5 claves para triunfar en la transformación de medios de noticias digitales
Earlier this year, the Institute for Media Strategies conducted workshops at The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, NYC Media Lab, Quartz, and Calkins Media, among others. In September, I shared five key takeaways from that experience. Here are five additional things we learned from 20 CEOs, editors-in-chief, and commercial directors.
Even in the age of digital publication, high-quality journalism is still important.
1. Platforms are a reality.
The visits in New York proved to be a voyage into the world of frenemies.
In the United States, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are the giants who “are eating off our plates.” Yet, almost everyone we met thinks like Justin Hendrix from the NYC Media Lab, who says: “They are simply a reality.” These companies command the digital ecosystem. You cannot get around them, and so the only realistic response is to look for smart ways to collaborate.
While the future of Instant Articles remains unclear, the WSJ has shown how it can better use Facebook, Apple News, and Google AMP to reach readers and ultimately increase digital subscription revenues. Elsewhere, Mic relies exclusively on the Facebook Video and Instagram platforms for its customer reach.
It can be perversely reassuring to know that even the seemingly unassailable giants have their problems and are vying for collaboration with the media. Campbell Brown, responsible for the new worldwide Facebook partner programme for the media, promises ever more “joint product development.”
On the joint list of issues to tackle are the battle against fake news, building better revenue-generating opportunities for media partners with Instant Articles and Facebook Video, and concepts that improve the distribution of local news within the target radius.
2. It’s the journalism, stupid!
Following Trump’s win and the subsequent extreme polarisation of public opinion, the talk now is of the self-image and social value of journalism and the media. Big, established media brands as well as newer digital competitors are pledging themselves to pursue quality journalism — and registering a record reach in the process.
The WSJ now counts two million subscribers — more for digital than for print. And even start-up news media such as Quartz, which are canvassing for young decision-makers, have been in the black since the beginning of the year.
The question of recovering the credibility seemingly lost in the age of bots, robot journalism, and fake news is top priority not only for old and new newsrooms, but also for the large platform companies.
Truth and credibility define the brand essence and thus form the basis of successful business models. What remains unclear, however, is how to square that with the automation and technology that, at least according to AP, are the only solution to the pressure newsrooms face.
3. The fine art of collaboration.
The ability to collaborate, along with the courage to experiment, is one of the key virtues of digital transformation. The newer and less-developed the idea, technology, or prototype, the higher the risks on implementation. Collaboration manages and mitigates those risks and their associated costs.
The NYC Media Lab sets out to connect the media with universities. It is not rare for a small research project to end up being a start-up.
AP makes its content available to start-ups so they can use it to practise their algorithms. They return the favour by making those algorithms available to AP for use in the newsroom. The start-up NewsWhip, in which AP holds a stake, helps the agency measure the spread and use of its content. In turn, AP serves as a reference for NewsWhip, recommending the service to its media clients and associates.
Even at venerable Columbia University, the elite breeding ground of Pulitzer Prize winners, Emily Bell requires her students not only to demonstrate great writing, but also have a deep understanding of digital technology and competence in business models and monetising journalism.
4. The new spirit: Fighting fear with freedom and risk-taking.
The differences between traditional and new media were immediately striking in terms of atmosphere, but also working space.
A start-up atmosphere exists in the lofts of Quartz, Gawker, and the NYC Media Lab. Interdisciplinary teams work at long tables. Everything seems, at least to the outsider, to be relaxed and open to communication.
By contrast, the newsrooms of The Wall Street Journal and AP appear to be significantly more business-like and serious.
The coffee bars, lounges, and relaxation — those oases of the new media companies — are not an end in themselves: Teams are supposed to feel at home, yes, but the real benefit is ongoing motivation. The underlying goal, however, is creating an environment that is as free of fear and hierarchy as possible. That is essential to creating a mindset in which work is not merely churned out, but where there is open communication and a willingness to try things out despite the great pressure to succeed.
5. The people factor.
Last, but not least, the biggest challenge to digital transformation remains the people.
New technological opportunities are available, new digital business models are already being tried out in many places, and competent partners are waiting impatiently for an invitation to dance. Yet change is slow to come.
Joanna Mayer-Jones, global sales director at the WSJ, remembers the days when the advertising department put all its energy into “defending print.” The conversion to the agency model that advises customers individually instead of selling them off-the-shelf products proved revolutionary.
It’s a revolution fuelled by changing faces. New people with significantly different qualifications come in; in New York, they are often from young, digital competitors.
They bring with them the unbridled joy of experimentation and the agile mover-and-shaker methods of a start-up. Many are familiar with design thinking and know how crucial it is when it comes to product development to start with the customer and his/her problems that need solutions.
That’s not to say there are no “old dogs” able to learn new tricks, but it has mainly to do with attitude as aptitude. Media transformation can only succeed with people who are open to new opportunities and keen to give it a go despite the risks. The industry needs people who are capable of integrating themselves in interdisciplinary teams and able to rise above skeptical reservations.
