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Pick your platforms intentionally based on agreed purposes and criteria

Consider different purposes for platforms, use criteria tailored to those purposes, and use a management process for selecting platforms.

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

Consider three different possible purposes for platforms

You might include platforms in your platform portfolio for three quite different purposes:

  • Brand-wide mainstays: core platforms where audiences expect to find your content and where most of your newsroom’s collective content is published.
  • Target-audience specific: platforms picked to reach and engage specific target audiences (for example, newsletters of targeted content for targeted audiences, or platforms heavily preferred by certain demographics).
  • Experiments: platforms to test, whether as potential mainstays or target-audience specific platforms. Commitment to these experiments is time and resource bound (See more on these under 6f below).

Use criteria tailored to the different purposes

Tailor the criteria described in the previous section to choose among the three platform purposes as follows:

  • Brand-wide mainstay platform criteria: Select the platforms on which local audiences expect to find your content when they seek information (e.g. for breaking news and local crises). Such platforms are your main entry doors for the metro population. Given the current stage of digital media, this means publishing on mobile (app, mobile web and/or responsive web), desktop web, Facebook and Twitter. For platforms beyond these, give particular attention to these criteria:
    • Widening your local market reach to create awareness, catch first-time readers/viewers and re-hook occasional readers/users.
    • Ease of sharing and recommending through multiple means
    • Ability to gain more favorable positioning on existing mainstay platforms (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles)
    • Ability to promote to boost trending opportunities
    • Ability to monetize their bulk traffic through advertising
  • Target audience-specific platform criteria: Choose additional target audience-specific platforms when they provide an attractive blend of niche reach, opportunities for engagement, loyalty building and habituation. Pay special attention to these criteria:
    • Ability to reach users in a particular local target audience who may not be heavy users of your mainstay platforms
    • Ability to gain more data on the audience, track usage and know individual identities
    • Ability to monetize specialty traffic through multiple means (see Table Stake #6)
    • Ability to use effective story forms and gain greater engagement, loyalty and habituation within the platform
  • Criteria for platform experiments: Distinguish experiments aimed at brand-wide platform possibilities versus those aimed at adding audience-specific platforms. Use the criteria listed above for brand-wide experiments. Essentially, ask yourselves if you can quickly learn about brand-wide possibilities through rapid and inexpensive experimentation. Experiment with new audience-specific platforms when you can quickly and cheaply learn about the factors listed above plus:
    • Indications of interest and emerging usage within your local market, not just buzz in the national media and tech press. Look to your local trendsetters and tech community instead.
    • The availability of willing and cheap “experimenters” who know how to use a potential platform (e.g. interns).
    • The opportunity to learn about a range of similar platforms (e.g., experimenting with one messaging app to get a feel for others or to reconceive how you approach notifications)

Design and use a management process for selecting platforms

Establish and use a management process for (1) selecting platforms; (2) establishing goals for platforms; and, (3) regularly reviewing if and how platform results meet the goals you’ve set

This requires you to:

  • Make decisions at the right organizational level. Brand-wide mainstay platform decisions, including any experiments with possible new mainstays, belong to enterprise-wide leaders. In contrast, audience and/or mini-publisher teams might make decisions about target audience specific platforms and experiments. When target audience experiments affect two or more audience teams, it’s best to have all involved participate in setting the objectives and approach of the experiment.
  • Involve the right mix of people. This includes editors and reporters from the newsroom as well as folks with experience and expertise in audience development and audience metrics. There may be others with perspectives and knowledge to share and vested interest in the success of the platform, including business development, sales, marketing and technology.
  • Use a tool to spell out your criteria, make your ratings and capture important notes. This can be as simple as a Google doc spreadsheet constructed and shared among participants to capture their ratings and notes.
  • Experiment before fully committing. In the spirit of learn fast, learn cheap, it’s best to start publishing on a new platform as an experiment with defined expectations and criteria that determine whether or not the experiment moves forward after the trial period. “(See section 6f for more on experimenting)

Start this management process with your existing platforms, particularly any platforms about which there’s confusion over purpose, doubt about value, or concern over the resources being committed. Most newsrooms have launched platforms that may have seemed promising or necessary at the time but yield little audience. Even The New York Times with the capacity to support a multitude of platforms has learned there comes a time to drop some and redeploy resources elsewhere. It is even more important for newsrooms with far smaller multi-platform publishing capacity to periodically reassess and make changes to the portfolio of platforms.

You should put together and continually update a ‘platform map’ that depicts your existing platforms as well as current experiments. The platforms on the map ought to reference the target audiences served as well as the core objectives you hope to achieve. Moreover, share this map broadly so that folks throughout the newsroom and beyond have a current sense for platform strategy, objectives and results.