A report released today from the International News Media Association (INMA) explores how stories are distributed online, within what has become a mobile and platform-dominated media.
The report, written by Grzegorz Piechota, a 2016 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, aims to inform the strategic considerations of news organisations when publishing their work on social media, and to help them avoid losing the ground from under their feet as social networks increasingly influence the way audiences discover news.
Here are five highlights from the report:
1. For audiences, social media has become the internet
If the smartphone is increasingly the device of choice for people who want to access news, with Facebook Instant Articles, Google Accelerated Mobile Pages and Snapchat Discover offering just a few of the opportunities for audiences to read stories on the go, the report notes that social media and mobile must become the main focus of publishers' digital strategies.
Additionally, today’s decisions on commercial dealings with Facebook or Google will shape future business models, altering the revenue opportunities for publishers in years to come – a point which some in the media industry are already voicing concerns over.
2. Keep in mind how platforms are using your data
The report highlights the importance of looking beyond what platforms can do for the media now, and thinking about their initiatives regarding the use of the data they receive from audience interactions with stories – future competition might be about services built upon this data rather than just content itself.
Therefore, publishers need to think about the core capabilities they do not wish to outsource, as it may limit their ability to innovate in the future – building new products or meaningfully improving existing ones.
3. Set a strategy with end goals from the beginning
As news organisations experiment with what type of content works best on different social platforms, it can be tempting to publish a range of material to measure how the audience reacts – but throwing content online without an end game is not a strategy at all, the study highlighted.
Whatever the publisher is trying to achieve, they need to set clear goals and measures beforehand to evaluate results later on. As Piechota points out, "there is no 'one size fits all' end game for partnerships with internet giants".
Although accurately measuring the success of distributed content is a problem all publishers currently struggle with, Piechota suggests an end game either based on prioritising growth focused on earning revenues through native advertising, or prioritising learning through experimentation but with little impact on the company’s main business model and strategy.
4. News organisations can learn what to, or what not to do from BuzzFeed
BuzzFeed's distribution strategy sees stories and videos published to 45 different platforms, channels and apps, allowing it to constantly develop its output.
Although best known for viral videos and entertainment stunts, the publisher's business model is highly sophisticated, with key partnerships with digital platforms and strong value propositions for users, platforms and advertisers.
The report said that this may not be an equal opportunity for every publisher as BuzzFeed can go beyond creating stories optimised for different platforms.
It has access to capital that allows aggressive international growth, which it can pursue by running its own creative agency focused on native advertising, and offering social media campaign management to other agencies and advertisers.
5. 'Cooperative competition' is inevitable
Another key finding from INMA's research is the importance of competition among publishers to protect their own interests. But at the same time they should stand together to propose and support regulations that deal with common problems they might experience.
"We need to create transparent fora for having a serious discussion about whether and how news publishers may cooperate with platforms to create new markets, share risks or knowledge, and establish standards," Piechota wrote in the report.
Potential areas of suggested collaboration include setting technology standards and accountability mechanisms for algorithms that govern platform feeds.
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