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We’re all in this together

One of the biggest takeaways from our summit was that all publishers, large and small, experience many of the same headaches when approaching distributed content.

Even publishers in prime positions, like Mashable, which is both a Facebook and Snapchat media partner, still don’t feel in a position of power. A coveted spot in Snapchat Discover appears great in many ways. However unlike a user account, you don’t own your audience and can be kicked out any day.

Publishers of all sizes are trying to figure out how to leverage these new platforms as user behavior on each platform evolves. On top of all this, the platforms themselves are rapidly changing. It can often feel like no one is on steady ground.

Communication is key

One of the most common phrases heard at our summit on distributed publishing was, “You have that problem too?” It’s clear that communication, both internally and externally, can be a powerful tool.

Liz Heron, formerly executive editor of The Huffington Post, said she would love to see more open communication among those in the media industry. She suggested that smaller publishers partner with larger publishers in order to get a leg up in the system and also proposed that small or mid-sized publishers band together in order to have more bargaining power when dealing with these platforms.

Publishers should be open and honest about their failings. The endless puff pieces on “how X publisher is using Y new platform” serve no one but the publisher and platform’s public relations teams. Sharing not only how your brand is leveraging a new platform, but the failings, challenges encountered, and tactics used to overcome those challenges, benefits the industry at large and opens the door for collaboration.

The more transparency in the media industry, the more publishers at all levels will be on equal playing field with new platforms.

The more transparency in the media industry, the more publishers at all levels will be on equal playing field with new platforms. If everyone makes the shift to Facebook Instant Articles and sees a negative return, but no one talks about it, Facebook will always have all the power.

Consider hosting off the record events or forums with other publishers in your field. Speak to your competitors. Create Facebook groups or email lists around specific platforms or topics.

We no longer live in a world where you can only subscribe to one newspaper and it’s one or the other. Consumers embrace an ever-changing wider array of content and collaboration and communication within the media as a whole moves everyone forward.

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As our summit in New York City concluded, one thing was clear: everything changes. Media consumption patterns have fluctuated wildly in the past decade, and technology is progressing at a rate faster than any other time in recent history. No one publisher has it all figured out.

Publishers who claimed to be able to “game” Facebook’s algorithm in order to generate millions of clicks just a few years ago have been cut off at the knees by Facebook’s shift to video. Publishers who currently invest solely in generating viral Facebook videos may find themselves in a similar struggle a few years down the line. No platform or technology is static, and nearly all attendees stressed how important it is to diversity and remain nimble.

No representatives from over the over 35 publishers who attended felt they could confidently predict where Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or any other growing social media platforms would be in five or 10 years.

“Publishers spent decades perfecting our product on printed pages with the occasional innovative disruption in in photography, color ink, telecommunications technology, etc. Then the internet opened up a world of opportunities and then mobile took over,” says Justin Bank, senior editor for audience and Internet at The New York Times.

“Publishers spent decades perfecting our product on printed pages with the occasional innovative disruption in in photography, color ink, telecommunications technology, etc. Then the internet opened up a world of opportunities and then mobile took over.

“We already [think we] know the next waves of platform changes will include distributed content, bots, native social, audio, augmented reality, virtual reality, IRL reality, IoT. But no matter what the particular directions of technology and audiences, there will be a certain need for publishers to more carefully and thoughtfully approach this changing world by learning from each other.”

“More than ever, it feels as if we’re strapped into the middle seat on a roller coaster. It’s a bumpy ride, and we can only see a little bit of what’s ahead — and we’re not even remotely in control,” said Dan Petty, a senior editor at The Denver Post. “Every three to six months, we have to re-evaluate and pivot on strategy for reaching increasingly fickle audiences. You don’t much confidence that the audience you have today from these platforms will be there tomorrow.”

Will Facebook and Snapchat still be around in a few years? Yes. But they could exist in forms wildly different formats than what we are familiar with today. The important thing for publishers to keep in mind is that ultimately they service their audience, not the platforms.

While publishers who are able to seize the power of distributed content will ultimately fare better in the post-homepage world, users (or readers) should always come first.

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