DI Tour midweek update: From CNN’s “war room” to a train to Boston

Here, Cobus Heyl highlights some (of many) discussion points during meetings at the Content Council and Imprint, Atavist, CNN, Domino Media and Quartz (read the day one highlights here).

Real-time data is crucial to decision-making

One of the most impressive sights so far on the DI Tour was the digital team and CNN Money’s so-called “war room” with several screens with different sets of real-time data informing editorial decisions (much, much more than editorial gut feel), using a variety of analytics and data tools, some external, some customised and some proprietary.

CNN Money's war room ()

Above: CNN Money’s “War Room”

The front desk includes a multi-platform editor (essentially looking at content across the web, tablet and mobile), a social media editor and data scientist. The team continuously checks performance against KPI’s – “we know the metrics we want to achieve in every key period of the day, every day, and every week to achieve targets set for the month.”

(Really) long-form content can work

Conventional wisdom is that the web has led to short attention spans; therefore content has to be kept snackable and compact. This is not wrong, but conversations at Atavist, a startup with magazine and long-form software platform, and Quartz, the mobile-first business news site, reminded that long-form content can work.

At the one end of the “success” spectrum there are stories of below 500 words, and at the other end truly long-form content upwards of as much as 8,000 words (up to 20,000 and even more in some cases, we were told at Atavist).

Bear in mind that design is an important part of the storytelling process, and is especially crucial with longer form. The web is visual and images, charts and so forth adds tremendous value, white space is important and clutter is out.

Quartz staff DI Tour 2015 ()

Above: Quartz’s Jay Lauf, publisher, and Kevin Delaney, co-founder and editor in chief

Engineers and editors (and ad sales)

I mentioned this in the update after day one of the DI Tour (read it here), but subsequent meetings also highlighted the trend: bringing editorial, analytics, developer and design people together in nimble teams, working together alongside one another to fully exploit opportunities every minute may bring (this applies to ad sales too).

A/B testing content

This does not only apply to, say, new product rollouts or for example testing newsletter subject lines. This should happen on websites too (in once instance, the group were told of story headline tests every 20 minutes). For sites operating at scale with a lot of user sharing of content, for example, a swing of even a few percentage points can have high impact on overall performance.

Commerce loves content, and print

Weaving content and ecommerce together works, and publishers, particularly those in strong verticals, have an advantage over generalist ecommerce sites thanks to the rich content they already own, and which can be leveraged in various and dynamic ways across multiple platforms. 

Domino is a content-meets-ecommerce startup, with printed magazine (the print brand was briefly shut down by Condé Nast), and one example of such a business. And for those with a love of print, according to Cliff Sirlin, co-founder and CEO of Domino the printed magazine is the “most important branding tool we have.”

To go native with your content on FB (and others) or not

A question raised in many a meeting was how publishers view Facebook’s reported plans of hosting publisher content natively on its platform (rather than linking out of FB to the publisher site).

The general consensus is of course to distribute content across as many channels and platforms as where your users (or potential users might be), but there is mostly a wait-and-see attitude to see the terms of any potential FB plans, and the upside on offer for publishers. 

But remember, Facebook is only one – albeit an important one – of your distribution platforms/channels, and will therefore in most cases be only one part of the overall strategy. The question of whether to host your content native or not is therefore not the be all and end all of all questions.

Branded content labels work?

Every publisher the group met with in NYC emphasised clear delineation of branded content from editorial content (including having different teams for each type). One interesting observation was that, contrary to what some might belief, clear labelling of such content actually leads to higher engagement with the content than if not clearly labelled.

The content marketing opportunity

According to research by The Content Council, only 33 per cent of marketers in US believed partnerships with established media were important, compared to 56.7 per cent now and 70.3 per cent believing it will be 2 years from now. Additionally, one of brands’ biggest challenges highlighted in the research was creating engaging content, which is of course publishers’ strength. The opportunity for publishers is therefore “considerable.”

The founders of Imprint, a content marketing agency, were ex-executives at well-known publishing groups, when they spotted the opportunity to create a content marketing agency, distributing content across platforms and brand channels. The following are the key, recurring steps in their content approach with clients: (1) Develop the content strategy, (2) plan the output, (3) create the content, (4) share it and (5) measure its performance. Has a familiar ring to it, right.

Next stop: Boston

On Wednesday afternoon we got on a train in NYC for a 3.5-hour journey to Boston, where we will visit Nieman Lab, Thought Industries, MIT Media Lab, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Longitude Media and Google in Boston.

The DI tour is an extension of FIPP, VDZ and eMediaSF’s successful Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin. This year’s DI Tour (with 25 participants) visits companies in New York and Boston, the USA, from 20-25 April.

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