Recent publisher feedback regarding Facebook Instant Articles and Apple's News App can be characterized as "not impressive but very threatening."
Since the start of the decline of print advertising in the early 2000s, publishers have been seeking monetization solutions that will replace print advertising. But with the rise of online display advertising, print ad dollars have become digital dimes that are now morphing into mobile pennies.
In the last few years, driven by the successful social media distribution strategies of digital first publishers, most notably BuzzFeed, publishers have treated social media like manna from heaven. Though social media has enabled many publishers to extend their reach and discover new and previously untapped audiences, social media has its limitations.
Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have done an incredible job of building massive communities with the highest engagement rates of any website or application. But ultimately, these companies intend to leverage their reach for their own benefit even at the expense of the publishers providing them content.
For publishers, by working with social media companies for distribution (or with other companies who own the relationship with the reader, like Apple), they're trading a direct relationship for an indirect one. And indirect relationships are always less reliable.
A select few publishers might find successful distribution from social media, but for most, social media threatens their business models where they pay for creating content with the expectation they can control the monetization from that content. Now social media is exerting pressure on the publishers' ability to fully monetize what they create.
While social media isn't the answer, publishers can emulate how social media companies build sticky user communities from their readers/subscribers.
Historically, publishers relied on building strong relationships with their readers. I know that when a major news event happens, I instinctively check "The Wall Street Journal" website or mobile app, even though I haven't received a paper in years.
Chasing digital revenue, some publishers have placed reader relationships in the back seat.
To succeed, publishers will need to make strengthening relationships with readers the center of their monetization strategies.
Leverage your owned media channels
Publishers acquire their users with paid media (social, paid search, etc.), earned media (PR and news-oriented promotion) and owned media -- their own blogs, videos and email newsletters. The most effective way to enhance their relationship with their readers is to invest in using owned media to distribute and engage with their end users. Only owned media provides the publisher 100 percent control over the content and the relationship, and can scale easily.
Use more personalization
As social media demonstrates, when a friend recommends a story, that's the best way to target content for readers. Publishers should always be thinking how to personalize the stories and topics for their audiences. As they collect more information on their readers' interests and click history, they can best decide which content to expose to each user. If a user only clicks on current events with a serious angle, why show them the latest celebrity cat video -- and of course, the reverse is true as well.
Create intelligent native advertising for your advertisers
As the original purveyors of content, publishers are in the best position to create engaging and stimulating content that can be sponsored by an advertiser. While the content needs to be clearly disclosed as promotional, smart publishers will take advantage of their skills in order to produce advertorial content which will be engaging for their readers and have an impact for their advertisers. Especially as ad blockers become more commonplace, publishers can use native advertising to best monetize their content.
Despite the challenges that today's publishers face from social media, there are exciting opportunities to leverage new technologies to best personalize and engage their readers. Leveraging real-time content tools and the ability to personalize the content choices, publishers can best enhance their relationship with their readers while securing that relationship for the future.