It’s Not You, It’s Me: Rules of How Publishers Can Avoid Ad-Tech Breakups

So many technological developments have been made in the ad-tech world that every so often we have to take a step back and look at how a publisher’s world has changed. Not just the different types of audiences that are emerging, but the actual way that people share and consume information. Take a minute and think about how and what you read and share today and how different your behaviors were for the same tasks just a few years ago.

For the past seven years, 33Across has worked with more than 1 million publishers to enable greater social distribution of their content. We’ve seen a lot of different trends during this time period. Some publishers have tapped into the wave of mobile and social consumption to drive dramatic increases in traffic and, in turn, revenue. Some have ignored theses changes or have half-heartedly attempted to address their audience’s socially by just adding a few sharing buttons to their page. We wish it were as easy as that, but simply adding social sharing buttons does not qualify as a social publisher strategy.

Allow me to share a framework that we believe publishers of all sizes should consider when preparing for the monumental shifts that are underfoot in how readers consume, endorse, and spread content throughout social channels. Understanding these concepts and how to take advantage of them could dramatically increase traffic and revenue. Here are the “New Rules of Publishing” culled from our partnerships with some of best online publishers on the planet.

Rule #1: Produce for the Feed – Create Content for Mobile and Social Consumption.

A few years ago, readers would go to a set of five to 10 sites every session to get “caught up” on their world and then explore from there – that activity has been eclipsed by the feed check-in. Today’s readers are consuming more and more content on the run from mobile devices. When readers have downtime during their commute, at the grocery store, or in a waiting room, they reach for their mobile devices to stay up to date on their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and other news feeds. Most likely, they are also in a much different mindset than when they’re behind a desk monitor.

Producing content for your audience’s mobile feed check-ins and their “on-the-run state of mind” is the first step to help you maintain and grow your audience. It’s no different than good journalism – strong headlines rule. There is no more “set it and forget it” when it comes to content. Now it’s “plan it and promote it.” The more time your content team spends making and testing content designed for smaller screen consumption, the more benefits you’ll reap. For an even more in-depth look at the trends and audience motivation behind social sharing on mobile, you should review this excellent primer by investor John Borthwick. Improving your social traffic starts first with revamping your content for social consumption. Yes, in some cases it means more pithy headlines, but it also means understanding how consumers are reading your content, their mindset, and the best format to present content.

Rule # 2: Deploy Enabling Technology

Publishers have many enabling tools available to help understand and accelerate social content consumption. In short, use them. At 33Across, we’ve helped our publishers dissect the meanings behind every day sharing activity. Last year we compiled our data and published research on the motivations behind sharing – EGO Sharing – that when combined with the data from Mr. Borthwick above, presents a strong argument to deploy enabling technologies. In many cases, just by deploying publisher tools, you can immediately increase your content’s social distribution into feeds and boost your SEO.

First, start with a few partners to gain a baseline understanding of how your content moves through social channels. The four categories of enabling technology that are most helpful are analytics platforms like Chartbeat, content sharing tools like Tynt, CRM platforms like Sailthru, and content recommendation platforms like Outbrain. One more piece of advice: sharing buttons aren’t really necessary – nobody uses them. Readers tend to copy and paste content and URLs 50 to 100 times more than they use share buttons. If you really want sharing buttons, then put buttons to the two to three social outlets that matter to your readers on your page.

Rule #3: AOI – Analyze, Optimize, and Improve

To win in this new frontier, embed some new behavior into how you create content and make it successful. Powerhouse new media brands like BuzzFeed and EliteDaily did not wave a wand and magically become huge sites overnight. They got there through rigorous “AOI” of everything they created. What headlines got more social uptake? Which articles resulted in more time on page? Deep research into which content was read the most vs. shared helped them determine what type of content was most successful and popular. For some publishers, this is a more daunting task than for others. For an inside look at what’s involved, check out this insightful New York Times article by Leslie Kaufman on the new ways Larry Kramer and his USA Today team are institutionalizing new thinking when it comes to publishing in a social world. Once you have the right tools, you can build learning and infrastructure for the long term. But keep in mind that it takes commitment and rigor around understanding how to best optimize your social channels.

Rule #4: Find Like-Minded Partners

Optimizing your content for social consumption is a big piece of the pie, but the next crucial step is to review the myriad of monetization and insights options nowadays and pick a few partners. It’s critical that the partners you choose can bring you immediate value. So, while in many regards it’s about the money, it’s also about learning the skills needed to help your publishing brand grow. You will need partners to help your content to touch more people, enable social endorsement, and create the viral spread that the biggest social content players like The Huffington Post have. So the questions to ask any potential partners that cross your doorstep should be “how can you help me earn more revenue?”, “how can you help me understand the trends that are most important?”, and “how can you help me master the social publishing dynamics that will pay dividends over time?” It’s an exciting time to be in business and picking the right partners to help you reach your goals over the next 24 months is critical.

Opportunities are to be had, we just need to listen for them and prepare to take action quickly. Hopefully, these “rules” serve as a high-level framework to begin your transformation into a social publishing powerhouse. And as Doug Weaver shared in “The Drift” about the changing chaos in our landscape …”Who wins? The nimble, the creative, the right-brain thinkers who solve problems and make order out of chaos.” #BeNimble

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