In Content We Trust

Mainstream news brands are going through a hugely disruptive transition brought about by internet-driven changes in audience and consumer behaviour. Publishing companies must successfully negate this ‘transition hell’ to emerge as relevant in the new paradigm as they have been in the past. Yet when it comes to mainstream news media, the Mark Twain saying, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” holds some sway, for the trusted brand is still the go-to brand, even though people now get their news across many different platforms.


Today people’s online behaviour sees them using all sorts of sources for alerting of content; Twitter, RSS feeds, daily email updates and other digital natives. Day to day discussion or celebrity news is now commoditised - often Twitter or Google News directs readers to it, but the moment a really big story breaks, people head straight back to mainstream media and their trusted brands; because brands like the ABC, The Age or The Australian will check the source and verify its legitimacy. From there, the news cycle starts gathering momentum.


A good example was the death of Osama Bin Laden. Long before the President’s live announcement, a Pakistani computer programmer tweeted the raid. But the story only became widely known an hour later when CBS news producer Jill Scott confirmed the rumor followed by CNN and the New York Times. Here, ABC online and The Australian’s website received a spike in page-views as traffic exploded on Twitter and Facebook, then TV news, newspapers and radio spiked and continued to trend days later. Likewise, as Hurricane Sandy swept toward New York recently, trusted brands were quick to verify that graphic online images of a tidal wave crashing from The Hudson onto Manhattan were false, returning the parameters of the reporting to fact.


There are now more platforms than ever from which people can get news and information in an amazing array of formats and styles. While choice has increased exponentially, and newer communications platforms such as Facebook and Twitter capture massive audiences, older formats still command significant audiences too.


Much of this is thanks to product diversity. Media organisations now tailor content to suit what their audience is seeking in each particular format of news as people gather information from more and more sources; they are reading newspapers for one style of news, checking websites for different types of news and listening to radio or watching television for another style of news. Then social media is introduced, largely referencing all the other forms of news and recirculating them to friends and followers, occasionally bringing new information to the conversation.

Our research shows that not all news sources are relying more and more on a single source, as some experts predicted, with many mainstream media organisations diversifying their content. Many newspapers - often those not monetising content behind pay walls - share little content with their own websites, with the newspaper version focusing more on local stories and longer form news, while the website focuses on breaking news, entertainment and video content. We are all accessing far more information in far more ways and clever news organisations have refined and differentiated their offerings for many who are accessing four or five different platforms in a single day.

New behaviours have arrived. And to meet their demands, companies with a great brand but who are in ‘transition hell’ will be aided by technology; mobile is the fastest growing of all platforms, reflected by enormous smart-phone uptake. The mobile web is growing eight times faster than the desktop was growing at the same stage of its existence and global news organisations stream a constant feed to handsets and tablets. Thanks to brand trust, users of mobility devices go to established news sites more than anywhere else and usage time on those platforms is higher today than ever before.

However, the quickest way to lose that trust is to keep sacking journalists, because the more that happens, the sooner the journalist’s brand will become bigger than the masthead itself, especially in today’s content-tailored world. The Business Spectator online is an Australian example - Kohler and co took their individual brands and proved through their recent sale to News Limited that people were interested in the journalists not the masthead.

That’s the tipping point, the danger through transition. Hence the reality that publishers may close down the printing presses and lose printed newspapers from Monday to Friday is preferable to sacking the journalists and losing the great story to which they’ve brought credibility. If you lose too much of your thought bank you simply end up commoditising.

What’s more, the unique voice of traditional media companies now has to compete with the rising tide of social media. Where previously news was from one to many, today the conversation is passed from many to many. With social media still in its infancy, there are challenges ahead for all brands, across all sectors. In more advanced markets, brands want people to engage in a two way conversation; they are getting people to play games, sample product online, take part in bespoke activities and use redeemable rewards that translate from online to in-store.

In Australia we’re still on the first page, which is social media reach – aiming to attract people to brand sites and get ‘likes’. We need to go to the second page which is collaboration. From there the challenge becomes knowing how people came to you; when people come to you by word of mouth, the trust is strongest and you are more likely to become engaged. So we are back to trust, the online currency. You won’t give away credit card or any other details if you don’t trust.

For transitioning media companies to get through to the other side, these are the problems they will have to face down. The technology is going to get there and the people will come – but if you wreck your brand by killing the strength of the journalism and hence the content, then you’ve got nothing left.


John Croll, CEO, Sentia Media