Publishing in a Fragmented Online World
Ah, for the days of print gone by—when there was only one distribution mechanism to transmit information to readers—everything seemed so simple. But along came the Internet, and suddenly readers demanded our content via print, our Web sites and e-mail newsletters. Our once-simple content-distribution model suddenly became complicated, and disrupted the business models to which we were accustomed. My friends, we had better get used to it because the fragmentation has only just begun.
Two major technologies have emerged that further complicate how we must connect our brands and content to our readers: social media and mobile devices. More and more consumers and business professionals alike are turning to Twitter, Facebook and other social media services to get their information instead of going directly to individual Web sites or subscribing to e-mail newsletters. Likewise, rather than using desktop or laptop computers, consumers and business professionals are using mobile devices more often than ever before to browse the Web, read e-mail and interact with social media services.
The key question we must ask is, "How can we get our content to our readers however they want to get it?" Does a reader want to get our latest content by visiting our Web site? Do they want to be alerted to new content via e-mail instead? Do they want to browse our site or read our e-mail alerts on a mobile device instead of a computer? Do they want to be alerted to our latest content by following us on Twitter or becoming a fan on Facebook? Do they want to add our RSS feed to their iGoogle or My Yahoo page so they can see our latest headlines there? Do they want to add a widget to their blog that constantly updates their site with our latest headlines? Our job as publishers is to simplify it so that no matter how they want to get to our content, they can do it easily.
To accomplish this, think of your Web site as your primary publishing location. If done correctly, you only need to publish on your site, then syndicate out your content or headlines through all of the other channels:
• Your Web site is always current for people visiting via a computer.
• Your mobile Web site is automatically updated for people visiting via an iPhone, Blackberry, etc.
• Your latest content is automatically fed into your RSS feed, which then automatically updates anyone who is subscribed to it with iGoogle, My Yahoo or any other RSS reader.
• Your Twitter feed and Facebook status are automatically updated with your latest content because they're synced to your RSS feed. (You've made it easy for the reader to find your RSS feed, and Twitter and Facebook accounts, right?)
• Your e-mail alerts get sent out with your latest content pointing people back to your site. (You formatted your e-mail to be easily readable on both a computer and a mobile device, right?)
One of the best sites that I've seen employ all of these tactics is Mashable. Visit it sometime and see how its Web site (Mashable.com), mobile edition (m.Mashable.com), Twitter page (Twitter.com/mashable) and Facebook wall (Facebook.com/mashable) all are identical. And with more than 1.6 million Twitter followers, 52,000 Facebook fans and 303,000 RSS subscribers, something must be working right.
You get the idea. No matter how your audience wants to access your content, provide a way for them to get it, and syndicate your content out identically through all of those distribution channels. Your reach is now a combination of your Web traffic, mobile readers, e-mail subscribers, RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc. Your readers may be using a myriad of methods to get your content, but you've aggregated it all into a single audience. Of course, your content distribution is just the first step in the battle—you still need to build an audience in these channels, and build your revenue streams to leverage all of these channels, but this is the first step in creating a viable publishing model that works in an increasingly fragmented online world. PE
Eric Shanfelt is executive vice president of eMedia for Virgo Publishing. Prior to this, he served in executive roles at Penton Media and Aspire Media and as an industry consultant helping private-equity, b-to-b and consumer media companies evaluate and grow their online media businesses. Shanfelt has an extensive e-media background spanning 18 years and specializes in practical, revenue-generating strategies for publishers.