A list of developments in digital content observed at the Digital Media Strategies 2014 conference

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The Digital Media Strategies 2014 conference, organised by same company that produces The MediaBriefing, took place last week in London.

The event boasted the CEOs of the Guardian Media Group, News UK, Trinity Mirror, Financial Times Group, Future, Dennis Publishing, Immediate Media and Top Right Group plus C-suite people from BuzzFeed, Twitter, Axel Springer, Hearst, Gruner + Jahr, Business Insider, Bleacher Report and UBM.

It was a pretty formidable line-up of the leading digital content companies from the US and Europe. Yet the only characteristic companies had in common was that they were all pursuing different strategies from each other – free content v a paywall, prioritising device over sharing etc. But all the speakers were first to admit that they were building new business models, rather than reinforcing old, print ones, and did not necessarily have the answers for any other business than their own.

So what were the common observations on the development of digital content that could be gleaned from the speakers despite the variety of views.

One: Consumption on mobile growing faster than number of users

  • Mobile users (both on phone and tablet) and revenue are growing faster than predicted.
  • Users are consuming increasingly more content on mobile than deskop, according to Enders

Consumption of internet on devices v users.JPG.jpg

  •  with video on mobile (of all things) growing fastest of all, according to Enders and Business Insider.

Two: Only one approach to design

  • What your site looks like on a smart phone should be your only concern and that means a design that imitates a feed from Twitter for example.
  • To work, it needs no distractions such as banners or any other advertising or functionality.

Next gen design about feed.JPG.jpg

Three: Native advertising

Four: “Don’t get stuck in a world of banners”

  • Google, Facebook and other digital platforms are highly capitalised
  • Pressure from shareholders for a return on their capital means huge competition for the traditional inventory dollar
  • Google saw a 11% decline in advertising spend in 2013
  • One response is to put content behind paywalls

Five: how to judge the quality of content

  • Use retention of subscribers as a tangible KPI for the quality of content

Six: T-shaped

  • We all need to be skilled at both content and technology, whatever our job  or role
  • plus  one skill set or experience in addition that provides a business with real competitive depth and shows off your uniqueness 

 Seven: Share, share and share again

  • Focus like a laser on how to make your content as easy as possible to share and being really integrated into those platforms
    • not just on Google or Facebook but also Oracle and SalesForce
  • Leave these technology platforms to worry about how your content appears on which device
    • they’ve got teams and investment to deliver great mobile experience
    • don’t obsess about users reading your content on your platform
  • Look, below, at how a story on the Guardian’s website (blue) gets picked up by social (other colours) and is shared in jsut 24 hours

Guardian users following sharing.JPG.jpg

Eight: DIY innovation v partnering with innovators

  • Great ideas already exist and are probably already partly worked up – but the work is being done by a start up rather than inhouse
  • Why put the time and effort into developing in-house when you can put the time in to working as an accelerator identifying key partners with which to partner, such as German publisher Axel Springer.

Nine: don’t overlook acquisitions

  • Axel Springer is as proud of its digital content brands gained through acquisition as those grown organically.

acquisitions by Axel Springer.JPG.jpg

Ten: eCommerce is growing

  • Technology is making eCommerce more and more feasible so Gruner + Jahr, among others, are beginning to sell food products from its cookery website.

Adding an eighth to Paul Bradshaw’s seven challenges to journalists in his City University lecture “Is Ice Cream Strawberry”

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I liked the pace and imagery of Paul Bradshaw’s lecture “Is Ice Cream Strawberry? at City University last week. But I liked even more his seven challenges to journalists. I would add one more.

Bradshaw,  City University’s Visiting Professor and Online Journalism Module Leader,  has always been an outrider for journalism in a new era. I first heard him at Birmingham’s JEEcamp in 2009 where he pushed journalists to use the explosion of new technology to keep in the game.

He was as tough last week, arguing that journalists’ egos were “our biggest weaknesses”. As XCity reported,

“It is ego that leads us to report on a story without linking to our sources.

