, as well as a bit apologetic for their initial response. Feedback was also crucial in finding bugs that hadn’t manifested themselves in testing. Listen to your users, no matter how painful it is. But also realize that most people don’t feel like writing a letter to the editor when they are happy and content. Don’t have knee-jerk reactions to feedback. In my time at DDM and KSL, we have made significant changes to the site every few years, and each time, a group of users say they hate the changes and are never coming back. Some have even suggested that I be fired. Yet, here we are years later, still growing — and I still have a job.
5. Roll it out slow and steady
The rollout of the responsive KSL.com site occurred over a period of about a month. For week one, we started serving the new experience to approximately 20 percent of our unique visitors. Week two, we ramped it up to 50 percent. Week three, 75 percent. And finally, 100 percent on week four.
While we had given the audience a couple of sneak peeks in the previous months, this was the first time we “forced” the users to the new site. We used the time during the gradual rollout to make bug fixes and to adjust several visual elements based on user feedback. Again, going back to the negative user feedback, it’s never fun — but it’s better to have something pointed out to you when only 20 percent of your audience is using it, rather than 100 percent.
The incremental rollout also gave us the option of rolling back to a smaller segment of users had anything catastrophic occurred with the launch. All along the way, we were closely monitoring the behavior of our users between the new site and old site, making sure that visits and page views were remaining steady. By the time we reached 100 percent, all of the major bugs had been squashed and changes based on user feedback had already been put in place.
6. It’s never, ever done
If you have worked in the Web world for any period of time, you know that nothing is ever “finished.” Yes, we rolled out a new product to our entire audience, but it is a product that will never be completely done. Whether it’s new features, new technology, new devices or new bugs, you can be assured that what you see today on KSL.com won’t necessarily be exactly the same in the next few months. We are constantly monitoring user behavior and site analytics to understand how our users digest the site. Previous assumptions and data don’t always pan out, so you have to be willing and ready to make changes and adjustments as you move forward. It’s just as important that your team has the resources, support and trust to make changes after a launch as it is before a launch.
BrandForge is more than a native ad studio – we’re publishers just like you! We’ve built a $2+ million native advertising business and are organized to help you succeed too.
We’ve worked with 100s of advertisers and trained 100s of media executives from 26 countries.
Our services include end-to -end training and guidance from product creation to campaign fulfillment.
Call us today for a free native advertising assessment!
801.319.2231 | email@example.com | www.brandforge.com
What would have helped you in the early days of your career? And what would help your career progression now?
Those were the main questions posed in a focus group I recently participated in. I didn’t hesitate at all. The answer to both questions was the same: mentoring. The mentoring I received from multiple people in my early career, the mentoring I continue to receive today, and the opportunities I have had to mentor others.
What role has mentoring played in your career? What role does it continue to have?
If you’re in a management position, hopefully you recognize the powerful opportunity you have to mentor others. What’s more, you have the opportunity to help them reach their potential as mentors themselves, helping those around them succeed. If you’re not in a management role, this article is for you too. You’re a mentor. You just don’t know it yet.
I took a quick, completely unscientific poll this week: I asked a random selection of people if they had had any opportunities, past or present, to mentor someone. I was surprised by how many people said no, they had not. And of those who answered “no,” the reasons they gave pretty much all fell into three categories:
Here’s the weird part, though. During the course of telling me how much they were not, nor could ever be, a mentor, nearly every one of the people I spoke to relayed stories of specific instances when they mentored someone. They just somehow didn’t realize they’d been doing it.
So, let’s examine each of the three categories, and I’ll respectfully explain why they are all complete bunk. Ready?
Myth: I don’t have time to mentor someone (or to be mentored, for that matter).
Reality: Mentoring is an everyday, anytime activity, like checking your email.
When I answered those two questions during the focus group centered on career progression, the moderator asked me for clarification: “When you say ‘mentoring,’ are you talking about a formal mentorship program?”
And my answer to that was … no, not really. It’s not that I’m against the idea of a formal mentoring program. There are tremendous benefits to mentoring regardless of how it comes about. However, I feel that too often we wait, and lose the opportunity to mentor (and be mentored), because there hasn’t been an express agreement set in place: I am your mentor/You are mentoring me.
Too many people view mentoring as an event — which it isn’t, not really. Not even a recurring event. When done effectively, mentoring is most often, very simply, an unscheduled opportunity to help a colleague learn something they didn’t know before.
It can happen because you’re training someone in a new job or teaching them a new skill, but it doesn’t have to be that, either. Some of the best mentoring I ever received was centered on the bigger-picture side of the equation: how to be a business person, not just how to do my job.
Not only is there not a need to schedule that type of mentoring, it really just doesn’t work like that. Those types of mentoring moments happen organically — you just have to be ready to recognize and welcome the opportunity to mentor or be mentored when it happens.
Myth: I’m not a manager — I don’t have anyone to mentor.
Reality: Mentoring is not a hierarchical activity.
A lot of my mentors have been my supervisors, and I’ve mentored many people who reported to me. That’s a common dynamic in mentoring. But — and this is important — a supervisor-to-direct-report relationship is absolutely not required. Sometimes it’s peer-to-peer. Sometimes it’s direct-report-to-supervisor. There is no specific construct that dictates who can mentor whom.
I have always actively encouraged inter-team mentoring in the departments I lead. That is, just because I am the supervisor does not mean I am the only person who does the mentoring. I not only want my team to mentor each other, I ask them to. We talk about it. I don’t hint at it, I specifically verbalize it, so they know we can all learn from each other.
(And by the way, in case it wasn’t clear, that includes my team mentoring me — it happens on a regular basis. I’ve got some wicked smart people on my team, see. I have learned a tremendous amount from them.)
Oh, and one more point on this one: I’ve had mentors who weren’t on the same team with me. I’ve had mentors I didn’t even work with. It doesn’t matter what your relationship is to each other. If you have something to teach, teach it. If someone has something to teach, listen up.
Myth: I don’t have useful skills to teach anyone.
Reality: If you have lived a life, you have skills to teach.
And I’m pretty sure you’ve lived a life.
Listen: There are opportunities to mentor and to be mentored nearly every day. Like I said before, the trick is to recognize these opportunities, and then take the time to acknowledge and act on them.
Do you know how to display complex data or concepts in a presentation so that the info is engaging and easy to consume? Did you ever have to deliver not so super news about a project to someone in executive leadership, and you have advice on how best to handle that task? Do you have techniques you use to help you keep your cool in a stressful situation? Do you have any little tips — any at all — that you’ve used in your career, or even in your life in general, that helped you succeed on any level?
Well, congrats! You are ready to mentor.
And yes, some of these may seem shockingly basic. But remember, it’s not just learning the lesson, or even committing it to memory. It’s putting it into action, making it a part of your everyday work life.
Let me wrap up by giving you some specific examples of lessons put into action. These are all things I learned through mentoring. I’ve used them in actual, real-life situations for years and I pass them along to my team too. Ask any member of my team to relay a mentorism, and I bet they’ll tell you one of these:
I have about a hundred more, but you get my point.
What it comes down to is this: Mentoring provides clarity, brings the big picture into focus. It has actual, real payoffs. Mentoring — on both sides of the mentor relationship — ensures that while you’re navigating through the myriad job-stuff pinging off the windshield of your everyday, you don’t ever lose sight of the career-stuff road you’re on. It helps you remember to think about your career while you’re worrying about your job.
So, yes — you are a mentor. You have stuff to teach. Now go find someone who can benefit from that. And see who you might inspire to mentor too, and what you might learn along the way.
The amount and complexity of data coursing through the digital media space will only continue to grow and provide myriad challenges and opportunities for individual organizations. Formal data governance can be a key differentiator, enabling organizations to move beyond the efficient day-to-day management of business units and to harness the power of their unique proprietary data. Strategic, data-driven decision-making leveraging this proprietary data is a powerful basis for a competitive advantage.
Data governance can be broadly described as a program whereby organizations define and manage the availability, usability, integrity and security of the data underlying an enterprise. The purpose of the data governance program should be to optimize an organization’s return on data assets. I’d like to address five critical aspects of data governance that we are currently focusing on at Deseret Digital Media.
1. The formation of a centralized data governance team
As with most organizations of our size and complexity, we have several very different arms of the business that all depend on diverse data sets to make strategic decisions. In order to unify the efforts of many seemingly disparate groups, we have established a centralized, cross-functional team of data stewards, product owners, engineers and analysts. This combination of vantages and skill sets enables us to take a holistic view of the business problems that individual business units are trying to solve.
Another benefit of a centralized data governance team is to create standards for how data is defined and captured. Inevitably, if disparate groups operate in silos with respect to data collection, use and storage, separate data ecosystems arise that aren’t likely to be compatible. It is much more effective to establish data definitions for an organization first. From these basic definitions of metrics, dimensions and segments and their sources, the KPIs and the organization’s business objectives can be defined in a manner that lends consistency and comparability across the organization.
2. Proprietary data is a strategic asset
The proprietary data of a media organization ought to be conceived of and managed as any other major company asset. Data governance supports this by contributing the rules, policies, roles and tools that need to be in place to ensure data is accurate, complete, available and secure. Managed in the right way, this particular strategic asset should be thought of as a foundational element for building a competitive advantage.
This potential alone is an indicator of the magnitude of the impact that implementing and executing sound data governance can have on the profitability of an organization. Allowing valuable data to flow through your enterprise without storing, processing, visualizing and extracting insights to inform strategic decisions would be akin to hiring talented writers, sales representatives, engineers and analysts without providing training and development opportunities and an environment that allow them to reach their potential and thereby create inspired products.
3. Compliance and executive buy-in
In order for a data governance to yield its maximum benefit, it can’t be done halfway or piecemeal. Data definitions and standards for storage, processing, distribution and security need to feed into a virtuous circle of compliance and inspiring confidence. If business unit owners and executives are able to receive consistent and accurate data from various sources in an organization, they will be confident that sound data management practices are being followed. This confidence is the basis for establishing the value of dedicating management, engineering and analytical resources to a centralized data governance department. Value can be attributed to such a group by articulating measurable and testable goals pertaining to the building of business solutions built upon specific data sets.
On the flip side, it only takes one or two conflicting reports driven by non-standard data definitions or practices out of alignment to undermine confidence in an organization’s data management practices. High consequence decisions become harder to make, and the perceived value of data governance diminishes.
4. Demonstrate repeatability/establish and measure value
So, how does an organization set out to incorporate data governance? The answer is to start by picking a finite area of focus and set of issues. Then a value proposition for data governance should be agreed upon — for instance, “Leverage our data to create insights that improve profitability of operations through better organizational decisions.” From here, specific, measurable, testable goals should be formulated that will be used to evaluate the success of initial data governance efforts.
Here at DDM, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with a talented group of business owners, executives, sales representatives, analysts and engineers within the KSL Classifieds division. We are currently putting the blueprints together to add products that we have identified as potentially highly valuable for our partners through discussions with the above-mentioned team as well as client needs and feedback provided by our sales and client support teams. We’ve defined the necessary data components and identified the tools that are capturing the data and ideas for the underlying technology to power the product. I hope that I have the opportunity early next year to write about a successful product launch in more depth.
It is mission critical for data governance team members to be able to articulate data stakeholder and business unit needs and to be able to translate these into database structures and data collection system architecture and back into reports and publishable analytics. We hold weekly meetings at DDM that involve all the cross-functional members of our data governance group. This forum helps ensure that as we work our way from data definition, collection and processing to execution of business strategy, we are absolutely confident that we are leveraging the right data to explicitly address the business problem at hand. This forum also ensures that all customer voices, internal and external, are heard and addressed. The presence of sales and client relationship staff is absolutely critical as the elements that help our external clients be successful are distilled into our data definition and collection layer.
Native advertising continues to be an important part of our revenue strategy at DDM, both for our own sales goals and also through our partner-facing native ad studio, BrandForge, where we’re helping other publishers create, launch and scale their native ad products. And the future of native advertising looks bright. It’s projected to be a $13.2 billion industry by 2019, according to BIA/Kelsey’s Rick Ducey at Local Media Association’s Native Ad Summit last month.
When done right, native advertising provides quality content to your audience, thought leadership for an advertiser, and a key revenue stream for the publisher – mobile monetization. It’s no secret that as audiences shift to mobile, display dollars are disappearing.
While native advertising provides great opportunities for publishers, it is also fraught with peril. For one thing, in our industry there are many different definitions of what native is. As a publisher pioneering native advertising for more than two years in our market, working with hundreds of advertisers and training hundreds of media executives from 26 countries, we have found a handful of elements we believe define successful native ad campaigns. We have organized them into the following five pillars:
1. Quality, engaging content. Most importantly, you have to provide your readers with quality content. This is not an advertorial. This is not a press release. This is not a sales pitch. Yes, it is an advertisement, but the content (story, video, graphic) must provide value to your audience. This is typically accomplished when the content educates, entertains or informs the audience.
2. Mixed with editorial. Native advertising can't be banished to the right rail or on another page of your site where it is easily ignored. To have the desired impact for your advertiser and with your audience, it must be mixed with your editorial content. Don’t risk losing readers by hiding your amazing native ad articles between display ads and right-rail widgets.
3. Matches Form. The native ad should also match the form of your website (look and feel).
4. Clearly labeled. Your native ad should have the look and feel of your other editorial content, but it should also be clearly labeled so your audience understands it’s branded or sponsored content.
5. Behavior. Native ads should not only look and feel like your editorial content, but should behave like your editorial content as well. They should follow the same merchandising, onsite and offsite promotional efforts too. If social promotion is part of your editorial content strategy, it should be part of your native strategy, as well.
We found when we were only posting native articles to the home page at deseretnews.com, the articles were not performing as well as expected. Once we started to match the behavior of our editorial content – which meant promoting articles on social media – our native articles took off. We encourage partners to discover where their audiences come from (home page, social, email, etc.) and then make sure native articles are available in those places.
We have had two questions written in the top left-hand corner of our office dry-erase board for the last two and a half months.
“Would you want to read this if it wasn’t your brand?”
“Would you share this article with your friends?”
These questions have helped guide our native advertising team as we have tried to improve the quality of our content. If the answer to either of these questions is no, we know that there are some changes we need to make in order to improve the content.
When I made the switch from our editorial staff to native advertising, I quickly found that in an effort to communicate their desired message, clients tend to create dry, unappealing content. This is understandable because clients have been conditioned to craft press releases and to pay for traditional advertisements. It is sometimes difficult for clients to grasp the fact that a native advertisement is neither of these things.
Native advertising should be as good, if not better, than the editorial content that surrounds it. Why? Because native content teams, in theory, have more time to strategize and craft the messaging and visuals around specific articles and overall campaigns.
All in all, a client is paying for an article that should benefit the client's business while providing something extremely valuable to the publisher’s audience. This is what makes native advertising a completely different beast than any other form of advertising, journalism or public relations.
It is our opportunity and responsibility to help the client get the best ROI while also producing compelling and interesting content for our readers.
If our clients and sellers don’t understand the vast possibilities attached to the investment they are making, they are wasting an opportunity. However, taking full advantage of the opportunity requires understanding what native is, how it ticks and what KPIs constitute a successful campaign.
There are two things we can do as publishers to ensure that our clients are maximizing the content value of their native advertisements:
1. Know your audience
I’m involved with the production of native content for two sites, ksl.com (a TV/radio website) and deseretnews.com (a newspaper site). Both are based in Salt Lake City and produce online content. You would probably assume, as I did, that the audiences for the two websites are pretty similar. In reality, the on-site behavior for the two audiences is completely different and their response to content is sometimes entirely opposite.
It is for this reason that I have learned the importance of knowing each audience individually.
One example of a publication that is an expert at knowing its audience is BuzzFeed. Known for its entertaining, image-heavy articles, BuzzFeed has managed to create a new kind of online journalism that has been wildly successful.
BuzzFeed got in on the native advertising party early and established itself as a thought leader in the field.
Initially we thought we needed to be just like BuzzFeed but soon realized that while we may adopt certain practices, our audience has different wants and needs. We have different messages we are striving to communicate.
Aiming to please our audience as opposed to BuzzFeed or anyone else’s audience has produced incredible results. When you understand your audience and who they really are, you are able to evoke emotion and invite them to act. They will recognize, even if only subconsciously, that you care about their interests.
The same is true for your publication. Regardless of whether you are a small-town newspaper website or The New York Times, you know your audience best.
2. Be the authority
Native advertising provides the advertiser with an opportunity to show their target audience how much they know about their industry. In a traditional advertisement they would simply talk about their product, but in a native advertisement, they are given a chance to teach the consumer and build their trust.
What does building this trust look like in real life? Here’s an example of E*Trade teaching readers about stocks on theatlantic.com. Here’s an example of Voya, a financial investment company with a focus on retirement, educating readers about how to prepare for retirement on nytimes.com.
If you follow these two tips, you will find that the content you produce will be so good that you would read it even if it wasn’t your job (or your brand) and you will want to share it with your friends. When done right, your audience will feel the same. It will be content you can be proud of, native or not.
When it comes to finding news online, there’s no shortage of options. From The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, Drudge Report, Buzzfeed, Vox and more, readers will always be able to find the information they’re seeking. The question is, then, how can a website build and keep an audience in a saturated market?
There are two critical things a news website must know: its identity and its audience.
Is your website a place where people can find sensational news? Hard news? Local news? Breaking news? Is the website directed toward those “in the know” — the people who may find their news elsewhere, but are looking for a deeper analysis? Is the website meant to entertain, inform or enlighten?
A website cannot serve its readers what they need if it doesn’t know what it’s giving them. Additionally, if a site doesn’t find a way to differentiate itself from its local and/or national competition, the website will unavoidably get lost in the shuffle.
Each website has a natural regional audience with predictable interests (state and local sports teams, police actions, schools, politics, traffic and weather). Each day, we can predict what stories will do well on our website based solely on the preferences of our regional audience, even before those stories are written.
Who is your natural regional audience? What types of boundaries shape this audience? What does this audience care about?
Once you’ve established a firm foothold on what your regional audience wants, your task turns to building. When your sought-after readers aren’t coming, how can you change that?
Each day, my team uses a variety of methods to try to expand our readership reach, both locally and nationally. These methods include headline testing, expanded coverage, social media and audience interaction.
1. Headline testing
Readers will react to some headlines better than others, and taking the time to test different headlines can have a huge impact on clicks into a story. Tools like Chartbeat allow us to test headlines in real-time — we pit one headline against the other, with clicks into the story determining the “winner.” These tests give us a feel for what drives readers to click.
Headline tools are handy, but they aren’t essential — simple logic also suffices in many cases. It’s a given, for example, that adding buzzwords to a headline will garner more clicks. For example, the headline, “Confederate flag sets off debate in GOP 2016 class” may pull in a few interested readers, but it can’t compete in our market with a headline stating, “Mitt Romney calls for removal of Confederate flag outside S.C. statehouse.”
Both are accurate — and accuracy should never be traded for clicks — but one is of more interest to our audience.
Playing with headlines also gives your stories a chance to speak for themselves. For example, I recently tested these two headlines:
The second headline — our A/B test winner — includes a quote from the story, and transforms what sounded like a calm, quiet meeting in the first headline into what it really was — a three-hour meeting filled with passionate scoldings and fist-shaking emotions.
These headline changes were also the result of a test:
The second headline accurately reflects an experience the subject of the story had, and won the test, 94.2 percent to 5.8 percent.
Don’t get trapped into thinking an interesting headline is a “clickbait” headline — in my opinion, making a headline “clickbaity” is a news sin, but if done correctly, savvy testing of truthful headlines can be an exercise in communicating reality.
2. Expanded coverage
Our regional audience — like yours — has specific, predictable tendencies. For example, sports stories about Brigham Young University pull in a larger audience for us than stories about the University of Utah. Because of this, our writers and editors often make the logical decision to focus on BYU. However, in order to expand our reader base beyond what we’ve already achieved, we look for ways to expand our coverage. This past year, our sports team has assigned new writers to the University of Utah beat, expanded the U-focused social media platforms, and given fans deeper coverage of that team. New readers have followed.
3. Social media
Social media is often about speed — the faster you get something posted on Twitter or Facebook, the more likely your story is to get noticed and shared. Don’t be afraid to retweet verified sources, like police departments or state road agencies, and retweet your reporters as they tweet from the field. If you have a reporter live-tweeting an event, use your main account to invite new readers to follow that reporter.
Notifying specific groups of people about your content via a Twitter tag like #UTpol (Utah politics) or #NerdCityFC (“nerd” culture) can also help your content reach new audiences.
When it comes to Facebook, you can often see patterns of readership emerge. For example, this year saw the 70th anniversary of the liberation of many World War II concentration camps. An initial Facebook post on one of these anniversaries resulted in a large number of readers commenting and sharing. From the response to that first Facebook post, we knew to watch for other similar stories.
4. Audience interaction
Readers can shape your coverage of events — don’t hesitate to ask for their input.
Recently, we’ve asked audiences to share their opinions on the latest blockbuster movies, to share their weather photos, and to tell us of their experiences during the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Each time, we heard from people who might otherwise not have spoken up.
Reader opinions can also help shape your coverage moving forward. For example, our readers complained that our 2014 “Star Wars Day” (May the 4th) quiz was too easy, so in 2015, we gave them a harder quiz. Rather than reviving old content for that day, they challenged us to give them new content, and then paid back our effort with clicks.
Ultimately, a news website must know its own identity before it can ever hope to build an audience. Readers are savvy — they’ll know when the identity of a website is confused, and will often reject that confusion for a more focused site. Once that news identity has been shaped, the task turns to capturing and building the sought-after audience.
Readers are waiting for you, and they’re always hungry for news — your task is to find ways to connect.
Over the past five years, DDM has grown audience and revenue dramatically — the details being shared regularly through speeches, articles and workshops. We have hosted, visited, learned from and provided services to hundreds of publishers from 16 countries. From our growing connections and partners around North America and the world, we’ve learned and learned and learned.
We’ve shared our model and practices for digital success via strategy days with top media executives, and through our two-day BootCamps with directors, managers and digital leaders from across the globe. Our next BootCamps will be in Salt Lake City and Hamburg, Germany. In such settings, we try to be very open about our successes and failures. We trust such candor will benefit participants. Likewise, we glean ideas and best practices from our many interactions with global colleagues.
In June, I accompanied a Utah trade mission delegation to Western Europe to become better acquainted with the news media environment in preparation for our October BootCamp. I had the privilege of meeting with leaders from Telegraaf (Amsterdam), De Persgroep (Belgium), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), and the German headquarters of WAN-IFRA. In friendly settings, we took turns sharing some of the success and challenges we continue to experience. I came away grateful for the dignified air of these storied organizations and their commitment to find a way forward. Here are some observations from such visits, obviously omitting specific data and details discussed in confidence:
1. Newspaper disruption alive and well. Our friends at each stop face similar strains felt in North America. While all would wish it away, it is clear that the traditional newspaper operation is not adapting well to digital, and organizations worldwide now clearly see that it is neither fluke nor passing fancy. Each confirmed what we are seeing with not only desktop disruption, but also shifts to mobile. Each organization in subsequent countries face unique organizational and legal environments that add to their transformation challenges. But we also compared notes that advertisers regularly seek opportunities to work with notable publishing brands and are eager for news organizations to find digital success in markets.
2. Integrated user experience matters. European newspapers tend to invest heavily in a highly designed daily read. And that DNA is carrying over into the digital user experiences. The digital team at FAZ is working to harmonize the user experience across platforms with daily rhythms — tailoring its offering to match user needs on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and now smartwatchs. They each seem to know their audiences very well and are laser focused on mattering more to their lives in convenient ways. De Persgroep spoke of its regional audiences and how it has organized tech and administrative operations to support a multinational company (now in Belgium, Netherlands and Denmark) and workforce.
3. Markets always find a way. The cities of Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt each bear the marks of change, resilience and innovation. The architecture, canals, high-speed highways, art and history tell tales of people and markets finding ways to survive and thrive. At the Telegraaf in Amsterdam, I learned how its PublisherMarket programmatic advertising network is generating substantial and very welcome revenue by providing much more efficient market operations to match buyers. It seemed so fitting to watch my new Dutch friends speak enthusiastically of digital auction efficiencies, the Netherlands long a world market maker in global commerce and shipping.
During this year’s Local Media Association Innovation Mission, I joined other industry leaders to visit 13 companies worth tracking, including Mashable, Hearst Corp., The McClatchy Co., Pinterest, Parse.ly, Mobile Marketing Association, Yelp, Yahoo!, The New York Times R&D Lab., Tout, Yext, Rubicon Project and Radius.
Here are just a few of my key takeaways: (You can buy the full 32-page report at LMA.)
On the surface, Tout is a slick video publishing technology your newsroom can use to publish directly to your website, but beneath its easy-to-use app, it’s a valuable algorithm that matches and attaches video assets to editorial content on your website (automatically or at your trigger) so you can capitalize on much more pre-roll advertising dollars — with virtually no production costs.
Tout, a shared-revenue model, may be especially helpful for organizations still pushing to turn the corner on implementing more video. And let’s face it, that’s almost all of us. Even Amy Odell, editor of Web giant Cosmopolitan.com, told IM attendees that original video is its most frustrating type of content. Production costs are often higher than its RIO. And if Cosmo can’t lure its crowd of loyal, dig-savvy, 20-somethings into more than a few thousand views on some of its high-quality videos, chances are getting views is a challenge for all of us.
While some companies are still testing the native advertising waters, Mashable has taken it to another level. Besides offering its advertising clients a proprietary tool that crawls the Web and algorithmically indicates viral topics and stories — which is worth a service award on its own — it offers sponsorships for what it calls community challenges.
Community challenges are essentially a three-part, brand-lift service: First, it publishes a call-to-action story, challenging its readers to post photos on Instagram around a certain theme. Second, those photos and their attached sponsor tags naturally swirl around the Internet. Third, Mashable publishes a second “results” article showing the best of those submissions. Users get a creative challenge and the sponsor is rewarded with several branding opportunities. Our advice: Make sure the theme of the challenge is more focused on humor or art than the direct sponsor. It'll go much further.
Data is worth investing in — and listening to. Yahoo! officials in its San Francisco office admit that its engineering and science departments often disagree with its editorial team, especially on what topics to cover when. But when disagreements surface, Yahoo! officials say audience data wins over what its senior editorial staff, one of the highest paid in the industry, would prefer to cover.
Even if news organizations don’t fully embrace data decision-making to that degree, Yahoo! and so many others are clear indicators of data’s increasing importance for competing for attention online, and not just for editorial decisions. That’s where Radius comes in. In a chic, modern industrial office high above the San Francisco city center is a group of Silicon Valley cool kids whose operation is growing so fast that it's buying up more Bay Area office space and attracting clients like American Express, but startup enough that it is still grounded and personable. Before going to market with a new product, or to find better SMB leads that match criteria, Radius offers a CRM plugin, especially to Salesforce. It offers unlimited users and listings. It does fuzzy data matching on 15 different SMB attributes, all of which gives its clients better targeting power to more than 40 million businesses from 50 billion attributes.
At the end of a whirlwind week that took me and about 25 other media executives from New York to California, I jotted down these raw notes on my top takeaways from this year’s Local Media Association Innovation Mission, including ways Deseret Digital Media might consider implementing them.
1. Video (Tout) - We’ve been looking to source incremental video across all our properties, as video is our highest CPM and highest sell-through ad product. On DeseretNews.com we’re planning to implement Tout for Sports and News. I’m not sure our Faith section will be a good place for us to source video, as we have to be so very selective about what video we display to ensure the best user experience and mission alignment possible. Also, we learned at McClatchy that they are running 2 video players per article page (one in content, one in the right rail), so I’d like to look into that to help us increase our video avails. I also would like to look into Tout’s app for video capture, editing and publishing.
2. Data [concentric strategy] (Hearst) - I liked Hearst’s “concentric rings” of advertising strategy [moving from the inside out]: audience extension using 1st party data, lookalike modeling, contextual keyword search targeting, Hearst programmatic direct.
3. Information/Analytics (Parse.ly) - Two very strong philosophies- “Data can and should be accessible to everyone.” "Data can help you uncover new business models.” We’re in agreement on both of those as we work to add analytics to our BrandView and BrandForge offerings to enable advertisers and publishers to see the impact of their native advertising (much deeper than traditional display analytics of impressions, clicks and CTRs).
4. Mission and values (Yelp/Pinterest) - I felt that Yelp and Pinterest were both heavily steeped in their mission and values, and that was apparent in what we saw and heard from both of them.
