The notion of a tipping point is cliché, but something is going on. Only the other day I saw a banner on a used car showroom saying “Follow us on Twitter”. What was once the domain of the tech wonks is now mainstream. Social media will become the key growth component of traffic marketing and developing user engagement. Watch all those SEO agencies transform themselves into social media marketing experts!
Of course the problem with social media is that it’s not a business – not even for Twitter – so for media companies learning how to do social media, it is a culling issue. Fail to do it and you will die. Get into it, and you are still in the game. Social media is not a panacea for anything, but its use has become an essential part of the marketing mix. There will be a gradual change in approach though. The current fashion for collecting as many followers as possible (look at @piersmorgan trying to get 100,000 followers in as short a time as possible) will be slowly replaced by ultra-niche targeting – perhaps not for consumers tracking celebrities, but certainly for serious business users.
Nobody gets very excited about print advertising these days. There is a growing realisation amongst those I talk to, that it is not the Internet ad model which has disappointed, but that rather it has shown up how overpriced and over-rated print advertising always was. In the Internet world, if I spend £2000 on ad words I might expect to reach half a million contextually relevant users and know that my ad has appeared on a page those people were looking at. In print I could spend that on an ad in a magazine with 50 other ads all trying to get the attention of a few tens of thousands of readers. I know that many will argue that the print and online ad experience is not really comparable (where is the brand building in online/ the difference between a lean back and lean forward experience etc) but the pricing difference is too big to be explained away by such nebulus concepts) .
Of course the Internet doesn’t have to pay the costs to cut down trees and put ink on them, but advertisers don’t care. They just want ROI. In 2011 the notion of advertising will go back to its roots. It will be about the means by which a vendor can get their message in front of a relevant person at a relevant time in an engaging way. Just as television is about to allow product placement in the UK, marketers will use ever more ingenious ways of influencing engaged users through content.
We are only at the beginning of this story. Calling something a paywall is like calling every kind of shot in football a kick. There are as many ways to charge for content as there are ways to kick a ball. In 2011 the industry will move on from arguing about pay or free and start thinking about what the best way to engage and monetise an audience might be. The key metric will be ARPU. The answer to that question will certainly have a content debate at the heart of it. What kind of content can be charged for? Does pretty packaging (IPad) mean you can charge less or more? Why should content cost more than an app? Is an app content? What is the value price for my content, and is that sufficient to cover my costs? So in 2011 the debate (perhaps starting at our Paywalls Strategies conference on February 24th) will grow up.
Traditional Media Companies
Most have had a better year in 2010, not least because 2009 was so awful the comparisons are easy to beat. Most of the industry leaders we have met and interviewed in the last few months seem to have a good handle on where their businesses need to go, but not enough of them are moving fast enough and some are still fearful of taking any action which may destabilise the legacy business.
In 2011 we will see an acceleration in development spend and action from the traditional media companies. Yes, there will be more sell offs and closures, but the direction of travel will become clear. What is uncertain is whether they all move fast enough down the road before they are overtaken by new players.
The New New Thing
If we have learned anything about the Internet economy it is that it moves faster than most organisations ability to adapt. Our internal view at Briefing Media, is that the coming thing is curation. It is a topic that has been bubbling under for a year or two and has begun to be more mainstream in 2010, with a couple of conference events and some interesting online debate from many quarters on both sides of the Atlantic. The premise of curation (it is not aggregation), is that some kinds of content are more valuable and useful if they are organised and contextualised. The very essence of curation is that although technology plays a part, human editing is vital. That’s why we spend a lot of time improving our taxonomy, making it unique to our community needs.
Why does curation matter? In a world where the quantity of information only ever expands the need for specialist content sets, sophisticated disambiguation and taxonomy grows. The more specialist the topic, the more important some human expertise becomes. There seems little doubt that users will be drawn to well executed curation solutions to enhance the relevancy of their content consumption. Where users go media companies will surely follow. In 2011 we expect Briefing Media to launch in more verticals (that’s inside knowledge for you!) but we also expect other media companies to experiment with content curation tools and deployments too.
“We are all journalists now,” say the enthusers of the world of citizen journalism. That must mean there is an oversupply of content. And that means the price falls. Try writing for Demand Media and you will quickly learn the harsh economics of content oversupply. If for the first time in history, everyone can write something and publish it themselves, without pay, what is the future for the professional journalist? Now, let’s not get sentimental about the Sunday Times Insight team or Bernstein and Woodward, as if the demise of investigative journalism is the issue. Most journalists are working hacks, and I mean that as a complement. It’s not about world changing scoops (although we would all love one), its about covering your beat with vigour for the truth, balance and integrity. It is about building a suite of content that keeps readers coming back to you over and over again. The future for journalism has never been brighter. Journalists have more tools at their disposal than ever before, blogs, video, audio, social media. Research has never been easier to do badly (over reliance on Wikipaedia!) but by the same argument it has never been easier to do it well.
In 2011 the edges around the definition of what distinguishes a journalist from other content creators will become sharper. He or she will be a curator of their beat with all that entails.
Happy New Year to you all.