How quickly does the news industry change?

Here are some of the recent changes…

The potential of personalisation

How much could personalisation increase engagement?

Here is my best guess at engagement for 100 stories on a typical news homepage. (I estimate that relevant stories have a CTR of 15% as opposed to 10%).

  • 30 stories relevant tag/category. 4.5 interesting
  • 70 stories not relevant. 7 interesting
  • TOTAL: 11.5 interesting

With a mix of personalisation and curated:

  • 60 stories relevant tag/category. 9 interesting
  • 40 stories not relevant. 4 interesting
  • TOTAL: 13 interesting

That’s an increase of 13%. I’ll update the numbers as i continue to gather data.

 

Why growing products is so complex – part 2

My last post talked about the complexity we face. This post gives 7 ways we can turn that complexity to our advantage.

1. Audiences are complex. We can gain an advantage if we can get feedback from real users faster than our competitors do.

science-and-sensibility

2. Our product faces tough competition. We can outflank our competitors if we prioritize more ruthlessly than them.

3. Technology is complex. Don’t think, “we’ll figure out the requirements and then throw it over to the tech team”.

We can beat our competitors by being more collaborative than them. We need deep collaboration from kickoff to launch and beyond.

How do the most successful company in the world grow their products?

Because he [Jobs] believed that Apple’s great advantage was its integration of the whole widget—from design to hardware to software to content—he wanted all departments at the company to work together in parallel. The phrases he used were “deep collaboration” and “concurrent engineering.”

Instead of a development process in which a product would be passed sequentially from… design to manufacturing to marketing and distribution, these various departments collaborated simultaneously. “Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.

4. People are complicated. Think in terms of “smart creatives“, not org charts. It’s how Google out-innovate their competitors.

5. The platforms we rely on are constantly changing. That’s why we need to start thinking like a platform – how can we turn our readers from passive consumers to active co-creators?

6. Resources are scarce. It’s possible to get a degree in the allocation of scarce resources. It’s called economics. Google, Airbnb and others hire economists (detail here).

You don’t need to hire an economist, but you need someone on the team with an economics mindset.

7. Change is the only constant. This works to your advantage if you’re more adaptable than your competitors.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The six pointers above will all help your team be more adaptable. They feed into each other, something like this…

More adaptable

Beware of applying linear thinking to complex challenges.

MORE:

 

6 reasons why growing products is so complex

Product development is complex. Outcomes are unpredictable. Here are 6 reasons why.

1. A product’s success depends on it’s audience

At Metro we have millions of users who are inter-connected and who influence each other in unpredictable ways. A single influencer can make or break us on social media.

We know very little about our users. We rarely have conversations with them. We have no signups where they fill out their profile.

We have a good idea of what articles they’ll click/share, but not much idea about what product features they’ll care about.

2. Products faces tough competition.

It’s not enough for a product to be good, it has to be competitive.

We compete for Google rankings. We compete for a slot in Facebook news feeds. We compete for ad revenue. We compete to be a destination.

We compete for attention in an attention-saturated world.

3. Products rely on ever-changing platforms like Facebook and Google

The ecosystem is constantly shifting. Here are just a few of the recent shifts…

  • Facebook launched Instant Articles, Facebook Live, chatbots, and Facebook Stories. Facebook Instants is continually evolving.
  • Apple launched Apple News, then moved from RSS to JSON syndication
  • Google Search rolled out six major updates in 2016
  • Google launched AMP and it’s changing fast
  • Snapchat launched Discover
  • Google Newsstand is adding Omniture support
  • iPhone embraced adblock. Chrome is about to embrace it.

What next?

4. Technology is constantly changing

Social media changed the game. Mobile changed the game.

Riding the mobile wave increased Metro’s traffic by 161%. What’s the next wave for Metro?

There’s also a constant stream of new tech such as CrowdTangle, Bounce Exchange, Content Insights and Google Optimize.

5. People are complicated

We are biased. We have pet projects. We get caught up in company politics. We lose sight of what’s most important. Motivation can fluctuate.

