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Use a strategic view of the distribution landscape

New platforms emerge regularly, different audiences gravitate to them, anxiety about “being on” them ensue, and then this cycle repeats until the next platform emerges. Avoid this by taking a strategic view of developing and effectively managing the portfolio of platforms used by your audiences.

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

Staying grounded

Publishing and distribution platforms shift and change. New platforms emerge regularly, different audiences gravitate to them, much is written about them, cases for the pros and cons are made, urgency and anxiety about “being on” ensue, actions are or aren’t taken, and then this cycle repeats with announcements of another new platform or changes to established ones. All this is driven by players outside your newsroom’s control – players whose range of interests may or may not coincide with yours. It’s little wonder then that developing and effectively managing the portfolio of platforms used by your audiences is new and difficult, particularly for legacy print news enterprises habituated to owning and controlling the means of publishing and distribution for print.

It’s important to stay grounded in two ways:

  • Start with your audience, not the platform. The better you have chosen which audiences you seek to serve and the more clearly you understand their needs, interests and behaviors, the easier and clearer it is for you to know which platforms to use to reach, engage and habituate those audiences.
  • Assess any given platform against how it’s strengths and weaknesses serve your chosen audiences compared to other platforms in your portfolio. Start with a simple typology of publishing and distribution platforms that provides a general framework for considering which platform to use for which audience and why – a lay of the land you use to navigate how best to match platforms to audiences.

Get the lay of the land through using a typology of platforms

We use “platform” broadly as any means of getting your content to audiences, directly or indirectly. The focus is on digital platforms but print and even public forums are included as well. Within the digital realm, scores of existing and emerging sites, apps and technologies fall under this definition.

To avoid the chaos of just ‘one long, darn list,’ you should put publishing platforms into three groups based on ownership, content control and audiences’ access to content:

  • Platforms you own
  • Platforms others own that redirect to your content on your platforms
  • Platforms others own where your content remains on their platform

This table outlines the core dynamics of these three platform types.

Three basic types of publishing and distribution platforms

Platform type Content control Audience access Key to success
1. Your platforms Ÿ You publish on your own platform, directly controlling the flow of your content Ÿ The audience reaches you directly; you serve them directly

Ÿ You must attract the audience

Ÿ Providing a great user experience on all dimensions

Ÿ Keeping users returning to your platforms

Ÿ Keeping users on your platforms

Ÿ Migrating users from random to habitual users on your platforms (See TS#4)

2. Others’ platforms redirecting to you Ÿ Your content is aggregated, prioritized, curated and/or referenced by someone else who provides links back to your content on your platform Ÿ You reach the audience indirectly at the discretion of others

Ÿ Others attract the audience

Ÿ You compete with other publishers for attention

Ÿ Maximizing user click through to your content on your platforms

Ÿ Playing well by someone else’s rules and criteria

Ÿ Competing effectively with the other publishers’ on the platform under the owner’s terms

3. Others on their platforms staying on their platforms Ÿ You publish directly on a closed platform owned and controlled by someone else Ÿ The audience views your content in someone else’s space Ÿ Showing up with superior content amid the rest of the crowd

Ÿ Emphasizing your brand and value as worth visiting directly

Use criteria to evaluate and monitor the value of different platforms

Here are the criteria you should use to evaluate, monitor and update the value any particular platform has in serving your target audiences:

  • Reach: ability to reach large audiences, especially new ones, and increase content consumption and awareness
  • Targeting: ability to focus the reach on the audiences you choose to serve
  • Content context: compatibility of the other content appearing on the site with your brand
  • Consumption: ability to increase items read/viewed and time spent per session (stickiness)
  • Engagement: ability to prompt audience-initiated actions that add reach, data and/or affinity (e.g., sharing, sign-ups)
  • Habituation: ability to induce frequent, regular return and develop a preference over other sources to increase likelihood to return (stickiness)
  • Share-ability: utility provided to users who want to share with others – and do so in ways that promote the value of your content and brand
  • Brand building: ability to identify your brand with the content being viewed and distinguish your brand from others
  • Data: availability and extent of data about audiences and their activities when reading and viewing your content
  • Monetization: ability to monetize the audience reading and viewing your content, including driving subscriptions or other consumer based revenue as well as ad type and placement control, inventory availability, revenue sharing arrangements and ad-blocking circumvention
  • User experience: quality and consistency of the user experience (including ease of access, load times, navigation). You need to consider this factor in two ways, depending on the basic type of platform:
    • For your own platforms, your capacity and capability to create a good user experience
    • For other’s platforms, the quality of the user experience they have created and your ability to enhance it further in your use of their platform
  • Costs: the complexity, difficulty, staff time and other cost involved in using the platform to publish

You should use these criteria to:

  • Assess platforms that you are currently using as to whether they have sufficient value to continue using
  • Assess the value of existing platforms that you are not now using for reaching your targeted audiences
  • Assess new platforms that come along