Many people puzzle over how to prosper online and now a leaked internal report from the New York Times provides useful insight on "digital health."
Some of the key insights include the need to go find your audience, the value of fresh content and the importance of packaging your material. There also is a section on drawing back the curtains on your operation to establish a more personal connection with viewers. Perhaps the most fundamental insight is that digital outreach will flounder without a clear strategy.
None of these insights represent radical revelations. But they add weight to the importance of these actions to digital success based on the direct, high-profile experiences of one of the major digital content generators in the nation.
If the New York Times can't fetch viewers without trying, you can imagine how difficult the task is for most organizations and bands pursuing a content marketing strategy.
News organizations of the caliber of the Times have lots of reporters chasing stories all over the world and posting original content, sometimes in the form of breaking news, often as more in-depth analysis and in longer, more feature-oriented formats. Compared to most publications, print or online, it is swimming in fresh content. And yet fresh content is just part of the puzzle. By itself, fresh, even great content isn't enough to draw an audience.
In the digital world, it is becoming more apparent that excellent packaging of content is critical to attracting and retaining attention. Packaging can take multiple forms. Stories with a common subject or geography might be grouped. Stories with complex details may have illustrations to highlight key points. Certain kinds of stories might be aggregated to fit the interests of individual viewers.
Packaging is about making the viewer's job easier and holding their attention longer. This personalization of content could be the most important aha moment of the report, signaling a trend that leverages the enormous capacity of technology to sort, select and serve up content that suits a viewer's taste. This is the exact opposite of the old mass media days when editors decided what you would read by what they put in the paper. Now viewers decide what to read and editors need to play catch up.
Being "out there" just to be out there can turn out to be a galactic waste of time, resources and money. Playing in the digital game demands a strategy if you want to achieve some level of success. Digital strategy may not be pure science, but it certainly is a lot more than pure intuition.
An element of strategy is self-promotion. Reporters and editors today are expected to promote their stories on social media and as talking heads. It isn't enough to let your work "speak for itself."
The struggle the New York Times faces is similar to what many newspapers and other traditional media face. Their survival rests largely on how well they conquer the daunting challenges of a digital world that has raised the stakes while leveling the table. On any given day, the millions spent by the Times to capture digital mind share can be trumped by someone with smartphone in Pakistan sending video of a terrorist attack on a village.
We all have a lot to learn and thankfully the Times, perhaps unwittingly, gave us a valuable lesson in our own digital struggle.