Digital media disruptions XVI - personalization, talent, and the platform dilemma

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 7, 2017
In this edition of digital media disruptions: why publishers are painfully hooked on third party platforms, and what we can learn from their dilemma. Plus: personalization pitfalls and the problem of algorithmic content. We also examine what enterprises can learn from HBO's approach to talent, culture and business model change.

Yep - it's time for another gut-check of digital media disruptions - the enterprisey review. Rules: I pick the impactful stories from my media disruptions channel and give them a hard look from the enterprise side - along with a course of action. This series is NOT geared for the media industry, but for enterprises looking to win audiences.

Lead story -  Platforms and publishers: No sign of retreat
by: Pete Brown
key excerpt: "Despite publishers' disillusionment with low financial returns, there is no sign of them retreating from publishing material directly onto Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other distribution platforms."

Publishers are in a tough spot. They hate surrendering their content to other platforms. Tepid financial returns make things worse. But as Pete Brown writes in the Columbia Journalism Review, they aren't willing to abandon where the eyeballs are.  Those in pursuit of mass audiences feel they have no choice but to play the platform game. Brown shares fresh data to underscore.

enterprise relevance: medium. Enterprises tend to have narrower audiences. Content is judged by engagement and lead gen more than monetization. With few pure B2B companies left, most of us must think about how to reach the end customer, wherever they congregate.

best course of action:

  • Identify the social networks and third party platforms most relevant to your audience. This might include narrower industry publications and communities.
  • Develop a long term plan for sharing content and investing in community on those platforms - but not at the expense of your own own web site and platform. Be wary of the instability of certain platforms, e.g. Medium: Medium lays off 50, cancels native ad program - an enterprisey take.
  • Tailor your content and tone to that platform. Some platforms lean towards lifestyle conversations, others engage in industry banter.
  • Content monetization is the wrong platform metric for most, but you'll still need an approach for tracking engagement, and making course course corrections. Platforms that allow you to publish external links could give a tracking advantage. Advertising on certain platforms can't be ruled out. Example: you may find you can reach audiences better on Facebook through targeted ads than page content that doesn't appear in personal feeds.

Why VR Will Probably Be A Bust for Publishers — And Why AR Has Promise
by: Ellen Harvey
key excerpt: "Although augmented reality has not captured the imagination of industry as VR has, Masiclat thinks it will have a much more profound impact on how publishers create and deliver their content to consumers. The key to AR technology is its ability to provide context to the user. In a noisy world where consumers are inundated with information, AR enables people to interact with content that is most relevant to where they are or what they’re doing. AR is also easy for consumers to access (on their ever-present mobile devices), conducive to frequent use (Pokémon Go is a prime example), and relatively inexpensive for publishers to produce."

VR can't be ruled out for specialized use cases. But Harvey is right, it's VR's humble cousin, Augmented Reality, that has the most potential. In the content deluge, interactive content can win. See my recent AR foray in How NRF 2017 changed my thinking on retail trends - a semi-visual tour.

enterprise relevance: medium  - AR isn't a fit for all media projects, but focusing on AR and avoiding the VR cash sinkhold can pay off.

best course of action:

  • Add AR to your list of technologies/formats to evaluate for media content. Consider formats that allow you to tie in services and partners, such as tablet/phone-based "tour" of a product or location, with embedded actions such as purchase and feature/price compare.

Facebook Changed Its Trending Product To Make It Show The Same Stuff to Everyone
by: Craig Silverman
key excerpt: "Will Cathcart, the VP of product management for Trending, told BuzzFeed News the product will also now show the same list of trending topics to everyone in a country, as opposed to personalizing a list for users based on their behavior on Facebook. (Trending is currently only available to English-language users in the US, Canada, and UK.)"

enterprise relevance: medium - we can learn from Facebook's elemental struggle to avoid massive human staff hires, while ensuring its algorithm doesn't discriminate or post fake crud. In this case, it's Facebook announcing tweaks to its notorious "Trending" section, where a small staff of human editors were disposed of due to questions about bias. The new tweaks make some sense, including grouping trending material by topics rather than pushing one sensational/viral story which may be flawed/fake. Also see Josh Bernoff's Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook's future: the spirit is willing, but the algorithm is weak.

best course of action:

  • A key aspect of Facebook's changes is a compromise on personalization. Most enterprises are less concerned with algorithms at scale, but they are concerned with personalization. Now is a good time to evaluate your level of content personalization, and whether it suits a business purpose.
  • As I wrote in Personalization vs relevance vs customization - confusion or opportunity?, sometimes personalization based on a defined group is all the personalization we need. Other times, personalization is (easy) preference choices. Pretending to be personal when you're not can hurt business trust as well. Personalized content works - but only to the extent your audience needs it.

HBO Chief on Attracting Audiences: Talent + Content = Subscribers
by: Denis Wilson
key excerpt: "And attracting talent requires the kind of culture that encourages the best creative ideas to rise to the top, instead of the word from the top being the final word. Citing the adage that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Plepler suggested “pushback” is crucial to a creative content business. “A healthy culture where pushback is permitted is a culture that is going to produce better results each and every time.”

enterprise relevance: high - plenty to learn from HBO's approach to winning audiences. But the business model shift is key too: "follow the cordcutters" is one HBO principle. They've done a better job than most of transitioning off cable-only revenues and offering different/mobile a la carte consumption plans.

best course of action:

  • Like HBO, invest in ease of content consumption across devices. Give consumers plenty of choice in formats, from video to subscription podcasts - all as frictionless as possible. Test/test/test. See: Why UX has fundamentally changed content's winners and losers.
  • Most enterprise content doesn't need the production values or storytelling chops of Game of Thrones - and thank goodness for that, or we'd be toast. Sometimes the best enterprise content is just authoritative/helpful info - no poetry required. But as Ross Mayfield explains in Content Marketing Isn’t Marketing Content, we do need a narrative hook.
  • HBO is right to emphasize content and talent. Meek underperformers don't create exceptional content. But in your business, it may be less about hiring talented creators and more about luring your executives and subject matter experts into content creation.

Bonus content - a few more for the road:

These pieces were picked from my curated channel, enterprise media disruptions. You can also view the entire digital media disruptions series.

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