It is ego that prevents us from reading the comments on our articles and updating the original accordingly.

And it is ego that leads us to ask questions like ‘Is blogging journalism?’ or its latest variant: ‘Is Twitter journalism?’”

I am sure that many journalists, students or practitioners, find this challenging. They’ve gone in to the business when print media held the monopoly on the distribution of content. And now they find that technology allows non-journalists to compete.

But even when we’ve come to terms with that, I would have made the issue of who pays for content could have been the eighth challenge in Bradshaw’s lecture. I’m not talking just about users paying subscriptions – that is pay-walls. I’m also talking about advertisers.

Either way, journalists are going to have to put those egos aside yet again as they work out how to write for what their readers are prepared to pay or for the readers to whom advertisers want to get.

What happens to your Twitter followers when you change jobs?

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Twitter has been around long enough for some regular Twitterers to have changed jobs. If so, what happens to your Twitter followers when you change jobs?

Do all those who once followed you for your insights on one particular subject stick with you if your new job is in a different area? Or can you build up sufficient rapport with your followers so that they stick with you because of the quality of your conversation with your Twitter community? Or do they just follow so many people, the odd irrelevant one really does not matter?

I’ve asked Adrian Monck, Daniel Pearce and Edward Welsh, who’ve changed jobs recently, what happened to their followers. All three appear to think pretty much the same: as long as your Tweets are of sufficient interest and your approach to followers is not too self-conscious, followers remain remarkably loyal.

And if you’ve changed your job recently, do answer the questions yourself. There are instructions at the end of this post.

Adrian Monck is Managing Director, Communications and Media, for the World Economic Forum, the organisation which brings world leaders together to “shape global, regional and industry agendas”.

Previously he was Professor of Journalism at City University, London (see his Linkedin profile).

He Tweets @amonck.

When did you start Tweeting?

Twice. First time I just didn’t get it and gave up. 2nd time was in 2008, and since then I haven’t really stopped – which is terrible for my ratios.

How many followers did you have just before you changed jobs

I’d love to say I took notice but I didn’t really… and moving to an organisation with 1.5m followers, it all seemed like small beer. Besides, I never really pursued a follower strategy for my personal account beyond reciprocity with people who seemed real.

Did the followers belong to a defined community and, if so, what?

Couldn’t say. Mine are all sorts. Journos, media types of all shapes and sizes, and since I was followed by Michelle Malkin I get some rather wacky US conservatives. What they hope to find, goodness only knows – but life’s rich tapestry etc.

Has the subject of your Tweets changed since you changed jobs?

I have less time, so they’re a little less diverse. I’m mainly a link tweeter which makes me an anti-social social networker…

Did you change the people you followed and, if so, by what percentage?

Sorry didn’t do the math or maths…

Did you see any fall off in the number of your followers when you changed job?

Modest increases but probably percentage growth in my followers lower than twitter as a whole.

If not, why do you think it is that your original community still follows you?

It’s not really a community, more a pond. I just float on the surface with the rest of the erm… let’s call us “pond-life”!

Daniel Pearce is the editor of Travel Trade Gazette (TTG), a weekly newspaper for the UK travel industry. Previously he was managing editor of The Publican, a weekly newspaper for the UK pub and drinks industry (see his Linkedin profile).

He Tweets @DanielPearce.

When did you start Tweeting?

15 June, 2007. I was managing editor of the Publican, a business-to-business magazine for the licensed UK pub and drinks industry. After the first initial Tweet or two, I did not think I had time for such “frivolities”.

It took some cajoling at the beginning of 2009 to realise the full extent of the opportunity and to start Tweeting in earnest.

How many followers did you have just before you changed jobs?

I had 550 followers from across the pub and drinks industry, as well as some media followers (all professional, no friends – that’s not what Twitter is about for me).

Did the followers belong to a defined community and, if so, what?

Followers from across the pub and drinks industry, as well as some media followers (no friends – that’s not what Twitter is about for me).

