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From editor to transaction editor: Redefining editorial roles for a digital-first world

It’s no secret that many magazine editors tend to write about topics and developments they consider as important or newsworthy. They offer their audience information. And they hope that the audience is willing to use this information and to pay for it.

This model made sense years ago when editors acted as gatekeepers in a non-digital world. Today, it is hopelessly ineffective because the readers’ access to information is free and unlimited on a variety of channels.

Therefore, we are changing the job description of our editors. We expect more from them than just to be an editing expert. We demand from every editor to trigger transactions. His or her content should not dissolve in a reader’s mind, the content should provoke the reader to interact with us, the content or a third party.

For example: the reader could download more information, sometimes paid, sometimes free. Through our content he will learn how to book a congress ticket or attend a webinar. He can buy items through our ecommerce shop because we link content with commerce. He can subscribe to one of our newsletters. Or he can simply follow the links we offer to spend more time on our blogs, portals or on our ecommerce platform.

Accordingly, our editor’s work is not done when someone reads an article, it is done when there’s a (re)action that we can measure. To emphasise this enhanced requirement, we renamed the job title to ‘transaction editor’.

Of course, this change comprises more than a simple rebranding. It includes a broader skill-set and a different approach towards communication. Here is what we are asking for:

A transaction editor has to analyse before he starts covering a topic. He has to use tools like Searchmetrics, Google Adplaner and Google Trends to detect and understand the audience’s interests as well as to find relevant related topics and online traffic patterns. His main question should not only be “What is topical?” but “What is my audience looking for?”. He has to meet a quantifiable demand instead of just doing reporting that cannot be measured.

A transaction editor will not follow the old publishing mode of “print and forget”. His work is not done when the magazine is published. He is responsible for the widespread content distribution through all touch points and channels; this publishing mode can be described as “write and reuse”. The transaction editor has to spread content through the magazine, our portals and blogs, newsletters, tablet editions, smartphone apps, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, sometimes LinkedIn; he has to re-bundle content and offer it again as e-specials or even as printed briefings. He has to use every channel that reaches the target group. In certain cases, the original post will end being used more than 10 times in 10 different versions, but all with the same core message.

A transaction editor will define the distribution policy for the content in advance. At the very beginning, he must start to plan deliberately with large content schedules. Consequently, he will shape his article or blog post in a way that allows the different parts to be seamlessly used across all channels. Every content contains so-called ‘Minimum Information Units’ (MIU) which can be used independently from the whole package – for example lists, pictures, infographics, interviews or simply single aspects oftentimes can easily be isolated from the rest even though the original article might have been a very long post.

The challenge a transaction editor has to face is to create contextual relevancy. The reader should be guided to use different MIUs that correlate. Accordingly, he will not bundle all information into one package. Deliberately, he will create separate pieces.

When the content creation is done, the transaction editor has to exploit every available channel according to the content schedule. The internet has turned editors into marketers who are responsible for their content. Most of our evergreen content is live for years, nowadays. Therefore we not only ask to “write and reuse”. We amplify our strategy: “write and market it”. 

The transaction editor’s job is not only gaining broad access to the target group. A broad reach is only the foundation. The job is to trigger a transaction. To reach this goal the editor has to consider some more aspects while a story is being written: are there related information pieces he can offer as one or more downloads? Will it make sense to connect the content directly with items in our ecommerce shop? How can we interlink all MIUs to guide the reader towards a deeper understanding and longer time spent with our media? Is the topic relevant enough to develop a webinar that could be marketed together with every distributed MIU?

If all these steps have been completed, the transaction editor will measure the effects of all actions he is taking. From a corporate perspective, we benchmark this approach throughout the whole company to discover best practice patterns and to compare our units against each other.

Obviously, the whole process is digital-centric. Strong call-to-action elements can only be placed in a digital environment. “Download now!”, “get your free ebook!” or “subscribe here!” – these elements make only sense in the right context at the right time. Print is still a strong foundation and may be a centrepiece of establishing any editorial brand’s reputation, but a transaction friendly-environment certainly is not paper based.

We are a niche publisher. We produce B2B products, B2C platforms and special interest information. Our business is targeted at specific target groups that we can analyse in-depth. We are not in the daily news business. We do not cover broad consumer topics. We do not talk about celebrities, fashion trends or the latest tech gadgets. Certainly, our business approach cannot be adapted to every publisher. But if your business is covering a niche or if you have a multidimensional setup that covers many niches, then you should definitively think about incorporating more transaction elements directly into your editorial process.    

A transaction editor has to master more skills than a traditional editor. He has to be a good writer. He has acquired direct marketing skills. He has to be a good data analyst. He knows SEO, SEM, SMO, mobile optimisation, website architecture and digital strategy. He has a very deep knowledge of social media. He can produce and present podcasts, slideshows and videos. We consider this skill-set as indispensable for all our future editors. Just reporting is not enough any more.

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