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Designate platform owners

You need to name specific platform "owners" -- who operates as a GM or publisher -- taking responsibility for all aspects of platform performance, including strategy, operations, customers, costs and revenues.

This is an excerpt from “Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News,” published Nov. 14, 2017. Read more excerpts here.

Your newsroom must have platform owners

You must have platform owners. You must name the folks who are accountable for platform management and performance across target audiences. Platform owners must coordinate with audience and mini-publisher teams. But, without platform owners, no one in the newsroom will manage platform performance. Worse, the platform runs the risk of being organizationally orphaned.

“Owning” a platform is a role, not necessarily a position or full time job in the newsroom. It is distinct from producing and publishing content on the platform. It’s also distinct from the role of a platform editor (e.g. a mobile editor) focused on content. The focus of the platform owner is on the platform itself – understanding the nature of the platform and the user experience with the platform, setting platform performance objectives and goals, assessing platform results, developing better uses of the platform, and identifying and pursuing needed platform improvements.

In larger newsrooms, this role might be a full-time job and not just a role. And, whether a role or a job, you might call it ‘product manager’ instead of ‘platform owner.’

Role of platform owners

The platform owner is the person anyone in the newsroom or enterprise can turn to with questions about the platform. Consider newsletters as platforms. When other folks have questions about the objectives and/or performance of newsletters, they can turn to the newsletter platform owner – if, of course, that role has been designated. Similarly, there should be roles as platform owners for whatever is in the portfolio of platforms selected.

Platform owners are responsible for:

  • Understanding what it takes to win on the platform based on a solid understanding of the platform’s features and uses by users, effective publishing practices and basic underlying technology.
  • Monitoring publishing on the platform from an overall, platform user perspective across all content published on the platform.
  • Providing platform specific support to users, whether it’s answering one-off questions, offering brown-bag sessions on effective practices and new developments or providing side-by-side coaching.
  • Assessing performance of the platform, including keeping a platform scorecard, benchmarking performance against peers and reporting on platform performance.
  • Determining and driving what’s needed to grow the platform’s audience, ranging from wider use to better user training to technology investments.

Picking platform owners

How many platform owners you have, whether or not those owners are full-time jobs or roles, and whom you pick to be owners will vary based on the size of your news enterprise. Here are the most important considerations:

  • Time commitments of platform owners vary by importance of platform. The platform owner of your primary website may be a full-time role or close to it whereas owning, say, LinkedIn as a platform may require a lot less of someone’s time (e.g. perhaps 10-15%) – or, indeed, more depending on how critical LinkedIn is to your objectives.
  • Distinguish platform operations from platform ownership. Your target audience teams, “continuous news desk” and audience development team have many hour-by-hour, day–by-day roles and operational tasks to perform across platforms. These differ, though, from platform ownership responsibilities related to overall platform objectives and performance.
  • You may have natural owners of some platforms. A social media editor, for example, might be the right person to own some or all of your mobile platforms. Niche mobile apps may call for someone from the audience team responsible for the content of the app. If an audience team member is the only user of Snapchat, she or he could be the natural owner.

(Please note: In cases where someone combines platform operational and production roles with the ownership role, it’s especially important to make the platform ownership responsibilities a distinct and explicit part of their position description and make allowances for them in the allocation of time.)

  • Look broadly for potential platform owners. Platform ownership is a learning opportunity. The platform owner role will help folks experience and learn general management skills as well as deepen expertise at distributing content in a multi-platform world. Depending on your size, you may also need to spread the workload of platform ownership.   Consider, for example, tech folks who are super users of a particular messaging app, or have an intuitive sense of the user experience on mobile – or, yet again, for apps that have heavy tech requirements or need special expertise (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMP). You might look to photographers or multimedia designers for a platform such as Instagram. Finally, don’t limit your choices to the newsroom. Mixing in non-newsroom folks as platform owners can enrich and speed up whole enterprise thinking and action.
  • Platform owner teams may help make the management of related platforms more effective and efficient. Such teams might still have individual team members take responsibility for individual platforms but work together to share learning about cross-platform issues and opportunities. For example, given the tight interrelationship of mobile and social, there could be a team that owns your mobile platforms and main social platforms. Another combination might be your own notifications along messaging apps that you use.
  • Include print. Even as newsrooms move to multi-platform digital publishing, print remains a primary distribution platform – it too needs platform ownership. In effect, for example, Dallas did this when it reorganized the newsroom to include a print team.