Has the subject of your Tweets changed since you changed jobs?

Yes, I was mainly commenting on pubs and drinks, linking followers through to stories on thepublican.com. Now I mainly comment on travel issues and link to ttglive.com.

Did you change the people you followed and, if so, by what percentage?

I spent an evening, before I started the new job, going through the people I was following in the drinks and pub world and assiduously unfollowing them. I then, as assiduously, started following people in the travel industry.

Did you see any fall off in the number of your followers when you changed job?

I kept almost all my followers in the pub and drinks world and then gained a whole lot of new followers from the travel industry brining me up to 960 followers.

If not, why do you think it is that your original community still follows you?

I’ve always peppered the professional stuff with personal comments about my day and opinions on general stuff (ie the recent UK election). It’s not just a ‘hard sell’ of my professional life. And I think this sort of engaging content is the reason that I have held on to just about every one of my followers.

Edward Welsh is the Director of Corporate Affairs at the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), the body which represents train operating companies in the UK. Previously he was programme director, media and campaigns, at the Local Government Association (see his Linkedin profile). Edward wrote about his experience of Tweeting in a guest post on this blog.

He Tweets @EdwardWelsh.

When did you start Tweeting?

2 December, 2008.

How many followers did you have just before you changed jobs

About 420.

Did the followers belong to a defined community and, if so, what?

Most were people involved in local government politics, journalists and other PR people.

Has the subject of your Tweets changed since you changed jobs?

Yes, because I have switched from local government to the railways. But many of the Tweets are similar (i.e. chronicling my visits to the BBC to accompany my chief executive for an interview on the Today programme).

Did you change the people you followed and, if so, by what percentage?

I have gradually reduced the number of people who I follow from local government but probably by only around 20%.

Did you see any fall off in the number of your followers when you changed job?

To my surprise, no.

If not, why do you think it is that your original community still follows you?

I hope that they continue to follow me because, while my core subject matter is about the railways and my organisation, I Tweet about many other issues which they consider interesting.

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AND WHAT ABOUT YOU? Have you changed your job recently? Do you Tweet? Copy and paste the questions below into the comment section of this post and let others know you experience.

When did you start Tweeting?

How many followers did you have just before you changed jobs

Did the followers belong to a defined community and, if so, what?

Has the subject of your Tweets changed since you changed jobs?

Did you change the people you followed and, if so, by what percentage?

Did you see any fall off in the number of your followers when you changed job?

If not, why do you think it is that your original community still follows you?

Illustration: NodeXL Twitter Network Graphs: Social CRM by Marc_Smith.

David Cameron’s first speech as Prime Minister compared to Gordon Brown’s resignation speech

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The word “government” was the most frequently used word in David Cameron’s first speech as Prime Minster, below, surprising for a politican who campaigned so hard to cut down the size of government. (I quickly Wordled* David Cameron’s first speech as Prime Minster.)

Gordon Brown’s resignation speech, however, was dominated by the word “country” rather than “society” or “community” as you might have expected.

Is this apparent reversal of roles a sign of the “new politics”? What do you think?

UPDATE: Interesting Tweet by @danbarker pointing out that “the verbs equally interesting”.

* A Wordle is a word cloud, a visual representation of the prominence of words in any speech or article. The bigger the word in the wordle, the more it was used by the speaker or writer.

Guest post: plan the end of your blog with the same care that you plan its beginning

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It’s not the beginning of a blog you need to worry about, argues guest blogger Peter Moore, it’s how to end one that matters.

And just relax about closing it down. It may well give life to another, more vibrant project online.

You just need to know when to give a blog the red, amber or green light.

This is Peter’s second guest post for this blog. Peter blogs himself at My Digital Notebook.

In the beginning

At the time of writing this, the Internet is 27 years, two months, two weeks, four days, 10 hours and 26 minutes old, which is pretty much the same age that Kurt Cobain was when he shot himself, and more than old enough for us to start analysing some digital lifespans.

