Digital media disruptions X - Twitter's algo shocker, mobile UX and ad blockers

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed February 11, 2016
Digital media is a chaotic landscape indeed. But which stories pass the enterprise gut check? In this edition: Responding to Twitter's algorithmic re-invention, ad blockers and mobile UX dilemmas, and the tricky territory of handling editorial criticism.

Yes - it's time for a February gut-check of digital media disruptions - the enterprisey review. Rules: pick the meaty stories from my curated digital media collection, give them a hard look from the enterprise side, and recommend a course of action. Note: this series is NOT geared for the media industry, but for enterprises looking to put down the marketing bullhorn and become digital publishers.

Twitter confirms: algorithm coming to your timeline
by: Alex Kantrowitz
key excerpt: "Twitter is introducing an algorithmic component to its timeline that will, at times, reorder tweets, prioritizing them based on what Twitter thinks people most want to see. Twitter confirmed the changes today, which were first reported by BuzzFeed News last week."

enterprise relevance: low to medium, depending on your level of Twitter emphasis for content distribution and live events. Twitter has now confirmed the swirling rumors that their signature pure-chronological timeline will now be shifted (in some cases) based on an algorithm. This move is widely regarded either as an act of desperation on Twitter's part, or an attempt to address the notorious problem of turning more new signups into active users. (Twitter's overall traffic numbers are going down, but revenue is not as bad some some claim).

best course of action:

  • These changes are not finalized and their impact is not yet known. But when you combine this with Twitter's leadership changes and questionable decisions regarding third party information sharing, companies should hedge their bets on Twitter content distribution/engagement with other channels and networks.
  • Start thinking about the impact of a non-chronological timeline on live event streams (some companies rely heavily on Twitter hashtags for live events). Take more aggressive action to pursue good mobile apps for events - apps that truly engage the attendee and decrease dependency on Twitter for live event engagement.

Wolff: Guardian bet shows digital risks
by: Michael Wolff
key excerpt: "It is true that the Guardian might have lessened its losses, if, like The New York Times, it had implemented a paywall. But that not only ran counter to its own free-information ethos, the Guardian also believed paywalls would limit its ability to become a true native digital news competitor — and to reach the promised land of digital brand dominance and profitability."

enterprise relevance: medium - Wolff's deconstructs The Guardian's all-in digital play in a concise piece that is an ice bucket of sobering news for pure media companies. It's also tough news for those of us with digital dreams of "free information, unlimited audiences, and a sustaining new business model." But enterprises can learn from this struggle.

best course of action:

  • Like most digital mass publishers, The Guardian is heavily dependent on vulnerable advertising revenue. It's a reminder for those with advertising budgets that web advertising has limited effectiveness. For brands, other forms of content marketing and sponsored content have more staying power - though content strategy needs a rethink.
  • The Guardian's business model requires the pursuit of a mass audience. Brand publishers are better off using content to build targeted, opt-in communities with lower overhead and higher returns.

To Block or Not to Block: Can UX and Digital Advertising Be Friends?
: Jennifer Winter
key excerpt: "But other outlets haven’t been so cordial. Forbes, home of the quote of the day that few ever read, recently tried an experiment to combat it’s plunging ad revenue. They simply restricted content from users that employed an ad blocker to see how many users would disable their ad blocker to access Forbes’ content."

enterprise relevance: medium to high, if you have a significant mobile ad budget - the ad blocking tit-for-tat continues. Mass media outlets like Forbes continue to struggle with the balance between a good reader experience for their audience, and a good revenue experience for themselves. There are lessons here for user experience as well as ad placement.

best course of action:

  • Much of the ad blocking debate goes back to the mobile user experience. Reaching users on mobile requires a rethink, especially as ad blockers rise in prominence. Reaching mobile users through content and apps takes on new urgency.
  • Companies pursuing mobile advertising should take this article's tips on issues like page load times and ad sizes into account. Ads that are more organic to the user experience *are* possible.
  • Ad blocking isn't going away. Rather than participate in the ad blocking arms race, shift gears to new ways of attracting audiences.

Why The Next Generation of Online Video Companies Will be Vertical
by: Mark Suster
key excerpt: "So when we sold Maker Studios to Disney and I wanted to figure out where to invest next in online video I knew that I had to find a strong vertical in which to invest. Of course, there are many great verticals including: Auto, food, music, animation, shopping. I looked at a bunch of models. But the one I was most attracted to was Latino."

enterprise relevance: high - video matters, as does vertical content. Suster's piece errs on the side of self-promotion for his VC investment in MiTu Networks, "the world's largest online video company." But this piece also hits on the potency of vertical audiences.

best course of action:

  • Learn from networks like MiTu that have successfully engaged a core audience that matters (most of their shows are in English, and some have crossover appeal, but that's a bonus. It's about reaching the core audience).
  • As Suster points out, you don't have to be Game of Thrones quality to reach audiences. Being intensely relevant to a niche does the trick.
  • Invest in video, but step back from the over-scripted, over-produced enterprise commercials that nobody watches. Experiment with live shows, unscripted events, and customer video stories.

An old-school reply to an advertiser’s retro threat
by: Lucy Kellaway
key excerpt: "Last week I received an email from Henry Gomez, head of marketing and communications at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, objecting to a column I’d written the previous week. In it I’d repeated the advice his boss, Meg Whitman, gave to an audience at Davos — “You can always go faster than you think you can” — and pointed out that no, you can’t. Sometimes, when you go faster you fall flat on your face."

enterprise relevance: high - we must all understand the changing expectations around editorial criticism in enterprise software. Hopefully you can see the link, as it's behind the Financial Times paywall for some readers. Kellaway got into a dustup with Hewlett Packard, wrote an angry missive, buried it, and then decided to go public with it.

best course of action:

  • Never assume that a financial relationship with a media outlet (or analyst firm for that matter) will dictate the tone of their coverage.
  • Don't make the mistake HP did and try to scare or shame a writer into a a new point of view. Reach out to writers and offer them more access and information, don't try to sway their opinions.
  • Rather than try to fix the media, use the issues the media raises to address core issues inside your company. Nothing drowns out critical press like insanely happy and vocal customers.
  • Encourage the media outlets and vendors you work with to be transparent on their financial relationships and to disclose the same to their readership. Help your own employees to understand disclosure and blowback to criticism if they start blogging.

These pieces were picked from my curated channel, enterprise media disruptions. You can also view the entire digital media disruptions series. Thanks to Den Howlett and Frank Scavo for referring key articles in this edition.

Image credit - Time for change © Coloures-pic –

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