Some of the most influential minds in social media and Internet marketing huddled this week in Park City, Utah. The Digital Publishing Summit heard from a marketing expert at The Huffington Post who said that when it comes to wooing consumers, traditional media like newspapers and magazines continue to get it wrong.
“They are trying to apply old models to this new realm and it is not working at all,” said Taylor Gray, senior vice president of marketing for The Huffington Post.
Traditional media is “a spectator sport,” he stressed.
“News is now a participatory sport,” Gray added.
He used to work in marketing at Time magazine.
“They would fight their readers,” he said. “They’re the ones who determined what was important.”
But a different breed of consumer is emerging online.
“The word has become social,” Gray said. “People are sharing it. People are altering it. People are changing it around.”
The influence of traditional editorial boards on content is weakening as some refuse to provide their audiences innovative ways to participate in the conversations, he said.
“This framework is entirely out of sync with people’s online behavior and the new dynamics of the digital world. People now understand that they can have a voice. The notion of a reader is outdated. People no longer just read,” Gray said. “This is something that for traditional publishers is shocking and very hard for them to wrap their heads around. When people start to share and begin to comment, it’s within our reach to be a part of that.”
The Huffington Post began as a blog. AOL recently purchased the website, which today is worth an estimated $315 million. Gray provided some insight into ways the online newspaper garnered influence.
Blogging and social networking
Content at The Huffington Post is broadly defined. The website works with about 16,000 bloggers and allows anyone to submit posts.
Staffers watch to see which submissions take off, Gray said.
“We don’t have a search engine optimization team,” he said. “We’ve given our editors all those tools.”
Promote content aggressively on websites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Digg.
“Everything an editor is posting up on the site, they are also simultaneously tweeting. Every hour the editors get an update of what is happening with their content. They’re also seeing how people are finding their content,” Gray said. “This is how people are operating on the Internet. People are on their social network all the time.”
Successful writers also closely follow the topics that are trending online.
“If it seems relevant, we’ll start writing about it and put it up there,” Gray said.
The Huffington Post might publish up to 1,000 articles in a single day from a various sources.
“We publish that with hopes that 15 articles will hit it big,” Gray said.
And headlines matter, he added.
Carefully consider the headline before sending out your blog post. To test which title might generate the most traffic, Gray said the same article at The Huffington Post is sometimes published with five different headlines.
“We’re constantly massaging the content,” Gray said. “We’ll remove the four headlines that don’t work.”
Marketers: Get involved
Unfortunately, marketers can get in the way of online discussions.
“Marketers need mechanisms to enter these conversations in a meaningful fashion,” Gray said. “That gets into a revenue stream that we have discovered at The Huffington Post.”
The newspaper was one of the first online publishers to allow advertisers to blog on its website.
“We make them part of the conversation,” Gray said. “We’re acting as a social-media agency for our advertisers on The Huffington Post. We’ve become advisers to some of these companies about how to conduct the social-media outreach.”
Much like a social network, Gray said “we have a huge community that we can leverage.”
“Get in the conversation, engage with them,” he said. “You will have the opportunity to respond. So our advertisers become part of the communities.”
Corporations also use the material to maintain their reputations.
“We’ve got all these blue-chip advertisers,” Gray said. “We help them counter this sort of one-sided conversation that is going on on the Internet about their companies.”
So far this year, so-called “sponsor-generated content” has generated about $3 million in revenue for The Huffington Post.
“I believe every single client has valuable content sitting within their companies,” Gray said.
But not press releases, he stressed.
“There are very significant revenue streams out there,” Gray said. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to get our readers to be greater participants within our site.”
For example, instead of posts describing interior décor, a hotel chain that advertises on The Huffington Post was encouraged to profile their concierges in different cities. The interviews offer travel tips and places to visit.
“Our readers love it,” Gray said.