Audience Engagement Guest Columns
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A publisher’s products and communications mix will never be the same again

OPINION

These are extremely difficult times for publishers.

The impact of revenue loss from advertising spend, cancelled events and other face-to-face revenue streams is acute.

Publishers of all flavours and sizes are suffering. Major digital publishers including Vice and Buzzfeed have made cuts to control operating costs.

During the severity of the current situation, it’s time for publishers to focus on current business models and internal operations. 

Now, more than ever, we need to consider subscribers and readers as a  ‘community’, especially on digital platforms.

It’s also time to adapt to the technologies that many businesses are using to reconfigure their ways of working using virtual meeting/events technologies, messaging tools, workflow and collaborative tools.

Digital transformation is accelerating – nowhere more quickly than events

The analyst Mary Meeker, best known for her annual ‘Internet Trends’ report, released a Covid-19 update on 17th April 2020. 

It’s a great read. In summary, she says that business is learning like never before and need to assimilate this new information.

She states that digital transformation is accelerating, due to so many people globally working from home, and that new work life balances are being struck.

Media businesses are undergoing rapid, enforced digital transformation and have had to pivot quickly from cancelled physical to digital events.

We’ve seen many publishers create successful virtual events as alternative forms of content and revenue-drivers, such as The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival.

We recently developed a webinar in partnership with the PRCA to help businesses shift their events from physical to online.

New event charging structures, new types of events, festivals and experiences are being developed by those who are experiencing massive event-shaped Covid-19 revenue holes in 2020.

We also developed a free peer support community on March 3rd 2020 for event organisers – Coronavirus Response for Event Organisers (CREO).

Within 24 hours >100 senior events professionals had joined and today there are >400 people helping each other, creating open source resources, discussing best virtual event practice, talking about virtual event technology, crisis management and much more.

The value of establishing publisher communities

Outside of events, publishers need to shift to long term ‘community’ thinking and business models. Smart publishers will be thinking two steps ahead beyond adapting to new ways of working. 

Those publishers will be looking to use technology to lock in reader or subscriber value AND improve transparency and co-creation with them.

In this article, we explored the strategic benefits and monetisation options being enjoyed by a range of B2B media online communities, including:

  1. Product development – identifying hot topics, insights and ideas for editorial, sponsored content and events
  2. Generate sponsorship, advertising or affiliate revenue
  3. Creating ‘soft power’, for example, attracting speakers, contributors and advisory board members by evidencing the broad ecosystem of a media business
  4. Making community part of a membership package including access to exclusive content, live networking events and roundtables or learning – a model that a number of publishers have successfully developed.

Publishers can respond to challenging times by focusing on their existing customer base and build communities to provide a level of reassurance and deliver strategic value, revenue and a culture of collaboration.

The rise of messaging platforms for publisher communities

Our recent report also highlights some use-case examples of publishers successfully using collaborative messaging tools as a form of communication. Written before the effects of COVID-19 had impacted the industry, it emphasises the value of establishing communities not just at a time of crisis, but for ongoing communications.

B2B Marketing has blended messaging and community to support a segment of its subscribers – senior marketers and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs). The publication hosts a peer-support network to facilitate peer discussions about marketing and business challenges.

A further example is Econsultancy, which uses messaging to connect an advisory group of global senior digital thought leaders together to discuss their experience of digital transformation and share learnings and insights. It also uses messaging to connect its subscribers to a network of analysts and experts to deliver consultancy directly, as an alternative to thought leadership content.

These organisations are well-placed to continue delivering value to their subscribers during Covid-19 and beyond.

A radically changing internal communications mix

Publishers and media businesses who have simply ‘brought the office online’ during lockdown, have set themselves up for exhaustion rather than what will almost certainly be a radical long-term shift to remote working – and a reliance on a new internal and external communications technology stack.

As well as building communities for subscribers and readers, it’s also a good time for publishers to review internal working practices and communications. 

Messaging and workflow collaboration technology growth is now faster than the growth of social media.

Microsoft reported that monthly active users’ (MAUs) of its Teams increased by 12 million in one week and Kantar research highlighted that usage of WhatsApp increased by 40% during the pandemic.

With the rise of messaging in the workplace, comes the need to establish a framework of guidance and policies for employees.

Many publishers are simply unaware of the GDPR privacy and business compliance issues of using consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Or have chosen to stick their heads in the sand!

A February 2020 study found that 41% of UK workers use WhatsApp for professional purposes, despite WhatsApp prohibiting non-personal use in its legal terms.

Using WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal could prove a costly GDPR (or CCPA – the California Consumer Privacy Act) mistake for publishers.

Time to review how these consumer messaging apps might prove a business risk and explore GDPR compliant alternative platforms to make the most of the efficiencies that messaging can bring to publishers.

If one thing is certain, it’s that things will never be the same again

We are witnessing a cultural shift in every sense of the way we work, and businesses of all industries are recognising that models and working practices will not be the same after this crisis.

By harnessing technology and adapting business models, media businesses can prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a revolutionary, long-term change in their business, their work practices and how they engage with their audiences.

Ashley Friedlein
CEO and Founder, Guild

About: Guild is a messaging app that is the brainchild of Ashley Friedlein and Matt O’Riordan, two entrepreneurs renowned for establishing one of the UK’s leading B2B websites, Econsultancy, in 1999. The native messaging app is aimed at any professional group or community where its members want to stay in touch and develop valuable professional relationships, and it is already being used by a number of publishers. The company has it’s headquarters in London, and a presence in the U.S.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

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