Yelp’s as follow: [mission] "To connect people with great local businesses.” [values] “Play well with others.” “Protect your source.” “Authenticity.” “Be unboring.” “Be tenacious. Pinterest’s as follow: [values] “Be authentic.” “Put Pinners first.” “Knit (meaning have teamwork.” “Go.” I was invigorated by these values and mission, and would like to ensure that we continue to infuse our mission and values into the DDM culture like these two startups are doing.
5. “Tiered” ad products [sales funnel] (Pinterest) - Pinterest has just launched their “Buy” button, which has finally given them a much needed (and much awaited) revenue source. There was a lot to capture, but I like their tiered ad products based on where the advertiser feels the user is in the sales funnel. These products are based on performance and cost, informed with data and tied to analytics. Awareness- promoted pins (standard pins, cinematic pins, rich pins). Intent- promoted pins with CPE underpinning (standard pins, GIF pins, rich pins). Action- CPC and CPA. 12% of conversions come from repins. 18% of conversions come from earned impressions. (standard pins, rich pins, app pins, buyable pins).
6. Instagram Weekly Challenges (Mashable) - this was just random, but Jake Hancock and I liked how Mashable was using the Instagram Weekly Challenges for revenue opportunities. If no sponsor is sold for the week, the challenge occurs anyway. So, it’s perishable inventory that can be sold easily, and drives engagement with the user base.
That’s just a snapshot of the trip. You can purchase the full 32-page report at LMA.
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." – Theodore Roosevelt
One of my professional mile markers is October 2009, late one afternoon in Salt Lake City. I was the local sales manager for KSL5, an NBC affiliate and the home of ksl.com. My professional background was 20 years in broadcast sales, all in TV, except for the accidental success of ksl.com and my “other duties as assigned” with the website. The “Great Recession” was in full swing, and this thing called disruption was killing the newspaper business, and it felt like the same virus was attacking TV. I was underequipped to deal with disruption or sell interactive ads, as we inadequately described our digital display responsibilities.
Then, on that October day, Clark Gilbert walked into my office around 5:15 p.m. We talked for more than 75 minutes and Clark proceeded to change my opinion about the overall direction of the media industry and, more importantly, the direction of my career. Clark had more energy and determination than any business leader I had ever been around. He finished our “brief visit” by informing me that our digital selling efforts would no longer be needed at the TV station and that a new division of Deseret Media Companies — Deseret Digital Media — would be taking over ksl.com.
It was a visit I will never forget and one that changed my thinking and my career. I was determined, however, to convince Clark he should continue to allow broadcast teams to sell his digital products.
Over the next 15 months I was able to persuade Clark to trust me enough to be his sales solution for ksl.com and grow his revenue numbers by using our TV and radio teams to accomplish that goal. We did it! We ran those revenue numbers up by 120 percent in 2010 and accomplished it with a legacy sales team. However, the data told us there was much more revenue that we didn’t capture. Despite my best efforts trying to evolve our legacy teams into digital sellers, they still had a TV and radio budget that was more important to them. They kept their job by selling the key platform products they each had been assigned. I couldn't change that dynamic inside our KSL broadcast management structure.
I understood the broadcast sellers’ fear and needs, but I also saw the digital revolution knocking down our door. The legacy sales teams resisted training and coaching to improve their digital sales skills. The digital sales strategy for our legacy account executives was to ask, “… If you also might have some digital needs we could help you with?”
Clark was not ready to stop growing after 15 months, but that’s exactly what we did. He and I debated, argued, pushed and consumed sales data at a pace I had never experienced in my sales career. And then it happened.
What’s good for the goose
An old Irish proverb goes something like this: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In a meeting with all of our KSL broadcast sales management members, Clark pointed out that TV and radio each have specific sellers for their specific platforms. And even with their similarities, the different radio stations each have specific sellers and dedicated sales teams. The logic was unarguable and the snare was set. If legacy products need specialized sellers, then why would digital products and clients be any different? Clark had just ended the debate.
Within days I was moving my efforts from KSL Broadcast to DDM and tasked with creating a dedicated digital-only sales team. We have never looked back and our revenue growth has never slowed. The single most important decision DDM has made regarding its revenue strategy was to build platform-specific sales teams. I have experienced various sales models that swing from dedicated seller to uber-seller and back to dedicated seller. But I have 100 percent conviction that platform-specific, product-specific training and product-specific sales management will result in not only increased revenue, but more successful and much more passionate sales professionals.
None of this disruption and necessary innovation is easy. In fact the changes in my own career and the need to reinvent myself caused both professional pain and personal disappointment. Unfortunately, I lost relationships with broadcast team members and was even vilified for jumping ship and taking up arms with the digital revolution. It has been a very difficult transition from a broadcast vernacular and data to an almost non-stop avalanche of digital products and platform evolution. I was deemed a traitor by the broadcast teams and found to be unqualified by my new digital peers.
The need to change is never easy, but the need to do the right thing at the right time is always the appropriate form of education and learning. None of the changes I’m suggesting will be easy or comfortable. They will in fact test you as a leader, thinker and competitor. The easiest thing for me would have been to say, “Good luck Clark, but I think I will stay here and sell broadcast TV.” Deseret Digital Media would have found another vice president of sales and DDM would be in the same spot it is in today when it comes to sales revenue and platform-specific sales teams, if not further along. But I promise any of you facing the decision to change from a legacy multi-platform sales team to a platform-specific sales team, it will be worth the fight and will be the very challenge and experience you are looking for in your sales management career.
Want to get more people to click on your articles? Write better headlines. Then, write 25 more.
After all, a headline can be the single greatest factor in attracting people to click on your website.
Eli Pariser, CEO and co-founder of Upworthy, one of the fastest growing media companies of 2012, told Business Insider that “a good headline can be the difference between 1,000 people and 1,000,000 people reading something.”
“You can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever, but if no one looks at it, the article is a waste,” Pariser told Business Insider. “A headline is all about getting the article in front of people."
It’s not just about getting your article in front of people; it’s also about getting people to click on your article over the millions of others on the Internet once it’s in front of them.
To Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way readers interact with content. No longer do media organizations and their executives hold all the power, deciding what readers want to read and when; the readers also have power by choosing what to click on and what not to.
“All those readers and viewers we've been losing in other media are being engaged as never before in this new media world. But there's a big difference now,” Curley told members of the Online News Association at a conference in 2004. “The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.”
Audiences no longer sit passively listening to whatever comes on the radio or reading whatever paper happens to befall their front doorstep, even though they may like to indulge themselves from time to time, Curley said. Audiences now have the liberty to toggle effortlessly from one medium and one article to the next in a click of a button.
“That's a huge shift in the ‘balance of power’ in our world, from the content providers to the content consumers,” Curley said. “‘Appointment-driven’ news consumption is quickly giving way to ‘on-demand’ news consumption.”
And we can’t help but benefit from this new change. After all, our industry’s survival is betting on it.
So what can we do to keep our readers engaged?
Unfortunately, I, as senior web producer of the Deseret News National, can’t tell you. Online audiences are more diverse and fragmented than they have ever been and reader feedback isn't always the most reliable.
But, I can help you find the strategies to, at least, make your headlines better. Here are eight tips to help you determine what’s most relevant and interesting to your audience.
1. Write more headlines
Writing one headline for an article is good, but writing 25 headlines is better. It’s easy to settle on the first idea that comes to mind, but many times, the first idea isn’t always the best one. Getting in the practice of brainstorming multiple headlines for one article helps writers hone in on the most important and interesting parts of the content, which may not always be obvious at first glance.
On my team, as at Upworthy, each writer brainstorms a list of 25 headlines for each article they write. Once their article is complete, we discuss the headlines together in person and choose the one or two from the list that we believe is best for our audience, their personal interests and the things we believe they should be interested in.
2. Look at more headlines
To write better headlines, it’s important to know what you and your team believe makes a powerful headline.
On my team, each writer keeps a “scratch file” of the most interesting or impactful headlines they find online from their favorite outlets, then references them throughout their daily routine to get ideas for their own headlines. During weekly team meetings, we examine some of these headlines we’ve found online throughout the week, or some of our favorite headlines from our site, and discuss what we liked about them or what could make them better.
Here are a few favorites from my scratch file:
3. Keep headlines short
At the National, a majority of our traffic comes from mobile devices, with screens much smaller than a desktop display. If a headline is too long on a mobile device, it cannot be seen in its entirety on the screen. We’re constantly checking the site on our mobile devices to make sure everything appears properly, so it won’t overwhelm our mobile readers.
Shorter headlines also make for better tweets, which have a 140 character limit, and more compelling headlines on Google News — if you’re lucky enough to appear on the service — which often truncates headlines after 70 characters.
4. Don’t give everything away up front
It’s easy to cram all the details of an article into a headline, but it’s not always the most clickable.
In the days of print, when many readers had fewer sources for getting their news, putting all the crucial details up front may have been important, and even necessary, in times of emergency. But in the digital age, where similar information can be found on multiple outlets, and feature stories do just as well as breaking news, creating a sense of mystery can be just enough to entice your readers to click.
It can also help make complex topics, where an overabundance of information can bog down the reader, easier to digest.
5. Experiment with how, why, and when
Stumped on your headline? Try starting it with words such as “how,” “why,” or “when” to narrow your focus.
At the National, we do our best to write articles with actionable and practical advice for families. Words such as “how,” “why” or “when” help communicate the bottom line of the article to our readers, and the one or two important points they can take away from the article after having read it quickly and concisely. That way, readers know fully what to expect before engaging with the content.
6. Play to passion points
If there’s an issue or topic you know your audience is passionate about, don’t be afraid to write about it, and lead with it in the headline.
At the National, we know our audience unites around certain topics — such as baby names, relationship advice and domestic abuse. When writing headlines about similar topics, we make sure to mention those keywords that get our audience talking — and sharing — on social media.
But the topics your audience is interested in may not be immediately apparent. Make sure to study your site trends on analytics dashboards such as Google Analytics or Chartbeat to determine which issues your users care about the most. Then, get started writing.
7. Test your headlines
Torn between two headlines? Test them.
Tools like Chartbeat allow you to test two headlines at once, serving up one group of users one headline and a second group of users another until enough data has been gathered. After a certain amount of time has passed, the tool will then notify you as to which headline performed better.
If you don’t have the budget to subscribe to software that provides these services, try testing alternate headlines on Twitter and Facebook — or manually switching headlines every few hours and repromoting them online.
8. Don’t be afraid to break the rules — sometimes
Not every headline should be the same, and sometimes certain articles and projects call for different angles and approaches. Follow the spirit of the content and do what you believe will serve the article best, even if it means breaking a few of the guidelines listed above. Headlines that are different from the rest on your site stand out and alert the reader to new or unusual information they may not have otherwise noticed.
At the National, we’re constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our strategy, trying to find new ways to engage, surprise and delight our readers. To do this, we sometimes abandon strategies or ideologies we once held in favor of others we believe are more relevant or more supportive of our cause. Don’t be afraid to do the same as your strategy evolves or as newer information comes to light.
Sometimes the best ideas are the ones no one has thought of — yet. And the National is continuously in search of the best ways to connect with our audiences and engage with readers in a way that is authentic.
Over the past few years, I’ve studied writers who consistently produce viral content to try to replicate their success. (And landed an 11 million page view article along the way.)
Although I don’t think there is a perfect formula for virality (there are too many elements that you can’t control), here are five principles you can follow to improve your content and dramatically increase your page views.
1. Evoke emotion
As human beings, we each have the innate desire to make deep, emotional connections with other people. Your audience isn’t going to remember boring, dull content. However, they will remember something that made them laugh or cry. Powerful narratives that help readers feel personally connected with the author make up some of the most shared articles on the Internet.
2. Provide new ideas & insight
Enough is enough. We can only see the same life hacks so many times before we want to gouge our eyes out. If an idea is overplayed online, leave it alone. Take a different approach, come up with a new idea and do something that nobody has done before. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering discovery. Just come up with a spin that people will find interesting.
3. Encourage arguments
Neutrality doesn’t share. Have a distinct brand, voice and personality. If there is anything that will conjure up traffic and engagement, it’s controversy. Don’t be afraid if someone disagrees with you and only delete comments if they are inappropriate. The more people engage with your content on social media, the more people will see it in their newsfeeds.
4. Details matter
Sweat the small stuff. Take time to write a really compelling headline and choose an image that will pop out on a news feed. People are going to scan through your article as quickly as possible to see if it’s worth their time. So get to the point quickly, keep it short and break it up into chunks. Make it easy for your reader to get the whole idea of the article within a few seconds.
5. Obsess over social media
There is an ongoing debate about who is king – content or social. My opinion is neither one is king, but they are equal on the playing field. Your social media channels need to be fed by great content to succeed, and your content team needs to learn from your followers’ comments and behaviors to create better content. It’s worth your time to analyze how well your articles do on social and create a strategy based on that knowledge.
Running a news website requires digital editors to make dozens of decisions each day. For example, where on the site should a piece of content be merchandized? How long should it stay there? What is the right headline? What is the best photo to use?
The process is further complicated because these daily decisions are most likely made by multiple team members with varied preferences, biases and degrees of experience.
How can leaders increase the likelihood that the editorial brand is reflected on the site at all hours, even when multiple people make changes at various times of the day?
That’s where content rubrics come in.
A content rubric is a set of rules that sets parameters for the way content is presented on the site. For instance, rubrics guide site managers to make informed choices about what kinds of stories should appear on the home page and with what degree of prominence.
At DeseretNews.com, we have established rubrics guiding different parts of our site. For example, we have a rubric guiding what kinds of stories to promote at the top of our home page. Another rubric helps us determine when to send breaking news alerts like emails and app pushes.
Ultimately, these rubrics ensure that our brand is consistently represented on the most prominent areas of our site.
In addition to these benefits, here are four more reasons you should implement content rubrics now.
1. Rubrics prevent brand collapse. With a variety of real-time analytics tools available, it is easy to get a snapshot of how content on a site is performing. Reacting to the data is key to running a successful site, but it’s easy to overplay popular content at the expense of the brand. When used correctly, rubrics help editors avoid promoting content that may perform well but at the expense of editorial voice.
2. Rubrics mesh the art of news judgment with data. Data can’t replace the art of news judgment. A rubric lays out the parameters and provides an opportunity for site managers to blend news judgment and data to make decisions. Site managers can learn from data, have freedom to incorporate news judgment and then act.
3. Rubrics facilitate a broad discussion about strategy. The key to establishing effective rubrics is getting the right stakeholders to discuss and agree to the standards, allowing that they may change over time. For example, as we worked with both print and digital teams to write our home page rubric, the interests of each group occasionally were at odds. Print wanted a strong news brand, and digital wanted to do what was best for traffic. The process of working on a rubric together helped us jointly articulate standards to which we all can agree. Once a quarter or so, we re-evaluate the rubrics to see if we want to make further refinements.
4. Rubrics empower employees. A rubric isn’t any good unless you implement it. We always limit a set of rubrics to what can fit on one page. The guidelines in a rubric should provide enough flexibility for team members to make a variety of decisions within the confines of an agreed upon framework. As long as decision makers stay in the parameters set by the rubric, they can feel confident that their decisions are brand-aligned and would stand up to the scrutiny of editors and managers.
The first thing news executives and managing editors say when they imagine the complexities of running their own robust contributor network is, “We can’t afford the time and resources to pull it off.”
And to be fair, who can blame them? Any responsible news manager is already squeezing available resources like everyone else in the news industry to get the next issue out. Breaking from the norm to chase a seemingly too-good-to-be-true opportunity to save cost is risky on an already tight budget, especially when tomorrow’s deadline is … tomorrow.
But for the next 10 minutes, forget about tomorrow. Think two, five or 10 years ahead. Envision your newsroom integrated with a network of contributors, freelancers and contractors from around your community — even the world — who can add page views, diversity, social media juice and an opportunity for your staff to focus and specialize.
Steady traffic impact
In the first quarter of 2015, community authors and photographers in Deseret Connect (Deseret Digital Media's contributor network) published 4,429 articles, about 1,500 per month, for a total of 31 million page views.
Each averaged about 7,000 page views but were higher or lower depending on which of our sites they were published. Contributor stories mixed with staff stories on our news sites averaged about 2,300 page views. Our special-interest sites, which are fueled with 100 percent contributor content and driven hard by social media, averaged 9,300 page views per story.
A surge of newsroom diversity
No matter how large and diversified your newsroom is these days, adopting a contributor model means an exponentially broader spectrum of expertise, backgrounds and qualifications — all staple ingredients for telling compelling stories.
Our 5-year-old, 5,000-member network includes authors from every state, race and nearly 50 nationalities. They range from high school sports writers and photographers to Oxford fellows and airline pilots, more lawyers than we like to admit, and a crowd of health care and clinical psychologists and therapists that we wear out with publishing opportunities.
It’s always surprising the curious personalities a network will attract — "American Idol" finalists, constitutional legal historians, home inspectors, professional athletes and even a graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. We’ve also somehow attracted a U.N. family policy expert, several New York Times best-selling authors, a host of religious leaders and NASA engineers.
To see a contributor network as a one-way operation — they submit a story; we publish — is a common but narrow view. Correctly engineered, your network should be a two-way operation, allowing editors to pitch story ideas to various groups of writers, or a single author, while also allowing reporters a way for searching the talent network for quotable sources in their own journalistic endeavours, based on keyword searches of the author’s bio.
It’s a Rolodex for a new century. Often a member’s geography is more relevant to the issue at hand — a flood, fire or other natural disaster — than anything on his or her resume. We can filter a search by country, state, and city — or a custom mileage distance from each. When a small town experiences a flood, requesting details and photos from a narrowed list of news-friendly community members around the affected area is a three-minute process.
Got the whole sharing thing down #awesome
Unquestionably, contributors are more passionate about sharing their published work than the average reporter, increasing views, community loyalty and engagement. Newsrooms have carved out positions for social media gurus, configured Facebook and Twitter staff trainings, and have even gone as far as implementing reward programs for incentives for staff to be more proactive about sharing, but contributors are naturally #awesome in this department. And it should come as no surprise. In fact, most use more than one platform to get the word out.
And when asked about the ratio of social applications used to share their stories, 73 percent of contributors advertised their published work on Facebook; 68 percent used email — to an average of 22 recipients — and 48 percent via their personal blog. They also use Twitter 38 percent of the time.
Generally, there’s less motivation for reporters, who are paid the same for covering the same beat yesterday, today and tomorrow. Contributors are rarely paid. (That’s not to say they’re not compensated.) Instead they’re spending valuable hobby and leisure hours to finish stories covering a sport, historic event, novel, movie, new technology or fill-in-the-blank-with-anything-you-can-imagine. It all means they have a higher motivation to get as much mileage from it as possible.
If a 0.11 percent CTR is considered great for a broad marketing campaign on Facebook, according to Quora, imagine the ever-increasing value of dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of authors in your community sharing your publishing brand with enthusiasm, and not the kind of baked excitement bloggers feign when they’re paid to mention a brand on their blog’s Give-Away Wednesday. It's authentic excitement. We don’t have to imagine that loyalty. It’s now part of our publishing culture.
And of course each social share is worth a multiplier, too: 4.5 and 10.5 page views per visit for DeseretNews.com and KSL.com, respectively (not including any classified ad traffic).
It forces you to focus
One of the great strategists of our time, Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, says strategy is largely about choosing what you’re not going to do anymore. And that’s especially true for media companies that no longer compete just for local ratings and zip code distribution, but against an endless (and I mean endless) buffet of an everything-goes Internet menu.
A contributor network, if embraced, will give you decent coverage in areas best suited for their style and expertise, while allowing you to move your most valuable and expensive resources, your reporters, to go deep where you can have a competitive advantage, where your audience needs them the most. For starters, you’ll find talented contributors to help fill gaps in sports and all types of feature content, including photo galleries and listical-type articles.
Unfortunately it’s neither affordable nor strategic for a publisher to adequately cover most of the traditional subjects of the past, especially with any real depth. Unless you’re going to produce world-class quality movie reviews, for example, there’s little reason to spend significant staff time on it. The market, yes, including your local one, is already saturated with sophisticated and attractive movie review websites and apps.
Covering all things for all people — in a desperate struggle not to lose anyone — is the opposite of strategy, according to Porter in his standout Harvard Business Review essay “What is strategy?” Instead, he says, you need to be a strong leader who decides target audiences, who, like all strong organizations, decides on your trade-offs. You need to decide “not to serve other customers or needs and not to offer certain features or services” to maintain a competitive edge. And, all the while, you’ll have to continue to fight off distraction and compromise — strategy’s foremost enemies.
Five years ago, the Deseret News print features department did just this. It downsized from nearly two-dozen full-time staff members to a single writer and four editors. It decided books, movies, music, TV and theater reviews aren’t its core, professional competency. It focused staff resources in areas chosen for its editorial emphasis to grow a national audience, which it has, both in print and online.
And although there was a clear trade-off — contributors write more feature content than staff – the Deseret News didn’t give up on its feature sections altogether. Talented editors manage, schedule and edit stories from more than a dozen groups of contributors. The operation churns out about 48 quality contributor feature articles for the Web each week, about 20 of which are printed weekly.
Of course if you don’t have to reduce staff, you’re one step ahead. Consider promoting one or two reporters into a contributor publishing editor role right away to increase efficiency. Reporters who may typically produce three to eight stories per week on their own can be trained to handle roughly three to four times that amount in a mature contributor model.
Our team at Deseret Digital Media congratulates Clark Gilbert on his appointment as president of BYU-Idaho. As Clark transitions to a board role at Deseret Digital Media and as his family relocates from Salt Lake City to Rexburg, I have had a chance to reflect on some of what we have learned together.
Certainly, Clark would deflect praise to those influencers who have taught him: Joseph Bower, Clayton Christensen, and Kim Clark — among many others. But it’s my pleasure to offer my perspective and gratitude to my colleague and friend, Clark.
Here are 10 lessons of leadership I’ve learned from working with Clark over the past five years.
1. Organize yourselves. Choosing the right organizational structure for the company is the first crucial step. Evidence abounds, particularly from the research of Clayton Christensen, that smart, capable people organized poorly will deliver bad results. Clark expanded on Christensen’s disruptive innovation model with the concept of dual transformation. The beauty of this concept is not just in the benefit it offers to the new disruptive business, but also — and perhaps more importantly — in the focus it provides for the incumbent business.
2. Embrace a mission. Business, and particularly the media industry, is too competitive and turbulent to justify the herculean effort required unless it is done with a clear and meaningful mission. Understanding the “why” of an organization is more important than the “what.” The mission should be simply stated, memorable, and stretch the organization to reach well beyond its current status. Survival alone is not a motivating mission.
3. Build culture. A leader’s job isn’t building a business; it’s building the people who build the business. The culture of an organization can quash even the most brilliant strategy. And culture must begin with the leaders’ own example. People are wary of mission statements meant to build culture through words alone. The actions of leaders must be consistent with the mission and fully authentic. Here’s one example. At our office, Clark’s old gold minivan parked next to the employee entrance each day became a symbol for both the frugality and family-focus needed in the early days of Deseret Digital Media.
4. Meet often. Especially in the formative stages of the organization, frequent group meetings, one-on-ones, and stand-ups should be held. These meetings should have clear agendas and preparation in order to be effective. Even in a digitally focused business that embraces technology, nothing replaces regular face-to-face interaction. As an example, in the first year of DDM, weekly all-staff meetings were critical tools for teaching and reinforcing the mission and building culture. As the company has grown to more than 200 employees, those meetings happen monthly or quarterly, but they are still powerful tools for building the team.
5. Act now. Execution is more important than strategy. Clark often says, “Strategy can account for no more than 49 percent of a company’s success.” The majority of the success is always attributed to execution. Like me, Clark began his career as a management consultant. He later became an academic and a prolific writer of dissertations, case studies and Harvard Business Review articles. This thought leadership has given our organization a great foundation, but Clark is self-effacing about the impact of thinking and strategizing. More important are the results of efforts like effective sales calls and agile software coding.
6. Measure and set standards. Any goal with short- or long-term impact can’t be reached without measuring results. During a period of significant transformation, where people need to change their skills, their roles, or their pace, metrics should be set up and monitored regularly — usually daily. Some organizations use the term “key performance indicators,” or KPIs, but Clark prefers the educational term “rubrics” to describe standards applied across a group, particularly applicable for journalists.
7. Give feedback. Small problems can do serious damage to an organization if they are not fixed early, but sometimes managers lack the courage to confront and correct. Direct, immediate feedback is more effective than indirect, delayed reaction. Organizations confronting disruption for the first time may bristle at or even reject attempts to infuse feedback into the culture, but leaders recognize that the disrupted environment will require significant change from all employees, including the leaders themselves. Rapid evolution requires a learning culture, willing to give and receive feedback.
8. Watch for second-order effects. Many decisions have unintended consequences. Leaders need to recognize both the negative and positive impacts beyond the direct effects of a decision. Establishing a rubric for journalism, for example, should expect to yield improved quality or productivity. But the rubric may produce a positive second-order effect of fostering a culture more open to feedback.
9. Deliver financial results. Any amount of new revenue can be viewed as either a success or failure — it just depends on the amount of investment and operating expense involved to achieve it. Multiple revenue streams are better than one. Over-dependency on revenues from a single source, a single platform or a single channel is perilous, particularly in the rapidly changing digital media market.
10. Be confident. And humble. Confidence plus humility equals good judgment. In any organization, a leader must take initiative with confidence. At the same time, leaders also need to be self-aware and recognize their own weaknesses. Balancing these two characteristics produces the best decisions.
Bonus: Lighten up. As Clark likes to say, “Nothing says fun like a white shirt and tie.” Take your work seriously, but find the humor in it, in yourself and in life.
Clark’s formative tenure at Deseret Digital Media has been crucial, but the story of DDM has just begun. Our mission, after all, is to be trusted voices of light and truth reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Like many of those reading this blog, I consider myself a veteran of selling advertising and marketing services to local businesses. Twenty-two plus years of on the street selling, sales management and product development have taught me some valuable lessons. Among those is the basic and undeniable fact that successful products and sales start with customer needs. Never in my many years of selling did I have a customer who needed to buy advertising. What they needed was a way to get more customers in the door and to compete more effectively. Advertising and all marketing programs are simply a means to an end.
It’s also been my experience that if you really want to break into new markets, you need to go after new customers. And when you call on those new customers, you need to be tuned in to their unique needs, challenges and opportunities. Sounds simple, right? But the mistake I see far too often is that if your sales representatives are talking to the same old customers with the same old needs, you are very likely never going to learn what non-customers want/need. In fact, the complexities of today’s media markets require an understanding that goes beyond intuition and past experience.
Consider your own business enterprise in the context of the shifting market share across various media types in the past seven years.
Ask yourself — are you getting into this new market of digital to serve only your existing customer base? Or are you looking at digital as a way to serve new customers and move into a whole new space?
In the chart above it is clear that for most media, the pie is shrinking. Although selling more products may help you grow revenue in the short term, you’ll eventually end up with a larger piece of that shrinking pie. So selling more to your current customer base simply won’t get you the types of gains that are possible in a new business segment and necessary to grow your business. In fact it’s extremely likely your current customer base does not represent the best digital customers and may actually cost you money to serve.
Take a moment to consider how your customers go to market themselves. In the case of an automotive dealership, to be successful, they need to know how many buyers are in the market, who buys cars, how much they spend, how they shop and how they buy. Without that information, it’s impossible to develop a solid communications strategy and marketing program. Now substitute “digital advertising/marketing services buyers” for auto buyers. How do you, at a media company, go to market without knowing who the potential customers are, how many are there, what they buy and how much they spend? In other words, what is the true addressable market for your advertising and marketing products?
Take, for example, the $191 million local ad spending market of Myrtle Beach, S.C. In 2015, local online ad spending is forecast to grow 42 percent or $24 million. Thus, digital revenue growth by a media company of less than 42 percent in Myrtle Beach will actually represent a loss in share-critical information in developing sales goals.
While this info is vitally important, it’s not terribly actionable. To develop a plan for growing sales revenues, we need to dig deeper. We’ll start by identifying those business categories representing the greatest net projected growth in digital spending from 2014 to 2015. The table below outlines the top 10 (of 100).
Of course while some of these dollars are new, many will shift from traditional media. The table below outlines the five Myrtle Beach media representing the greatest projected decrease in spending from 2014 to 2015.
Newspaper and local TV represent the greatest projected decrease in ad spending. Below are business categories representing the greatest projected decrease in each. Use this information to identify business categories for retention and cross-reference with those growing the most in digital for acquisition through online sales efforts.