Snapchat se ha mantenido aparte de las Fake News
To get a sense of how rough things are for Snapchat, consider the Dancing Hot Dog. In June the disappearing-messages app began letting users overlay their videos with a squat-legged cartoon wiener. It quickly became an internet sensation. Not that investors cared.
On parent company Snap Inc.’s quarterly earnings call in August, Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel boasted that the break-dancing tube steak had been seen more than 1.5 billion times on Snapchat, calling it “likely the world’s first augmented-reality superstar.” This goofy glory didn’t do much to soften the bad news: The company had brought in less than $200 million in ad revenue and lost more than $400 million. After Spiegel answered a question about Snapchat’s slowing user growth, an analyst, who apparently didn’t realize his line was live, said, “I didn’t even understand his response,” sounding as if he were about to burst out in laughter. This was before the 27-year-old CEO said investors should have faith in Snap’s chances against much bigger rivals because “we’ve always been last to market.”
In the runup to its initial public offering in March, Snap was considered one of the tech industry’s most promising unicorns. Now its share price is down almost 50 percent from a Day-Two peak, and on Oct. 20 the company said it was laying off 18 recruiting staffers, signaling that its 2,600 employees are likely to meet far fewer new co-workers. Analysts say the problem is the near-monopoly power of Google and Facebook Inc., which together control the most popular social networks and most of the mobile ad market. It’s also tough for Snapchat to add to its 173 million daily users when Facebook, with a daily audience almost eight times that size, relentlessly copies its best features.
For people who expected Snap to be the next Facebook, its stumbles appear disastrous. But while Snap hasn’t figured out how to be a profitable advertising business, it’s proving to be a much more competent media company than either Facebook or Google—and not just because it knows from dancing meats.
Since September, Facebook and Google have acknowledged selling political ad space to Kremlin-affiliated groups that spread false stories about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While company representatives prepare to testify before the House and Senate intelligence committees on Nov. 1, Robert Mueller, special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, is reviewing the ad buys for evidence that Russian agents colluded with the Trump campaign. There are signs of Russian activity on almost every American social network of any consequence, including Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even the smartphone video game Pokémon Go. (Bloomberg LP is developing news programming for the Twitter service.) Snapchat, however, has found no evidence of political ad buys by anyone in Russia. In fact, Snapchat appears to have no fake news at all.
The secret? “Humans,” says Nick Bell, Snap’s vice president for content. “We only work with authoritative and credible media companies, and we unashamedly have a significant team of producers, creators, and journalists.”
Whereas Facebook deliberately blurs the line between personal status updates, news articles, and ads—sticking all three in its constantly updating, algorithm-driven News Feed—Snapchat has taken a more old-fashioned approach. The app’s news section, Discover, is limited to professionally edited content, including dozens of channels maintained by old-media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail, the Economist, and People. Snapchat’s coverage of college campuses is overseen by a group of student-run daily newspapers. Its three regular newscasts come from CNN, NBC, and E!. Peter Hamby, a reporter hired from CNN, anchors its weekly in-house political documentaries.
“If an individual story gets hundreds of thousands of views, a team of our editors looks at it”
As with Facebook and YouTube, part of Snapchat’s appeal is watching videos unmistakably shot on cell phones by regular people. Sometimes those videos become newsworthy; when that happens, Snapchat includes them in Our Stories, short-form news updates that combine user-generated material with professional camerawork. But unlike newsy user-created videos on Facebook and YouTube, Snapchat’s are vetted before they can reach a wide audience. Staff reporters and producers edit Our Stories, check facts, and clear the stories with lawyers, like a traditional broadcast team. Much of Snap’s revenue comes from ads that appear in its professionally curated videos, and the company is betting that trustworthy content will ultimately prove more appealing to viewers and advertisers alike.
While Snapchat has embraced its role as a curator of news, Facebook has strenuously objected to suggestions by members of Congress—or anyone else—that it’s in the media business. “When you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told news site Axios in October. “The responsibility for an open platform is to let people express themselves. We don’t check the information people put on Facebook before they run it, and I don’t think anyone should want us to do that.” Translation: You, the consumer, bear the responsibility for distinguishing which items in the News Feed are actually news, and which are paid messages from whoever can afford them.
Sensing a rare chance to make Facebook look bad, Snap is playing up its commitment to traditional news values. If it can steal a few ad dollars from its competitors and rectify its earnings setbacks, so much the better, but the company says recent events are simply proof that it’s been on the right path all along. “From the very beginning,” says Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan, “we’ve felt a responsibility to make sure our community knows where their news and information is coming from.”