Platform owners must manage platforms as owners

Being a platform owner truly means owning. It means being a general manager – a publisher if you will – who takes responsibility for all aspects of platform performance – strategy, operations, customers, costs and revenues. It means setting and monitoring performance objectives for the audiences on the platform, the platform’s uses across the newsroom, the time and effort invested, the users’ experience, the traffic and engagement performance, and the revenues generated by the platform.

However, unlike the traditional, hierarchical general manager position, a platform owner may hold a front-line position in the organization and manage more through example, expertise, insight, relationships, influence and the development of the skills of others than authority per se. In this sense, the role is similar to the ‘mini-publisher’ described in Table Stake 7.

The table below details the list of platform owner responsibilities. This list is extensive – it describes the full scope for truly owning a platform. Someone just beginning in the role of a platform owner shouldn’t necessarily be expected to perform all the roles from the start. But any platform owner should aspire and be held accountable to grow into the full role.

Checklist of platform management responsibilities

Knowing the platform Ÿ Understands the platform’s features and functionalities as well as any underlying technology necessary for effective use of the platform

Ÿ Understands key aspects of the user experience and what matters most to users

Ÿ Knows what it takes to win on the platform

Ÿ Develops benchmarks for performance on the platform (what success should look like in a market of your size)

Ÿ Keeps current on how the platform evolves as well as how others (even beyond news publishers) are using the platform

Assessing the user experience Ÿ Engages with users about their experience on the platform and the newsroom’s content on the platform for insights and opportunities to improve their experience

Ÿ Objectively assesses critical aspects of the user experience on the platform for gaps and opportunities (e.g., load times, navigation ease, and ad experience)

Overseeing effective platform practices Ÿ Periodically scans content on the platform from across the newsroom to assess what is happening on the platform (anything from SEO optimal headlines and tagging, to social ledes, to use of visuals, to content fit – depending on the success factors of the particular platform)

Ÿ Monitors execution against the publishing plans by audience teams

Ÿ Develops a sense for which individuals and teams across the newsroom are working well with the platform versus those who need support

Growing platform competence across the newsroom Ÿ Identifies basic training and support needs and arranges/provides that training and support

Ÿ Provides coaching

Ÿ Holds informal skill building and practice-sharing sessions and workshops

Ÿ Identifies, promotes and explains particular examples of effective content and publishing practices on the platform

Fixing problems Ÿ Identifies problems impeding platform use or effectiveness (technical or otherwise) and takes the lead in getting them resolved by whoever needs to be involved

Ÿ Is the point person for others to go to when they see or encounter problems

Tracking platform performance Ÿ Understands, and crafts strategies, for how the platform can best contribute to financial performance (and includes those in the platform scorecard)

Ÿ Understands the intricacies of the available metrics, including data quality

Ÿ Identifies the best metrics for the platform in line with the newsroom’s overall strategy and objectives for the platform

Ÿ Creates and maintains a platform scorecard (see section 7 below)

Ÿ Regularly identifies findings and “so whats” from scorecard performance results

Ÿ Communicates scorecard results and findings across the newsroom (in conjunction with other platform reporting)

Aiming for “next level” audience growth for the platform Ÿ Sets, and regularly raises, the bar defining “good” performance of posts on the platform (e.g., how many uniques a top quintile post attracts)

Ÿ Conducts ongoing experiments on the platform to increase audience reach and engagement.

Ÿ If and as appropriate for target audiences, makes the case for wider use of the platform across the newsroom

Ÿ Identifies and makes the case for any needed enhancements and technology improvements and investments

Managing the brand across uses of the platform Ÿ Understands newsroom-wide branding objectives and standards – and translates them into effective brand practices for the platform

Ÿ Ensures consistency in branding and adherence to brand standards across multiple uses of the same platform (e.g. multiple Facebook pages, multiple Twitter accounts, or multiple newsletters)

Ÿ Finds ways to strengthen the awareness and presence of the brand when published on platforms owned by others