The objective is to narrow focus to the eight or 10 business categories that represent the greatest opportunity, then align sales, products and pricing appropriately against those categories. Auto is important but most media companies are likely already focused on this category. This quick analysis shows furniture sales, credit and mortgage, home improvement and telecommunications should most likely be included in the plan. First, though, we need to take a look at digital purchase behavior and confirm our products align with what businesses in the category tend to buy. For example, Furniture Sales’ online ad spending broken down by ad format is outlined below.
From this information, it’s clear the ability to sell targeted display ads will be required to serve the category. Of course advertising is only a part of the mix. Many are also engaged in selling digital services. The information below outlines average expenditure per business among furniture retailers in Myrtle Beach.
From my experience, local sales teams spend a lot of time calling on small mom and pop retailers. It’s easy to get in the door and they have been good prospects for traditional media. In this case, a furniture retailer with five employees is likely to invest less than $70 a month in digital services — not a good prospect and a business that will most likely cost money to serve with an outside rep. A furniture retailer with six to 10 employees is likely to invest just over $300 — a marginal prospect at best. In fact, digital service spending varies greatly by business category and business size and is one of the issues we see media companies struggle with the most. What businesses to call on, with what and for how much, and maybe more importantly, what businesses to stay away from.
I think most will agree that success in digital is necessary for growth of existing media companies. Your customers are buying it and they have most likely pulled dollars from your core business to do so. What’s critical to understand, though, is that digital is a new media serving new markets with a set of dynamics all its own. Sales teams can’t tell you what you need to know about markets they don’t serve. It is up to leadership to invest the time and effort to understand the markets they wish to serve and to have the skill and discipline necessary to develop and implement a go-to-market strategy.
Editor’s note: In an ongoing effort to improve, the Deseret News has asked various staff writers to discuss an aspect of the writing craft during monthly staff meetings this year. In this month's workshop, Lois M. Collins and Tad Walch teamed up to discuss anecdotal ledes and nut grafs.
Anecdotal ledes require a nut graf to convey the news value of the story. An anecdotal lede powerfully presents the situation. A nut graf is the paragraph after the anecdotal lede that contains the nut or hard center of the story. (Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry)
The anecdotal lede and nut graf work together to interest readers in a fundamental way. “At their most basic," Jack Hart said, "these simple literary devices tell readers why news and feature stories are relevant to them."
An anecdotal lede provides news in an interesting, lively way. It adds color. The nut graf provides the larger significance of that small story. It tells the reader why you are telling her this story today. It also suggests benefits to the reader for reading the rest of the story.
One good approach is to identify the conflict in your news story, talk to people impacted by the conflict and write an anecdotal lede about one of them. Then write a nut graf to provide the larger picture.
Several questions can help you identify the story's significance — Why does this matter? Who’s helped/hurt? What’s at stake? What will this news change? What is the immediate/long-range impact? What does it say about life/the world/our times?
Reporters and software developers are both hard to work with — or at least that's how the popular tropes go.
At Deseret Digital Media, however, we've found success integrating newsroom reporters and software developers into the storytelling process through interactive long-form storytelling projects. Projects like "Living Lonely," "Brylee's Wings" and "Life & Liberty" that we've produced at Deseret News provide an important opportunity to bridge the gap between non-journalist developers and traditional print reporters and photographers. They weren't simply presentation layers for good reporting, but opportunities to collaborate in story structure, workflow, user-experience design, and other Web reporting essentials.
Our goal was not to simply create a nicer-looking version of a print story, but to actively engage users with a better storytelling experience. We're not the first to strive for that — outlets like The New York Times, the Guardian, National Geographic and an array of others continue to produce this sort of content. We are continually learning from those around us producing not just good reportage, but also amazing experiences. Our aims are the same as theirs: to create meaningful storytelling experiences for our readers.
As we've developed several of these over the last two years at Deseret News Digital, we've had a chance to learn firsthand how developers and traditional reporters can interact to good effect.
Commit to the cause
While strong product managers (maybe with journalism experience) can help make the process move more smoothly, it doesn't work out so well if there's not buy-in from everyone involved. Developers can't just treat working with a journalist as a tedious exercise, but as an opportunity to take a participatory role in the journalism itself. Equally, journalists can't treat developers as a simple vehicle to make their stories widely available, but as a person who knows some of the best ways to communicate on the Internet.
The product team at Deseret News Digital functions outside the newsroom and editorial hierarchy, so as a result, there are no developer-journalists working in an editorial capacity. Therefore, even as a developer at a media organization, it's sometimes easy to work without much of a view toward the people whose content for which you're working to create a platform. Getting a sense of the significance of the work being done is of the utmost importance, but it's also important to know how the work is being done.
Learn the process
Developers and product managers can create more meaningful products when everyone on the team understands the editorial process and the reasons each step is followed. It's not simply a case of a developer grabbing deliverables from a reporter — sometimes, it's a side-by-side interaction, where reporters can see their work in action, that leads to the best results. It takes the iterative process and spins it into something not just accessible to the newsroom, but integrates them as a vital part of the process. Working alongside reporters day-by-day isn't necessary or even practical, but on a project-by-project basis, it fosters collaboration in substantial and meaningful ways.
Learn to communicate both technically and non-technically
With some attention to detail and openness to collaboration across different mediums, interactive Web reporting opens doors to broad and positive implications in the newsroom, with members of news teams and product teams benefitting equally.
Editor’s note: In an ongoing effort to improve, the Deseret News will ask various staff writers to discuss an aspect of the writing craft during monthly staff meetings this year. In one such presentation, Lee Benson and Doug Robinson focused on “writing to be read.” As captured in Doug’s notes below, the two shared five tips to help writers create more meaningful journalism.
Getting started — the importance of leads
A writer has only a few seconds in which to hook the reader, which means the lead better be good. Since this is an art, not a science, there are many approaches for this, depending on your creativity and the material you have to work with. For profiles and more in-depth stories, consider foreshadowing — dropping hints of some intriguing point(s) that is to be explained in more detail later in the story. You might also consider opening with some broad, sweeping statement that gives a general sense of where you are taking readers while also leaving them wanting more. It’s like oil painting — you lay down a background that is somewhat vague and general, and then you begin adding layer upon layer of more details. Along the way, drop in some foreshadowing. Here’s one example from a story about Richard Davis, whose daughter was kidnapped years ago (the foreshadowing is the second graph):
SPANISH FORK, Utah — There is no cure for the pain in Richard Davis' heart. There is no escaping it, no medicine for it, no surgery that can make it better. At night while lying in bed, or out on the highway when he is alone with his thoughts, he thinks about it and feels an ache deep in his chest.
The last words he said to Kiplyn.
Ten years. That's how long she has been gone. Ten years since she walked out the door at dawn, headed for a driver's ed class. She was 15 years old, and her family has never seen her again. Ten years. Her sister has married. A younger cousin has married. Her brother-in-law has died. Two grandparents have died. Life has gone on, or it hasn't, but the Earth kept spinning, even when Richard and his wife, Tamara, wondered how it ever could.
The power of the anecdote
SHOW, don’t TELL. Don’t just say Steve Young is unchanged by money and fame, write that he wears socks with holes in them, buys his shoes on sale and drives a car with 200,000 miles on it.
Don’t just write that Frank Layden still retains a child-like love of basketball at the age of 70. Write that he still stops by the gym en route to his office and shoots baskets by himself. Similarly, write that Rick Majerus kept a basketball and sneakers in the trunk of his car in case he stumbled upon a pickup game.
Don’t merely write that Jeff Hornacek is a family man who wants to retire to spend more time at home; write that he makes casseroles and other dinners before he leaves on road trips and stores them in the refrigerator to make things easier for his wife while he is gone; write that he took a pillowcase on road trips with him that his wife and children had embroidered with loving messages to him.
Don’t merely write that LaVell Edwards has a reputation for absentmindedness. Write that once, the day before a game, he led his team in a cheer — “1-2-3 BEAT UCLA!” Only to be corrected by his players — they weren’t playing UCLA. Write that he once drove to Idaho Falls for a funeral only to be told the funeral was in Twin Falls. Write that he is so absentminded and distracted when he’s in the car — shuffling through papers and multi-tasking — that some vow never to ride with him again and some of his assistants offered him money to let them drive instead.
The importance of interviewing skills
To achieve No. 2, you must be good at No. 3. Push your subjects from GENERAL remarks to SPECIFIC remarks. What do they mean when they say Jeff Hornacek is a family man. What makes them say that? Can they provide examples?
Aside from that, follow your own logic. If you are doing a story on Becky Lockhart and you know she’s the state’s first female speaker of the House, it follows that she probably had some pushback from men on the job. At least it’s worth taking a shot with a question about it that pushes for examples and anecdotes.
If you’re interviewing Roma Downey and you know she’s played the role of an angel on TV, you figure she might have been mistaken for one off the air by her viewers. You also know she grew up in Ireland so you know she was in the middle of the Catholic-Protestant battles. Again, it’s a shot in the dark (so to speak), but take it; you never know what you’re going to get.
Observations are another way to provide clear, solid, visible clues as to what a person is like. If you’re in the subject’s home and you observe that he’s flying a Marine Corps flag over his home, and he’s wearing dog tags that rest on a Marine Corps T-shirt, which is tucked into a belt that features a Purple Heart buckle and holds a phone carrier that boasts a silver Marine Corps emblem, and that phone plays the Marine Hymn when it “rings” and the voice mail message says he’s sorry he missed your call but he’s out fighting another battle … that pretty much paints a picture for you of a man who loves the Marines and has never gotten it out of his system, at the age of 88.
Also, where relevant, descriptions always help the reader form an image of the subject and the scene. For instance, in this profile of Roma Downey:
The first thing you notice about Downey when you meet her for the first time is that she is tiny — 5-foot-4, 110 pounds, a size 2/4 — a fine-boned woman with ivory skin, dark brown eyes and auburn hair cut to shoulder length.
The story went on to describe the setting for the interview — in her trailer, on the set, off and on between takes.
Quotes are overrated
Old-school journalism teachers won’t like this, but you are the writer and you are telling the story. Unless you have fantastic quotes, they shouldn’t rule your story. Use quotes — good quotes — to augment the story, but use them judiciously. Some writers build their stories around quotes instead of using them to add a little spice and clarity here and there. Of course, this might not apply to hard-core reporting of a news event.
Write and rewrite
It’s simple: If you have the luxury of time, write the story, then rewrite the story, then rewrite it again. Each time you will notice things you somehow missed previously, and each time it will become better and better. Again, if you have the luxury of time, sometimes it is helpful to set the story aside for a few hours and come back to it later. It’s amazing how much clarity you gain by doing this.
This is an example of several things — a lead that makes a broad sweeping statement; writing that does not overuse quotes and drops in several instances of foreshadowing (italicized):
The nights are the worst. The onset of darkness fills Rodney "Hot Rod" Hundley with a sense of dread, all those long empty hours stretching out ahead of him.
He never sleeps through the night; he tosses and turns, reads, surfs the cable shows, gets up hourly with that darn prostate problem, and then once the dark begins its slow fade to light he sleeps soundly, and this is the way it has been for 68 years. Most days he sleeps till 11 a.m.
"I hate the night," he says flatly.
But that isn't quite right, either. Hot Rod Hundley was born to the night, to parties and women and bars and life after dark. It's not just the darkness, it's the emptiness, the loneliness, the nothingness of facing his own four walls and the quiet with all that nervous energy thrumming through his body. Maybe it's as simple as this: It's too much like those nights he cried himself to sleep in his hotel-room home as the teenage basketball phenom who was adored by everybody and loved by no one.
He prefers a crowded room or a packed arena where there is noise and people to get lost in. It's later, at home, when he confronts the loneliness — loneliness he created — that the emptiness is overwhelming. But whose fault is that?
He's got a wife he hasn't lived with for 29 years who is still waiting for him to come home, and three beautiful daughters who grew up without him. Worn down by all the women in Rod's life and the long absences, his wife told him, "You go on and do your thing. I'm not going anywhere."
"And that's what I've been doing," he says, sadly.
He lives alone; she lives alone. He is lonely; she is lonely.
Hundley has been alone his whole life. Nobody knows the pain he's in because to the world he is the happy-go-lucky party boy, the lady's man, the star, the silver-tongued charmer, the court clown, but then you catch him at a certain moment and suddenly you see vulnerability and sadness in his eyes, and he's telling you he is haunted by the life he has lived. Not the life you've seen on TV and the basketball court; the other one.
He is every bit Butch Hundley's son. Abandoned by his father, he has become his father.
The only constant in his life — the only real source of love he could count on in his youth — has been basketball. Basketball made him an all-American, a first-round draft, an all-star. It made him everybody's buddy. It made him feel loved. It made him Hot Rod.
As an orphaned child, passed from family to family, he used to grip a basketball and talk to it as he ran to the playground: "You're going to get me out of this. I'm going to ride you out of here."
"And I'm still riding it," he says now.
Mobile has become the hot spot for reading content. People will often see a story on Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media while on their smartphone and immediately engage. Others will sort through content on their commute to work. Some may even listen to podcasts, watch videos or swipe through slideshows.
All of this is to say that the age of mobile content has arrived.
So, if you’re a writer like me, you’ve probably been told by an editor or two to start thinking about mobile-first content or to think of new and innovative ways to write content for mobile.
But making things work on mobile seems more like a developers job, right? Not so fast, Linkalist. There are some small things you can do to help your content shine on mobile.
The key to mobile is making content noticeable and quick to sort through. People often use their phones for multitasking, whether it’s while walking around the mall, sitting on a train or while they're on a lunch break. Readers don’t have time to read everything on your site, so you need to make sure they’re fully engaged with your article.
Here are some tips for writing content for mobile that will serve the reader and your news organization.
Get to the point. Quickly. Users spend two hours and 51 minutes a day on mobile news stories, according to the Business Insider. Most users only spend about 15 seconds on an individual article. So it’s important to get your point out quickly and serve your audience in the limited time they spend on your page.
Don’t focus on your diction or style — tell the readers what they need to know. If you tease something in the headline, make the answer easily available. The last thing a reader wants to do is fish through paragraphs to find an answer to the headline that brought them to the article in the first place.
Bold the important parts. Readers want to know the main point of your article quickly. One of the easiest ways to do this is to bold the important parts. The reader can pick those parts out of the article and come out with the main takeaways.
Here’s an article I wrote back in January about ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, which featured bolded phrases and words that we felt would help users understand our story and learn some takeaways.
Listicles for the win. Forget the slideshow lists. It’s 2015 — listicles (an article in list form) are what’s hot. Listicles — with bold headlines to identify different parts of the article (see: the article you’re reading now) — allow readers to quickly skim through and find the important parts of the article. If the listicle is fun and engaging, it’ll keep the reader on your site longer and engaged with your content.
Listicles are something at which BuzzFeed, one of the most successful news organizations right now with near 200 million unique users, excels. They include photos, gifs and videos with their lists to make list-reading a fun and enjoyable experience. Readers then will share the content across social media.
Mobile offers you the perfect platform for making listicles, which readers enjoy and which can serve a wide audience.
Links can be a highlighter. Sebastian Kersten recently wrote for Medium about how important links are for users. He wrote most news organizations don’t use links to their advantage, and often times, they’re a distraction for readers.
But you can use links to help readers, too. Links can highlight something you want your readers to know. They can also identify the source to which you’re linking. But the better practice may be to identify a key point or phrase that you want readers to takeaway from the story. Instead of a distraction, links, then become essential to reading the mobile content. Plus, links are often a different color than the text. So when skimming an article, the mobile reader may pay more attention to what’s highlighted.
This allows you as a writer to be creative, too. It forces you to find the more important parts of your story and show them to your readers. Imagine the highlighter picks out the words you would use to fill in the blanks in a Mad Libs game — they’re the important parts that create the story.
Keep up with what others are doing
We can all attest that media is constantly changing, and mobile is still very much the Wild West — although a wild west that’s being explored quickly. Apps like Snapchat, Vine and WhatsApp are reaching younger crowds with mobile specific content, showing that video and SMS sharing may be the future. Microsoft, a company many thought was being left behind in this new wave of digital news, has lately embraced mobile, too, and will be looking to add mobile news to its repertoire. There’s always a new app and product looking to help change the mobile game.
That’s why it’s important to follow what other leaders are doing. BuzzFeed’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael, for example, is always tweeting out links to good mobile ideas and stories that can help you stay ahead of the curve.
It may also be important for you to read other websites on your smartphone so that you can see what practices you like and don’t like. This gives you the mindset of the reader, which will help you make better decisions about how you frame and build your content for the mobile user.
By now you’ve heard enough about native advertising that you’re likely pursuing a strategy, or at least you know it’s worth considering. Native makes sense for so many reasons, not the least of which is its advantage as a mobile advertising solution. But saying "yes" to native and actually doing it are two different things. As a digital seller at Deseret Digital Media, I’ve found it’s helpful to walk advertisers through four key points when selling native.
1. Sponsored content, not pitchy content. Native advertising may be unlike any advertising your client has done before. They are probably used to running ads that directly promote their business or a specific product or service. Native, on the other hand, is not a direct-response campaign or a product pitch.
Native articles are relevant to your advertiser’s brand and especially relevant to their targeted audience, but are not specifically about their brand or products.
You’ll need to explain to your advertiser that it’s the content that keeps the reader engaged. It is not the offer. If they can provide the reader something of value, it will increase their brand perception and establish them as thought leaders.
2. Increased visibility and engagement. Engagement time is one of the biggest factors that advertisers need to consider when deciding on any advertising strategy. We like to explain to our advertisers that when compared with traditional forms of advertising, native performs exceptionally well.
For example, the average time a would-be consumer spends engaging with an outdoor billboard on any highway is around 3-5 seconds, depending on how fast he or she is driving. The average engagement time on a TV ad varies from 7-30 seconds. Even online display ads fall short of native’s potential with some display ad engagement rates of fewer than 10 seconds, depending on what the user is doing. Native advertising, when done properly, sees upwards of 2 minutes of engagement from potential customers. This does wonders for an advertiser’s brand lift.
According to a study of 4,770 participants by Sharethrough and IPG Media Lab, consumers looked at native ads 52 percent more frequently than traditional banner ads. Native ads also registered 18 percent higher lift in purchase intent than banner ads.
3. Target and display. Display advertising still serves a purpose within the scope of native. In fact, combining valuable native articles with direct-response banner ads creates a synergy your advertisers will love.
We like to bundle display campaigns around our native ads. In the image on the left, notice the banner ads highlighted in green, surrounding the article, and sponsorship disclosure highlighted in red.
Your advertisers’ calls to action can be handled as they traditionally have — as display ads, widgets or other elements surrounding the content, but not in the content itself. This allows the reader to digest the information without it feeling too pitchy.
With this strategy, our advertisers see anywhere from 3x-10x greater CTRs on their display advertising surrounding native articles compared to run-of-site ads.
With a quality native campaign in place, your advertiser can also take advantage of first-party data. By placing a retargeting pixel on the reader’s IP address, your advertiser can serve that reader follow-up messaging with unique offers related to the native advertising content you provided.
4. Social buzz. The best form of advertising is word of mouth. When customers are evangelizing your advertiser’s product or service, the close ratio goes up dramatically. We have found the same thing happens with native advertising.
If articles on your website have social sharing bars, readers have the ability to share your content (including native advertising). Because the content itself is valuable and not a direct sales pitch, users are willing to share native on their social networks.
On DDM sites, an advertiser can expect to see anywhere from 100-200 shares on any given native article. The content (and related sponsorship) is now much more relevant and accepted because it’s been shared by a trusted source — the friend, family member or contact who shared the article.
Native advertising has provided my fellow sellers and me a great product that can meet our clients’ needs, our audience’s needs and, thereby, strengthen our own brand. In the 18-24 months we’ve been selling native, our business is pacing at $1M-plus annually.
With a little effort to educate your advertisers on the points above, I think you’ll find success in your own native advertising sales efforts.
Over the past decade, lives and fortunes have been expended trying to simply adapt existing publishing models, existing media businesses to the Internet. Which is puzzling, since the news industry has plenty of precedence in not adapting, but adopting new business models.
The printing press spread news in print to communities across the globe. Then news began flowing across airwaves to radio receivers. Then news organizations spread the news with reporters in front of cameras. And each had a distinct impact on the previously established content and monetization models, as illustrated by the following graphic.
Graphic 1: Historical Media Trends
Source: Borrell and Associates
Each case wasn’t a simple adaptation of the existing way of doing business but an adoption of an entirely new model. Each required new ways of sourcing, packaging and distributing news to meet the voracious demand of audiences. Each required the development and management of a distinct value chain.
Given these historical realities, why do our colleagues across the industry believe the Internet is an exception to past successful practices? At Deseret Digital Media, we have boldly and consistently advocated that newspaper, television and radio companies need to adopt a separate model to achieve digital success. DDM’s CEO Clark Gilbert has regularly called on industry leaders to respond to the Internet’s disruptive innovation by adopting an organizing model we call dual transformation.
But what does this new model look like from an operations perspective? We’ve hosted hundreds of media executives over the past five years interested in seeing how we operate and have recently launched a transformation BootCamp training series for those charged with adopting a new model and growing it. The framework we use to help us and our friends in industry understand, visually, what this new digital business looks like is what we call the Audience Engagement Value Chain.
Graphic 2: Audience Engagement Value Chain
Source: Deseret Digital Media
While a newspaper value chain roughly flows from newsroom to print facility to distribution to doorsteps to readers, the digital value chain involves different sources and many, many more elements of distribution and engagement. In digital business, each step along the chain must add value in order to attract and retain audience.
It should be clear how different the value creation process is from previous successful news models — where it is particularly distinct from the batch processing in newspapers. By viewing the digital media business from this perspective also emphasizes, as we do in the graphic, the need to begin with audience needs in mind.
Audience needs. The 12 categories on the right represent an array of audience news needs, which range from political and investigative news to polls and quizzes. Digital organizations discover audience needs through research and through effective use of analytics. By starting with the demand end of the value chain, media companies foster a discipline and culture that ensures that all activity focuses on user needs and organizes all upstream activities to drive value through the chain.
We’ve observed that newsrooms may be tempted to view this chart from left to right — organizing themselves around available content sources, determining distribution and social strategies, and then trying to cram their audience’s need into that organization. Value is generated left to right, but only after starting from right to left — focusing first on audience.
Audience engagement. Our audiences have more choices than ever when it comes to news sources. Excellent content is rarely further than a click away as our list of competitors grows (often from outside our industry and markets). The challenges this poses for traditional news organizations also create great opportunity for us to reach, engage and grow audience in ways never before possible. Russell Banz, one of the founders of KSL.com and now our VP of product, recently described the new environment in which media organizations compete due to the "unbundling" of content and how they can use that to their advantage. He suggests organizations focus their efforts on creating compelling, highly shareable content.
As more people get their news from their Facebook feeds and other social networks, publishers would do well to make sure their content is part of the mix. One way to do this is to ensure your content strikes an emotional chord. Our experiences coincide with studies that suggest people are more likely to share content that taps certain emotions, especially uplifting or inspiring ones.
We’ve centered our social strategy around our audience’s passions instead of our own branded social pages. Much of DDM’s growth is due to our efforts on social media, especially — but not limited to — Facebook.
Another great way to promote your content is through email. In fact, email is one of this year’s most touted ways of getting your excellent articles in front of a digital audience. The website eMarketer recently described email as the top channel for increased spending this year.
The Deseret News sends daily emails to promote some of the unique content from our enterprise team of writers — award-winning journalists writing in-depth articles on our six key areas of editorial emphasis. Although the page view boost from this newsletter is modest, we believe it will continue to grow into a key resource for driving traffic and building our brand. To this end, we’ve begun A/B testing pop-up up promotions on national.deseretnews.com, as well as Facebook and Twitter campaigns.
Distribution. By analyzing user behavior on our websites, we discovered our various audiences engage with our content on different platforms and at different times of day. Our content strategy and publishing schedules account for these behaviors. More than three years ago, DDM recognized insufficient focus on mobile and through significant investment has made great strides to growing demand for mobile media consumption.
The following graphic illustrates just how crucial a focus on mobile excellence is in order to deliver value to users. Worthy of note is that from 2014, digital time spent doubled, but time on mobile devices quadrupled, now making up 45 percent of all time spent online.
Graphic 3: Time Spent per Distribution Media
We have mobile versions of our websites and smartphone apps to help our audience conveniently reach our content regardless of what device is in their hands. Digital leaders know that if content isn’t readily available in the ways our users want to consume it, they’ll get it elsewhere. While great for reaching audience, mobile creates challenges for publishers to monetize that traffic. DDM president Chris Lee recently explained that because mobile ads generate less ad revenue than desktop ads, one of our 2015 priorities is to expand what we call Mobile Ready Revenue, digital revenue not dependent on desktop page views.
"This Mobile Ready Revenue includes listings and automated feeds, native advertising, deals and coupons, travel bookings and other consumer-paid transaction," Lee said.
Content sources. Finally, after addressing the items above, you can determine the right mix of content sources, what is the right ratio of newsroom-generated content (including wire services and content partnerships), contributor-generated content and user-generated content? At DDM, we’ve expanded on a concept introduced to us by Betsy Morgan of The Blaze (and formerly Huffington Post) where she suggests the right mix is 1/3: 1/3: 1/3. We include a fourth category: Web-only content.
Web-only content, such as lists and round-ups, are an excellent way to meet a growing need for relevant, easily consumed articles. Some of last month’s top performing articles that fall into this Web-only category are:
4 things parents do that cause their children to secretly cry in the night
(506K+ page views, Familyshare.com)
The 23 people most likely to run for president in 2016
(214K+ page views, Deseretnews.com)
5 signs you're raising an entitled kid
(114K+ page views, KSL.com)
These are the types of articles our audience now demand and devour. The first and third resonated with our audience because they fall under one of our brand’s main areas of editorial emphasis: the family, and specifically parenting. With Mitt Romney’s ties to Utah, the second article was particularly relevant to our audience too.
Our contributor network is a vital part of our content strategy. Writers sign up from all over the globe to contribute engaging articles. In 2014, our talented contributors provided an average 2,130 articles per month for a total of 236M page views! It’s no surprise that two of the three top stories mentioned above were written by contributors.
Contributor, web-only and user generated content add value to the excellent work coming out of our newsroom and together engage our audience in meaningful ways. And that's the key: understanding our audiences’ needs and then relentlessly delivering new value to meet those needs.
“When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem.” —Buckminster Fuller
What news sites have the best UI/UX? This was a question I recently came across online. It’s a great question. But what makes up a great UX experience? There is a lot more to it than you might think.
User Experience or “UX” has become a popular buzzword in the digital world. Unfortunately, it has come to mean different things to different people. Jesse James Garrett has likened user experience to an iceberg, where UX is much more than what you see on the surface or in the visual design of a product or website. Great UX begins well before the designer decides on the font or color palette. Great design begins with understanding — understanding people’s needs or the problems they need help solving.
“The unseen elements of user experience are the parts of the iceberg that will sink your project while your stakeholders are busy focusing on the ‘tip.’” –Jesse James Garrett
So, what are design principles? Traditional design thinking would tell you design principles are elements such as color, shape, texture, etc. While these are clearly important for creating a beautiful visual design, these only scratch the surface.
User experience design principles go below the surface to focus on the users — or, not just what they see, but how they interact with the product or website design. Design principles are user-focused; they are focused on solving a particular problem. They are strategically aligned with business goals.
Users’ expectations frame their user experience, ultimately leading to a positive or negative experience, which in turn leads to positive or negative results of a user’s desire to purchase, return or share.
With this understanding, the Deseret News digital team adapted five design principles that drive their product/website development.
Design for users’ intents
This design principle helps us to focus on the foundation or bottom of the iceberg. It’s the strategy that directs the UX design.
Our strongest desire is to understand our readers’ needs or goals. We respect the context of our readers, including when and where they might consume our content. We will provide them with the content they care about most and remove what isn’t meeting their goal.
Less is more
We need to omit needless features. It’s easier to find what you’re looking for when there is less to look through. The fewer the distractions, the more the reader can focus on his or her goal. Whitespace is beautiful and clean. We will focus on doing a few things well, rather than everything mediocrely.
Design with data
This principle supports elements of structure and scope by understanding user interactions and content needs by observing the data.
Data, or Web analytics, provides objective insight on ways to improve. Your opinion, while interesting, doesn’t matter compared with your readers’ opinions. Their interactions with our content by click or tap informs us of their needs, frustrations, and what’s working or not working.
Value and maintain elegant simplicity
Simplicity is often found by fewer clicks — simpler navigation. This principle supports the “skeleton” or navigational design.
