Engagement models of the best media companies should inspire content-minded businesses

Posted on May 31, 2012 8:09 am by | Content Curation | Media | Social Media

As organizational communicators are occupied increasingly with helping their organizations become media companies—producing streams of different types of content that satisfy audience interests, support business and brand goals, and encourage sharing and conversation—it can be instructive to look at what actual media companies are doing to engage audiences.

Mainstream media organizations have struggled mightily in the digital era, but there are those that are figuring it out. For those showing signs of success, reader engagement is at the heart of their success.

Take PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S.) and USA Today, which topped an a list of 13 randomly selected big-city daily newspapers, braodcast news and financial publications. What journalist Susanna Speier was trying to determine in her analysis was which news companies were engaging with their readers most effectively on Pinterest. Published on the site of the Poynter Institute—a journalism school, think tank and owner of the Tampa Bay Times—the analysis found that the repin-to-pin ratio was a better engagement metric than the number of people following a board.

By that measure, PBS and USA Today were the numbers one and two media outlets, despite The Wall Street Journal’s top follower count with over 10,000 followers.

Pin to Repin Ratios for News Outlets

Getting that level of engagement meant being thoughtful about the kind of content shared on boards. According to Kevin Dando, digital marketing and communications director for PBS (as quoted in the Poynter article), “It’s not a billboard for PBS content. our Pinterest account is for both PBS content and content that PBS finds interesting. If there’s particular content related to our programming, we’ll pin it.”

He added that he’s confident clickthroughs from Pinterest are coming, and “the way to get them is through engagement.”

Engagement also appears to be the focus at Forbes, according to an item from Mathew Ingram published today on GigaOm. How Forbes has adapted may provide insights into how other media companies can thrive. Taking lessons from the model adopted by The Huffington Post, Forbes has opened the floodgates on outside contributors, with about 1,000 people contributing blog posts.

If you’ve read Shel Israel’s Forbes pieces, you’ve seen just one of those 1,000-plus contributors, transforming the site from a traditional staff-written publication to one where interesting people share their perspectives, mostly unfiltered by Forbes editors. While some of the posts that appear in Forbes have produced backlash, that backlash is a form of engagement. And even if you simply start reading Forbes posts because the author is interesting to you or the post came up in a search, you’re now engaged with the magazine more than you were before. You can share the comment—I see a lot of tweets pointing to Shel Israel’s Forbes posts—and engage in conversation with the author and other readers.

According to Ingram, Forbes has taken two addition steps: They have provided all contributors the tools to assess the impact of their contributions and requiring its writers to participate in conversation with readers by responding to comments and highlighting those that add value; these comments are promoted to a sidebar containing “called out” comments.

Ingram says these are “things more mainstream media outlets should consider emulating.” For those of us working outside the news-media world but still concerned with effective content, the same counsel applies.

Intel provides one example of a company moving in this direction. The organization’s new online news magazine, iQ, is a content curation exercise. According to Tom Foremski, writing in Silicon Valley Watcher, Intel’s goal is for 5,000 volunteer employees to filter through content published outside of Intel to identify the best material to include on the site, which looks at the current and future uses of technology.

The more organizations encourage employees and other interested people (customers, partners, etc.) to contribute to content efforts, whether it’s writing posts or pinning interesting content to company-hosted pinboards, the more their customers and other important audiences will engage with them. As companies become content producers, that part of their future doesn’t look too different from the news organizations that are thriving in this time of turmoil for the news world at large.

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