In this post I want to look at two things: firstly how long a blog (be it a personal one, a work one or of any other type) might last and, secondly, how long one should last.

Blogging (statistics)

In September 2008, Calson.com argued that ‘most blogs are abandoned soon after creation’  – with between 60% and 80% ‘abandoned within one month.’  Therefore it is fair to state that the majority have the lifespan of somewhere between that of an adult mayfly (one day) and a Greek Firefly (two months).

These figures are notoriously difficult to measure but they do give an impression of the speed at which new blogs are launched. And, if anything, their tiny lifespans reflect the ease with which one can be set up.

At the other end of the spectrum, only a very slender number of blogs have been going for around a decade and most of those which emerged as the most popular arrived on the shoulders of Web 2.0 in the five years that followed the Dot Com Crash in 2000.

A measured approach

This leaves us with a good few million blogs that are left in the middle: those that continue for more than just a few months but are unlikely to survive for, say, three or more years. With this in mind, a month or so ago I wrote that:

When it comes to blogs, it seems, far too many are launched with the assured expectation that they are going to roll gloriously onwards into infinity. Therefore many evolve to the same familiar rhythm – which often means beginning in an explosion of energy before generally trailing off into obscurity.

There is, of course, an alternative to this, and that is to plan the end of a blog with the same care that you plan its beginning. Better than being wedded to a single domain for evermore is having the freedom to progress from one digital project to the next: it helps to keep things fresh and to ensure that the content remains niche.

To demonstrate this, here are three of my old blogs: one stopped after five months, one paused after a year and a half and another, still rolling on.

Camervroom (September 2009 – January 2010)

For me, Camervroom is a good example of how a blog can be used to document an intense project over a short period of time. It lasted just five months and was comprised of around 80, often short, Posterous posts – all of which charted the preparation for, and the completion of, the Africa Rally at the end of last year.

A similar short term approach could be used for a business blog documenting a project, a journalist working on a particular story, a band on tour or for an academic journal. Always keep the end in sight.

El Villano (May 2008 – February 2010)

Many people will have something similar. El Villano was a first attempt that evolved in unexpected directions and served as my introduction to social media. In the end it became little more than an online home for magazine articles and now it is lying dormant like Mount Etna, with about the same chances of producing anything over the next couple of years.

My Digital Notebook (March 2010 – Present)

My Digital Notebook accompanies my job at a search agency in London and my role as a part time lecturer at City University. Good for recording new technologies, the occasional social media spat, ideas on the future (and observations on the past) of journalism and useful online tools.

Just like the two above, My Digital Notebook will run its course. And when the times comes, it will be just a matter of writing an explanatory post, gathering up my tools and going to try something a little different elsewhere.

POSTSCRIPT: Ourman in…
A great example of how a strong digital narrative and identity can be expertly constructed over time and across a number of different sites is with Steve Jackson.

He began blogging in 2004 with the Space Hardware Blog, before writing successive accounts of his travels (and subsequent settling down) in Hanoi, Nicaragua and Cameroon.

All told, these blogs form a cumulative digital autobiography that isn’t constrained by the boundaries of a single domain name or identity. For me it is a good example of where others might well get to as the Internet evolves and digital footprints become more vibrant and varied.

Photos: “Traffic lights in peppers” by buddhiko, “Red light” by lorentey, “steady” by polandeze, “Go” by tristanf.

Five steps to revive your blog

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You could not get me to log into this blog towards the end of last year. I had neglected it to such an extent that I dreaded to find out just how badly. Finally when I did, I was surprised.

From the dashboard of These Digital Times: monthly traffic to the blog. Note increase from January.