We aim to delight our readers in a way that makes them want to return over and over again. We want our readers to feel smart for having used our product, rather than feeling stupid for not understanding how. We will never settle for good enough.
Iterate: build, measure, learn
Web development has simplified software. We no longer build a product or feature over a period of months with software updates. The Internet allows for agility. We can literally build something and release it to our users the same day. Web analytics allow us to measure the success of what we release and learn what needs to be modified or removed.
The principle of iterating allows us to adjust any or all levels of the user experience iceberg in order to improve users’ experience with our product. This is a key principle to continuous improvement and user-centered design.
There are many great examples of user experience design innovation taking place in digital media. Here are a few examples:
Yahoo! News Digest - A native application that delivers the top global news headlines in a quick visual summary, twice a day.
Vox Media - Storystream - Populates a writer’s updates in real time to provide an organized and intuitive history of complex breaking news.
Quartz - “Ads that don’t suck” - Ads designed to fit seamlessly with the articles around them.
So to design a great user experience, we need to look deeper than the interface. We need to follow user-centered design principles and focus on our users and their problems.
UX = Solving the right user problem
Other organizations' product design principles
More about the User Experience Iceberg
In response to forces of disruption roiling the media landscape, Deseret Digital Media was formed five years ago as a fully separate business, distinct from our affiliated print and broadcast organizations. After just those five years, DDM is now larger in revenue and profit than our TV and radio properties, and is inching closer to our print business. As we kick off our sixth year, I’d like to share our top six priorities for 2015 at Deseret Digital Media.
1. Expand the mobile-ready business model
Just as the print-to-digital migration was the genesis of DDM and the theme of its first five years, the migration of audience from desktop to mobile will likely shape its next five. The percentage of our audience interacting with us on mobile devices has grown to between 40 percent and 70 percent, depending on the product. This evolution changes the dynamics of the revenue we derive from display advertising.
Let me describe this in simplified numbers. If every desktop page view holds 4 ad impressions, and if every desktop impression generates an average of $5.00 CPM, 100 million page views produce $2 million in display revenue ((100M/1000)*4*$5.00)).
Those same page views, when accessed on a mobile device, generate less display revenue. How much less? Assume 1 ad impression per page and $2.00 average CPM rate, which turns those 100 million page views into just $200,000 in display revenue ((100M/1000)*1*$2.00)). As you can see, it’s potentially an order of magnitude-sized problem.
So how are we addressing this mobile disruption? We have diversified our business model away from display revenue to other sources of digital revenue not dependent on desktop page views. This “Mobile Ready Revenue” includes listings and automated feeds, native advertising, deals and coupons, travel bookings, and other consumer paid transactions. These sources now represent nearly 60% of our total revenues. The following chart shows the mix of revenue sources over the past five years. Even as display revenues have grown, mobile-ready sources have grown even faster.
We need to continue this progress as mobile audiences continue to grow. DDM’s entire marketplace team is focused on these sources of revenue, and we are asking our content product teams to work closely with ad sales to come up with new mobile-only formats for display. Thanks to those teams, more mobile-ready innovations are in the works for 2015.
2. Improve audience insights
The problem of mobile display can be solved in only two ways: more impressions or higher CPM rate. We are working on both sides of that equation. Impressions come from better user experiences, including more relevant content. Higher CPMs come from serving the right ad to the right user at the right time. Both of these outcomes require effective use of data to better understand users in all aspects of their engagement with us.
Every digital media business is awash in “first-party” data. From Google Analytics to Adobe to ChartBeat to Salesforce to SurveyMonkey to home-grown systems in various corners of the business, we have a wealth of data that should be a significant asset to us. Whether we always use that data effectively to produce better outcomes for users and advertisers is another question. We’ll be radically improving our use of data in 2015 to have better insights about our audiences for both engagement and monetization.
3. Price and manage inventory dynamically
"Dynamic pricing" has long been a term of art in marketing for all kinds of products, particularly those businesses with expiring inventory like airline tickets, hotel reservations, and media. In digital media, the advent of real-time bidding through ad exchanges makes pricing more transparent and flexible than ever before. Algorithms that account for seasonal demand variations, transaction value and the general competitive environment may be used to lower ad prices and thereby increase sell-through or raise ad prices to improve profitability.
Of course, just the mention of mathematical pricing models can cause heads to spin, and organizations to get stuck on analysis. DDM is fortunate to have some incredibly talented quantitative analysts working on these questions, and it’s their time to shine. Digital media average CPM rates are under pressure from the explosion in inventory, particularly in mobile. Building audience and increasing inventory only to throw that untargeted inventory to exchanges is not a winning strategy.
Our goals for 2015 here are simple but ambitious: improve direct sell-through percentage and average CPM rate, even as inventory shifts to mobile.
4. Operate and invest with discipline
As DDM has grown over the past five years, its business has become more complex. With more than 200 employees working on dozens of different products, each with its own business model, target customer, and key performance indicators, the roles of our managers – particularly our financial and technology leaders – take on greater impact in the organization. Our businesses in every category compete with multiple larger competitors, primarily from outside our home market. Growing an already-profitable business into a sustained success will require careful execution and tough decision-making.
That work is already part of our heritage. While we’ve had great successes with most of our products, some of our investments simply don’t deliver as planned. For example, last fall, profitability analysis of our digital agency services business caused us to restructure those product offerings and sales teams. We recognized that we shouldn’t be reselling products when we do not control the customer experience and cannot realize reasonable profit margins. Going forward, we will continue to offer some third-party services to clients, but we will choose those services carefully and motivate our digital sales teams with products on which they can make commissions.
Meanwhile, because of our commitment to disciplined investing, the cost reductions we make in some areas allow us to continue to add resources to our more profitable and promising businesses. As we foster discipline in our approach to innovation, we will have the resources needed to address the opportunities that lie ahead.
5. Grow our national and global reach
DDM’s primary products serve audiences and advertisers in the vibrant and rapidly growing Utah region. As we have focused on content areas to serve these audiences more effectively, we have developed expertise and brand recognition around topics associated with family. We have begun to leverage this expertise to grow audience outside our core market. Our National Edition of Deseret News, with its editorial focus on families, continues to grow rapidly. In June 2013, DDM launched FamilyShare Network, with a focus on practical solutions for relationships and parenting. The site along with its Spanish and Portuguese versions now reach more than 15 million unique visitors and have more than 70 million social followers.
In addition, DDM launched a Publisher Solutions division that serves media businesses across the US and Latin America. DDM Publisher Solutions offers training along with content and services syndication, and now serves more than 400 local media organizations.
This audience and client expansion to new geographic markets allows us to build revenue opportunities outside our local market and to project growth for many years to come.
6. Preserve the DDM culture of learning
Members of the DeseretNews.com team during an editorial planning meeting.
DDM owes much of its success to the culture of the organization. DDM has established a strong mission statement that embodies its values and vision for the future. Its ambition is "to be trusted voices of light and truth reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide."
Such a lofty objective coming from a media business in a mid-sized local market requires a lot of creativity in products and processes. I like to describe our environment as a “learning culture,” where we put particular emphasis on innovation, testing, and training. The solutions to the challenges of media evolution will come only from maintaining a culture willing to invest in new products and services, test them carefully, and train people to work together to repeat this process consistently.
If we continue to build this learning culture, DDM’s next five years can be even brighter than its first five.
I know, I know. The holidays have just ended and the time off was hardly enough to compensate for how fried you were after budget season. But, now it's time to get back to work. And as you do, ask yourself: Have you implemented native advertising on your properties? If so, how’s it going? If not, why? And, while you’re thinking about it, ask yourself if you’re guilty of any of these seven deadly sins of native advertising.
1. Not doing it: Really? No, come on. Really? Look. I’m not asking you to be a lemming. I’m not asking you to “sell out.” I’m asking you to look at some simple facts. BIA/Kelsey says that while display advertising will continue to grow from 2012 to 2017, “in every year in the company’s forecast period, native spending will grow at a faster rate than display spending."
Even though display spending is increasing, Borrell says it’s targeted display that will grow, while ROS/untargeted display will decrease significantly. Is display dead? No. And it won’t die any time soon, as evidenced by the chart above. But publishers need to diversify their product mixes and look for innovation, performance and opportunity. Native advertising covers all three.
Penance: Implement native advertising on your site(s). Do it now.
2. Not understanding what it is. OK. I get it. Native advertising means many things to many people. We as a media industry can’t even agree on exactly what it is: native advertising; sponsored content; content marketing; advertorial; paid placement. Ugh! I’ll speak for myself and Deseret Digital Media. We consider native advertising to be engaging content featured in the content wells (queues) of our O&O properties, right alongside editorial content. We like the way Jay Rosen describes it:
Our native advertising product, BrandView, runs in the same placements as our editorial content. Because, it’s ALL content. Whether it’s produced by us on behalf of an advertiser, or produced by an advertiser and edited by us, or produced by one of our experienced journalists, it’s still content. Content is what we do. It’s why our audience comes back multiple times per day, multiple days per month. We featured native advertising side by side with editorial content, but we properly disclose it. The article/headline are disclosed as BrandView, the byline is typically the brand and we clearly disclose in the article itself that this is sponsored content.
Here’s the thing. There’s concern in the industry that publishers featuring native advertising are “tricking” our users — that we're "baiting and switching.” I could see that if we didn’t disclose. The FTC is concerned about that as well. But most of the leaders in native advertising disclose using a variety of methods. At DDM, we believe what Howard Luck Gossage said, "People don't read ads. They read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad.” Here's proof that what Gossage said is true, at least in DDM’s case. The page-view average per editorial article on KSL.com is 13,000. The page view average for a BrandView article on KSL.com was around 13,000 earlier this year, but has recently settled around the 16,000 range. What do I take from that? We feature editorial and BrandView content in the same queue, in the same placements. We write headlines that capture users’ attention and their clicks. Sometimes what interests KSL.com users is a BrandView article (ad). In fact, on average, 3,000 users are more interested in a BrandView article than in an editorial one.
So native advertising is this: quality, engaging content, displayed alongside editorial content, sponsored by an advertiser, which is merchandised in such a way that users will click the headline, consume the content and engage with it.
Penance: Define your implementation of native advertising, what it will do and how it will work. Then develop the product.
3. Confusing sponsored content with native display. Alright, in No. 2 above I said that we as a media industry can’t even agree on what native advertising is (and isn’t). That’s true. But let me help you with one clear distinction we draw. For DDM, BrandView is “sponsored” content. It’s engaging content sponsored by an advertiser. It is NOT pitchy, self-promoting or shilling. It stands alone as an article or video that the user consumes, engages with and often times shares socially. When BrandView content is shared socially, users following the referred link go straight to the article or video. They don’t come through our homepage queues. When BrandView content is consumed on our sites, though, users will see headlines in our homepage queues and will click on those that interest them. If they click on a BrandView headline, they are taken to an article on our site that contains text, video, or a combination of the two. This is an important distinction for how we do native advertising. They are not taken off our site. They aren’t immediately shown an ad. Users who click on BrandView content are conditioned that BrandView is content, and they expect the click on the headline to take them to content that they can consume, engage with and share if they’d like.
However, in the native advertising continuum is a format I call “native display.” Native display doesn’t take a user someplace else on a publisher's site. It doesn’t present the user with engaging content in the form of an article or video. It normally links off to the website of an advertiser, dropping the user on a landing page often designed in concert with the native display ads. Or not.
So, Todd, why the difference in your mind? I’ll tell you. At DDM we are conditioning our users that BrandView is valuable content, and that when a user clicks on it they will be presented with compelling content. Will they love every piece? Probably not. But they have developed trust in us that when we present them with a BrandView headline, there’s substance behind it. There’s a quid pro quo. Native display isn’t so. Native display trades on the trust users have developed in our BrandView product and before long those users no longer trust us and the BrandView name. Why? Because all native display does is move the traditional display ad, normally featured in the right rail, into the queue amid content. But the native display ad isn't content, it’s just an ad. And more often than not it's disguised as content. So when the user clicks on it and is taken offsite to a landing page designed to advertise a product or service, they lose trust in the property and its native advertising. There is no quid pro quo.
Penance: Don’t mingle sponsored content and native display. You can run both of them, but make sure that they are clearly delineated. And don’t violate the trust your users gain in your sponsored content by blurring the lines between it and native display.
4. Selling direct response instead of branding and thought leadership. On the face of it this one is easy. In practice, though, it gets very difficult. Most advertisers are not in the content business. They sell products, services, or both. They use advertising for awareness, call to action, preference, purchase intent, etc. So when they learn that they can work with you on some sponsored content, they logically expect that the content will drive awareness, call to action, preference, purchase intent and maybe even ring the cash register. Can you blame them? Advertising can be expensive. And, as John Wanamaker said many years ago, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” So advertisers, understandably, often want to fill their sponsored content with product benefits and features, calls to action, self-promotion, etc.
You can guess what happens when the publisher allows the advertiser’s sponsored content to be pitchy or shilling. Yep. That’s right. Those 16,000 average page views referenced above drop to 3,000, 2,000, 1,000 or less. Why? Sponsored content is still content. When is the last time you sat down to read a stack of press releases? Do you regularly read product manuals? Have you ever found yourself saying “what this article needs is more product descriptions, features, benefits, and three more calls to action?"
Native advertising is not direct response. Sure, at DDM we include 100 percent share of voice of all the ad units on the page for the advertiser. They can produce strong creative with great calls to action and engaging copy, and if the user clicks and is taken to a landing page or form or download, that’s great. But if that’s what the advertiser is looking for, we’ll sell them a display campaign. We just can’t guarantee that users will click on the ads in the content, and we also won’t alienate our users by running a piece of content that is direct response. Sponsored content needs to be about branding, thought leadership and building a long relationship with the user. It needs to be something that drives awareness and consideration in the user, but that isn’t expected to ring the cash register. Down the line the user may well make a purchase due, in part, to a trust built up through consuming sponsored content. But if that’s the driver, sponsored content isn’t the best vehicle for that advertiser. At DDM we have sponsored content pieces by personal injury attorneys, auto dealers, medical clinics and even local colleges. Users don’t transact regularly with those types of businesses. Some of those are once-in-a-lifetime transactions, or at the very least 3-5 years in between. If those advertisers were looking for their BrandView articles to drive sales today, or tomorrow, or even next month, they’d most likely be sorely disappointed. BUT, if their display ads can drive some incremental transactions, while their content builds rapport, trust and relationship, then it’s a win-win.
One of our most successful BrandView clients is a local grocery store chain that runs a weekly series of articles called “Ask a Chef.” Each week these articles include a recipe for a delicious culinary item. Users can also find the nearest store to them, or click on a display ad to order online. Is it possible that BrandView articles drive users to local stores, or online orders? Of course it is. Is that the measure of success of our product? No.
Penance: Don’t sell direct response, don’t measure direct response, don’t expect direct response. If some comes, be happy.
5. Not taking the lead in the creative process: There are two keys every publisher needs to keep in mind when producing sponsored content. First and foremost, you are a publisher. This is what you do. You've cultivated an audience, have a voice and style, and your users trust you. Don’t run a piece of sponsored content that alienates that audience, changes that voice and style, and violates the trust your users have placed in you. The sponsored content you produce needs to be consistent with the editorial content you produce in voice, style, etc. You need to write it for your audience just as your journalists write their editorial content for you audience. NEVER forget that. The sponsor may be paying for the content, but they are the advertiser and you’re the publisher. And if you risk your audience for any piece of sponsored content, good luck. Every piece of sponsored content you produce won’t be a home run. But your users will forgive you for that, if they recognize the voice, and maintain the trust. What users won’t forgive you for is if you allow your voice to be altered, or completely hijacked, by an advertiser who feels they know how to do your job better than you do. Don’t let that happen. EVER.
Second, you need to maintain final editorial control. Sure, Forbes allows advertisers to publish content directly through its CMS. Forbes’ clients also have editorial staff who write for their blogs, sites, magazines, etc. And those big brands have a vested interest in not being pitchy. The content can just blow back on them as well. Local media publishers who work with smaller advertisers can ill afford to allow editorial control to pass from them to their clients. Yes, the advertiser can write the article. Yes, they can even write the headline, but if it doesn’t look right to us, if it’s not in our voice, if we can tell it’s not going to be successful, for them or us, then we let them know we’ll make some necessary edits prior to running it. We’ll let them review it before it goes live, but we maintain the final edit, not our advertisers. It takes two to tango, but one must take the lead.
Penance: Take control of the creative and editorial process. Work with the advertiser but remember whose audience it is and who has the long-term relationship at risk. Come to the meetings with the advertiser with suggested articles and headlines that will help them see what you can do and how you’ll do it.
6. Not measuring performance against editorial content. I alluded to this earlier, but let me elaborate. As a digital advertising executive my job is to monetize the audience my content partners at DDM have developed. This audience comes back to us regularly for sports, news, weather, classifieds, etc. Each time they come they consume X number of page views. Each page view has Y number of ad impressions. If Z serves as the rate I charge for my display advertising, my revenue is calculated roughly as X*Y*Z. I don’t really have much involvement in X. I can drive users away if I run poor advertising that turns off our users. But if I take caution not to do that, I really can only help to NOT drive audience away, I don’t do much to drive audience to us. Our content folks are phenomenal at that! Now, the reason this audience comes to us is for our content. With the exception of KSL Marketplace, that content is predominantly “news” in nature. Some of it is hard-hitting, some feel-good, but no matter the content, the content team is very interested in what the audience is interested in and how to serve it to them. Our content team spends a lot of time understanding the audience and thinking of how to best serve it with the content we have.
With our BrandView content we do the same thing. We look at what kind of content is being consumer better/more often than other. We look at which times of day and which days of the week do better. We also measure everything we can to try to learn and inform us so that we continue to serve the best content our users have interest in, sponsored by our BrandView advertisers.
In the case of the editorial and BrandView teams, the success measures are very similar, and known to most digital publishers: page views, headline clicks and CTR, article views, time in article, social shares, etc. Whereas the content team normally doesn’t focus on display ad CTR, the BrandView team does, as well, because the display ads are served in concert with the sponsored content, and we want to have a holistic view of everything that’s working (or not) for the advertiser.
So the question is this: What is your digital newsroom measuring when it comes to their content? Whatever it is, you should measure the same with your sponsored content. You should benchmark the editorial content and then work to get your sponsored content at that same level — and then higher. The measurements, systems, platforms, etc. they use can be used to measure your sponsored content. You may need to add a few measurements (like ad impressions, clicks and CTR from your ad server, or scroll depth/percentage from your analytics tool, or audience analytics from third party audience measurement companies), but for the most part what you care about with sponsored content is how it it doing vis-à-vis your editorial content.
At DDM we’ve vetted many of the native advertising platform and analytics providers out there. We work with many of them. At the same time, we’re working to build an MVP (minimum viable product) of a native analytics platform to determine if we want to "build or buy." And, what are the minimum measurements we expect in our native analytics platform? You could probably guess them: headline clicks and CTR, article views, time in article, social shares, display ad impressions, clicks and CTR. We want to add a lot more — article level audience insights, scroll depth, comparisons to editorial content, story completions and many more. Here’s what one version of our thought process looks like: (this is a live MVP. Kudos to Devin Bunker for his work on this!)
Is there a lot more we’d like to add? Would we change the visualization? Are we happy with what this tells us? The answer to all three questions is “yes.” But that’s what an MVP does for you. It allows you to get something out there, play with it, use it, give feedback on and improve it. Notice, though, that this article had done — 15,000 page views in the first two days it was published. That means it’s “in the zone." It’s right there where other BrandView articles usually are and it’s sitting at or above many editorial articles.
Just to be fair and show that we have very strong editorial content, as well, I pulled an article that started a day after the BrandView article above did for comparison. This is a relevant and topical article about families filling a local homeless shelter overflow at Christmas time. Notice that it’s had nearly 31,500 page views since it was published. Not only is it well above the editorial average, it’s well above the BrandView average, and I couldn’t be more happy. Our content team does an amazing job, and we monetize these editorial articles with display ads. But it also gives the BrandView team a view into what can be done with just one article, and sets a high bar for our sponsored content to compete with.
Penance: Work with your content teams to understand what they do to drive traffic and audience engagement, learn from them and apply that to your sponsored content. Also, at very minimum use the same analytics they use for their editorial content to measure your sponsored content with the idea that the editorial averages are your baseline. Once you reach that baseline, set your sights higher and look to drive even higher engagement and value for your advertisers.
7. Not making it a visual experience. The last deadly sin is one that, frankly, we’ve been guilty of in the past. Not that we haven’t had some great visuals in our BrandView articles, it just hasn’t been a solid focus. Let’s face it. No one wants to read paragraphs and paragraphs when images can convey much of the same message and invoke emotion, interest and engagement. As the old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words."
Would you like to read my article about a soldier coming home from deployment and being greeted by his daughter? Or, would you rather look at this image?
It’s the same with sponsored content. Not only do we have to avoid being pitchy and shilling (see Deadly Sin No. 4 above), but we have to avoid being overly lengthy and wordy. In addition, we also have to ensure that the content is as engaging as possible, which requires involving as many senses of our audience as possible. So write a strong article. Or record an engaging video. Regardless, whatever our audience reads needs to be augmented by what they see and hopefully more what they feel. That’s engagement. It’s also the basis for social sharing, which is another key indicator and goal of sponsored content.
How do I know that images will help our BrandView content? I don’t know for certain. But in true DDM form, we’re testing it to see how much lift we get. One of the most recent articles that our BrandView Content Manager, Bobby Macey (@bobmacey) recently produced was "10 ways you might be killing your home Wi-Fi signal” sponsored by a national cable TV and broadband provider. Macey included many more images in the article than he might have done in the past. You can see for yourself below how the article has performed in the first four days after it was published.
Is this evidence that images improve sponsored content? No. Could this article have stood on its own without images? Probably so. But, the fact that this article has done almost 61,000 page views in four days tells me that it’s more engaging than other articles we’ve done in the past. And as an added bonus, because native advertising works well cross-platform, it’s entirely possible we’re getting better lift on this article due to a more visual nature for smartphones.
Penance: Don’t just write, engage! Include elements in your sponsored content which will increase interest, attention and a desire to share. The more you engage, the greater your opportunity to build and strengthen the audience.
In Closing: Whew, that's a lot, I know. What I also know is that at Deseret Digital Media we’re figuring a lot of it out as we go. We closely observe, and sometimes follow, some of the leaders in the space — Forbes, Quartz, and even BuzzFeed. We also have a roadmap, but as with any journey, having a map isn’t enough. One has to get out on the road and start driving to run into roadblocks, detours, obstacles, etc. So, as we look to a new year, may I suggest a New Year’s Resolution that every digital publisher should have on the list for 2015?
Just Do It. That’s the opposite of Deadly Sin No. 1. Of course, I don’t mean Nike. I mean gather your content and advertising and development teams and set a goal to build an MVP of a native advertising product. Set a due date, and make it soon (like Jan. 31!). Send the advertising team out to talk to some of their best advertisers and share with them the idea (take a few suggested articles and headlines along to whet their appetites). Send the dev team to the drawing board to take the current CMS and make it able to add any elements you’ll need for your native advertising model (shading of the article in the queue to set it apart as sponsored content, a question mark users can hover over to find out more about this new type of content on your homepage, etc.). And send your content team off to benchmark its editorial content and set some goals for sponsored content. While it's at it, it will need to come up with a writer or two that can produce some of this sponsored content for you, or you can reach out to someone like DDM’s BrandForge to help with that.
Altimeter visualized it with the image below a few years ago, and I agree with them. The only thing is, the time between these five stages can’t be years, it needs to be months, if not weeks, if not days.
And, let’s remember the oft quoted adage from George Santyana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s do this well. This tweet sums it up another way:
And if you think it’s better to just sit back and watch, this piece from Pando late last year sums it up well. Good luck!
I welcome your feedback. Tweet me at @toddhandy.
Happy New Year's! We've continued our start-of-year tradition of asking our colleagues here at DDM two questions about the year ahead: #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015? #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution? We hope you'll find their answers insightful.
Clark Gilbert | CEO, Deseret Digital MediaResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
I couldn’t agree more with Chris Lee’s six priorities (below). They are the right direction for DDM.Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
The fundamental question for 2015 is: "Have you transformed your business?" There is no longer room for talk. Are organizations delivering true transformation? Here are three simple metrics: 1) >1/3 total revenue from digital, 2) >1/2 of digital from non-display revenue, 3) still growing at double digit growth rates. Simple metrics at the heart of transformation.back to resolutions
Chris Lee | President, Deseret Digital MediaResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
Our six top priorities for 2015 are to:
1. Expand the mobile-ready business model
2. Improve audience insights
3. Price and manage inventory dynamically
4. Operate and invest with discipline
5. Grow our national and global reach
6. Preserve the DDM culture of learning
Russell Banz | Vice President, ProductResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
Grow audience and reach via compelling, highly-sharable content. Quality content now matters more than ever due to the “unbundling” of content.
Grow audience without stooping to the lowest common denominator for viral & shareable content
Todd Handy | Vice President, Advertising Strategy & PerformanceResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
One thing I want to focus on is our valuable first-party data: what to gather, how to gather, where to store, what to append, and how to activate it. This enables us to drive more relevant advertising to our users and improve performance on behalf of our advertisers. In addition, this will improve eCPMs for direct sales and free up incremental inventory for indirect sales.Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
I would encourage all our industry friends to do the above with their first-party if they’re not already doing it. But, since many are, I would encourage them to embrace three non-traditional digital advertising revenue drivers that will change the digital advertising landscape: mobile, video and native.back to resolutions
Eric Bright | Vice President, eCommerceResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
Focus on driving new business with little to no reliance on display advertising.Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
Diversify your revenue portfolio, don’t rely on a single type of revenue.back to resolutions
Paul Edwards | Editor, Deseret NewsResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
Build social sharing and engagement into the fabric of daily work.Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
Write to your audience, not your sources. That means taking the time and effort to learn what really matters to your audience and meeting them where they are at rather than giving into the temptation of sounding smart to your sources.back to resolutions
Burke Olsen | General Manager, DeseretNews.comResolution: #1 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
Among the many things we want to improve in 2015, we’ll have a primary focus on improving the experience of our growing mobile audience.Resolution: #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2015 resolution?
It’s time to re-enthrone email as a service to users that extends publishers’ brand and content strategy. For some strong examples, see Quartz, Versioning (from Sitepoint) and the Deseret News National Edition emails.back to resolutions -->
Matt Sanders | General Manager, DDM Publisher SolutionsResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2015?
Deliver world class audience growth and monetization services for our growing number of publishing clients throughout the U.S. and Latin America.
Definitively determine to fuel digital as a separate business model. Across our hundreds of media clients and friends in the USA, Latin America and Europe, it is abundantly clear that those who treat digital as a separate, not ancillary business are finding success. Those who seek to protect or adapt the existing business are failing. The latter is tragic, particularly considering the role these businesses and professionals have played in their communities for generations. Just as radio and TV are different businesses that happen to cover similar stories, they do so in distinct ways, newspaper owners must understand they have a different business to grow and own. Only then will the audience growth and monetization training and services we and others provide to the industry begin to take effect.back to resolutions
Deseret Digital Media (DDM) launched five years ago this January. Over those years I have seen many observers dismiss the transformation at Deseret Digital Media with claims that we are “different.” The comments range from “They must be subsidized” to “Their religious orientation somehow compels their markets to buy their products or subscribe to their websites.” If only either of these misperceptions where true!
The reality is we operate in competitive markets and are very much a for-profit entity. And while we are different, it is not on the dimensions many imagine. As Harvard scholar Michael Porter has described: “Strategy is about making choices, tradeoffs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” But even as we swim against that current, there are a host of other companies we admire, benchmark, and even share innovation practices with quite regularly. These companies range from newspaper groups like Schibsted and Russmedia in Europe to magazine companies like Forbes in New York and the Atlantic Media Group in Washington, D.C. And while each of these companies has unique editorial profiles, they share one thing in common: they have all transformed their business models and are likely to not only survive, but to see sustained profitable growth.
Rather than debate what appear to us as empirically robust innovation principles, I decided to focus this article on a very simple idea: Have you transformed your business? With that simple organizing framework, I then ask four measurable questions that speak to this concept:
(Hint: Should be approaching 33 percent)
(Hint: Should be over 50 percent)
(Hint: Should be “Yes.”)
(Hint: Should be approaching 50 percent)
If you can’t answer these questions in a compelling way, you may be making managerially heroic efforts. You may even be working with some very innovative people and smart product concepts. However, you are not proving successful in answering the more fundamental question: Have your transformed your business? Let’s look briefly at each of these four key questions with some expanded rigor:
What percent of your business comes from digital?
