Editors tell stories and marketers sell brands, or so tradition says. Yet, when technology and strategy overlap in this age of innovation, the line between the two roles begins to blur, creating new engagement opportunities for media companies across the board.
Until recently, editors controlled the flow of news and information, as their readers had fewer outlets to share their own thoughts and reactions. Now, however, technology-enriched content gives writers across the spectrum new opportunities to distribute their messages, while audiences have new avenues for response. Through user-generated content from YouTube, Twitter, Vine-and even GIFs-readers now have their own voices, which can easily be shared and embedded into most Web pages to enhance the classic written word.
"For thousands of years, content was unilateral," notes Moti Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Apester. "Cave carvings gave way to parchment, which gave way to ink, the printing press, and finally the Web. The next stage, as we see it, is readers' ability to respond, engage, and interact with the content, in real-time, for the first time. This infuses the content with a life of its own, making it infinitely more personalized and engaging."
Publications now have the ability to facilitate dialogue with their audiences, as technology enables each side of the conversation to react and respond in the moment, essentially guiding the flow of information. Through real-time data analytics, content has become increasingly flexible, for interactive technology effectively changes the content based upon readers' social perspective. Cohen explains that interactive content also induces virility because when an article reflects something personal and relevant, sharing skyrockets, making the situation win-win for everyone. Ultimately, in this new atmosphere, editors are motivated to engage in reciprocal cycles with the consumer, using content to entice audience engagement so they may then analyze the incoming data, develop audience profiles, understand their interests, and respond by serving readers the types of content and information they seek.
Julia Ginches, CMO at Kahuna, reiterates that, essentially, everyone's a marketer now, for the proper tools enable publications to create individual, in-depth reader profiles because they utilize Big Data to understand content consumption so they may discover the best ways to distribute content that resonates with their audiences. Everything comes down to understanding readers on an individual level, thereby going beyond broad 'cohorts' (groups of people defined similarly) to get as personal as possible.
For example, if one audience member reads an article about any given sports team, there's a good chance they're generally interested in that sport and that team. However, knowing even more about their content consumption habits and behaviors can help the publication deliver even more content the reader cares about. Perhaps they are clearly only interested in one specific player, and wish to receive further information about this player even if he's traded to another team. Perhaps they were simply reading the article because of its comical nature. Regardless of the situation, data analytics now helps editors pick up on these trends so they may guarantee that pushed content reflects these distinguishable behaviors. Competition has become too great in the media industry to make broad assumptions, so editors must embrace the granular level of understanding now available to them in an effort to better deliver content that delights in real time.
Ginches also notes that, while technology has altered the way editors deliver content, these new tools have also changed the way readers consume information. "Today, the digital content experience starts on mobile, within a social media stream or within an app," Ginches explains. "The publication's brand isn't as important as who's sharing it, how relevant it is to your tastes, and how compelling it looks at the moment you're viewing it. There are still destination sites, but the modern reader is much more willing to consume content from a less well-known brand as long as it comes to them in a timely manner and on the channel and device of their choice."
Readers are heavily influenced by connections and convenience. When friends and family share relevant content via social at the right time, followers are more likely to engage. Viral content has become the end goal of media aspirations, but such situations require a perfect storm of factors to come together at just the right moment. Instead of purposely focusing efforts on creating content that will spread, editors must focus on enhancing content quality to solidify their publication's reputation and reliability. Clickbait may drive superficial engagement, but well-developed content has the power to attract repeated engagement.
Social media drives major Web traffic, but editors must recognize that they cannot fully rely upon these networks to sustain growth, for one quick Facebook algorithm change can destroy these traffic and growth plans. Instead, like their marketing counterparts, editors must use social media effectively, while also converting audiences to channels they can own, such as email, push notifications, and in-app messaging. Becoming too dependent on social platforms as their primary consumer connection may cause editors to lose control of the outcome. Developing deeper understanding of the reader, however, has the power to inform future stories and ensure that content reaches their audiences in the best way possible, through their preferred device at the right time.
POPSUGAR, for example, leverages data to drive consumer desire and increase engagement. Because the women's lifestyle brand produces editorial content via POPSUGAR.com and offers online fashion shopping through ShopStyle.com, its e-commerce platform, editors are regularly faced with mountains of digital events. To remain among the industry leaders, POPSUGAR understood that it needed to identify data trends that inform specific actions, produce content that will get the most clicks, and deliver the optimal online shopping experience. Using Adobe Analytics, editors can now closely observe which pieces of content are trending and garnering the most social shares so they may redirect their efforts to meet latent demands. For instance, because Halloween began driving consumer interest as early as June-right at the peak of Taylor Swift's popularity-POPSUGAR created its "17 Ways to Be Taylor Swift This Halloween" article, which capitalized on both trends to drive traffic and engagement. This customer-centric approach has ultimately helped POPSUGAR hone its ability to define strategies and tactics that deliver the kinds of digital lifestyle experiences that resonate best with their audience.
Search has also begun to advance content creation strategies, as these queries provide granular insight into what readers truly want from editors. Matt Riley, CEO of Swiftype, notes that, previously, few writers and editors had insight into what their audiences were searching for on their websites. However, 'intent data' has the power to help editors craft stories that can better connect with their audiences. Intent data demonstrates which terms readers enter into the search bar directly on-site, allowing editors to understand what readers want to see when they visit. Publications can then post the content created from these insights at the top of their search results to gain more control of their website's search experience. Editors also then have the opportunity to place the most recent, relevant content at the top of their search results so readers will always find the exact information they're looking for right away.
Engadget, for example, recently started analyzing search to gain insight into what customers want from its publication in an effort to guide future content development. "For a while, we didn't have the ability to unify our massive content base under a centralized search experience," says Jose Del Corral, product lead for AOL Tech. "This made it hard for users to find what they were searching for. We now have full control over exactly which search results appear on our most important queries. This is an editor's dream."
Using search analytics tools through their partnership with Swiftype, Engadget's team has noticed vast improvement in website KPIs. For instance, there's been an 18 percent increase in page views coming from search results site wide, subsequently increasing average time on-site. Detailed analytics about user search behavior has also played an important role in shaping editorial decisions. Now, the product team looks at the top search queries to gain insight into what their readers are interested in, along with the top searches that return no results, so they may detect when particular topics or patterns of interest arise. The product team then sends this data along to the editorial team to help inform their content strategy. Real-time geographic reporting on search traffic, goes one step further, providing the company with a much deeper understanding of who their readers are, where they come from, and what they're looking for when they arrive.
Yet, while search optimization helps "sell" the content, so to speak, many media companies also produce promotional content that directly correlates with marketing initiative. For modern publications, blending the roles of editor and marketer often equates to delivering native advertising on behalf of brands through the creation of high-quality content. Yet, while sponsored content may serve as an effective marketing vehicle, it still has the potential to compromise the publication's reputation. Cohen adds that the more editors try to force content that serves the brand directly, the less their content will be compelling to readers, leaving them to tread that fine line between the editorial and marketing departments. Instead, editors must ensure that their content can stand alone before embedding their brand messages in a sophisticated, non-intrusive way. Content and advertising rarely mix, so it's crucial for publishers to keep this subtlety in mind.
But, as Kahuna's Ginches notes, making good content isn't enough. The winning publications will have world-class content and lean on modern tools to help them understand users and automatically optimize distribution. Technology has the power to bring media engagement to the next level, but editors must embrace these tools to the fullest extent in order to capitalize off their potential for growth.