22 May 2014
Founded in 1851 and the winner of 112 Pulitzer Prizes, the New York Times is one of the famous newspapers in the world. But like all newspapers in the last few years, it has suffered from the switch in readers from print to digital. How much so wasn't totally clear until last week, when one of their team leaked a huge internal 'Innovation Report' document.
Every journalist needs to read it – it’s a revelatory document which shows great awareness in how the media is changing and what the publications they are working for are going through. But it's also of great interest to people who are working in content marketing and strategy – while not all of us are comfortable with what we do described as a 'brand journalism', we would certainly agree that we are moving towards a much more editorial mindset.
I recommend you have a read. But if you haven't got the time to get through a 97-page document, I'm going to outline some of the key takeaways from the report, particularly if you're working in digital marketing.
1. The value of the homepage is decreasing
The report describes how only a third of Times readers visit the homepage, and that those who do are spending less time on it. This is something digital marketers should already understand – the first page a visitor on a company website sees may not be the homepage, unless they're searching specifically for the brand or had it bookmarked.
They could easily hit a landing page such as a blog article through channels such as search, social media or email marketing. So you might have written the best blog in the world ever – but it needs visibility to get readers, and it's unlikely to get this just from people clicking its headline on the homepage.
2. Resurface old content - make it evergreen
The Times has a huge amount of archival content dating back to 1851, but it has barely thought to mine this archive and resurface it as it focuses so much on creating timely news and features. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but one thing journalists could do better is contextualise these stories by using material they've published in the past.
Content marketers can keep pumping out new content. But what about the good stuff we've already created which didn't necessarily drive traffic the first time? This is why evergreen content is great, because its material we can resurface again through different digital marketing channels, perhaps adapted to suit what's happening in the present, such as a late-breaking news topic or important anniversary.
3. Repackage content
The Times wants to do more with repackaging the content it has so it's more useful, relevant and sharable for readers. It has already experimented with creating content on third-party platforms, as well as resurfacing old articles in a different form than the typical homepage news story.
Content marketers know that companies want value from the time and effort they spend on creating content. This is why in customer marketing, the case study is often not enough - we're required to think of different ways of getting this content out, such as blog posts, videos, reports, white papers, pdf guides etc...
4. Personalise the website
The Times has a content personalisation engine in a 'Recommended for You' tab, but is potentially looking to create a 'follow' button which would offer readers ways to curate and receive their own news feeds. There is also the opportunity to receive alerts about new stories sent by phone or email.
For most company websites the social media engine wouldn't be necessary as there isn't generally enough content to make that worthwhile. However, marketers would certainly consider using email to inform visitors about new content (such as an opt-in newsletter).
5. Make sure content is tagged and structured
The Times admits that it hasn't tagged its structured data properly - necessary for searching and sorting information useful for analysis and innovation. The report said that this means it is falling far behind as readers can't follow developing stories or have its photos show up on search engines. At competitors the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for example, they already use tagging to find out how readers are using their websites.
Digital marketers also need to think about how company blog content is being tagged. For example, tagging allows you to create customised content RSS feeds. If you've got a partner syndicating your content, it gives you a lot of control in what's being pushed out. It could help your SEO, and similarly to what the Times needs to do - future-proof existing content and future authoring.
6. Increase the reach of content
The Times recognises that competitors like Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post are doing a better job of promoting content. They've built best practices for search and social – for example, at the Huffington Post a story can't be published unless it has a photo, search headline, tweet and Facebook post. They also manage to reach 6.5 million readers by email.
As mentioned, content needs visibility – otherwise it’s wasted because nobody's reading it. A content marketer will be looking to effectively drive traffic to a blog through digital marketing channels such as search, social media and email, as well as understand the business reasons for doing so.
The Times is also actively experimenting with paid social media advertising on Facebook – content marketers also have this opportunity on popular social media channels if they have a budget and a proper strategy around what the business benefits are.
7. Find social influencers
To promote a sex trafficking article, the Times pulled together a list of relevant, influential people it felt could spread the word about it on social media. It felt that this process could be automated and turned into an internal tool, which could be used to promote stories. It can pay off – once shared on Twitter by one of the listed influencers it was then retweeted by Ashton Kutcher – who has 15.9 million followers.
This kind of process is familiar to those working in PR, building relationships with people like journalists, bloggers, consultants and industry analysts. Content marketers could adapt some of these techniques to get influencers to provide content, build the company brand and expand reach through their own followers.
8. Embrace user-generated content
The Times said user-generated content was a difficult challenge to get right. Websites like the Huffington Post and Medium have actually become platforms, experiencing huge growth thanks to articles provided by an audience itching to get their work read. The Times said that it had serious questions about the quality of articles which held it back from going down this route. But it then revealed there were plenty of good quality opt-ed submissions sent in every day which had the potential to be published, but weren’t due to the restrictions of print.
Content marketers will be more concerned with using these platforms for syndication and guest blogging. Getting content up on your website with the proper promotion is all good, but from a PR point of view getting exposure to potentially thousands of eyeballs with platforms like LinkedIn and Forbes could be really great for your brand.
9. Get the analytics right
Unlike some of its competition, the Times doesn't regularly use data to inform decisions it makes. It says that it is missing out on an opportunity to better understand the behaviour of their readers, set goals and assess progress. It said a "strong analytics operation is essential to every one of these digital needs".
A good content marketer realises that the strategies, plans and tactics created are only as good as the results produced. You could create the most beautiful readable content in the world, but without goals and business targets to reach, it's not worth a dime. Fortunately we generally don't require the full scale analytics software of a newsroom – the freely available Google Analytics is good enough to get many of the metrics we require.
10. Don't forget about offline events
The Times said that it had an improving events operation, but it wasn't of the standard required to meet the standing of the newspaper. And it said it needed to think urgently about its event strategy, as it could be a lucrative revenue stream – events were moving away from a total dependence on advertising and towards readers willing to pay.
This is basically event marketing (other names include experiential marketing and live marketing). It's a powerful strategy certain brands could use to encourage face-to-face contact between companies and their customers using special events like concerts, fairs and sporting events.