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Distributed content: The best ways to build sustainable platform strategies

The potential audience for news has never been larger, yet reaching that audience directly has never been more of a challenge for publishers. Thanks to the explosion of social media and smartphones, people are consuming content constantly, but they are far less likely to discover or consume that content on publisher websites.

Websites will, of course, continue to exist, but gone are the days when most people navigate to a publisher’s homepage and click around.

For many traditional print publishers who felt like they were just getting a handle on the web, this feels like yet another disorienting seismic shift. We recently gathered representatives from over 35 publishers for a daylong summit in New York City on the changing consumption patterns and the rise of distributed content. This white paper captures what we learned.

We found that as publishers navigate an increasingly platform-dominated world, many have seen rewards by embracing a distributed content model. Those successes, however, are tempered by a new host of challenges.

Hiring a social media editor to sit in your newsroom and post web content to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, does not qualify as embracing a distributed model.

It’s important to understand and define what distributed content is and is not. Hiring a social media editor to sit in your newsroom and post web content to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, does not qualify as embracing a distributed model.

Distributed content is any content that a publisher creates to live “natively” on an outside platform without directing any traffic back to your domain. This could mean allowing Facebook or Google to host your articles through Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMP. But it more generally means content you create specifically to live off-site on certain platforms.

Examples of distributed content could be a new interview series that you launch on Facebook Live, or interactive vertical videos that you publish solely on Snapchat, or a Kik messenger bot that chats with users about the latest news.

It could mean working closely with a platform itself to beta test new products and features. Companies like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post have signed on as Facebook media partners and have collectively produced hundreds of Facebook Live broadcasts, for instance. Other brands such as The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, ESPN and more have teamed up with Snapchat to produce content for Snapchat Discover, Snapchat’s media portal.

(Distributed content) could mean working closely with a platform itself to beta test new products and features.

Bleacher Report has gone so far as to have a “managing editor” and “mission statement” for each platform. “If we can differentiate those platform experiences in the right way, we can start to craft content experiences that are maybe built for the same person, but they’re in a different mindset depending on the platform they’re on,” the company’s president told Digiday.

A new class of platform-only publishers has also cropped up in recent years that have no websites of their own, but publish exclusively on distributed channels. Independently-owned companies such as NowThis and Cheddar, which publish news video content natively on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, were created specifically to create native content for social platforms.

As more quality content becomes available within these distributed channels, it becomes less and less likely that consumption patterns will shift back to the earlier days of the web. NowThis, for instance, boasts over 1 billion views a month across all platforms.

Just as the web has permanently disrupted print, social platforms have forever altered the way consumers consume content online.

Just as the web has permanently disrupted print, social platforms have forever altered the way consumers consume content online.

Legacy publishers need to leverage distributed content to grow their audience and survive this wave. That requires employing smart strategies and pragmatic solutions. Ignoring the rise of distributed content will not make it go away, but by using some of the solutions that follow, publishers can take advantage of this shift to reach new audiences and, ultimately, profit.

It can be hard to find footing in this new era, especially when platforms themselves evolve so rapidly. What follows are actionable things that publishers of any size can do to not only sustain, but to capitalize on this shift to a distributed model.

This isn’t a list of broad trends to “keep in mind.” These are strategic tactics that publishers at any size would benefit from employing:

 

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