The Audience Is The Article: A Changing Balance Of Power In Publishing
Marketers are now in the business of making media. By definition, they create a media product and publish or broadcast it out to attract and engage an audience. The medium they choose to publish in defines their message. But, there’s a shift of power happening with that one-to-many broadcast model — one in which the content consumers have gone from passive readers to active participants.
Dan Gillmor refers to consumers of online content as “the former audience.” And some of the smartest minds in digital media — Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Nick Denton, The New York Times, and more — are working on new publishing tools and systems that embrace and facilitate the idea that the audience is no longer on the sidelines — they are playing in the game.
The New York Times recently started experimenting with a new commenting system that features exceptional comments in-line with the feature story (vs. at the very end of the article). The publishers and editors see this as a way to encourage readers to post thoughtful comments.
This is part of a growing trend to make the audience a greater part of the story itself. Published just a few weeks ago, this story about A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA caused quite a stir given the controversial nature of the subject. In reading through the article, you will see thoughtful commentary from the audience highlighted alongside the original piece, as well as invitations from the author to share your own perspective.
Early this year, Nick Denton and the Gawker network announced a new website design and platform update called Kinja. There were a number of innovations with this launch, including giving each user their own personal blog on the network. These blogs record comments made on Gawker network articles and allow users to create their own original content, as well as republish articles from the Gawker network. Users’ original blog posts have the potential to be featured on the Gawker network, and (in some cases) the best bloggers can be hired on as staff writers (a sort of farm team for the big leagues).
As he told the Nieman Journalism Lab, Denton believes that “publishing should be a collaboration between authors and their smartest readers — and at some point, the distinction should become meaningless.” In fact, according to an article by Matthew Ingram, the insight that led to the launch of Gawker came from Denton’s tenure at the Financial Times, where he found that the “commentary in the newsroom about an event was often far more interesting and relevant than the actual story itself.”
Last year, Evan Williams and Biz Stone launched two new publishing services called Medium and Branch. This is the team that brought us many of the most successful and widely-used Internet publishing tools: Blogger, Twitter, and Odeo. Medium is a new platform for people to share ideas and stories that weaves commenting and conversation inline or in context with the article and allows readers to leave notes for the author. Branch is building a home for dialog and high-quality conversations through curated groups where people are invited to publicly engage around issues.
What can we as content marketers take away from these changing dynamics in Web publishing? For starters, we need to recognize (and be of the mindset) that our audience is active and not just a set of eyeballs. If our goal is to attract and develop a community, we must offer them original and high-quality content that they can incorporate and reshape into their own works.
Our relationship with our audience is a loop not a funnel. The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us that all markets are conversations, and the Internet showed us the power of those conversations at scale. The future of content and marketing is conversational!
Do you know of any brands that already utilize this approach in their publishing? Let’s discuss in the comments section!