(Hint: Should be approaching 33 percent)
Using this standard, only a handful of newspaper companies can say they have transformed their business. Borrell and Associates has done an analysis of traditional media companies looking at the percentage of advertising revenue coming from digital. The study revealed that the average newspaper company generates only 11 percent of its advertising revenue from digital, one-third of the target I’ve suggested for business model transformation (See Exhibit 1). Only a handful of newspaper companies can claim 25% of their ad revenue comes from digital. Two of those newspaper groups are national brands The Washington Post and The New York Times Company. The only metro market company over 25 percent is McClatchy, which has shown significant digital leadership under Chris Hendricks and a recurring pattern of investment in key digital initiatives.
These data are a percent of advertising revenue and not a percent of total revenue. They are also only for U.S. public companies. When we expand the data to look at the higher standard of percentage of total revenue, newspaper companies like Schibsted and Russmedia standout. A recent Media Briefing profile comparing the transformation of Schibsted to the New York Times Company suggests that over 55 percent of Q3 2014 revenue at Schibsted came from digital. Publications like the Atlantic and Forbes have been reported to be generating over 33 percent and 50 percent of total revenues respectively from digital revenues. Deseret Digital Media is approaching this same range when comparing digital revenue to its combined legacy newspaper and TV properties. More importantly, digital revenue has a higher operating margin, which means that digital is an even higher share of total profitability. I do not have access to line-level digital profit numbers across organizations, but would suggest to other executives for their own internal analysis that revenue measures remain simply a proxy for the much more important operating profit metric.
Of the digital business, what percentage comes from non-display revenue streams?
(Hint: Should be over 50 percent)
Several years ago a good friend and senior executive from a prominent newspaper group came to me with the following analysis: “When I do the math on our total page views, multiply by the ad units per page, multiply again by a healthy CPM rate, I don’t get to the kind of numbers that will transform our business.” In fact, the percentage of revenue came to about half of what I have suggested media organizations need to get to transform their business. This calculus led this individual to pull digital back into his print organization and begin cutting costs from digital. Unfortunately, while his math was entirely accurate for display revenue, it was off by about half of the total revenue target of 33 percent because it missed an entire category of revenue: a non-display category we call Marketplace businesses.
In the previous discussion of Schibsted, one number that should jump out to you is the 55 percent of total revenue coming from digital. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of that revenue is coming from the Schibsted classifieds business, not from online display revenue. At Deseret Digital Media, over 50 percent of our revenue now comes from classifieds (cars, jobs, homes) and other marketplace businesses (deals, travel bookings, business listings). In other words, we are now far less dependent on display revenue than we were just three years prior.
Much has been made of Deseret Digital Media setting up a separate group for digital. However, less well known is the fact that we have a separate team within DDM to focus on our Marketplace businesses. Not only is this team not from the newspaper business, it isn't from the digital publishing business either. Our marketplace team, led by Eric Bright, brings e-commerce experience including from eBags, Overstock.com, Classmates.com, and other leading e-commerce businesses. This team doesn’t focus on page views and CPM rates. They are obsessed with paid listings, consumer transactions and conversion funnels (See Image 1 below).
Image 1: DDM Marketplace Team
Jennifer Land leads a team meeting of the DDM Marketplace team in Salt Lake City. The Marketplace team is comprised of people with e-commerce (not digital publishing) backgrounds.
Is your digital business still growing at double digit percentages?
(Hint: Should be “Yes.”)
One of the more remarkable data slides I’ve seen in the last few years is Mary Meeker’s summary of industry revenues (See Exhibit 2). From 1950 to 2000, newspaper industry advertising grew from $20 billion to $60 billion. Then from 2000 to 2012, the industry shrank back to $20B, more than a $40 billion drop. What took 50 years to build was destroyed in about 10 years. But just as remarkable in this analysis of print ad revenue is the almost negligible growth in online newspaper revenue (see the red line in Exhibit 2). Despite all of the investment, machinations, experimentation, and collective mindshare that has occurred across the newspaper industry, online revenue remains barely above 10 percent of total advertising revenues. This revenue is non-trivial for sure, but hardly something that will change the trajectory of the industry trend line. It is definitely not evidence of business model transformation.
Tragically, the anemic growth of newspaper online digital revenue does not reflect the overall growth in the market. Online advertising has not only passed newspaper advertising, but it has also passed broadcast advertising to become the No. 1 category of ad spending in the market (See Exhibit 3). As further evidence that the industry remains stuck in a traditional business model, online revenue growth rates for many newspaper companies remains in low single digits to flat. In his very compelling column on the newsonomics of the industry, Ken Doctor pointed out earlier this year that online revenue for the industry grew by barely 1.5 percent from the previous year. That caps a disappointing four year trend:
Companies like Forbes, the Atlantic, Schibsted and others who are transforming their business models continue to grow digital revenue at double-digit rates. And while the digital revenue at DDM is not growing at the same rate that we started with — our compounded annual growth rate from 2010 to 2014 was around 30% — we continue to realize strong double digit growth. Note again, however, that if we only had digital display, our growth rate would be in the high single digits. It is our Marketplace revenue (over 50 percent of our total) that continues to grow more rapidly and keeps our total growth rate in the double digits.
What percent of your traditional business (non-digital) comes from revenue streams not tied to the newspaper itself?
(Hint: Should be approaching 50 percent)
At the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, we speak of two transformations: Transformation A is focused on the traditional business while Transformation B is focused on the new digital business. Most of this article has been focused on our digital transformation. However, there is also significant transformation happening in our traditional business that is not digital, nor is it tied to the newspaper itself.
Brent Low, who runs our newspaper business in Salt Lake City, has been a pioneer of these Transformation A businesses. Toward this effort, Brent has launched or grown businesses that have nothing to do with the circulation of our newspaper itself. These businesses include coupons, events, niche magazines, custom publishing and direct mail. In 2010, these businesses accounted for barely 25 percent of our business. Today, they are approaching nearly 50 percent of our business and those lines will cross next year. Brent does not run our digital businesses, but he is focused on maintaining the traditional print business while growing these new types of Transformation A businesses that draw on the brand halo of the traditional newspaper but are revenue independent from the core newspaper business.
Transformation in a Picture
Perhaps the best way to summarize each of these four questions is in a picture (See Exhibit 4).
When you integrate each of the four questions outlined you see the full picture of transformation. First, you see that digital revenue becomes one-third of total revenue (Question 1). Half of this revenue comes from e-commerce Marketplace businesses (Question 2), which allows the business to still show strong double digit growth (Question 3). The new non-newspaper businesses are half of the traditional business (Question 4) or one-third of total revenue and include coupons, events, niche magazines, custom publishing, and direct mail.
These new businesses need to grow at 5 percent or higher to offset declines in the print newspaper. Digital then becomes the growth business behind a stabilized local core business. Taken together this becomes a picture of transformation and a profile of a sustainable growth business.
One Final Question
Each of the four questions discussed in this article are outcome-driven — they measure whether transformation has worked. In fact, the mathematics of a transformed business model are actually reasonably straight forward — transformations in the traditional business offset print newspaper declines while digital transformations outside of the core business enable overall growth of the enterprise.
This brings us to a final question: Are you organized to innovate in a way that allows transformation? So often we have guests come to Salt Lake City to study what we are doing. Many times they look at innovations in our marketplace products or our success with native advertising or new mobile ad products we are developing. Unfortunately, most of those innovations are outcomes, not causes. In other words, they grow out of an underlying decision to organize for transformation from the ground up.
We will continue to share product level insights with our peers in the industry, but DDM is not a collection of product innovations. Rather we are the culmination of an organization that deliberately decided to transform its business model by creating a separate business rather than integrate within the existing business. We also remain committed to an organizational culture designed for constant reinvention in ways similar to that described by Lewis D’Vorkin at Forbes.
It is these decisions that make us unique from so many in our industry. And yet, we are not alone in this decision. You see that same rigor in a handful of organizations including Forbes, Schibsted, Russmedia, and others. In the thoughtful Media Briefing piece mentioned above, Chris Sutcliffe compares the efforts at the New York Times Company to the transformation at Schibsted. While acknowledging the progress being made at the Times, the author points out: “[U]nlike Schibsted, where digital and print are largely separated, the NYT’s digital output is inextricably linked to print content that remains at the heart of its core brand.”
That strategy may allow the New York Times to survive, but it will not allow the Times (or other newspapers) to ever lead again unless they reorient their organization. That so many fail to understand this underlying nuance reveals not only a difference in strategy, but a failure to answer our underlying question in this article: Have you transformed your business?
The news business has a branding issue.
When asked whether national news media is having a positive or negative effect on the way things are going in this country today, a strong majority of Americans — 61 percent — say it is negative. Only 26 percent say the influence of the national news media is positive, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey.
Many journalists respond that the job of journalism is to shine a light on wrongdoing and hold the powerful accountable. They are right — the news industry has a long and proud tradition of watchdog journalism going back to Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and other “muckrakers” who exposed issues from unsafe working conditions and child labor practices to political corruption and overreaching monopolies. Their work helped inspire and empower much-needed changes in American society.
And yet, most people today don’t seem to perceive the news industry as contributing to positive changes and solutions in our society.
At the Deseret News, we think the answer lies in “solutions journalism.”
According to the Solutions Journalism Network, the news media today often tell only one half of the story: the problem. This independent, non-profit organization is leading a movement calling for journalists to do more to cover the other half of the story: the solution. Solutions journalism, they explain, is “rigorous and compelling reporting that investigates and explains credible responses to social problems.” Far from being fluffy or simply feel-good, it builds on traditional reporting by identifying ideas, people or organizations who are tackling these complex issues in interesting ways and then diving deep into the details of how they’re doing it.
The Deseret News is also embracing solutions journalism as a way to deliver on our brand promise to help people be well-informed so they can make a difference in their families and communities. We’re not afraid to highlight problems, but we don’t stop there. Whether we’re looking at natural disasters, premature births, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we look to tell the whole story — including solutions.
The Solutions Journalism Network published a case study of the Deseret News’ efforts last year. Preliminary analysis suggests that these solutions pieces are doing well with our online audience when it comes to page views and social shares. We're working with the Solutions Journalism Network to do a more rigorous study of these articles on our site that will gauge their performance compared to non-solutions stories.
Our reporters and editors use an informal checklist when working on solutions stories (hat-tip to Solutions Journalism Network, on whose list ours is based):
1. Does the story explain the importance and causes of a social problem? Explaining a solution or innovation doesn’t preclude talking about a problem. In fact, a deep understanding of the problem provides important context and is a necessary part of a solutions story.
2. Does the story describe a response to a social problem? In addition to exploring the causes of a social problem, the bulk of a solutions journalism story must introduce and explore a response to that problem. It must ask the question: Who is trying to fix this, and how?
3. Does the story analyze how and why the response seems to be working or not working, using evidence wherever possible? Rigor is a hallmark of all good journalism, and solutions journalism is no exception. If a project has been studied or evaluated, that data should be part of the story, and reporters should examine solutions from a variety of perspectives, asking hard questions about effectiveness.
4. Does it put the response to a social problem in a broader context? Even when a story is focused on a particular solution, it should make note of other possible responses to the problem, and ask how the effort may impact — or be impacted by — other social and political forces.
5. Does the story provide a critical analysis about the strengths and limitations of the response? Not all attempts at solving social problems will be successful and most will have unintended consequences, some positive and some negative. A good solutions story will anticipate these, and if a solution isn’t working, won’t be afraid to say so and explore why not.
6. Does the story generate curiosity and tension within the narrative? Solutions journalism stories can often be framed as mysteries or puzzles that the writer is figuring out while bringing the reader along for the ride. Good storytelling can also illuminate the ground-level details of implementation and the impact of a potential solution on a human level.
7. Does the story draw in experts who have ground-level understanding of implementation? Focusing on the nuts and bolts of implementing a solution is not only far more interesting than an abstract discussion of social forces, it can also reveal problems or reasons for success, making the story far better at assessing the true impact of a proposed solution.
Doing quality solutions journalism may indeed be one way to boost the Deseret News brand and even the brand of the entire news industry. But branding aside, stories that dig into solutions simply make for a better product by pushing us to do more research, tell the whole story and engage readers in ideas and innovations that can make their communities better places to live and work.
At the heart of solutions journalism is the idea of innovation. Innovative media companies ought to be especially equipped to recognize and cover innovative ideas. They have a unique opportunity to build on and extend the ethics of innovation not just to business strategy, but also to content and culture at every level of the organization.
Anyone working in media is familiar with the challenges of adapting to transformation in the digital age. Faced with declines in audience and revenue, most traditional media groups have already made difficult choices associated with self-disruption.
Can your digital-first strategy thrive in an awkward post-transformation workplace? A dual transformation requires the leaders of the disruptive upstart to be true believers in the merits of a new way of doing business — while inherently creating friction with the legacy business. Can we all still get along?
In my role as the news director of KSL.com, I’m responsible for growing the audience and influence of the news side of a digital product that also represents the KSL TV and KSL Newsradio brands. These two “Transformation A” companies are legendary in our market and have very clear “jobs to be done.”
As a separate company housed in the Deseret Digital Media family, KSL.com operates a news site and marketplace with the autonomy to make Web-first decisions. This gives our digital side a huge advantage against our competitors, who are generally beholden to legacy platforms. It’s no coincidence that our KSL.com news side is the top local news website in the country and the KSL.com marketplace outperforms craigslist regionally.
While necessary for the bottom line and the future of any organization, dual transformation can create inefficiencies in cross-platform cooperation. The lean focus of “Transformation B” can easily lead to neglect of the digital needs of legacy partners, causing frustration for all sides.
Here are a few lessons we’ve learned as we try to dominate the online local news space while also supporting our TV and radio partners:
1. Divide or die
The early history of KSL.com includes the story of a KSL TV executive in the '90s instructing an employee of the website (which was then controlled by the television station) that he could put anything on the new site as long as it wasn’t news, sports, or weather. That mandate was ignored.
Much of the early success of KSL.com is directly related to introducing a free classifieds service at a time when most competitors were terrified about digital marketplaces cannibalizing existing business. Luckily for those of us working at KSL.com today, the divide between the startup and legacy sides allowed for innovation to thrive.
Left to their own devices, TV and radio management teams around the country continue to turn their online presence into a mishmash of promotions and airbrushed photos of the on-air talent. Unless an organization allows the Web team to make independent decisions, the success of the digital side will continue to be limited.
2. Mind your own business
“For dual transformation to work, each organization must operate as if the future of the company depended on it alone," wrote Clark Gilbert, Matthew Eyring and Richard N. Foster in an article for Harvard Business Review. "That leaves the responsibility for refereeing between the two sides squarely at the top. The first imperative, we’ve found, is to stop legacy employees from trying to meddle with the disruptive new business.”
Even in a newsroom with Web autonomy, old habits die hard. TV was king for a long time, so it’s understandable that TV producers and reporters will try to influence the way stories are promoted or presented online. The most difficult part of working in a dual transformation newsroom is avoiding the tendency to tell the other platforms how to do their job. The Web team shouldn’t do the 10 o’clock newscast and the TV team shouldn’t try to run the website.
TV people — especially anchors and reporters — want to see their work online. A lean, data-driven Web team, however, is forced to allocate resources toward only the most important or top performing stories. When the website queue doesn’t match the TV newscast rundown, it can be frustrating for TV viewers who want to share a story and for TV talent who want to promote their work.
While still a work in progress for us, automated systems should be put in place to make sure every story from TV appears online — even if it’s only the video with no text attached. Ideally, a TV page would mimic a YouTube queue, with simple options to sort the videos by time, reporter or show. These videos would post to the TV page within 15-30 minutes after broadcast. The social media manager would almost immediately have access to any clips that merit promotion on social channels.
To be clear, I’m not advocating a return of the days when Web producers were tasked with mindlessly “shoveling” everything from a print edition or from TV. These processes need to be automated. I’m convinced that automating the step described in the previous paragraph will do more to improve relationships between the TV and Web teams than anything else, hands down.
3. Manage expectations
Most people are happy to work hard when they know what’s expected. The best teams are the ones where everyone knows their role and what they’re supposed to do. Unfortunately, we don’t always do a great job coordinating with our TV partners on expected behaviors.
Let’s look at a typical scenario and the resulting problems: A TV reporter turns a package for the evening news, but doesn’t have time to write a Web-ready story. This scenario puts a burden on the Web team to reconstruct a story from the TV-centric ENPS script. With a small team, it’s nearly impossible (and a poor use of resources) for a Web producer to rewrite every story from the evening news in a timely manner.
Those on the TV side usually don’t understand what it takes for a Web producer to get a story ready to publish. They might not understand that the Web producer had to copyedit, clip videos, add photo galleries and descriptions, and even fact-check the story from the TV reporter. The Web producer expects a Web-ready story from the TV reporter, while the TV reporter feels like he or she already did his or her job by turning a story for TV and isn’t interested in doing “extra” work for the Web.
Similarly, a TV reporter might take the time to write a Web story, only to have the story passed over by the Web team. Both scenarios cause frustration for everyone involved.
A big roadblock for this workflow is accountability. In my situation, I’m not the boss of the TV reporters and they don’t work for me. Even with buy-in from TV management, it’s unlikely that a reporter who scrambled to cover late-breaking news or did a live hit from a remote location is going to be reprimanded for not submitting a Web-ready story — nor should they be. Therefore, it’s incumbent on the Web team to decide whether to a) write it up themselves, b) attach a related wire story, or c) allow the video to stand alone without accompanying copy.
Managing cross-platform expectations will do wonders for better collaboration and efficiency.
4. Measure everything and share what you measure
Digital teams have the luxury of real-time analytics and recommendation engines that the TV and radio sides can only dream about. Too often, however, only the Web team sees the numbers or the associated analysis. Some reporters have no idea how their stories perform online. Others have an inflated or distorted sense of a story’s importance. Sharing traffic and engagement information with the entire newsroom helps everyone hone news judgment and improve performance.
On our team we plan our day using a Moneyball metaphor we call Newsroom Baseball. We try to analyze the performance and cost of all kinds of stories and schedule our best-performing stories around our peak traffic times. We have regularly scheduled stories from several areas of focus, which helps us avoid being totally dependent on breaking news to maintain traffic.
We’ve found that with our front-door model, a mix of about 40 stories on the home page of KSL.com each day is the sweet spot of story volume for our audience. We post each story to Twitter and post to Facebook roughly every two hours. We learn from our audience and try to share what we find with the rest of the room.
Behind the scenes, the daily battles of a dual transformation can create rifts and inefficiencies. It’s important to remember that no one outside the organization cares about what goes on behind closed doors. The user just wants a good experience, no matter the platform. While we should never lose sight of our primary digital goals, in the case of KSL.com, it’s in our best interest to support the “Transformation A” efforts of our partners at KSL TV and KSL Newsradio.
Many leaders of for-profit newspapers feel the incessant need to build viable online businesses to offset shrinking print revenues. Of course, we believe the best route to success is to embrace Clark Gilbert’s dual transformation model. Either way, the newsrooms that succeed long term will grow their audiences and increase Web traffic by harnessing the strength of a Web-only content model.
Gone are the days that leaders of news organizations can sleep well at night if their digital content strategy requires only that all or most print content ends up online. Digital growth requires content that is written with a digital audience in mind, and is produced by writers who embrace and measure their own performance against metrics of audience engagement.
The most successful writers, in terms of Web traffic, are those who seek regularly to understand how their content performs — a feat that is prohibitively expensive for print publications. Although page views have been the default measurement of choice for the past decade and a half, other data are increasingly taking center stage for us and other news websites. We’re now anxiously measuring and striving to increase the following metrics.
It bears noting that the value of a piece of content is not always limited to how many people it reaches. Many important and influential pieces of journalism will inform and impact thought leaders, even if they never generate a Chartbeat alert or set a record for page views in Adobe Analytics.
Focusing on Web-only content and performance
If you aim to grow traffic and engagement on your news website, here are five keys to success.
1. Create a digital culture.
USA Today publisher Larry Kramer has gone to great lengths to shore up the digital strategy of his newsroom. From “Social Media Tuesdays” to competitions for who can gain the most Twitter followers in a single day, reporters are cultivating a Web-first mentality. The result is that content creators at USA Today are focused on producing a lot of content, including quick hits, 85 percent of which never end up as ink on paper.
As USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page told The New York Times, “We file more and we file faster. And we file without consideration of whether it will make the print edition.”
2. Agree to aggregate.
In the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the Macy’s department store manager is initially irked when he learns that Kris Kringle referred customers to another store for a toy that was no longer is stock.
Why refer customers to another store? Because it meets their needs and bolsters the brand of the referring store.
Similarly, aggregating content is a vital strategy that serves users by pointing them to content they care about and solidifies the referring website as a destination for finding the best content, wherever it may be.
On the digital sites I manage (DeseretNews.com, National.DeseretNews.com, CougarFan.com), we regularly use several types of aggregated content to serve our users. Following are aggregated content types and examples from either our sites or other notable sites that are doing it well.
Example: We use link-offs on all our sites. The Pulse on the Deseret News National Edition website, features up to 12 link-offs per day, which point users to the best stories about faith- and family-related issues on top-tier websites.
Example: The Atlantic consistently produces excellent roundups, accessible at TheWire.com.
Example: This recent charticle on DeseretNews.com, shows how the economy is better for the wealthiest Americans.
Example: On DeseretNews.com, we’ve created a regular feature we call the Clean Cut. We aim to share videos early in their trajectory of social sharing, which make people feel happy and optimistic about the world.
Our colleagues at KSL.com have a daily article, called Have you seen this? in which they showcase funny, amazing or uplifting videos.
3. Leap into lists.
People like lists. And when they are done well, they help users process new information and understand its context. Although we’ve all seen the format abused, lists need not be published as slideshows that require users to click endlessly.
We originally planned to implement lists on the Deseret News National Edition website as slide shows that would require users to click to advance to each new list item. While waiting for the feature to be developed, we started running lists as articles – all on a single page – similar in form to what BuzzFeed does. The lists quickly became popular on our site, and have been very successful at driving traffic from social media. We subsequently have changed our product roadmap and will not move forward with our plans to develop a slide-show style that requires users to click multiple times within each list.
For more tips on creating great lists, see the article my colleague JJ Feinauer published here last month.
4. Draw on real-time data.
Live analytics are critical to real-time decision making on our sites. Because news stories generally get the bulk of their traffic on the first day they are published, we need to understand how many people are engaging with the content and take proactive measures to improve real-time performance.
We use a few tools that are indispensable to our minute-by-minute decision-making. I’ll discuss two of them.
First, the industry standard is Chartbeat, a tool that succinctly reveals important and actionable data about how many people are on the site in a given moment. We rely on Chartbeat to tell us what stories are performing well, how much time users are spending on a particular piece of content, where our traffic is coming from (social media, search, direct, etc.), and what our recirculation rate is – how many people are moving on to a second piece of content.
Chartbeat displays well on big screens mounted in newsrooms, and has a great iOS app, both of which are indispensible tools for the digitally focused news team.
Second is the un-pithily named Outbrain Decision Support Platform for Editors, formerly known as Visual Revenue. Unfortunately, since Outbrain acquired Visual Revenue, you only can access the tool if you use the Outbrain content recommendation widget.
This tool helps us understand the click-through rate for stories in light of their position on a home page or section queue. It also conveys how that click-through rate compares to historical performance for that spot given the day of the week and the time of day.
We also find extremely helpful the integrated tool that allows us to easily A/B test headlines on our home and section pages.
5. Set stretch goals.
Nothing unifies a team like a joint goal. In September, my team and I set a goal to reach 50 million page views — something we had never before accomplished. And we did it!
Part of our success came from each team (content, product, development, marketing) being unified around a common goal. I sent daily emails to everyone on our teams bringing them up to speed on the previous day’s performance for each product, how far above or below our daily goal we were, and how we were currently pacing to end the month.
This month, we’re focused on increasing video views — and we’re pacing to exceed our goal. Next month, we plan to focus on increasing visits. At the end of each month, we’ll debrief to see what we learned, what worked and what didn’t. And in the process, we’ll learn more about what levers to pull to promote our content to achieve our desired results.
We’ve found great success following these tactics on our websites. So far in 2014, we’ve grown our traffic more than 50 percent year-over-year. And we’re poised to continue that growth next year.
Successful news companies are those that are finding ways to build digital DNA and leverage the web to grow their audiences. A focus on web-only content is a vital component of a successful growth strategy.
Have additional ideas for how to create sustainable growth and increase user engagement? Send me a tweet (@burkeo).
It has been said that you can only make it once, but you can make it better as many times as you need. The concept of “iteration,” when done right, leads to simple, easy-to-use products that are widely adopted by target end-users and is successful in the marketplace. When not managed correctly, however, iteration can lead to complexity, user frustration, and even product obsolescence.
So what actually is iteration in the context of building digital products? Iteration is the technique of designing, developing and delivering incremental components of product functionality or features at regular or planned intervals. Compare this to other methods of product design and development where new products or product features and usability must be entirely completed and are launched or swapped out all at once. The “waterfall” method of product development, where a product is planned end-to-end and launched once completely tested, is common among these other methods.
At Deseret Digital Media (DDM), we are working hard to launch new products and new features via an iterative approach. We launch simple, minimal viable products (MVPs) and then iterate with simple enhancements and additions — as well as subtractions — on a regular basis. For instance, last year our Deseret News National Edition team launched a clean and easy-to-use version of the National site as soon as we had an MVP that the public could use. We did not have all of the bells and whistles that would make some areas of the site, such as our content pages, as rich as we would eventually want. However, we got a product to the market early; and, through an iterative process we now have a great user experience (UX) and a site that thousands of new users are adopting each month.
Does iteration always work? The answer is no. Let me illustrate a couple of examples where iteration may fail and then I will share a model that works well.
Failure Number 1: Iterating to Complexity
Just because a company decides to take an iterative approach does not mean it will have simple, easy-to-use products. There are many examples where iterations lead to more and more features (with nothing being removed in exchange), which then leads to more and more complexity. Finally, the original “job to be done” — or original intent — of the product is lost and the product fails.
I believe a classic case example is the story of Yahoo and its early dominance as a search engine and Web directory. In the mid-1990s, most Internet users began their daily web experience at Yahoo.com. Initially it was very simple to use. However, through the course of time, the company gradually added more and more features to its home page. Stock market information, weather forecasts, news headlines, sports scores, and custom user features eventually cluttered the entire page, yielding a very complex user experience. What did this do? It left the door wide open for Google, a simple, single entry-field page and nothing else, to come in and dominate the search industry. (Did you know: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, inventors of the “Backrub” search engine that would eventually become known as Google, approached Yahoo about using their Backrub engine to power Yahoo search. But Yahoo wasn’t interested. Focusing on better search must have been too simple.)
Failure Number 2: Iterating to Obsolescence
There are at least two scenarios where even simple, undirected iterations can lead to obsolescence.
First, if you never start out on the right path and you never iterate toward the right path, iteration upon iteration will be in vain. As mentioned briefly above, great products start out with a premise of a simple “job to be done.” This notion and framework comes from Clayton Christensen and his research into disruptive innovation at the Harvard Business School. Every product ought to be defined by the job it does and the need it should fulfill. As professor Christensen explains, customers “want a quarter inch hole, not a quarter inch drill bit.”
At DDM, we strive to follow a model where we know the job to be done first, build an MVP, and then iterate to ensure that we are getting that job done. For example, we did significant research to understand what people were searching for on the Internet regarding their families and the kinds of help they were seeking for their families. This led us to launching FamilyShare.com, Familias.com, Familia.com.br, and other family sites across the world aimed at helping families solve common everyday challenges. We are constantly iterating with those products, hoping to never lose sight of the original “job to be done.”
The second scenario where companies may “iterate to obsolescence” is where they start out on a correct path, even launching an initial product that gets the job done for end-users and their needs. But as time goes one, the company may lose the vision of its original intention. Exciting distractions and tangent paths take it away from its goal. It may even follow an iterative process of launching new features. However, it gradually loses what the customer really wanted and eventually finds its product obsolete.
Success: Iterating Toward Product Simplicity and Adoption
The model that I suggest optimizes the chance of success is where those launching and building products (1.) start with a defined job to be done, (2.) build and launch a simple MVP and (3.) then iterate on a regular basis, continually trying to nail that job down by (4.) using some best practices that will be described below. I believe consumers will adopt simple, easy-to-use products that are continually improving to meet their needs. In fact, they will even become fans of such products. The late Steve Jobs was notorious for this. While Jobs would never win a congeniality award, he knew how to build incredible products that were simple, clean and fun to use. Apple is great at launching version after version of products that gradually get better and better. As we all know, Apple users are generally Apple fans.
