A Cause for Collaboration: Can Audience Exchange Level The Publisher Playing Field?

A Cause for Collaboration: Can Audience Exchange Level The Publisher Playing Field?
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With people’s internet usage on the rise and an increasing amount of competition for attention publishers need to open up, collaborate and give the audiences ways to discover content which are more in line with what they’ve been trained to use by other platforms, writes Stephaine Himoff [pictured], Global VP of Supply Partnership at Outbrain.

As anyone who’s ever worked in a newsroom will tell you, they’re tribal places. Rivalries between competing publications are fierce. Often there’s very little love lost.

That dynamic made sense when the competition was clear-cut, audiences were making binary choices about which magazine or newspaper to buy at the newsstand and advertisers had limited options to promote their products. Those days are long gone.

I’d argue that today, publishers hold a lot more in common than divides them. And audiences are no longer limited or hard to find – they’re just not being sought in the right places or thought of in the right ways. There’s more than enough attention to go around – last year time spent using content sites in Australia rose by 19 per cent according to the IAB.

The ideal for publishers of all sizes is audiences coming directly to their website, every time. But for the vast majority that’s fantasy land, and most rely on a large percentage of referrals from social and search giants throwing up their news to bolster their numbers.

However, if they weren’t before, publishers across the world are now looking to diversify their discovery and referral networks after Australian publishers faced an average 16 per cent drop in traffic when Facebook suddenly switched off news link sharing in the country for a week in February in a standoff over legislation.

A week after it was switched back on, consumption levels were still below where they were before.

It’s not the first time an algorithm change has made a massive dent in audience numbers – and these events show firsthand why publishers need to diversify the way they grow their audiences.

There are ways that publishers can start taking matters into their own hands. We’ve already got apps and newsletter subscriptions sign-ups to push people to your site, but that doesn’t cover the content discovery that’s so vital to find readers and continue to grow their base. And that is where a content exchange model can empower the community to take control.

Give the people what they want

If 2020 showed us one thing, it’s that demand for trusted news has never been higher, or harder to service. It’s not the case that these tech giants stole news audiences. But users go there willingly because they are offering what the people want – an entertaining and personalised feed, unobstructed by advertising.

This is something many publishers aren’t yet giving us. That’s why Facebook and Google are grabbing audiences – they understand it’s all about giving your consumers what they want, and they use that to create a content-rich experience that is personal to every single user.

Publishers need to understand that it’s time to give the people what they’ve been trained to want, in order to ultimately draw them back to their own platforms.

That’s where audience exchange comes in. It provides readers with a personalised feed that is relevant to their interests by supplementing your feed with other, trusted and quality, sources. With audiences increasingly seeking out diverse opinions and points of view, now is the time to get in front and provide them with what they’re looking for.

While social feeds are often full of user-generated content (UGC) this audience and content referrals can supply editorial-generated content (EGC) which can deliver a much wider news feed and a multi-source diverse environment.

This audience exchange is ultimately a way to diversify traffic sources and add new avenues to the mix for publishers. It’s not about not using Facebook or Google, but ensuring they have other ways for their content to be discovered, one which they know won’t be switched off at the drop of a hat.

Combining forces

No matter the size of the publisher, audience exchange benefits both sides.

The benefit for large publishers is getting their relevant content discovered on more specialist sites, showing potentially harder to reach audiences that they’re also a destination for content which interests them.

For smaller publishers, it’s a chance to scale and share audiences. We know people are diverse and have a range of different interests, so there’s an opportunity here to find new audiences for free by cross-pollinating with sites around potential users’ other interests.

For example, we know from our own Vertical Insights Data, that in the last week of February people who were interested in Media news (there was a lot happening) were also over-indexing in interest in Tennis. Or did you know people interested in Technology were really, really into Banking content as well?

Vertical of Technology

So if you’re a specialist media site maybe you could share some content with a specialist tennis or sports site? And as for those technology sites, you’ve got to be thinking about aligning with banking and finance verticals. But only by accessing smart data can you unpack some of these less obvious insights and start mining for gold.

The immediate instinct for publishers will be to dismiss this idea – the mindset is to try and horde audiences. The problem is, it’s not how people behave anymore, nor what they’re demanding. It’s time to revisit the proposition before it’s too late.

By creating content alliances to create richer content sets, you are stepping into a model that will provide your audiences with engaging content relevant to them and their interests, and in short order free yourselves from the reliance on players who publicly state news sharing isn’t part of their business models.

We at Outbrain believe a strong news media is vital for society, and our business is the business of funding publishers. That’s why we’ve set up the Content Coalition initiative to make audience exchange easy. We’re setting publishers up with their own tools to manage and control the audiences they share and the content they recommend from other publishers.

Content Coalition is a way for publishers to take back control of their content and how they grow their audience base, but doing so in a collaborative manner with like-minded businesses.

It’s not necessarily sharing links with your biggest competitors, but looking properly at the wider ecosystem and understanding how you can find new audiences in unexpected places, and keep people inside a trusted news ecosystem, which is giving them everything they want.

Very few people rely on a single news source anymore, so the best method of retaining promiscuous readers in your ecosystem is to be generous, share links, and watch them come back for more of what they want.

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