Social media is challenging traditional media organizations in dramatic and sometimes uncomfortable ways. But the same companies that are threatened by this phenomena are also finding it provides them with new ways to generate revenue from their content. Traditional offline media companies are now playing catch up and working to adapt to the dynamic conditions within their environment.
While continuing to evolve and expand, social media encompasses a wide variety of formats, including blogs, microblogs, podcasts, online photographs, online video, social networking sites, widgets, and social bookmarking. Each format provides users with a variety of means to congregate, interact, and share information.
As a result, most, if not all, forms of social media have become content providers, communication facilitators, and audience aggregators. These functions have been traditionally fulfilled by media companies generating revenues by controlling each function. By contrast, social media tends to be controlled and led by its users and don’t always yield direct revenues.
Social media is changing the content marketplace in five profound ways that have an impact on traditional media:
- Breaks news. Through the use of social media tools like Twitter, blogs, and social networks, ordinary people share news about events that happen to them in real time. These mechanisms have become a source for traditional news outlets.
- Provides information dissemination. Social media acts as an information distribution service as well as a communication tool. Depending on the format, it allows one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many communications. Information is distributed through multiple channels, including RSS feeds, blog and podcast posts, Twitter updates, and postings on social networking sites and bulletin boards. Interestingly, many social media sites leverage e-mail to circulate their messages.
- Filters information for users. By enabling content sharing and ratings through such tools as Twitter, social bookmarking, and social news sites, social media streamlines information gathering based on the preferences of people users respect and find interesting. This is the wisdom of crowds applied to targeted audiences.
- Builds community around people, brands, and events. The use of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs enables a wider audience to participate and gather with like-minded individuals. Many traditional media outlets, such as CNN and Comedy Central, use their television shows to promote and build their social media communities.
- Supplies conduit for consumer input and commentary. Social media leverages the strength of individual user contributions through comments and submissions to blogs, Twitter, and video sites to enhance the conversation. For example, The Weather Channel uses viewer photographs and video to extend its reporting.
Additionally, social media can make content more findable via commentary, sharing, and search results.
What’s Traditional Media to Do?
Despite these seismic changes to the content landscape, traditional media companies still have an important role to play:
- Provide events with context and a cohesive narrative with journalistic integrity and perspective.
- Curate information to transform news into useful insights for readers.
- Provide investigative journalism to uncover challenges.
As a result, media continues to evolve. In the process, online journalists have become attuned to their audience and work to build a following for their content. They’ve started to:
- Use online resources, including social media, to source stories.
- Track content performance based on traffic, ratings, and comments.
- Manage content’s long tail by developing stories around topics that niche groups want or need on a on a regular basis, such as “Top 10 Outdoor Grill Tips.”
- Craft articles to make them more search-friendly through the use of keyword-rich content and titles.
From a revenue-generation perspective, media companies need to think in terms of diversified revenue streams. It’s critical not to confuse popular content with readers’ willingness to pay, especially since advertisers are looking for audiences aggregated around a topic. There are three ways for media companies to make money; most companies must use a combination of methods to ensure ongoing revenue streams:
- Advertising. Marketers pay to promote their products via a range of offerings.
- Subscriptions. Readers pay to get information they perceive to be valuable delivered to them on a regular basis.
- Supplemental content products. Consumers, who may not be regular users, pay a one-time fee for content-related products, such as reports, events, Webinars, DVDs, mobile access, and so on.
Tracking Content Performance
There are three major categories of metrics to monitor to understand your content’s performance in light of social media’s impact. They are:
- Social media engagement. Depending on your content offering and audience, you should be tracking the following elements to determine the strength of your brand as well as how readers feel about you and emerging trends:
- Registered users or followers give you a sense of the size of the community around your brand.
- Comments on social media sites show how involved your readers are with your content and how they feel about the topics you cover. Remember, only a small percentage of readers will contribute.
- Track how your content reach has been augmented through the use of social media tools. At a minimum, track where your traffic comes from and enable users access via search.
- Search results reveal how social media has increased the ways users can find your content.
- Content performance:
- Unique users show how many people have read your content.
- Comments and ratings on your site give insight to how readers feel about your content. It can be used to determine which topics are of interest for future content choices.
- Pass-along rates indicate how interesting readers find your content.
- Financial indicators:
- Revenues. How much revenue did the content produce?
- Expenses. How much did the content cost to produce and distribute?
While social media has caused disruptions to the media landscape, astute content providers will continue to find ways to leverage these tools to extend their reach and increase revenues. It’s critical to understand how to participate and engage users in a productive way. Traditional media isn’t dying; it’s evolving to incorporate the strengths of social communities.
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