Newsrewired is just two weeks away. On the day, industry experts will share their insights into new approaches to building readership and business models.
To that end, our keynote speaker is Dmitry Shishkin, former digital development editor, BBC World Service where he spent 20 years of his career. Ten months ago, Shishkin changed course on his career as he became chief content officer of a new travel media startup called Culture Trip, where he leads a team of 100 in-house editorial staff who are supported by around 600 freelance contributors around the world.
At Newsrewired, he will talk about his 'full-funnel commissioning process' - a model of using data to identify reader demands specific to a region, commissioning local expertise to produce content based on that data, and in doing so, converting those readers into paying consumers.
Journalism.co.uk spoke to Shishkin about the value of capturing audience's attention and delivering personalised content before and during their travels, the potential of automation to enhance the process and what the news industry can learn from his early success.
Q As chief content officer, this was a role created for you when you joined Culture Trip. What were you hired to introduce and what are you working on now?
By the time I came to Culture Trip, it was already developing this taxonomy of what we call 'content products'. This is a beautiful world of content that is structured in a very product-focused way. Each of these effectively satisfies a particular user need at every stage of a trip cycle. What we are doing is about merging together content and product, and everything is underlined by data and business intelligence - and in the future of machine learning and automation.
Doing this, we will become very sophisticated in commissioning, but we will also introduce automated methods of commissioning. We will be able to say 'I know from data that in this particular city, this particular content works ten times better than any other particular content - so actually, we need more of that - whereas in other cities, something completely different works'. This approach is in the works.
Q Can you give me a typical example of this full-funnel commissioning model?
A typical media organisation does a special report on a particular subject six to ten times a year - and it presents something which is different from your day to day bread and butter coverage. So take, for example, Pride and the 50 year anniversary of Stonewall riots.
We created content about LGBTQ travel, inspirational content around from around the world. But actually at the same time, we are recommending hotels which are specifically LGBTQ friendly and have been recommended by people who really love them'.
I come from the news industry and know what it is like to read a report from somebody who actually lives in the country versus somebody who comes for three days. So the same thing here: you want to connect with people who understand that city and who really can show you off the beaten track.
Q When you talk about data that is underpinning the funnel, what data are you specifically looking at?
We need to respond to what people are searching for, so we are very strong on search. Depending on the size of the city, we are quite sophisticated in terms of how many 'content products' are enough to fuel a city: that might be 100 or ten.
That means that you need to write: 'Why go to Cape Town?' 'How to spend one day in Cape Town', 'Best's day trips from Cape Town'. But you also need, 'Best hostels in Cape Town', 'Best urban B&Bs in Cape Town', 'Best romantic hotels in Cape Town' - and everything in between.
Q What have you learned so far in your 10 months with Culture Trip?
For anybody who has worked in a media organisation, you would be quite exposed to search engine optimisation and how you would write a headline differently.
But we can see it in action here as sometimes our articles actually outperform Wikipedia, where Google will select our article for a snippet on a particular topic. You can see that actually an article jumped from the bottom of page one into a snippet only because you have changed something in a meta headline. Small, incremental changes work incredibly well.
Q Just how valuable is this evergreen content?
Our data that shows us the content even created in 2016 and 2017 is equally useful to people than content to create in 2019 - as long as it is is not a recommendation for restaurants, for example, as they need to be regularly updated.
But here comes our nascent Content Maintenance Strategy, where we segment every single piece of content into earlier mentioned 'content products'. Then you almost like have an expiry date for every one of them. 'Why go to Moscow' can live for five years easily. You do not need to do anything with it. But actually 'Cool Moscow neighbourhoods' will live for maybe three years maybe because new neighbourhoods will come up.
Automation, AI and machine learning will help with this because then we do not need to spend too much time sifting through content as it can be lifted out and given to you.
Q What does your journey at Culture Trip actually mean for the news industry?
If I were to listen to myself talking five years ago when I was working as a journalist, I would have found a remarkable number of similarities and actions I could take, like treating your product and content similarly. Your user experience and the way you package content to people is equally important is to what you write about.
Or, how you work with local contributors. Do you have some kind of different approach on what they do for you and do you pay them differently? If their content actually does something for your site differently, do you commission something different for them? Do you remember?
Also length of content. Do your SEO colleagues tell you about the how long a piece should be? Normally, people tend to pay a lot of attention to what the headline should be, but the duration of your piece compared to your competitors is equally important as well. Do people really think about it? I do not think so.
Q What can Newsrewired delegates expect from your keynote speech and what do you hope to impart on them?
I want to inspire people to realise that actually the world is very big and there are lots opportunities there. We all work in this content creation sector - some in news, some not in news - but actually the underpinning methodology of capturing audience's attention is the same.
Dmitry Shishkin delivers his keynote speech at newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Don't miss your chance to bag your ticket as spaces are running out. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets
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