While this all sounds simple, there is both an art and science to getting it right and executing on such a model. However, there are some practices that help make this easier and improve the odds of success.
Six Practices to Help the Iterative Process
1. Test. Test. Test. Consider a variety of different types of tests for simple versions of new features before completely adding to or subtracting from a current product. This includes carefully measuring the results of A/B test models or rolling out new features to a small segment of the current audience and seeking feedback. Tests, along with the corresponding feedback, will help ensure that the “job to be done” is being fulfilled and ensure that unnecessary features are not added to the product.
2. Be Data Driven. At DDM we have numerous decorative patterns of binary “1s” and “0s” on our doors and walls to help us remember the importance of watching the data and understanding patterns. It is important to use real-time data tools, such as Chartbeat, Optimizely and Parse.ly, as well as deep-dive analytical tools such as Adobe Analytics (Omniture) and Google Analytics to help drive decision-making throughout the entire iterative process.
3. Listen and Watch. Listen to end-user feedback (solicited and unsolicited), user comments (both within the product and also posted externally), survey results, etc. in order to stay in touch with the pulse of the product. However, always recognize that what users say and what they do are not always consistent. Watch digital product usage via tools such as heat maps, mouse tracking, user flow reports and so forth to see what users are really doing with the product. Iterate where there are challenges and opportunities.
4. Implement an Agile Framework such as Scrum. In 2013, DDM adopted Scrum throughout the organization as a framework for iterative and incremental product development. Since that time, we have been able to launch new features quicker and with more efficiencies than any previous method we had for product development. With two-week sprint cycles, we know that we will regularly introduce new features to each product. Most importantly, the usability of our products has increased dramatically since that time. Recurring and regular intervals are critical aspects of the iterative process.
5. Develop a Product Vision & Roadmap. A product vision clearly defines the original “job to be done” for the end-user and the differentiating aspects of the product. Without a product vision document that can be referred to on a regular basis by product stakeholders, it is easy to get off track and iterate to obsolescence. Note that this doesn’t mean the vision document itself can’t go through its own iterations and become better and better. In addition, a dynamic roadmap document that points to proposed features for upcoming development and release intervals (ex. quarterly, twice-monthly, etc.) is critical for a successful iterative approach. Product vision and roadmap documents are both key components of the Scrum / Agile framework and important tools for us at DDM.
6. Remember “Less is More” (Don’t be afraid to remove features). A successful iterative approach to product development requires the discipline to not just add features, but also to remove features that are no longer necessary or aren’t gaining traction with end-users. The “Less is More” principle and phrase, commonly attributed to the famous architect Mies van der Rohe and his “minimalist” approach to design, can often be hard to achieve. Mies strove for extreme simplicity without excess clutter, ridding his designs of anything that wasn’t necessary – even combining features to create simplicity (ie. in one of his building designs, he designed the floor to serve as the radiator). For most product stakeholders, it seems that it is always easier to add features, elements, etc. rather than to take them away or make current ones simpler. Our KSL.com team continually works to adhere to these principles. For example, the site home page was laid out in three columns a few years ago. The middle column felt unnecessary and so the team figured out a way to remove that clutter. The site is currently a two-column layout and much easier to use. The team is currently working on even simpler and easier to use designs. Stay tuned!
A Final Word...
An iterative approach is a great way to build clean, easy-to-use digital products that we all hope users will love. Are there times when a wholesale swap or change-out is necessary? Absolutely. This is especially true when there have been no iterations and a product has not been improved incrementally over the course of time and has become stale or completely outdated. Also, new technologies or emerging digital platforms may make it necessary to revamp and start from scratch. For example, consider the technologies that now make it possible to build responsive websites that scale from desktop, to tablet, to phone. A wholesale product revamp may now be necessary. However, iteration is a great approach for day-in and day-out product improvement.
If you haven’t already, try the iterative approach. If that is the approach you currently take, iterate on your iterative approach and perfect it. It’s a great way to build simple, easy-to-use digital products that become better and better and hopefully, wildly successful.
Here are a few links to introduce you further to building great products through an iterative product design and development approach:
Recently someone sent me an ad industry sponsored study to support their long held argument that customers are cool with ads. For the most part, the study was very well done using sound methodology with solid insights. There was, however, one point made in the research that I have always and completely disagreed with (but of course was the same point the ad exec who shared the article with me glommed onto) … that “86% of consumers feel online ads are necessary to receive free content.”
I’ve no beef with the argument that consumers of online media (or any media for that matter) feel ads are necessary. However, coming from a consumer goods and ecommerce background steeped in user experience testing and implementation, I do have a beef with the way we in the media industry create quality content that is then surrounded by, interrupted by, and distracted from by ads that consumers at best feel are … necessary.
Necessary. Not really a rock solid value proposition.
Talk about a sitting duck for disruption.
As an outsider in this industry (having spent most of my career creating online and offline products and experiences that exceed “necessary”) maybe consider this friendly tip:
Rather than cherry picking trade pub or industry association “insights” to support a flawed bias about user experience – it’s a far better strategy to actually ask your users about their experience with your site. Then improve, evolve, and innovate your product in the areas your customers tell you most need improving, evolving, and innovating. In all of the research we’ve done for the Deseret Digital Media (DDM) Marketplace, our customers have time and time again told us (in almost all cases unsolicited) one of their primary areas of friction with our products are the display ads.
So we’ve spent 3 years addressing this feedback by building products that don’t need to be supported by display advertising. [Bam!]
Instead, display ads are gravy. Do we still have products within DDM that require display ads to be profitable? Of course. But the good news is within the DDM Marketplace, we’ve created and evolved products that no longer rely on display ads as the primary revenue source. The even better news is that these products now generate over 70% of the total revenue at DDM. Of the seven verticals we manage within the DDM Marketplace, five could now self-sustain without display ads. Of these five verticals, all generate 70% to 100% of their respective revenue outside of display advertising. Additionally, we are in the process of testing two new verticals that have zero reliance on display ads, meaning there aren’t any.
Why are we building products this way?
1) Because our customers told us the old model was a bad experience; 2) because there is greater revenue opportunity than just display ads; and 3) if we don’t evolve our business model, someone else will evolve it for us. More and more that someone else isn’t our local media competitor. In most cases, they aren’t even in the same industry.
To the last point, some recent examples to consider:
Recently, Mozilla announced new ad formats that will run on Firefox. The ad formats in and of themselves aren’t particularly interesting. What is interesting is the role Mozilla is trying to play in facilitating a better user experience by eliminating cookies, third party ad servers, and brand pixels from these ads. Even more impactful for the ad industry (and indicative of other industries solving customer frustrations that we in the media industry won’t solve ourselves), Mozilla is taking a page out of Facebook’s playbook of allowing users to alter their ad profile and expanding it to allow users to opt out of seeing any ads. Mozilla’s efforts to coerce the media industry to start respecting the user was detailed earlier this month as a heads up that there are big players in tangential industries who are influencing our users’ experience. I know, I know. It’s Firefox. Like 15% of total traffic. Big deal.
Okay then, how about these next two examples.
It’s no secret that Apple spends a considerable amount of time and money studying and innovating around user experience. But their user is also my user, as my user increasingly accesses my products on Apple devices. It’s not a stretch to assume that somewhere along the way, one of my users asked Apple to influence the ad experience on media sites. So what did the folks at Apple do? They listened to my user and created three product features to “de-clutter articles on the web.” First came the on-screen “double tap” which zooms in on content, but zooms out on business models (meaning display ads). Next came the “reader” option which by tapping not only removes business models from view (display ads), but also removes cross-sellable content (article recommendations) from view. Most recently, with the release of iOS8 they are actively promoting a new feature through push notifications via their new Tips app.
Have a gander at what showed up on my iPhone screen this morning:
Just to make sure the point wasn’t missed ... Apple is now promoting a feature that makes articles “easier to read ... without ads or distractions” while very effectively helping users sidestep the primary business model in online media.
What does the confluence of viewable ad buying and Google’s Page Layout algorithm look like in the not too distant future? At the launch of the Page Layout algorithm change, Matt Cutts of Google said “we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Overall, our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites.”
Three things of major import to consider in Matt Cutts’ post: 1) our customers have asked Google to solve problems they have with our products that we have been unwilling to solve ourselves; 2) even though the post is over two years old, don’t think Google has suddenly stopped listening to customers relative to user experience; and 3) Google (who more than any other company, has great influence over how we all make money) has given us a golden rule to follow … make it easy for the user to find the “actual content” on your site.
What’s scary (albiet motivating) about these three examples is that these companies disrupting media aren’t reliant on a single source of revenue, especially not one the customer considers “necessary”. They have a diversified, value-added, user-focused revenue mix, which gives them the freedom to disrupt rather than constantly defend. This has been a guiding principle for the DDM Marketplace team as we’ve evolved and innovated products outside of our legacy content businesses.
Given all of this, there are some really amazing examples of news/content organizations evolving their display ad-reliant models to optimize the customer experience – both for content and advertising:
In 2015, The DeseretNews.com team will launch a site redesign that is elegant, informative, and absent display ads in first view. [Clutch the pearls!] They’ve been down the road of disruptive full screen dropdowns and easy to ignore right rails, listened to customer feedback, and have designed a fantastic ad experience on the site. Which will command higher engagement and CPM, but more importantly for the long-term viability of the product and the audience ... create a positive user experience.
The team at La Presse in Quebec recently competed their first full year in market with a super impressive effort to proactively solicit customer feedback and create products that exceed customer expectations. In one year, this new product has grown to 30% of total revenue (online and offline) at La Presse. How have they been so successful, so quickly? They were rigorous in identifying and now measuring three defining metrics for display ads on their sites and apps to determine the success of their entire business:
How do you measure ad appreciation? You continually dialogue with your users about their experience.
Unfortunately, the media industry at large doesn’t spend enough time engaging users and as a result is rife with products customers don’t appreciate. To add insult to injury, we give these products names that not even a mother could appreciate:
Sounds like things that will happen to me when I go in for a physical. Certainly not something I’m going to appreciate.
If you have a single revenue stream and that revenue stream is display advertising, to be successful (or frankly to just stay relevant) in this new environment where relentless disruption (via improving the customer experience) is coming from every direction you would do well to engage and listen to your users about their experience with your products. And then improve, evolve, and innovate your product and business model using the insights they share with you.
In the ever-changing world of digital publishing, native advertising is easily one of the greatest opportunities ahead to generate revenue, monetize mobile traffic and appeal to an ever-hungry audience that is looking for content that provides value to their ever-busy lives.
Given this opportunity, it’s important to avoid a few missteps that may lead you to fumble the ball. Whether you’re just beginning or you’re seasoned in the realm of native advertising, these three practices will help keep your native advertising experience a Win-Win for everyone involved.
1. Write for your audience – Every publisher knows what it means to write for his or her audience, but experience suggests it’s one of those rules that is easy to forget when a potential partner offers a satisfying sum.
Remember: you know your audience best. No amount of money from a brand partner will change that, and it is your responsibility to provide your readers what they want. We often quote Howard Gossage who said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes, it’s an ad.” Your native ad content needs to be an ad your audience would actually like (read: just as good as if not better than your non-sponsored content). Your audience will let you know if it fits that bill.
We knew we were doing something right when readers complained after one of our brand partners decided to take a week off. You can bet that partner has published with us every single week since.
We explain it to our brand partners the same way Paul Roetzer, CEO of PR 20/20, does: "The new marketing imperative is to create more value, for more people, more often, so when it's time for consumers to choose a product, service, or company, they choose yours.”
Not only is this true for your partners, it’s also true for you. If the sponsored content you provide your readers doesn’t provide value, they will find it somewhere else.
Native advertising can only function at its full extent if both publisher and brand partner put the audience first as they work to meet the brand partner’s goals. Offending your audience in that way is a surefire way to, how should we say, cook the goose that gives the golden eggs. And, we wouldn’t want that now, would we?
2. Focus on the right metrics – Different companies are looking for different ROIs from native advertising, and different companies use different metrics to measure that ROI. Whichever one is right for you, be sure to focus on it. Failure to focus on the right metrics can lead to unhappy partners at the end of a campaign.
Rather than measure actual click thru rates, Buzzfeed has released a series of case studies in which they revealed they have teamed up with Vizu, a Nielsen company, to measure brand affinity, brand lift and consumer purchase intent.
Just this week, Chartbeat announced a new metric that may well change internet advertising altogether. Rather than count impressions or page views, their “attention” metric measures whether or not users actually spend time on the page.
Within DDM’s FamilyShare Network, we use a combination of metrics to measure brand lift and brand engagement, including social engagement (likes, comments, shares), time spent on page, and page views vs. unique visitors. We make it a point to tell our brand partners that our BrandView articles (our native ad package) are designed to position their brand as an expert to our audience rather than explain their product or pitch for immediate or direct sales. (In the case of the latter, we go for the Win-Win where we offer them display ad units on our sites at a competitive CPM.)
As long as digital tracking tools exist, brand partners will look for different metrics. But a clear understanding of the value provided and the metrics used to measure that value will help your brand partners see the value they get when they partner with you and look for that success once the campaign ends.
3. Set clear expectations – When we first meet with potential brand partners, we introduce them to our Native Advertising Value Chain to help them understand exactly what we will provide:
Even before we ink a deal, we help them understand the 6 steps involved in the campaign, from understanding our partner’s goals and creating a strategy together, to producing and promoting content whose metrics we will track and eventually report. We also outline our production schedule so they can see our deadlines.
Because we know our audience so well, we feel it’s a real privilege for our partners to partner with us on our site, because our audience will engage with their brand in ways they never would with a billboard or display ad. And we want them to see from the beginning, that our partnering together means real partnership, not lip service. From the beginning we know what their goals are and together we craft a strategic campaign designed to help them reach those goals while giving the audience exactly what they want.
With native advertising revenue growing more now than ever before, the potential opportunities for you are huge. These three tips will help you keep the ball squarely in your hands so you, your audience and your brand partners can run together for some incredible touchdowns.
In the changing landscape of journalism, the dominance of lists as a content strategy continues to be a provocative and sometimes controversial approach. Using lists, some argue, is just a simple way to generate “cheap” page views.
While lists are certainly useful for drumming up traffic, one need not be mislead to believe those views are less valuable, or undeserved. Utilizing lists as a strategy for content is no longer a novelty idea, it’s the central hotbed for innovative journalism.
What readers want
The appeal of lists goes far beyond simple entertainment. While slideshows and other list formats lend themselves well to celebrity galleries and compilations of cat videos, they also provide something that readers crave, even when they read more serious news: Clarity.
Lists provide writers a way to present content in clear — and brief — spurts. Academic studies have shown that the Internet is changing how people read the news. Most readers skim through articles, searching for key words, pictures and numbers (or stats). This trend is called “nonlinear reading,” and it has become the new normal for how readers approach our material. Lists are a perfect way to engage readers by adapting to their “nonlinear” consumption.
But, of course, if lists are not done well the user will lose trust in your content. Not only do lists take a good chunk of time to create, but they often take longer than average to consume. If a reader gets to the end of a 25 item list and isn’t satisfied, you’ve not only wasted their time, but yours as well.
So in order to create lists worthy of everyone’s time, here are five suggestions to make the best of your lists.
1. Appeal to the wants of the audience
To create a list worth reading, you must first have a solid understanding of what your audience wants to read. The readership of any given organization is as unique as a thumbprint. While the readers of Politico may be endlessly curious about the best political books ever written, Deseret News readers may not be. While such a list may be informative, a topic that speaks to the interests and passions of a more localized readership will go significantly further. Why worry about creating a list of the greatest fullbacks in the history of the University of Michigan when our audience (for obvious reasons) is hungry for news related to the University of Utah?
When you identify the wants of your audience, the number of slides quickly becomes irrelevant to readers. Creating a list with 50 slides may be tedious to create, but if the topic is right, readers will only want more.
2. Appeal to the needs of the audience
One element of list making that is often overlooked is the opportunity they present for effective storytelling. Everything from the writing to the order of slides can help readers understand the chosen subject better. If you’ve already identified what content interests your readers most, then you already know that they are hungry for the information you are providing. Don’t short-sell your audience; provide as much interesting and insightful information as possible. You already have their attention, now do something useful with it.
3. Keep it visual
Slide shows and lists provide a unique opportunity to tell a story through images. While traditional newspapers were and are constrained because of space, Internet journalists need not feel sheepish about an abundant use of compelling images. We know from numerous studies that one of the principle elements that readers skim an article for is images. Be it gifs, pictures or video, readers crave visual stimulation.
Pictures can also provide context to your words. Imagine, for example, how tedious a list of the richest Americans would be without providing pictures. Pictures make the story feel real and palpable. Pictures are also information. Readers not only learn who the richest Americans are, but what they look like.
One recent example of this on our site was a slideshow intended to provide a timeline for the recent political upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri. The list was not only informative, but visually provocative. Plenty of striking photography had come from the events in Ferguson, but instead of simply doing a photo gallery we provided useful information that provided context for the photos. In examples like this one, photos and text feed off each other to create a more textured story.
4. Be consistent
Consistency is important, especially when you are trying to build trust with your audience. It can be easy for writers to discard lists as after-thought material. Writing can become sloppy, even when all the necessary information is there. Lists are as much of a branding tool as any other form of content. In fact, it’s likely that many lists will make it in front of more eyeballs than any other content you produce. In the month of August alone, one DeseretNews.com list generated just over 10 percent of all page views for the site. That means that if the list provided a poor user experience, it’s no small portion of readers that are left unsatisfied. Consistently creating lists that engage (and impress) readers can be as powerful a branding tool as any.
5. Be creative
As I mentioned in the fourth suggestion, lists can serve as powerful branding tools. That’s why it’s important to be selective of what subjects you choose to explore in list form. But too much skittishness can be just as counter productive as too little. Choose your subjects with caution, but think outside the box. Does the world really need another list of the greatest actors of all time? What about a list of the greatest actors you’ve probably never heard of? Or the greatest actors who have never won an Academy Award? Maybe even a list of the greatest actors with ties to your local market?
Industry innovators such as Buzzfeed have built entire content strategies around this idea: What does our audience want that no one else is giving them? This is also the basic principle behind the rise in “explanatory journalism.” Websites such as Vox.com have taken the basic ideas behind the list content strategy, slapped on a sleek look and a new name (they call their explanatory slideshows “cards”) and have watched their site grow in journalistic clout, as well as reader traffic.
Photos, videos, infograms, gifs; the list of tools that can enhance a list is endless. As Internet journalism continues to morph and grow, lists will certainly remain as a central form of content. Websites that innovate with their lists will surely be the ones to stand out most in the coming years.
Certainly, these suggestions are not comprehensive, but the basic ideas for creating great content in list form are all there. Trust your audience, and help your audience to trust you. Be innovative and forward thinking. Don’t be afraid to fail every now and again.
Our audience is changing, so lets try to keep up.
Jan 2014 – 4.2 M
Feb 2014 – 4.9 M
Mar 2014 – 4.0 M
Apr 2014 – 4.5 M
May 2014 – 5.1 M
Jun 2014 – 4.3 M
Jul 2014 – 5.3 M
These are the numbers of social followers accumulated by Deseret Digital Media each month since the beginning of this year – bringing DDM’s total followers to more than 91 million by the end of July 2014. How do we do it?
Here are 3 tactics we implemented to grow our fans by millions each month.
1. Diversify your social portfolio
Building a brand page is one of the first things businesses do when launching a social media presence. Time, money and lots of resources are invested into growing the brand page. Unlike big brands like Coca-Cola, few have the millions to spend on social media. If you are still reading this, you are likely not one of those few. Don’t try to compete with a big marketing budget; compete with a guerrilla marketing strategy.
One way to do so is to quit growing only your brand page, and diversify your social portfolio. Create a brand page on multiple social platforms, but also create other non-brand pages.
For example, DDM’s FamilyShare Network has a brand page on Facebook mainly to drive traffic to FamilyShare.com. FamilyShare also has hundreds of other fan pages on Facebook called “passion pages,” such as “I Love My Family,” “I Love My Mom,” and “I Love My Husband,” for the purpose of driving web traffic. These passion pages often grow at a much faster rate and generate more traffic to FamilyShare.com than the brand page.
A page like “I Love My Family” will have an organic growth of a few thousand one week, to hundreds of thousands another week - depending on Facebook’s algorithm. Instead of trying to decode the thousands of variables in Facebook’s algorithm, we built a diversified social portfolio of pages. Then like the stock market, we let the algorithm run its course, pivoting constantly depending on our data analysis. Some pages succeed and others don’t. When we fail, we fail fast and quickly move forward - allocating resources mainly to products or pages that are successful. Our overall return on investment is in the millions of social followers, month after month.
2. Don’t forget to feed the big belly beast
Of all the social media networks, Facebook is the biggest. Many, like Eat24, complain every time Facebook tweaks its algorithm to decrease the reach of a Facebook post. Some have even given up on Facebook and have moved on to other forms of advertisement. But I say to you, “Don’t give up on Facebook!”
Yes, Facebook has tweaked many parts of its algorithm in order to make us pay to play. Its appetite for ad revenue is ginormous. It will devour any number of Benjamins you are willing to spend on it. Learn to accept it and continue to feed it.
However, don’t allow it to feast on the Benjamins. Let it nibble on the Jacksons. Cut your spending, but continue to spend. Your advertising budget will be spent somewhere, so why not on Facebook?
Facebook continues to provide the biggest bang for our buck. Its analytics are some of the most valuable resources for decision-making. If done intelligently, Facebook spending yields better ROI than spending on ad words, email marketing and most other digital expenditures. The immediate fan feedback and data analysis certainly make it more useful than any form of print ads. We love Facebook!
If your business is seeing little organic growth and reach on Facebook, you likely have two issues. First, you have not spent enough on Facebook to grow your fans to the point where it can take off on its own organic growth. Our page, “I Love the Bible,” has an organic growth of more than 100K new fans each week. We stopped our “like” ad spending on that page millions of fans ago.
Secondly, you have not posted enough quality content pieces on your pages. The lack of reach on a page is caused by the lack of engagement on that page. Below is a diagram of the social cycle of life and death of a page.
When a post is made on any Facebook page, it appears on fans’ news feed. If the fans engage through likes, comments, shares, or any other clicks on the post, the reach of that post increases. Engagement in any form increases reach. The lack of engagement over time decreases reach. Like cancer, a constant decline in reach will ultimately lead to death.
When a page is near the point of death, the best way to resurrect it is with money. Yes, you will have to feed the big belly beast with a Facebook “boost.” On Facebook, money works miracles.
But don’t spend a lot of money; just little enough to bring the breath of life back to your page. Once it begins to catch its breath, focus on creating contents that are engaging. The life of any Facebook page can only live on the engaging quality of its contents.
3. Don’t listen to the “experts” (test, pivot, test)
Lastly, if you are not growing your followers by the millions, you are likely putting your faith and focus too much on what the experts are telling you to do. I have read and listened to many of the opinions of those same experts. My conclusion: no experts are experts, myself included.
In the ever-changing world of social media, today’s tactic is obsolete by tomorrow, and tomorrow’s stratagem was unthinkable yesterday. The best way to figure it out is to simply test, pivot, and test. Try a few hundred things. Adjust half of what you tried. Try again. Repeat this process as you grow.
Good luck in growing your followers by the millions!
“Passion without purpose is like a shot without a target.” — Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha
There is nothing more captivating for me than seeing the fiery eyes of someone with passion achieve a worthy goal.
I had this experience when I first got acquainted with Deseret Digital Media’s FamilyShare Network of social media pages — internally we refer to them as “the passion pages.” Even though I could not see the fiery eyes of our audience, I could see their uncommonly high levels of engagement and interaction with our content.
At the time, Nathan Gwilliam and his team had amassed 45 million followers across more than 120 pages on social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They had tapped into a simple, yet powerful, concept: creating a portfolio of social media pages that provide a sense of belonging for a particular audience. Beyond brand-specific social pages, they created and actively curated pages that align with users’ passions, like their love for their families (ie. I love my family, I love my husband, etc.).
Today our portfolio of pages has more than 88 Million followers and over 3.7 billion monthly social impressions of our content. And we’re doing it in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian and more languages.
Our passion pages set our social strategy apart from many other media organizations, but simply tapping into the passion is not enough. Here are some tips for what creates sustainable engagement to our passion pages.
Our company mission statement includes the imperative to “reach hundreds of millions of people worldwide.” This powerful mandate, coupled with the company’s goal to strengthen families, provides a sense of direction for the FamilyShare Network.
This direction is a great compass to each curator, writer, editor, manager and executive. In fact, it is so powerful that it unconsciously directs all that we do — to the point that it has become the water where the fish live. It’s a clear and powerful mission and direction that drives us to constantly look up to and set goals.
Purpose provides passion, not the other way around.
Content, content, content – location, location, location
For many years I’ve had in my office this quote “content, content, content; location, location, location.” Content is king, but alignment is its queen. This holds true in any media market, but it is even more relevant in social media due to the rapidity of audience feedback.
Understanding your audience is the most critical aspect of building true engagement. For FamilyShare.com we’ve learned that marriage articles are more relevant to our audience, followed by parenting articles. You may ask, how do we understand our audience? I wish there were an easy answer, but in our case "diving into the numbers” is the most effective technique. We dive into the analytics like time spent on site, the top performing articles, top authors and social engagement (likes, comments and shares), but these are just some of the metrics we look at. Once you determine the category, there are other dimensions to analyze (i.e. writing style, format, age-targeting, etc). This practice will yield great results. For us it meant growth from 0 to 2 million page views in 6 weeks on one of our sites.
A sense of belonging
Another important aspect of our “passion pages” is the content that supports the passion. In our case, each piece of content, whether it’s a link to an article, an image quote, or an inspiring photograph, it must relate to our audience and tie back to their passions.
The success of our passion pages is, in great measure, due to our focus on the topic of families. Family memories evoke emotions from our audience. Every person is able to relate to at least one of our stories (including an article about the meanest moms). Since the objective is to create shareable content, social audiences need to feel that the content being shared represents them well toward their friends and social circles.
No shortcuts to excellence
Ultimately, for all of us in the digital world, we understand that there is no easy road to create engagement – neither to constantly have a close relationship with the ever-changing audience [and algorithms] that we serve [and hack us].
The implementation of this principle consists in accountability for the performance of the page in every team member that interacts with the product. Everyone is held accountable through weekly meetings that evaluate performance, daily informal meetings that track behavior (no cosmetics, just raw data) and more.
Overall, there is a lot more behind the fire in my team members’ eyes. There is true concern and commitment toward the audience that surpasses any business model. It’s passion that comes through purpose.
"If we’re the best this industry has to offer, we’re all in trouble," Todd Handy joked with the audience after a glowing introduction at Local Media Association’s Native Advertising Summit. Todd, VP of Advertising Strategy at Deseret Digital Media, showed this photo and explained we’re all trying to figure it out together.
While the concept of native advertising isn’t new (think Soap Operas sponsored by P&G, or old-school advertorials), many at the summit were just starting to see its potential and are scrambling to craft strategies around it. Those of us a little further along in the process have yet to report any silver bullets, however, we are starting to see what is and isn’t working. Let me share five takeaways from the summit along with our own experiences with native advertising over the past year.
1. Do It
First things first, I believe this is something you should do. I was surprised as LMA president Nancy Lane kicked off the summit by asking the 30+ media organizations represented how many of them already had a native advertising product and only two groups said yes – both of which (DDM and The Elkhart Truth) were presenting at the summit. The rest, I assume, were there because they wanted to learn more. Perhaps they know they should pursue native but are unsure how.
When done properly, native articles (or polls or quizzes or infographics) flow through your content queue just like editorial pieces. They’re clearly labeled for transparency, but the placement is organic. This is key.
It’s no secret that with the growth of mobile, display dollars are dying. Your challenge is to monetize mobile. Your advertisers’ challenge is to reach an increasingly mobile audience. Native solves both problems while delivering valuable content to your readers.
2. Focus on audience, not on your advertiser
I get it. I understand the temptation. The #1 car dealer in your market just wrote a large check for a six-month campaign. They are excited to get going and the first article they want you to publish is why readers should buy the latest model on the lot. Our advice – don’t do it. The more you focus on the advertiser, the less it will resonate. It may seem counterintuitive at first – especially to your advertiser who is used to crafting ads all about themselves and their products – but as soon as you shift the focus from the advertiser to the audience, suddenly you’re offering something of value. Suddenly the advertiser wins by establishing themselves as an authority and associating themselves with something truly valuable to the reader. David Arkin with GateHouse Media told attendees at the summit they can’t approach this content thinking it’s like old advertorial content. This is a new way of thinking, he said.
