Digital media: Where to invest?August 8, 2012 - Everyone agrees: digital is important in b-to-b publishing. It's the way most people consume media today. But with such a wealth of options available -- e-newsletters, mobile apps, tablet magazines, digital editions, video series, webcasts, not to mention the multitude of social media platforms -- what should a b-to-b media company invest in, and how do you decide? ABM talked to Toni Nevitt and Jeff Miller, two digital media industry leaders and members of ABM's Digital Media Council, to get their take.
ABM: In the past, there was a lot of talk about the digital transformation, moving from print to digital. Now observers say we are in the "execution phase." Do you agree?
Toni Nevitt, president, eMediaAdvantage: People are in the execution stage but they are still not doing things to the level that their audiences will respond to. Finally people have realized that they have to pay attention to digital because that's where the audience is. I think more than just focusing on digital, companies need to understand and execute a multiplatform strategy. You have to be everywhere.
Jeff Miller, director of custom media, WATT: Absolutely. But the pitfall in the execution stage is that you have to be very careful in how you do it. How we approach it at WATT is "a flexible transition stage," meaning that we are constantly evaluating what our plan is and how we move forward. We're in the process of really re-organizing the way that we present content in our two major portals. We made a decision on the strategy side to have business editors be solely responsible for certain portions of content publishing. When we make that decision on the strategy side, the execution means that we have to reorganize the way that we display the content to our audience -- how we revamp the site. Once we complete that stage, the work doesn't stop there. We are constantly evaluating how our audience engages with our content on the website and that gives us the data to make tweaks as we move forward.
The next stage: measurement. With the vast majority of our information distributed digitally, we are constantly looking at the metrics: how the audience engages, what articles are being read on the newsletter, how much traffic that's putting back to the website, what keywords and/or phrases are being used to find our content. Our editors are being evaluated, and how they are judged is by how much readership they are gaining. You can't improve what you can't measure.
ABM: What should the priorities be with a digital strategy? What strategies or products offer the biggest ROI today?
Nevitt: One of the things that traditional media companies grapple with is that they tend to look at some of these other platforms through a print lens and tackle them they way they would tackle workflow for a print magazine -- that doesn't work. You really need to adopt a more customer-centric view, customer being the audience, and try to understand what's important to them. Where do they go for information and how can you play in the space? What is the white space that you can fill? You have to give them something unique to make them want to come to you as opposed to your competitors. Look at where people are consuming information in your market -- whether it's live events, e-newsletter, website, mobile apps, print. Figure out a way to cost-effectively deliver against all the platforms.
The ROI isn't always money. If you are looking to build an audience, how do you use social media to do that? How do you start to turn unknown people into known people? You can't just say, "Oh, we need to have an app." Well, what's the purpose of an app? How are you going to capitalize on that? Maybe it's mobile ads, maybe you'll garner new folks, or you'll be able to reach people because your market is truly one where people aren't sitting at their desks in an office environment. You need to get into the habits of your users. Your market and customer habits really dictate the level of investment you need to make on different platforms. If you're serving retail establishments, you know the people aren't sitting at their desks. If you're serving farmers, you know that they are out in the field. So you should have some sort of push-alert system to access via mobile phone. You have to figure out how they like to consume it and put it on those platforms. And if there's critical mass there, then you are able to monetize it.
Miller: That varies on each company's strategy. Here at WATT we knew that social media was going to be a big driver of engagement and we can use that as a leverage to gain audience. So we invested in social media a few years ago, quite heavily. We moved responsibilities from our current editor; now she is solely in charge of our social media channel. In my opinion, if you don't have someone dedicated to that sector full-time then you're missing the boat. You truly have to have someone that lives, eats and breathes that spectrum and is really is passionate about it. Have a strategy that drives more traffic and engagement. We're not doing social media because it's in vogue. We're doing it because it provides a sincere lift on our overall corporate objectives.
ABM: In the future, where do you think the greatest ROI will be? What is up-and-coming and will be necessary in the future?
Nevitt: The smart folks need to really need to figure out how mobile is going to work for them. I'm talking about making sure their sites are optimized, making sure that have replicas or tablet versions of their magazines, deciding whether there are apps or tools or push-products their audience can consume. Mobile allows you to not be tied to a place, and I think that's going to be huge going forward especially with the next generation.
Miller: I use the term "digitize once and publish often." What that means is once we have content created in our CMS, we have to have the ability to push that out in all the channels that we have, and make sure that information renders properly, is displayed elegantly for our readers and users. I use the term "users" because more and more of our audience are not only reading our content but they are looking at videos, they are listening to podcasts, they are attending webinars, going to live events. I don't think that one stands out for us. We are playing in all the different channels.
You have to be very bold and not afraid to fail. There are some of our programs that, from a management point of view, has not succeeded. We've learned, in our culture of measurement, that if it's not meeting the objectives that we have outlined in the time frame that we designated, we pull the plug and move forward. Be bold, not afraid to fail and constantly innovating with new products.
By Elizabeth A. Reid