The traditional media industry has lost its monopoly on the mass production and distribution of content. Sensing an opportunity, companies have leapt at the chance to become publishers themselves. They lack the editorial DNA developed over decades in the media business, and they need to learn the art of reaching and pleasing the audience.
A corporation entering the publishing world has the same challenges as for a commercial publisher. What does the audience actually value? Will providing it be of benefit to me as a publisher? And how do I make sure they get to see it in numbers large enough to justify the cost in the overall marketing budget?
Deciding what audiences actually value is an extraordinarily difficult proposition. But there are at least two areas where there are signs of audience interest–genuine pieces of thought leadership and invitations to respond on social media and elsewhere.
The audience sees value in high-quality thought leadership because it delivers useful information in an engaging fashion. Maybe it has a directly actionable recommendation or insight, or it is the kind of piece that journalists wish they had thought of themselves. It is not a rehash of common knowledge, or a statement of the obvious and uninteresting. It is original and interesting and leads the audience somewhere. And occasionally, it can take a risk and say something controversial, or make a stand on something the company believes in.
The media world has set the agenda for corporate publishers with something that modern media has become, with no small amount of irony, actually rather adept at provoking a response and doing so by using some of the very threats to its existence–the internet and social media–to widen its audience and deepen its interaction with them. So just as Twitter competes head on with instant news media, it is a great spreader of original content produced by all sorts of different media companies. And Facebook has turned into a forum where genuinely substantive conversations can be had with audiences around big topics.
Of course events and conferences have always played a similar role, allowing for the audience to get closer to the idea formers and leaders. But even here the format has had to change to allow the audience much greater participation. It is impossible to imagine now the kind of conference where the audience has a series of one-way presentations or keynotes inflicted upon them without the chance for their voice to be heard.
Yet this is what a lot of corporate publishing amounts to–efforts to be heard, but not to listen. Or it is material designed for another format–what works and becomes viral on Facebook is very different to what excites in longer form. But as the media has found, listening and responding is a worthwhile exercise, and so is making content fit the platform.
For corporate publishers, it is not just a question of pleasing the audience. It is a matter of building the audience, of spending enough on amplification and on creating content which will work over a series of platforms because you can be sure that your audience is not all in the same place or on the same device. And while I would be the last person to suggest that corporates take business advice on running their companies from the media model, there are valuable lessons to be learned in both what constitutes good content and where to put it. See, media is relevant.
Graham Davis heads the Economist Group’s Thought Leadership & Events businesses in Asia Pacific.
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