Take these examples from StateFarm and BuzzFeed. They’re crafted to fit the voice and style of BuzzFeed (list form and lots of images). This is what their audience expects. While StateFarm sponsored the articles, they have nothing to do with insurance. If you look at the whole campaign (and we recommend focusing on campaigns with your advertisers as opposed to one-off articles) you’ll see a trend. They are producing valuable content, focused on a specific demographic of BuzzFeed’s audience. A demographic that StateFarm is also interested in reaching. Done this way, native advertising stories will add value to your readers and raise the profile of your advertising brands.
3. Who writes this stuff?
One challenge media organizations face when considering native is deciding who should write it. Presenters at the LMA summit cautioned against the idea of having staff journalists writing your native stories. You probably recognize the conflict of interest. What may be less apparent is that it should also be a different type of story. Your journalists – experts at using facts to report on multiple sides of an issue – may not be well suited for writing these audience-driven articles.
Friends in the industry have reported success hiring freelance writers or with companies like Ebyline. Here at DDM, we decided to leverage our 5,000+ contributor network for the task. We created a new platform – BrandForge.com – and recruited the best of our contributors to write for us. As we approach the $1M mark, we’re now making BrandForge available to other media partners to help with their native advertising needs. As you'll see in the next point, we've hired a strategist to oversee this service. Our advertisers and media partners are benefiting from his experience and strategic insight.
4. Hire a native advertising strategist
A recurring theme at the summit was the idea that native advertising stories are not – and cannot be – presented as a blatant sales pitch or the typical fact-based editorial piece as mentioned above. To help prevent this, our thinking is that someone needs to sit between advertising and editorial to help make key brand, editorial, and advertising decisions. We created a native advertising strategist position and charged him to help with customer support, sales presentations, and reporting. He also works with our writers to outline campaign and article strategy, voice, and execution. He reports to both our VP of Advertising Strategy and our VP of Content.
Seeing this in practice, I’m convinced this should not be a side-task you try to add onto an existing employee’s already full plate. Find someone who can make native advertising his or her sole focus. Ideally, this individual will have an eye for content quality, but should also help in ensuring the advertiser’s brand is elevated as part of the overall campaign. It’s a tricky job, and one that can’t be relinquished to your editorial or sales teams.
5. Report what you sell/analytics
Todd received a lot of questions at the summit about analytics and what to report back to your advertiser. Remember, native is a lot different from direct response advertising. It is not pitching a specific product, or even directly pitching the advertiser. That’s one of the reasons we recommend campaigns over single articles. So, what data can you provide the advertiser to show the campaign is working?
“You have to at least measure the metrics you sold to the advertiser,” Todd told attendees.
His meaning? If you are using time spent per article, scroll depth, page views, and uniques as points in your value proposition to advertisers, you better at least report on those analytics. That’s a start. Full native advertising analytic solutions worth looking at include Chartbeat, Parse.ly, DistroScale, MediaVoice, Nativo and others.
Native requires trust. Your advertiser needs to trust you to create a campaign that serves their needs while not blatantly promoting them. If you give into an advertiser’s pressure and allow a piece to cross that line, you’ll lose your readers’ trust. It can be a delicate balance, but it’s worth the effort. If you’re just starting down the path, we’re happy to share our experience and services. If you’re already doing it, we’d love to compare notes to see how we can help one another.
We’re truly excited about this opportunity to better serve our audience, monetize mobile, and help our advertisers do the same.
Note: This post was originally published in LMA's August 2014 Local Media Today newsletter
I’m thinking of a six-letter word that should drive nearly every decision you make at your organization.
It should be at the heart of your content strategy. The key to your ad strategy. The focus of your company culture.
And though you won’t exactly find this word called out as one of the 11 takeaways of Local Media Association’s 2014 Innovation Mission, the more I read through the IM Report and think about my weeklong experiences with 25 forward-thinking media executives visiting some of the world’s leading media and technology companies, the more I notice how each experience, each takeaway, and the mission in general evolved around this word.
Growth? Give up?
The secret sauce that makes these great companies great: people.
The other words above – and an endless list of others (including some five-letter words like money) – are all secondary to the real focus at great companies. People.
I recently blogged about one company we visited that sure opened my eyes to this idea in a very unexpected way. I walked into eBay/PayPal thinking the company was old news – a once dominant website whose time had passed. I was wrong. With their mobile-first strategy they are poised to disrupt (read: revolutionize) your commerce experience.
“Mobile, mobile, mobile,” they exclaimed.
My second revelation at eBay came when they clarified that for them – and this is key – mobile is the person, not the device. In other words, it’s not about the technology. It’s about people, and finding innovative ways to serve those people wherever they are, regardless of the device in their hands.
Rewind two days, traveling nearly 3,000 miles from Silicon Valley to New York City, and we find ourselves at BuzzFeed, a truly disruptive media organization seeing tremendous success by identifying and meeting its audience’s needs.
On the surface, we’re in a conference room having a conversation about data-driven content and sales strategies. Our analysts, they tell us, scour data to understand user behavior (read: the things people do on our website). We write articles to feed that behavior, they say. We craft native advertising pieces that our users (people) will not only read, but will share with their friends (other people) across social networks (communities of people linked together by technology). Yes, these guys are so together, even their advertisements get shared.
The more people they get to their site (most of their traffic comes from side-doors like social) the more native advertising articles they can sell and the more money they make (in part, to pay all of their creative, hard-working people).
That’s the next point: focus on the people inside your organization as well as those you’re trying to reach outside.
LMA referred to this as “company culture” in mission takeaway #1. Fellow attendee and publisher at The Elkhart Truth, Brandon Erlacher, captured this eloquently in a blog post at www.erlacher.com that not only helped me further recognize the connection between people and everything I learned on the trip, but was also impactful enough to be republished in LMA’s IM Report.
“Experiencing the energy in many of the innovative companies we visited on this year’s trip… was overwhelming,” wrote Erlacher. “LinkedIn. Google. BuzzFeed. Simulmedia. Automattic. There was buzz. Smiles. Fun and creativity. Trust. Collaboration. Real-time communication whether in-person or via Skype/Hangouts. You could feel the electricity in the air. Yet, the staff was highly engaged and working. The Executive Suite and HR were not running the show by pushing out orders via the chain of command.”
He goes on to list four areas on which management (read: people who set the tone for the other people in the organization) can focus to affect positive change in a company’s culture.
He concludes, “Culture and leadership is about people, not systems and buildings.”
I’ll take it a step further and say it should all be about people. That six-letter word: P-E-O-P-L-E. Say it with me. People. Now go make a difference for the people you employ by improving culture, giving them the tools they need to succeed, and empowering them to make a difference for the hundreds, thousands, millions or hundreds of millions of people they’re trying to reach and serve.
Editors note: Utah Media Group was formed as the joint advertising, circulation and production arm of the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's largest daily newspapers. Its business portfolio has grown to include magazines, niche publications, websites, mobile applications, events, direct-mail solutions, delivery services, printing services, creative and real estate services.
Our mission at Utah Media Group is to create a robust marketing “ecosystem” of solutions for our advertisers. Since 2006, our organization has been diversifying our core newspaper advertising and circulation business. We recognize that there isn’t a one size fits all marketing solution for advertisers today. From the daily newspaper to mobile solutions, we must continually diversify our media mix for our clients.
Under the direction of Brent Low, Utah Media Group (formerly known as MediaOne) has evolved its core business of daily newspaper publishing to include mail programs, targeted publications, digital advertising, printing services, software development and live event production. We continue to adapt our company to the changing needs of our advertisers and consumers.
One of the key areas of development is our events division where we produce more than 20 consumer and B2B events annually. We produce events from women’s expos to business conferences with the governor’s offices; fashion shows to business recognition awards; running events to bar crawls. This has allowed us to tap into other marketing funds not earmarked for our traditional publications and online channels.
“Events can play a beneficial role in the diversification of revenue for any media company but, especially newspaper organizations,” explains Low, CEO and President of Utah Media Group. “Our research shows that engagement with consumers plays an important role for our advertising clients and events give media companies an opportunity to dip into non-traditional marketing dollars.”
Plus, our events division has helped us further develop as a technology company by developing software for event producers. Our software, titled Growtix, powers registration and ticketing for events around the nation including the third largest comic con in the country here in Salt Lake City. Digital development is also a key revenue segment as we provide consumer mobile apps and technology to help other event producers and media companies develop new lines of business.
To successfully launch events as part of your business – or any new business venture for that matter – we recommend changing the way you view your current business and accept that we must adapt to the new realities of our industry: print revenue is in decline, digital revenue doesn’t make up for the losses of print.
The point here is to discover how you can grow new revenue by creating events in your market. The core elements to new revenue growth start with changing your culture, leveraging your current assets, assessing new opportunities and implementing deliberately.
One of the keys to success for growing out a new business is to get out of your comfort zone and start thinking like a startup. What do startups do that you don’t? One thing entrepreneurs don’t do is they don’t say, “We can’t do that.” Although you may not say it like this, thoughts like this are all too common in our business. Embrace a startup mentality and then leverage your internal departments for support.
A culture shift can be the most difficult shift for a company to make with embedded traditions like ours. Traditions often impede new growth strategy. When this happens you must evaluate your team, then hire the right talent to launch and give them the ability to succeed. It is easy to stifle success because an editor or advertising leader doesn’t embrace the vision. Be nimble, but deliberate with clear objectives for the entire team and bring in experienced talent to execute a successful strategy.
A fresh perspective from an entrepreneurial-minded person with vision, and the ability to execute well, will help you drive new growth. Events should be viewed as complimentary to the core business, yet treated separate on the P&L.
Leverage your assets
Your most powerful asset in developing an events business is leveraging your current print and digital titles. Often newspapers’ core publications maintain the largest share of the local audience (print and digital) than any other medium. This is powerful positioning when it comes to launching new products and services for a new event.
As you evaluate your brand(s), what categories of content do your readers migrate to? What sections remain stronger with your readers than others? What publications do you have that you can build an event around? This can provide valuable insight as to types of events to easily garner attention with your audience and sponsors.
When you are ready to launch the event, your in-house networks become your most effective marketing. Whether launching a gourmet food event or a major business to business event, your publications and affiliate digital websites provide the strongest marketing channels and voice.
Launching the right event
We consider three types of events when evaluating a market: consumer events, B2B, partnership opportunities (software solution and/or management).
Consumer events help businesses engage on an experiential level with their customers outside of an office or retail space. Consumer events provide mass appeal to consumers and provide a wide range of exhibitors to participate. These are tradeshows/expos, boutiques, concerts, athletic events, kid events or anything where the consumer can participate. Additionally, you are able to capture revenue from sponsors, exhibitors and gate sales.
Business to Business events are a great way for you to get into the event business and leverage your publications. Businesses love to be recognized among their peers. These kinds of events provide newspaper companies a platform for new sales with traditional B2B companies through advertising, sponsorships and corporate table sales. When done right, these events create a lot of buzz in the business community through social media and tradition channels. Nomination and voting for the public and peers to weigh in are always beneficial to driving awareness. Chambers of commerce traditionally produce these kinds of events, but a media company wanting to expand can profit not just on the event but through advertising sales as well through a focused publication.
Partnerships are another way to develop events in your market. Utah Media Group produces more than six events with a variety of state government departments. These events range from economic summits to health care symposiums. Our objective is to mitigate risk for the partner and we help share the burden of expense while benefiting from the profit.
In other scenarios, we work with event producers to help manage key aspects of their event. This may be using our registration software (GrowTix), managing exhibitors or even logistics. This frees up the partner to focus on developing the programming and content while you focus on generating revenue.
Develop and Grow
Events are not a natural marketing solution for media companies to implement or offer advertisers. Though, they should be. Events are all about project planning and logistics. This is what we do everyday in planning the delivery of a newspaper or posting content. We easily throw a party for advertisers or employees, but hesitate to create a 40 Under 40 business event.
Developing a firm event strategy with objectives is crucial to the new venture. To avoid the common pitfalls of business development in a media company, avoid placing your event division/manager under the traditional advertising department. Companies who actively engage in events through sponsorship or as an exhibitor often have a different budget than the print or digital advertising. When you require your current advertising team to sell the event, we have found account reps simply switch business. The objective is to create new revenue with a new culture of innovation with events being a catalyst.
What does this all mean for your company? How can you implement a new business strategy around event marketing or any other segment of new business?
Whatever it is you think you want to launch, you need to do it now. Our businesses must be more agile to meet our advertiser and reader expectations. Events are a great place to start creating experiential marketing opportunities for your clients and reconnecting with readers. Building a new culture with the right, self-disciplined, creative people, will begin the transformation your organization needs to thrive. And, when you implement new revenue strategies you begin to discover more opportunities that may have seemed hidden before – building a new marketing ecosystem for your clients.
Are you ready to launch something great?
The purchase of highly targeted, non-guaranteed display inventory has allowed marketers to reach niche audience segments at low cost and high scale through a subset of Programmatic Advertising called Real Time Bidding (RTB). While RTB buying has proliferated, the publisher-side ad serving technology has, for the most part, remained focused on targeting guaranteed campaigns to a content taxonomy. With the most prominent exception being Google’s DFP-AdX integration, RTB demand partners and ad networks have been optimized by publisher-side yield optimization specialists through manual processes using technology that is not designed to maximize remnant earnings.
With DFP-AdX Dynamic Allocation, AdX is able to evaluate every incoming impression and bid on that inventory in real time. However, every other demand partner is trafficked in DFP with a static value rate. While AdX can fluctuate its bids based on user cookie density and demand cycles, other RTB networks sit at an unmoving, universal bid until a human manually makes the change in DFP. As a result, one of the most common methods for publisher-side yield optimization has been to put DFP-AdX Dynamic Allocation in competition with an array of networks descending through sequential passbacks and price floors. This method fails to obtain a truly liquid pricing auction in which all demand partners are able to bid in real time alongside of AdX.
Several companies have launched technologies that enable publishers to achieve a truly liquid price auction between AdX and other large exchanges. The major Supply Side Platforms (SSPs), and several Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) and Trading Desks offer proprietary solutions that intercept the DFP GPT tag, evaluate the impression in real time, and insert a bid price into the ad tag as a key-value pair. The key-value pair then activates a Price Priority line item trafficked at the same bid price, creating a dynamic floor price to compete with DFP-AdX Dynamic Allocation. OpenX Bidder, Pubmatic UOE, and Rubicon Real Time Pricing all offer some flavor of this functionality. In addition, individual DSPs and Trading Desks like Criteo, Amazon’s A9, and AppNexus have developed similar solutions.
Within Deseret Digital Media, this real time pricing auction has been a beneficial yield optimization method that has raised our remnant earnings and enabled us to increase yield without the use of continuous human labor. Because each vendor sees the entirety of our inventory and has the potential to win any unsold impression, it has helped support our Private Marketplaces. With a fully liquid price auction in place, there is potential to include guaranteed and house impressions into the auction, expanding our ability to drive top rates network wide. Because of these reasons, I predict that real time pricing providers will become increasingly popular with publishers and the vendor space will become increasingly fragmented.
For publishers, forming a strategic partnership with a real time pricing vendor is fundamentally different from onboarding new RTB networks into the existing demand stack. The partnership is almost permanent because adding or removing the bidding scripts, re-engineering GPT tags, successfully integrating multiple different partners, then QA’ing the network and deploying the code requires a large investment in labor, especially development resources which many publishers lack. So these strategic partnerships must be vetted with more care than traditional network partnerships. Here are seven tips to help publishers evaluate real time pricing partners:
1. Be aware real time pricing increases latency
Latency increases because the demand partners must evaluate the impression before the GPT tag executes. Therefore, when evaluating potential partnerships, inquire about the total number of calls made per page view, the types of calls being executed (cookie calls, bid passing, and ad calls), as well as the average and 95th percentile server response times for each type of call. Asynchronous loading is ideal so that the calls do not interfere with the rest of the page loading.
2. Select partners that have varied methods for inserting the bid
Some vendors insert the bid price by replacing the Google.js header tag, while others execute a script before each ad call. If attempting to implement multiple real time pricing vendors, ensure the mechanics used by the partners to insert the bid will function harmoniously.
3. Make sure each partner can pass the actual bid price on net-to-publisher CPM
Your revenue shares probably vary between partners, so net CPM bidding should be a uniform requirement. Some vendors give a relative value of the impression (high, medium, low), others round to the nearest $0.05 increment. Having all partners passing the actual bid price on a uniform scale is ideal.
4. Consider who will do the DFP trafficking
Because line items need to correspond to the precise bid price, there are hundreds if not thousands of line items that will need to be set up. Publishers should understand whether the vendor will build the campaigns in DFP or whether AdOps resources are needed. If the vendor is building the line items, make sure they have been provided adequate instructions on what Ad Units or Placements to target.
5. Seek out partners who can incorporate Ad Network demand
Real Time Pricing is naturally oriented to RTB based buying; however about half of all remnant demand is still sourced by Ad Networks. I suggest giving preference to partners that can participate in a real time auction using both Ad Network and RTB demand. This tends to favor SSPs, rather than niche DSPs and Trading Desks.
6. Create a measurement plan to evaluate success
You’ll need to conduct an A/B test to measure the effect of real time pricing on latency and CPMs. I recommend carving out an area of your site, and begin tracking total impressions, remnant revenue, and page views specifically in that area. Once you are prepared to go live with real time pricing, setup an A/B test using Test & Target or Optimizely and run the new configuration on 50% of your page views. Look for differences in the ratio of page views to total impressions, and lift in remnant CPM.
7. Apply the same evaluation criteria used in the past
Publishers should still evaluate their partners based on the criteria used in the past. These include things like the variety of demand sources, creative quality, block list capabilities, general service, Private Marketplace and Preferred Deals competences, fill rates and reporting capabilities.
All companies face choices as to whether to invest in human capital or technology. I am of the opinion that for yield management, real time pricing offers the most profitable setup for publishers, and for this aim publishers should allocate resources increasingly to technology over labor. Programmatic operations specialists continually add benefit by directing company strategy in such a direction, and by engaging with emerging monetization vehicles like Preferred Deals and Programmatic Direct; however, I feel the days of manual optimization are certainly numbered should real time pricing technologies flourish.
Why are you in business? Seriously. Take a minute and think about your organization. What purpose does it serve? If you had to close your doors tomorrow, would anyone miss you? If you’re fortunate enough to see another day, will your customers, community, employees, and the world be better for it?
A colleague recently made a comment that gave me cause for reflection – thus the lofty questions above.
“The leaders from the big disruptors,” said Eric Bright, Deseret Digital Media’s VP of Commerce, “are truly out to improve the world and not just build a business.”
Eric, myself and about 25 other media executives had just visited the headquarters of LinkedIn, eBay/PayPal, Automattic (WordPress), and Google on the California leg of the Local Media Association’s 2014 Innovation Mission.
Previous to Eric’s arrival in San Francisco, most of the group also spent three days in New York City with digital pure-plays like BuzzFeed and traditional publishers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CBS Digital.
One of the recurring themes – at least from the companies that really impressed me (which also included presentations from GateHouse Media and Europe’s RussMedia) – was the importance of focusing on audience needs.
I don’t know if that’s what Eric had in mind when he spoke of disruptors improving the world, but that’s certainly how they’re doing it as they improve the lives of the people in it – their customers. Their audience.
Take, for example, how eBay is leveraging their PayPal product with active plans to revolutionize the commerce experience. Going to a restaurant? Soon you’ll be able to check in before you arrive, place orders, get your check and pay from your phone. By removing these traditional friction points, you and your waitress have a better, more efficient experience. And that means more business for the restaurant.
Notice how all of that was driven by your mobile phone. As eBay’s Jody Ford put it, your phone will finally be the remote control of your life.
“Mobile, mobile, mobile,” was the message at eBay. And they pointed out that to them mobile refers to the person, not the device; an important distinction that shows their focus is not the technology, but rather their customer and his or her needs.
Similar to the restaurant of the not-so-distant future, Ford and his team demonstrated for us plans to overhaul your experience at grocery stores, retail shops and even sports arenas.
These innovators are looking at ways to meet their customers’ needs. It was particularly inspiring for me because I went into the visit thinking eBay was old news. I was wrong.
Meeting customer/audience needs is only part of the equation for organizations that – like eBay – want to be part of the future, not just big players in the past. A related theme, was the way these companies use data to discover and meet those needs.
When it comes to media, perhaps no one is using data to meet its audience’s needs better than BuzzFeed. Say what you want about their cat videos. With the help of data analysts, BuzzFeed knows what its audience wants to click on and they meet those needs.
They see their articles as the solution for three key types of people:
If you fall into any of these categories, it’s BuzzFeed to the rescue: cat videos (they have a whole team dedicated to “animals”), stories to make you LOL and, yes, even real, honest-to-gosh journalism from real, honest-to-gosh BuzzFeed journalists stationed around the world (bet you didn’t know that).
What surprised me is that Buzzfeed is not even focused on your clicks. For them, the KPI is shares. LMA identified this as one of eleven key takeaways from this year’s Innovation Mission.
“We don’t believe in clickbait,” BuzzFeed’s Jonathan Perelman told attendees. “You can trick people to click but not to share.”
Buzzfeed’s data analysts mine information about their user behavior to better understand their audience needs. They know, for example, their hits and engagement (shares) jump during finals week. They attribute the trend to a country full of stressed-out college students who just need something less serious to distract them for a while. They’ve discovered – as have other studies (.pdf) – that people are more likely to share articles that strike an emotional chord, especially a positive one. It’s completely opposite of the strategy of many traditional newsrooms as exemplified in the mantra, “if it bleeds it leads.”
If you work for a traditional media organization, you may be repulsed by the idea of me throwing BuzzFeed up as a content strategy champion. I’m not suggesting you redirect your veteran journalists to the fluffy critters beat to improve your page views. But how much distance is there between your content strategy now and what BuzzFeed is doing? My guess is you can move a long way toward BuzzFeed while still maintaining your brand’s integrity.
And it might be worth your while to consider hiring a digital native or two to work as content curators – writing lists and roundups and scouring the web for topics people will click and share.
I’m fortunate to work for a media company that strives to understand and meet our audience’s needs, and has built our content strategy around those needs. We focus on news that can improve people’s lives. Many of the articles we publish are uplifting. Even the serious, the hard, the tragic news offers solutions for the issues discussed, leaving some sense of hope.
We still have plenty of room to improve, but we’ve found success in the approach. Since revamping our strategy about four years ago, we now have one of the fastest growing newspapers in the country and a website that has jumped from top 80 into the top 30 nationally.
One of my main responsibilities has been to build a syndication service to share these stories with news organizations across the country (and increasingly around the world) to help meet their audience’s needs. It’s been a fulfilling task.
So again I ask, is there purpose in what you do? Is your audience better for it? Is the world better for it? If not, what changes can you make to focus more on your audience; to understand and meet their needs? If you are one of the lucky ones who can say your work does have a positive impact on the world, then you, too, know the satisfaction of a worthwhile job well done.
On August 20th 2013, the Family Initiative team at Deseret Digital Media launched Familias.com, a Spanish site focused on building and strengthening families. By the end of September, the site had over 2 million page views, making it the fastest growing site in the history of the company.
How do you replicate this success? The growth came from a carefully implemented strategy based off of a social-first mentality and analytics-based decisions. It wasn’t based off of tricky tactics or a large ad spend. Here are just a few principles that we believe lead to our success:
Principle 1: Build up large distribution channels on social media prior to launch.
Even if you have great content, if you don’t have a place to distribute it to your audience, nobody is going to see it. Make sure you build up a strong distribution platform prior to the launch of your site.
Before we began writing articles, we built up a variety of Facebook pages. Instead of growing a brand-based Facebook page for Familias.com, we built pages around topics such as Yo Amo a Mi Familia (“I love my family”) and Yo Amo A Mi Esposo (“I love my husband”). Because the distribution platforms had extensive reach and high engagement, we were able to drive a lot of traffic to our site from the very first day.
Principle 2: Use proven content strategies.
Don’t just assume your content strategy will work. Take the time to learn from people who are successful. Discover which articles drive the most traffic on their site, and try to replicate them. If you can, ask for permission to republish or translate their popular content on your site (with attribution). If a strategy works for someone else, there is a good chance it will work for you.
The predecessor to Familias.com was FamilyShare.com. With a year of experience, the FamilyShare content team was able to teach the Familias team which content types drove the most traffic.
We assumed that the popular content from FamilyShare.com would also be popular on Familias, so we translated the best articles from English into Spanish and published those at launch. We were correct in our assumption, and the translated articles continue to be some of the top performing articles on Familias.com. (We also found that popular Spanish articles translated into English also drive a lot of traffic.)
Principle 3: Make decisions based on the numbers and pivot quickly.
Every team member needs to feel responsibility for the site analytics. Building this individual accountability is crucial to the site’s overall success. Even minor decisions should be driven by the numbers. Measuring analytics that matter can help you make better, wiser decisions. It is important to work together as a team and set high goals.
Once Familias.com launched, our team made a conscientious effort to base their decisions off of the analytics. They would set team goals and work together to fulfill them. They discovered quickly which content performed the best and created more of those types of content. For example, they learned that lists, image quotes (memes) and marriage articles drive a lot of traffic.
They also learned to pivot quickly. If something wasn’t working well, they were quick to make adjustments. They didn’t get stuck in “how things need to be”, but were innovative and creative in trying new ideas.
There were many other factors in Familias.com’s success, but great distribution channels, proven content strategies, and making decisions based off of the numbers were definitely key elements to driving traffic quickly and efficiently to the site.
So many of us spend much of our time trying to figure out how to strengthen our media organizations. In our industry, the odds seem stacked against us with increasing costs and competition in an ever-changing landscape driven by new, disruptive technologies. It’s the harsh reality of journalism in a digital age.
But our plight is not unique. Industries from education to real estate to retail face similar hurdles. Learning from one another – the ups and downs – helps us chart a course through unsettled waters.
Last month Jonathan Johnson, chairman of Overtock.com, visited Deseret Digital Media. You may be familiar with Overstock, a highly successful eCommerce site whose competition includes Amazon and eBay. Overstock launched in 1999, capitalizing on the demise of failed dot-com businesses.
During his presentation, Johnson reflected on his company’s successes and also spoke candidly about some of its failures.
In a closing slide labeled “Things Learned Along the Way,” Johnson detailed four points he says were vital to Overstock’s success. I believe they are relevant to any organization or industry.
The Right Human Capital
Hire the right people for your organization.
“The who,” says Johnson, “is more important than the what.”
It’s a principle our CEO, Clark Gilbert, often shares with newsrooms when discussing the transformation to digital.
“Hire digital DNA,” says Gilbert, who created Deseret Digital as a separate organization filled with digital natives and others with a propensity for technology and innovation.
Skillsets are important, but they can also be learned. Certain qualities – sometimes indescribable – make a person a better fit for a position than someone else.
Focus on Economics/Getting the Deal Done
If it’s a fair and valuable deal for all parties, Johnson says get it done. Don’t let procedure get in the way. Sometimes a handshake is still enough to form an enduring partnership or get a project moving. Overstock has at least one close relationship Johnson says began with a signature on a napkin.
Johnson says Overstock also assigns a captain to each project. This person works to remove obstacles and ensures the project’s successful completion. When reporting on progress, the captain only has two responses: it’s complete, or I’ve failed. Johnson says this removes the fluff and excuses from reporting. It also provides accountability.
Be a Fair Partner
If the deal isn’t good for both parties, it’s not a good deal – even if you appear to be on the "winning” side initially. Try to develop partnerships that serve all parties well – both short and long term – and renegotiate as often as the balance becomes jeopardized.
Johnson shared an experience as a young attorney in Asia when he negotiated a deal on behalf of a client. He says he won in his client’s favor on every point. He was surprised when the client asked him to go back a re-negotiate a fairer deal, saying under the current agreement the partner would be out of business within a couple years and the deal would be of no benefit to either side.
Grow into Natural Areas
Focus on what you do best, and expand into areas that make sense.
Traditionally, newspapers were a source of information that offered something about everything. That model doesn’t work so well in a digital space where Internet search engines like Google reward sites that offer a lot of information about very narrow topics. Many publications languish online (and in print) as they try to still do everything, but end up doing little well.