For any particular product feature, we misjudge how important it is. We misjudge how much work it will take to deliver it. We forget to weigh the benefits against the costs. We forget that any day now something big is likely to pop up and derail our plans.

6. Resources are scarce

The lists of things to do is constantly getting longer. The list is infinite, and the resources available are scarce.

Audience, Competitors, Platforms, Technology, People and Scarce resources.

What’s the answer?

How can a digital media brand be successful amid all this complexity?

A good start is to realise that complexity requires a different mindset to complicated. For example, building your own house is complicated.

but a flock of starlings is complex…

(If you want to know more about complex vs complicated check out Cynefin).

We can turn this complexity to our advantage. Find out more in part 2 of this post.

The problem isn’t fake news or Facebook

There’s been a lot of noise recently about fake news being promoted by Facebook.

I believe the bigger problem is real news. It’s a more subtle problem, but also more dangerous because we consume far more real news than fake news.

I believe that this is a big opportunity for the people bold enough to tackle it.

Here are four big problems with news. (1) People look to news to make sense of the world but…

News makes it harder to understand the world, not easier

News lacks perspective.

For example, 9/11 was huge news. The news made people fear terrorism despite the fact that terrorism is actually a very minor risk.

In the UK, bees and wasps kill more people than terrorism.

In the US, there are 600,000 deaths a year from heart disease compared to 30 a year from terrorism.

2. News makes people miserable

News is negatively skewed. The Metro.co.uk homepage currently has twice as many negative stories as positive stories. Other news sites are worse.

This is despite the fact that the world is more peaceful, people are healthier, and people are materially better off than ever before in human history.

3. Information overload

We spend over 8 hours a day consuming media!

MailOnline publishes 900 articles a day!

4. News misses most of the interesting stuff

Most of the interesting content on the web is NOT news.

Most of the best stuff on YouTube, Reddit and Instagram is NOT news.

TED.com, Netflix, Time Out and Meetup.com are NOT news.

A quick recap

News misleads people, makes people miserable, overloads people and misses most of the interesting stuff out there.

The opportunity

What if there was…

  • A brand that was more interesting
  • A brand that makes you happier
  • A brand that freed up more of your time
  • A brand that makes the world clearer, rather than distorting it

There is a parallel with the fast food industry – the likes of McDonalds are being replaced by Subway and Pret. Consumers have become more savvy and now expect their food to be not just fast and tasty but healthier too.

I believe the same thing will happen to news. The first brand to figure out how will win big.

What do you think… is it time to re-invent news?

Related links

SEO has changed: 5 things you need to know

This post is based Quick Sprout’s “7 Obsolete SEO Tactics”. The underlying message: search engines have got way smarter in the last few years. Here are 5 changes you may have missed:

1. Backlinks. The quality of backlinks is more important than the quantity. Relevance matters.

2. Keywords: write for users. Writing keyword-rich text for search engines is counter-productive.

3. Content quality is more important then content quantity. Google’s Panda update started penalizing sites with a high volume of low-quality content.

4. Article quality is more important than article length. Upworthy has shown that articles with minimal text (e.g. 3 sentences) can rank highly. Upworthy focuses on video and images instead.

5. Social media impacts search rankings.

 

Does opinionated content drive traffic?

The biggest news brand in the world is MailOnline. It has a reputation for being opinionated. My hypothesis: opinions drive traffic.

I set out to test this by comparing the homepages of MailOnline, The Guardian, Metro and Buzzfeed, ranking the top 10 articles on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most opinionated)

Here are the scores (for Dec 27th, 5pm): Metro 17, MailOnline 20, Guardian 21, Buzzfeed 11. I don’t see any clear correlation between opinions and traffic.

Other comparisons…

While i was in comparison mode i looked at how emotional headlines were on Metro and MailOnline (using this headline analyzer with the “Media & comms” category). Higher scores indicate headlines that are more emotional.

I did the comparison for the top 10 homepage articles on 31st Dec. The average scores were 21.5 for Metro and 24.6 for MailOnline.