Even when Snapchat was mostly known as a sexting app, Facebook appeared to be watching it closely, with more than a little jealousy. Since 2013, when Spiegel rejected Mark Zuckerberg’s $3 billion buyout offer, the joke in Silicon Valley has been that Snap runs Facebook’s R&D lab. Facebook’s four main products—its namesake service, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp—all include features almost indistinguishable from ones that made Snapchat famous, such as self-destructing messages, a video-diary feature called Stories, and augmented-reality gimmicks along the same lines as the dancing hot dog. Instagram Stories, rolled out last year, attracts close to 50 percent more viewers than all of Snapchat. (Snap says those numbers don’t tell the whole story.)
Despite their products’ similarities, the corporate cultures of Facebook and Snap are very different. Zuckerberg, the earnest-sounding if awkward Silicon Valley geek, speaks in lofty terms about Facebook’s ambition to “bring the world closer together.” He makes policy proclamations in the mode of a world leader and regularly talks up Facebook’s voter registration efforts during the 2016 election. Spiegel is a creature of Los Angeles, more likely to crack wise than rhapsodize about the grand sweep of history. He calls Snap “a camera company” and doesn’t talk publicly about politics.
Para llegar a 10 millones de suscriptores The New York Times está enfocado en churn
With more than 3 million print and digital subscribers, The New York Times now gets more revenue from digital subscribers than print advertising revenue. But that’s far from enough for the Times, which has set its sights on getting to 10 million subscribers.
To get there, the Times is trying to think more like a consumer business. A big part of that is shifting from focusing on signing up new subscribers to retaining current ones.
This falls to Clay Fisher, svp of consumer revenue, who oversees a team of 100 people. Since he arrived at the Times two years ago, Fisher has tripled the number of people working on retention to 25, hiring consumer marketing experts from industries outside of newspapers, such as banking and retail. He said turnover and retention have improved, but wouldn’t say by how much.
“We definitely have some large ambitions and are very optimistic in our abilities to get there,” Fisher said. “It’ll be getting people engaging more deeply.”
The Times is well positioned to focus on retention since it already has a large subscriber base. Publishers want to emphasize retention because replacing readers who cancel is expensive. Publishers’ churn rates are commonly 10 percent but can be as high as the double digits, according to Piano, which helps publishers with paywalls.
“If you’re churning 30 percent a year, you have to acquire 30 percent just to maintain the same level,” said Dorian Benkoil, founder of publishing consulting firm Teeming Media. “If you can cut that in half, filling from the top becomes more growth.” In the short term, retention can cost more than acquisition, but if you improve retention by improving the product, you can decrease the cost of acquisition in the long run, he added.
Publishers can use a number of tactics to increase retention, said Patrick Appel, editor-in-chief of Traffic, a magazine that’s owned by Piano. Bundling together products like Amazon Prime is effective. Longer subscription durations can make sense, too. Annual subscriptions average higher churn rates than monthly subscriptions, according to Piano data. But the average annual subscription is worth about twice as much as a similarly priced monthly subscription over a two-year period because monthly subscribers have so many opportunities to churn, he said.
Under the Times’ retention-centric model, the work starts the day someone becomes a new subscriber. The Times has a team of about 10 people focused on those first 90 days. They’ll send emails to new subscribers about all the Times’ coverage and news products. The site will have features that only new subscribers see, such as a ribbon along the top that suggests certain sections, authors and articles.
The Times is also doing subscriber-only events or early access to Times events. Examples have included a talk with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and pop-up discussion events at venues such as the Newseum and the International Spy Museum.
“We want more and more people to feel like they’ve entered a whole new world once they’ve become a subscriber,” Fisher said.
Another part of retention is identifying when someone is at risk for dropping their subscription. To do that, the Times has hired retention experts and put retention modeling in place that detects when a subscriber starts visiting the site less often or reading less. That triggers playbooks to re-engage people, such as spending to show more Times articles in people’s Facebook feeds and promoting service journalism or interactive stories, which have been found to play a big role in getting people to subscribe and retain. (The Times uses Facebook to find people, but wants to get them back to its own site; it’s pulled away from Facebook Instant Articles, which is one of the ways Facebook tries to keep users on its own platform.)
“The more people read those, the more likely they are to subscribe,” Fisher said of interactive stories. “It really helps people understand the value of the Times. It does the persuasion for us.”
The Times’ efforts to be more consumer-centric extend to its customer service representatives. The Times is bringing more of this work in-house, hiring experts to handle sensitive situations like a missed newspaper delivery. The Times has set up what it calls a “learning lab” where six customer service pros who sit in a dedicated space in marketing experiment with ways to improve customer service and roll them out across the subscriber base.
“Things that involve nuance, we want our own people to handle,” Fisher said. “In the past, you might get a templated email. Now, we actually have an expert team that’s digesting and handling the situation and more proactively reaching out to problem-solve. We can’t control the delivery itself, but we can do a better job of informing them of the situation.”