In 2010, Deseret News went through a painful restructuring that included a pivot in strategy. Company leadership worked to determine what was the paper’s job to be done and asked the question: on what topics can we be world-class? They refocused their editorial strategy around those areas and have seen significant growth since (both in print and online).
For Overstock, that meant expanding from a website that sold liquidated inventories, to importing handmade products from developing nations and selling them under the WorldStock label (which the website says gives back 60-70 percent of the sale price to artisans and suppliers) to being a full-fledged eCommerce marketplace that, in some cases, partners with its competitors to expedite order fulfillment – all endeavors they felt fit well within their capabilities and made sense.
What does this mean for your organization? What do you do best, and what areas make sense for expansion? Do you seek fair partnerships to help in areas outside your primary focus, allowing you to focus most on what you do best? Are you a fair partner in return, offering even value to those with whom you partner? What roadblocks slow your progress or prevent you from getting things done? And do you have the right people at your organization and are they doing the right jobs? What can you learn from your own successes and failures? And what can you learn from the experiences of others?
Any news organization can create a Facebook business page. Chances are you already have one. In fact, many of the most influential companies incorporate this social media staple into their strategy — 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a Facebook page, according to a 2013 CNET report. But if you’re like most media companies, your strategy doesn’t extend much beyond a staff member or two posting the news of the day from your website. You’ve become well aware that simply having a page does not guarantee success.
It’s easy to become discouraged when Facebook users aren’t drawn to your page like spaghetti sauce to silk or when the fans you do have aren’t engaged — because engagement is key. When your fans engage with your posts (i.e. “like,” share, comment), their friends see those interactions in their news feeds, putting your page in front of potential fans for free.
If you feel like your fans are giving you the cold shoulder, it’s time to reevaluate your relationship. But it’s far from time to throw in the towel.
Cultivating loyal fans who engage with your posts isn’t impossible, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. At Deseret Digital Media, we have employed the following three strategies to keep our Facebook fans engaged, and they can help you too.
1. Get to know your fans
When was the last time you checked your Page Insights? If you want to improve your relationship with your followers, spend some time getting to know them.
In the fall of last year, Facebook updated the analytics available to page administrators. Particularly helpful information can be found under the “Posts” tab. This tab shows you the times of day and days of the week when your fans are online. This information can help can help you determine the best time for your company to post.
Below that information is a breakdown of each of the posts you have made in the past, detailing reach and engagement. Identify your most successful posts and incorporate similar content into future posts.
Also, spend some time in the “People” section. It offers demographic information on your fans, and compares them to the rest of Facebook users. You may find you're sharing posts that are relevant to 66-year-old males in France when your fans are in fact 30-something females in your own market. You can get a breakdown of your fans’ gender, ages, locations and languages, and adjust your posts accordingly.
2. Post a variety of content
You know that friend who can’t stop talking about herself? We all have one. She has an annoying knack for steering every conversation back to her accolades, and her online profiles are overrun with pictures of her annoyingly adorable 2-year-old who craves kale and is already reading.
Raise your hand if you’ve stopped following these kinds of self-absorbed friends.
Facebook users feel the same way about navel-gazing news organizations.
Rather than thinking of your Facebook page as a platform for shameless self-promotion, approach it as an opportunity to curate content that will make a difference in the lives of your followers.
Most social media marketers recommend sticking to the 70/30 rule. Seventy percent of the posts you make should link to useful blog posts, news articles, videos and photos that are produced by others. Thirty percent can be dedicated to promoting your company.
If your followers enjoy and engage with the 70 percent, they’ll be more likely to see your 30 percent.
3. Ask your fans to contribute content
While the 70/30 rule may resonate with you, it can be time-consuming to put into practice. You don’t have all day to search for videos and photos your fans will like, and you don’t have to.
On many of our DDM pages, we ask our fans to submit their memes, photos and videos of events or activities related to topics we write about.
When we share these fan contributions, these posts have twice the reach and receive five times as much engagement as our other posts.
And these submissions won’t cost you a dime. Most people don’t want monetary compensation nor do they need to be enticed with a prize. They just want their five minutes of Facebook fame — and they want to share it with their friends, which is invaluable for you.
The results at our organization have been admirable. Following these three simple steps as part of our overall social strategy has earned DDM a social following that at the end of last month includes a reach of 3.45 billion people, 75.2 million followers and 247.9 million likes, shares or other forms of social engagement in April alone.
We’d love to hear how these steps are helping you if they’re already part of your strategy. And if you haven’t been following these principles and are ready to give them a try, we’d especially love to hear what a difference it makes in engaging with and growing your audience.
Did you know that Salsa outranks ketchup as the number 1 condiment in the US? It now accounts for $764 million dollars in sales per year. However, if you know anything about the rapid growth of the Hispanic market this won’t be a big surprise.
Hispanics now make up 23 percent of the population younger than 18, and the numbers are even more dramatic in the border States: Hispanics count for 60 percent of all children under 5 in California, and half of the children in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The purchasing power of the U.S. Hispanic market in 2012 was estimated to be $1.2 trillion. This makes it larger than the entire economies of all but 13 countries in the world. In fact, the US Hispanic market is larger than the economies of Argentina, Chile and Peru combined.
In spite of the obvious opportunity, the Hispanic market is far from being low-hanging fruit. These consumers have a unique set of challenges that impact how companies market themselves, design their products and foster customer loyalty.
Latino consumers expect an experience beyond language.
The secret is nothing more mysterious than letting your customer know you understand what they want. You need to genuinely care about your reader and his family, ensuring that you are giving them the information they need to grow and strive. This is true regardless of your reader’s native language, but particularly critical in reaching a Hispanic audience.
According to several studies, while usage of Spanish is important, nuances like context, style and humor are crucial to be able to resonate with Hispanics. In other words, even a strong, insights-based creative idea can flop if the execution doesn't provide the cultural cues that increase empathy and affinity.
Latino consumers expect an experience beyond digital.
Even if you have quality content that is well targeted you must also give your clients easy access. Statistics show that over 85 percent of Latinos own smart phones. They go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than the general population.
The use of mobile has become more than obvious to us here at KSLespañol.com. We recently ran a story on the importance of children having a strong relationship with their grandparents. The story did very well for numerous reasons – primarily because we know how important family is to Latinos. But what really surprised us was that 20,000 readers saw our story on a desktop or laptop and 50,000 via mobile. The lesson? Make sure your stories look good on all kinds of devices, especially mobile!
There are a lot of Latinos out there, with very little quality information within easy access. Just remember to make it relevant and easy to access and your audience will rapidly grow, after all there is a new Hispanic born every 30 seconds!
Editor's note: Deseret News Service is looking for beta partners to begin testing our syndicated Spanish content, sourced from KSLespañol and familias.com. Interested organizations should contact firstname.lastname@example.org for this free opportunity.
Note: This is the first post in a series on engaging audience and extending reach through social media.
Social media isn’t something that is optional anymore, it’s expected. Brands everywhere are looking for ways to get new exposure and bring in more page views through social media referrals. After all, isn’t that the true purpose behind social media marketing anyway? You want referrals and you want exposure.
It would be easy to fill up line after line talking about all the different social media products your brand should be using. Most research suggests – and our own experiences at Deseret Digital Media confirm – Facebook is far and away the most useful social network for brands (for now), so we’ll assume you’ve done your homework and much of your strategy already evolves around fb. If not, we'll touch on that later in our series. Today, I want to give you tips to look beyond fb by effectively using another stable and early brand influencer: Twitter.
If your brand isn’t represented on Twitter, hopefully what is said here will persuade you to join. If it isn’t represented well, perhaps this will help you change that. First things first, write a good description of your brand and upload a nice profile picture. It may sound silly, but you might be surprised at how many Twitter accounts are lacking profile pictures. In this case, be sure to use your brand’s logo.
Now let’s jump into five things every brand should be doing on Twitter:
1. Less may be more. Avoid the temptation for mass followers and focus on engagement. What good is a follower if they aren’t consuming your product and engaging with it? Focus your attention on tweeting out good content and seek to engage with other Twitter accounts – especially those you want consuming your product, or who are followed by those who you want to reach. When you can, @mention another user or use hash tags –but be focused with both. More on @mentions in a minute.
2. Use images in your tweets. Twitter has recently changed its styling so images are more prevalent in news feeds. By attaching a simple image with your tweet, you aren’t just hoping someone will click the pic.twitter… link. Your tweet is now much more visible in the other feeds. Here’s an example:
3. @mention followers and influencers. Twitter gives you the privilege of @mentioning another user and consequently a chance at their attention. When relevant, use the @mention feature to connect with other users to catch their eyes. This could result in more retweets and favorited tweets for you. This can have an incredible ripple effect through the Twitter feeds of other users. So go ahead, leverage their audiences as much as you can to promote your content. Just remember to keep it relevant. Twitter users are savvy and will see through self-promotion.
4. Be picky. You don’t need to follow thousands of users. If you want to use Twitter as a source of leads and other news, you should only follow users who tweet relevant things that relate to your industry. It’s simple, you don’t get the full power of Twitter when you follow too many users and your news feed is cluttered. There is a reason the founders of Twitter follow only a reasonable amount of users from their personal accounts. Customization is the key!
5. Tweet, retweet, and favorite other tweets consistently throughout the day. Twitter is all about consistency and longevity. It’s proven itself as one of the earliest and most stable social networks. When you’re tweeting, retweeting, @mentioning, and marking tweets from others as favorites, you are increasing brand awareness and appearing in the news feeds of your followers more frequently.
The concepts are simple, but just remember, it’s small things that make bigger things happen! Through the use of these 5 principles, DDM received more than 1.7 million referrals from Twitter in January 2014 alone. Whether that number is big or small to your brand, Twitter is a great way to get some side door traffic. See you in the Twittersphere! @Bobmacey
Boiling the ocean. Eating an elephant. Saving the world. What do these all have in common? They’re BHAGs (Big, Harry, Audacious Goals, according to Jim Collins), and we all have them.
And sometimes we have them whether we like it or not. We may feel an obligation to them, or we may have them handed to us.
Well, Deseret Digital Media definitely has them, to the order of reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide with our editorial voice. We believe in it. You can’t get hired here unless you prove you believe during the interview process. You won’t last here long, either, if you don’t continue to believe in it. It’s not coercion. It’s just naturally a part of this place. And we all love it.
But we have to execute it somehow, with significant limitations on our time and resources. We have to be agile, lean and disciplined. And we have to be efficient. If not, our industry will pass us by.
Many of you have asked how we’ve done what we’ve done with our newsroom and syndication technology. In response, I’m here to tell you that adding to our clear and supported mission, we have embraced a framework that embodies the concepts of agile project management and lean manufacturing. We get things done. We manage priorities. And we’re getting better and better at working on the right things at the right time.
Rather than teaching you the technicalities of what this framework is and what it’s called*, I’m just going to tell you what we do.
But first, two contextual points:
1. We’re not big. We’re small.
Between ksl.com, deseretnews.com and several other strategic sites like ok.com, familyshare.com and deseretconnect.com, we have to build and manage traditional and mobile sites, mobile apps, a commerce marketplace, a media guide, a contributor management platform, and an integrated real-time newsroom application and CMS. Like most of you reading this, the development resources at our disposal and the number of hands and minds on any one of these endeavors is quite limited (sometimes as few as one shared person, never more than four dedicated).
In other words, hiring people to meet the demand is certainly NOT how we accomplish all of this.
2. We can quantify the results.
Cutting to the chase, our results from implementing what I’ll outline below include a significant increase in productivity (each team measures double, triple, and in some cases quadruple the amount of work accomplished before we started all of this), as well as a significant decrease in defects and “bugs” introduced into our systems as unintended side effects.
Now, on to what we do in six fundamental steps:
Before we start any project, we make sure the entire team agrees on the overall vision. Team buy-in is key--not just from the product manager. We review it often, not just annually, and we tweak it often so that it not only reflects our desired strategy, but so that it also responds to the reality of the market and industry. We live by it, and we don’t add anything to the roadmap unless it supports the Vision.
We keep a high-level feature list that is prioritized, that everyone can see. We review this often, along with the Vision, usually every 6 weeks. We break the features up into annual quarters, at least one year into the future. Each time we review it, we adjust the Roadmap accordingly. We know we’ve managed it well if we’re not surprised at how much we did or didn’t accomplish as we look back each quarter. We don’t work on anything unless it supports what is on the Roadmap.
The Vision and Roadmap are overwhelming if we stare at them all day, every day. So we don’t. And we don’t focus on the entire ocean of work every day. We also know that the Roadmap will change over the course of the year, but not because we’re bad planners. We simply know it will change because the market changes, technology changes, and we also know we don’t know everything at the beginning.
When you start on a road trip you’ve never made before, you learn more and more about your route and destination as you go. You know the least when you start. You learn more as you go. We believe in change, we try to embrace the unexpected, and we plan for it.
Long story short, we break work down into short iterations, usually one to two weeks long. We commit to it, all hands on deck, for that duration.
When we plan in detail, we don’t plan the whole year, or the whole quarter. We plan just the two weeks. Just the two weeks. If we plan farther out than that, we know we’ll be planning for things that we might not even want to work on then. With a two week time-boxed iteration planned, we go to work focusing on the work at hand. When we sit down to plan the two weeks, we make sure it’s aligned with the Vision and Roadmap, and then we go heads down and work it!
Each day, we come together and each person on the team shares the following:
* Yesterday I did [fill in the blank].
* Today I did [fill in the blank].
* I’ve got [fill in the blank] that is standing in my way.
Someone on the team is assigned to remove the obstacles, and the product manager will either agree that what will be worked on today is the right priority, or he/she will re-align priorities. It’s quick. It is not allowed to take more than 15 minutes. And it’s all the team needs to do to stay on track. Then everyone goes back to work, collaborating one-on-one along the way, as needed. We don’t have specific team members assigned to work as silos on specific aspects. Everyone works to accomplish the goal, doing whatever it takes, asking, “What can I do to contribute to our goal today?”
It’s not a reporting session. It’s a priority coordination team effort.
Inspecting and Adapting
Each time an iteration comes to a close (yes, every two weeks, every time), we inspect how we did on two levels:
We invite our stakeholders (customers, managers, executives, etc.) to come and see what we accomplished during the two weeks. No rigged demos. No slides. No presentations. We demo working product (software, usually, in our case). We show them, and then we ask (and sometimes beg) for their feedback. Did we build the right thing? Does it do what our customers need? If so, great. Let’s release it. If not, let’s fix it during the next two weeks.
Said differently, we want to fail fast and fail early (it’s cheaper than doing so later). We don’t want to wait until it’s all been tested and perfected to get our customers’ feedback. We want it now.
Then, we meet as a team and talk about how we worked as a team. How well did we follow our established process? We take time to identify the things that went well so we don’t forget about them, and so that we keep doing them. We identify things we’d like to change, and then specifically make goals on how we can implement changes to address them. Not gripe sessions. It’s a safe zone, and all are accountable to each other.
This “retrospective” experience we faithfully hold after every iteration has been key to our improvement and success at executing our overall mission! Key!
So, is this really secret sauce?
Maybe. It’s really just one key ingredient to our overall recipe.
But, as you can see, none of this is earth shattering. No one thing we do is new or cutting edge, in and of itself. But when we put all the pieces together, the simplicity, consistency and specificity of it all makes it seem like magic. And the results are not only taking us on an amazing journey in our industry, it’s created a sustainable environment where all enjoy what we do, both individually and collectively.
We’ve been following this simple framework for two years so far, and it keeps getting better. We keep doing more with less. And we keep finding ways we can improve, which is a natural outcome of the process, and has our collective allegiance.
In full disclosure, not one of our teams follows this entirely perfectly. But, each team follows at least one of these things near-perfectly. This is our ideal, and each team inspects and adapts to get closer to the ideal...every day.
*In case you’re interested, this “thing” we do is called Scrum. And the reason it works is because we have someone assigned to each team that manages and coaches on this process to make sure we stick to it.
Hula hoops. Flagpole sitting. Waterbeds. Native Advertising. Are you following me? Why one would sit atop a pole for umpteen hours at a time escapes me. I had a waterbed as a kid – you ever try to get a solid night's sleep on one? And hula hooping – a surefire way to look like an idiot in front of everyone, while any 6 year old girl can pull it off for hours at a time. Maybe as long as one could sit atop a flagpole.
But...Native Advertising. That's a different story. Is it a fad? Perhaps. Will it be around 1, 5, 10 years from now? Dunno. What I do know is that what is now known as "native advertising" has been around well more than 10 years, and I suspect will be for many more to come. Ever hear of a little thing called the "soap opera"? Native advertising. Let's be honest, have you seen the acting in those things (or heard it when they were confined to radio)? It's not high art – it was a vehicle developed in the 30s, and which picked up significant steam in the 40s and 50s. The "soap opera" was native to the format – radio, and then TV. It was "content for commerce" – a vehicle targeted, at the time, primarily to housewives during times when they were available to tune in. The consumer-packaged-goods-leaders at the time, including P&G, Colgate–Palmolive and Lever Brothers sponsored the content so as to have access to the target demographics – the housewives who most likely were the ones who purchased their products. Was it quality content, hard hitting journalism, human interest? No. Was it relevant? Ask the women who tuned in on a daily basis. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder, and clearly the target demo felt that it was.
How about advertorials? Ever heard of them? "Advertorial" is a portmanteau of "advertisement" and "editorial", dating back to 1946. According to Wikipedia, "In printed publications, the advertisement is usually written in the form of an objective article and designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. In television, the advertisement is similar to a short infomercial presentation of products or services." Do they purport to be "serious news"? Not normally. Can they be mistaken for such? Possibly. But, with strong disclosure and deep transparency, most readers/viewers/users can be expected to understand that this is a paid advertisement and not a piece of journalism.
So..Native Advertising. Fad? Most likely not. Evolution of soap operas and advertorials? Probably. They do all share a common DNA – "content for commerce" – content that is developed not for editorial purpose, but for commercial purpose. Does that make native advertising content "less desirable" than editorial? Again, relevance is in the eye of the beholder. If I choose to read a story on the corruption in the local police force, I can. If I choose to read about the fundraiser for a small child with a terminal illness, I can. If I choose to read "5 Reasons to Consider a Second Honeymoon", brought to me by Delta, or Hilton, or Zales, I can. If I don't, I don't. It's called relevance, and that's the "control" we give to the reader/viewer/user. We put up good content. We properly disclose and identify. And then we sit back and let the user tell us, with their eyeballs, their clicks, their shares, their engagement time if it's "good content". Isn't that part of what a media company does- it intermediates between the end consumer and the paying advertiser? Why were job postings and classifieds not considered "terrible journalism" back when they paid the bills? They were "content" that appeared "natively" amongst other content, and intermediated between users and paying advertisers. Advertising is dead. Long live advertising.
Now, the way in which Native Advertising is positioned, prepared and presented makes or breaks it. Is it relevant? Is it intrusive (NOT native)? Is it of interest? The list goes on and on. If I haven't shown my cards already, I will now. I'm not a journalist. I don't play one on TV. But, I respect and admire them greatly. I have friends who are print journos, TV journos, photo journos. They're all much smarter and capable than I. I'm an advertising executive. I sell stuff. Mostly blank space. The goal is for it to not be blank, and for it to have as much relevance as it can, be that in a display ad, a video ad, a sponsorship, or a native ad. See, that's the thing. We ad folks know that the content folks build an audience, and that all we have to sell is access to that audience. We don't have a "physical product" per se- we help the media company intermediate between the end consumer and the paying advertiser. And the paying advertiser wants performance- in the form of clicks, calls, referrals, leads, etc. If the vehicle that does that for them ALSO informs or provides a diversion or simply brightens one's day, AND pays the bills, I'm hard pressed to find the problem in that.
So, it's ultimately about the end consumer. They're smart. They don't take lightly to being fooled. They can smell insincerity and brand dissonance a mile away. Develop the content. Build out the sponsorship. And then let it loose in the home page queue. You'll find out quickly if it's "relevant" and if your users like it. If they don't, develop some more content, build out another sponsorship, and try again. This past month alone on KSL.com and DeseretNews.com we've had native pieces that have done not only more than the average PVs and engagement time of our "content articles", but some have actually been some of the highest performing pieces in our history. That's what I call a win-win-win. And, no hoops or poles or water needed.
To get an idea of how DDM has implemented Native Advertising, click on one of these links:
KSL: Utah in photos – Utah.com**
KSL: Ask a chef – Harmons grocery
Deseret News: Hiring veterans – KSLjobs
Deseret News: Local economy's national impact – Zions Direct
Still don't think Native Advertising works? Check those stats, and the CTRs vis-a-vis industry standard.
With 2013 in the books, we look forward to a new year; a new beginning. As we strive to learn from the past, innovate in the present and look to the future, we put two questions to our colleagues here at DDM: #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2014? #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2014 resolution? We hope you'll find their answers insightful.
Clark Gilbert | CEO, Deseret News & Deseret Digital MediaResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2014?
Growing Reach and Voice
Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2014 resolution?
Aligning Content Strategy with Audienceback to resolutions
Todd Handy | Vice President, Advertising & PerformanceResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2014?
For 2014, the biggest goal I'd have for the sellers themselves would be to stop selling property (KSL.com, DeseretNews.com) and content/context (sports, weather, etc.) and start selling audience. With a combination of first- and third-party data, and behavioral targeting, media companies can help their advertisers find their target demographic/psychographic, and advertise directly to them. And, if your properties don't have enough inventory of that specific target demographic, there are plenty of vendors who offer audience extension, which will help supplement your inventory and find that demo.
Audience targeting is more effective, which means better performance for the advertiser. But, it's also more costly for the media company. That means higher eCPMs, but if you hold the spend for the advertiser the same (meaning less impressions at a higher eCPM), not only will the advertiser see better performance (less waste from ROS or content targeting that's being seen by the wrong audience), but the media company will have the remaining impressions to sell via indirect channels- ad exchanges, RTB, programmatic, etc.
Audience targeting is more efficient all around- but getting sellers to believe and sell- that's one of my resolutions in 2014.
Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2014 resolution?
The 2014 resolution every media company needs to make is: "We will find the change in the couch cushions." Or, stated a better way, "We're going to implement an inside sales team which will be focused on calling SMBs to serve their needs." Account Executives call "high"- that's what you want them to do. They realize they can't make their monthly quotas $100-200 at a time, so they continue with their $1000-3000+ opportunities. THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT! But, the $100-200, even $750-1000 opportunities are out there, and they sum up to a nice number- which most media companies are not addressing, nor capturing. It's called the long tail, and Deseret Digital Media has built a seven-figure plus business out of that long tail.
It takes work, there's no doubt about it, but someone is calling on the SMBs to pitch them digital advertising and marketing. The pure plays are out there- Reach Local, Yelp, Patch (maybe not so much any more!), YP and others. But, in-market NONE of them have the brand and trust that your media company has. SMBs want and need help with their digital marketing and advertising. Your legacy media AEs haven't called on them because they weren't "fertile ground" that would help them make their quotas. But, if you put in place an inside sales team that can call on them, with your brand and trust behind them, and you provide them with a strong product that serves the SMBs' needs, they'll buy- and they'll keep buying.
Paul Edwards | Editor, Deseret News
Make a resolution to do weekly community service — particularly with a needy group you don't normally associate with. It will hone your capacity to empathize (which will make you a better journalist) and it will quickly put whatever frustrating issues are facing you at work into perfect perspective.back to resolutions
Burke Olsen | General Manager, DeseretNews.com
Resolution: What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2014 resolution?
One word: Headlines. Look to the Upworthy model of writing 25 headlines for EVERY story before selecting the best (most clickable/shareable) one.back to resolutions
Matt Sanders | General Manager, DDM Publisher SolutionsResolution #1 What is one thing you want your team to focus on in 2014?
Help clients everywhere upgrade their living room relevance
Resolution #2 What one thing would you encourage our friends and partners to consider for a 2014 resolution?
Become a local audience maven via market segmentation or by combing insights from services like Shareableeback to resolutions
This article was originally used in the Local Media Association's December 2013 newsletter.
As local advertising continues its migration to digital platforms, publishers with strong local ad buyer relationships are taking advantage of these connections to grow new revenue streams built around areas of increasing digital ad spending. Products such as search engine marketing, search engine optimization, email campaign management, reputation management, and social marketing are all growing – at the expense of traditional media platforms, particularly print.
With a thirst to show progress in growing digital revenue, publishers small and large are turning to these “digital agency” models. True to its mission, the LMA has provided settings for invaluable discussion and sharing of ideas around these topics.
In our own experience at Deseret Digital Media, and in some other agency implementations we have observed, digital revenue growth is sometimes being pushed without a clear path to profitability. This has led us to establish a few principles as we grow our own KSL Local Interactive agency.
First, we sell our own media. We may open doors with clients by offering some digital ad products under others’ umbrellas, but those sales should always lead clients to buy our own media as well. Our sales teams need training and certification on others’ platforms not only to be able to sell those services, but also to be able to sell against them.
Second, margins matter. Our purpose is not to provide a free sales force to help vendors grow. Jointly beneficial, long-term relationships are certainly possible, but some vendors are expecting us to teach and train our customers to use their media platforms at very low or, after sales commissions, negative margin to us. We should be wary of this. By necessity, lower margin sales should produce lower commission rates for sellers; otherwise, product line “loss leaders” can result in entire businesses becoming “lost leaders.”
Third, build something sustainable. Recurring revenue streams are critical. Every client that we land needs a strong fulfillment process to ensure their success Aggregating digital dashboards and reporting can help justify continued client spend.
Fourth, remember who we are. Our primary business model continues to be to attract and grow audiences and connect them to trusted advertisers. Our advertising clients want to support local commerce and local media voices. They want to be associated with our media brands. We cannot let agency opportunities distract us from our primary mission. Our audiences and our advertisers need us to have strong voices, informing them so they can make a difference in their families and their communities.
As summer was winding down in 2010, I spent my nights and weekends in my basement office, staring down at a gaping hole.
A stack of newspapers rested in the corner of the room — daily features sections published over the past year by the Deseret News. I would spread the papers out on the carpet, seven at a time, taking note of each column inch, what filled it and who had done the work.
I hadn’t been the Features editor, but I was now, and the talented professionals who had put words on these pages were not part of my staff.
All those column inches were still there, though — a massive content chasm that I had been charged to fill, day after day, with quality stories unique to our brand.
My staff would consist of only three other full-time employees (two editors and one writer). Prior to the Deseret News staff restructuring, these responsibilities had been spread out among 22 full-time employees.
Our strategy was simple — work hard and innovate. We had the work ethic down, but needed direction on the innovation. Deseret Connect filled that part of the formula.
At the time, Deseret Connect was more of an idea than anything. We were asked to trust the concept that a network of remote contributors could help us produce the content we needed. The technology would be built around us as we moved forward.
It was our job to make it work.
Three years later, it has. During that time, we’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t, what’s worth doing and what’s not. We’ve come to understand what our writers do best and what motivates them — and how those answers are rarely applicable across the board.
There have certainly been challenges and failures along the way. At times, we’ve made story requests that have gone unfilled. Contributors have missed deadlines.
In some instances, we’ve arranged for writers in the network to cover events, or we’ve taken the time to send them the materials and sources needed to generate stories. Some returned stories that needed a lot of work, some returned stories that we couldn’t use, and some didn’t return any stories at all.
Initially, the technology was clunky, limited and, at times, frustrating. Integrating new processes and leaving behind our well-established production routines were time consuming and painful.
But in the end, Deseret Connect has consistently delivered the people and technology we’ve needed to not only survive, but thrive.
Over the past three years, we’ve assembled, coached and developed a trusted network of writers who regularly provide us with content for our features pages, both print and web. In June 2013, we printed 83 stories from Deseret Connect writers, with many web-only features on top of that.
A select number of those contributors have produced such quality work that they have become regular correspondents for our department. Their content has become indispensible. For example, one talented individual tried his hand at movie reviews. He now provides us with insightful film commentary week in and week out and even appears as a film critic on a local television movie show.
We have a thriving book review group where dozens of writers receive books from our assistant editor and return quality, brand-specific reviews that fill our Arts section every Sunday. We’ve had great success with stories about food and recipes. Some individuals have emerged as regular columnists, providing a unique voice to our publication.
We’ve now migrated all of our writing, editing an interfacing tools to Deseret Connect. The technology has been built around us into a sleek, adaptable and productive system.
And as for that content chasm? It still exists, and it takes a lot of hard work to fill it day after day with quality stories.
But thanks to the tools, processes and people we’ve been provided through Deseret Connect, it doesn’t seem nearly as deep and dark as it once did.