Traffic had not only continued while I had failed to post. It had  actually acquired an average daily rate. The reasons, as I looked into it, were clear. There was a  clear top ten of posts which attracts 40% of the traffic. People were finding the posts because of  links to them, they were on StumbleUpon or had achieved a high ranking on Google.
It was a big shock to me. I come from a traditional newspaper background. The recognition that people might be interested in posts that were not recent came as a surprise.
These Digital Times has a life of its own. My role is like the curator of an exhibition rather than creator of an exhibit. My job is to see what I can do to improve the existing exhibits and what I can add that fits into the existing collection.
In just one month, I  bought this blog back to life. And it was easier than I thought.
  1. Blogs are extremely forgiving: if, like me, some of your most regularly visited posts stretch back over a year, your blog has a life of its own. However much you neglect it, traffic will still come even without regular posts.
  2. Give up any addiction for traffic: I was like a junky after launching a post, slipping into my blog’s dashboard again and again to see how it was doing. And if someone Tweeted it out, I got even more excited. But I am now calmer. Daily or weekly visits are not a true sign of the interest in any one post.
  3. Re-examine where you have done well: now I realise why all those bloggers publish posts on their annual top ten. It encourages a blogger to re-examine what they have done well and what it is it about how you write that people like. For me, it is the lists on this blog that win every time (and here’s another one).
  4. Compete with your own top ten: set your goal as competing with yourself and not with others. Try to write posts that join the ranks of the blog’s top posts, not ones that boast a day’s traction or are Tweeted out.
  5. Prepare in advance: there’s something horrible about not having any ideas about what to write. But, worse for me, is having nothing ready to publish. So, sitting behind this blog, are two or three posts in various states of preparedness.

Why I am now learning more about social media from my family, friends and colleagues

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When I started finding out about social media, I read the blogs  and followed the Tweets of leading practitioners. Their practicalities swiftly got me going.

Eighteen months later, I’ve got  a new circle of teachers and influencers. And this time they are a lot closer than Silicon Valley. They are my family, friends and colleagues who are influencing me because they do what they want with this social media kit without having read the blogs and followed Tweets like me.

So ask yourself? Are you so absorbed by the people in your Google Reader that you are neglecting to learn the lessons from those closer to home? Or, literally, at home.

Why I now learn from my family, friends and colleagues

  • They’re pragmatic: We people in social media spend most of our time blogging and Tweeting about….social media. But many of my family, friends and colleagues use it for their jobs or hobbies. They just aren’t interested in endless stuff about Google Wave or Apple’s Tablet. What they do want to know is how best to get what they want from this stuff. So they are experimenting and finding out new ways of doing things.
  • They reveal harsh truths: Assemble a hundred people in one room for a conference from most business sectors that have nothing to do with social media and do not be surprised if they are not Tweeting. Attend an industry event where people have Blackberries and do not be shocked when no one takes a photo. My family, friends and colleagues have taught me that, however easy the technology or the software, there just is not going to be mass adoption of this stuff. People want to listen at conferences and they want to chat at social events. We are going to have to get our heads around that unpalatable truth.
  • They self-promote: I have always been influenced by the sharing and caring philosophy of the early internet. I always believe that you get back only what you put into the web. But such great ideals do not wash with some of my family, friends and colleagues. To them, the internet is not some ideal but rather a means to an end. If they want to use social media for self-promotion, to push their message out, they will do so. And they don’t put their followers off since they are networking with people like themselves.
  • They interest me: My use if social networks changes over time. I’m going through a deep and intense renewal of my vows to this blog at the moment after months of philandering with Facebook. I’ve discovered that just as our loyalty to a social media channel is fickle, so our prefered teachers and influencers change over time. So I guess I’ll be getting bored of my family, friends and colleagues soon and will be returning to my first and former teachers any day soon.
  • They know me: When I headed out into the world of social media two years, there were some great new acquaintances but no one I knew. Sometimes it got lonely – just as you do if you are abroad on business. So one thing I really loved about my family, friends and colleagues getting online was to network with people I genuinely know. It makes it much more intense.
  • They owe me: God forbid that I sound bitter or anything but…I’ve put so much time and energy into encouraging and explaining social media to my family, friends and colleagues that it’s payback time. I deserve a little lesson-love.
  • Photo: Dan Taylor