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Just days removed from an invigorating discussion on the state of engagement in media, Dissecting Engagement attendees are buzzing about strategic content deployment strategies necessary to win greater connectivity with users. The purpose of the conference was to tackle recurring engagement issues, and to break new ground on solutions to confounding user disconnects. Here are five important takeaways from the conference, which was held at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute:

  1. Engagement is everyone’s job. So is an interest in monetizing content. Too often, engagement is still allocated as a minimal resource inside newsrooms and content suites. Just as often, it’s a midlevel manager who’s put “in charge” of the task of growing engagement. Our attendees believe this is a serious and shortsighted error in planning, workflow, mindset and execution. As presenter Amy Webb of Webbmedia Group noted, it’s time to get radical about how we approach engagement. The consensus from the discussion is all members of the content team — reporters, editors, designers and copywriters — should think about engagement as central to the story arc. Moreover, meeting audience needs should take a greater priority in how content is created, executed and deployed.
  2. Meet the audience where they are, even literally, where possible. Putting users first, last and always at the center of your coverage is one way to create greater engagement opportunities. But this goes well beyond user-generated content (UGC) and Facebook polls. Bloomberg’s Jason Kelly notes, Bloomberg Link conferences are a reflection of the company’s many journalistic efforts, not a PR event, meant solely to garner goodwill. In fact, deeper, richer stories emerge when sources, users and journalists gather in forums to discuss issues face to face. Moreover, Center for Investigative Reporting’s Meghann Farnsworth notes, her team’s efforts to create community-based initiatives like journalism-based theater exercises provide an opportunity for the community to engage in deeper dialogue that leads to better discussions. These efforts, along with post cards and graphic novels, are attempts to connect with users outside traditional media plays. AJ+’s Jigar Mehta described his team as “river guides” helping navigate users toward the best content experiences.
  3. Media needs to imbue itself in the attention economy, which is measured both in time and dollars. Empower MediaMarketing’s David Germano used the term “disintermediation” when addressing content creators and the pace of change. As more content emerges, the amount of time consumers have to engage with it correspondingly shrinks. Notes Germano, someone in this scenario will get disintermediated. As Amy Webb noted, users are now making content decisions in fewer than three seconds. Content organizations seeking to thrive in this glance ecosystem need to leverage user data to develop products people want to consume. Tools that optimize against this kind of information include messaging apps like Line, which incorporates stickers as rewards for engagement.
  4. Technology is allowing content creators to gather greater data insights, and it’s important to leverage those emerging insights into the creation of richer, layered content that meets users where they are: physically, emotionally and intellectually. The amount of user data continues to grow, and there is great utility for predictive and responsive content creation when this data is properly harnessed. From location-based marketers utilizing near-field communication and geo-location tagging, to Ditto Lab’s use of picture-based data mining, new data-gathering tools create rich opportunities for content creators and media companies to better understand users on both a macro and micro level. But just because something is cool doesn’t mean you should use it, notes Gannett Digital’s Dresden McBride. Still, geolocation has become the cookie of the physical world, noted Asif Khan of Location Based Marketing Association. Organizations that understand users’ physical and psychological state-of-mind improve their chances of succeeding with content decisions as well.
  5. It’s not “an audience,” it’s individuals. Ultimately, the mass has, once and for all, exited mass media. Increasingly, our personal devices enable a more personal experience. Organizations that harness data, front-end social listening, a newfound commitment to the user, and a passion for great content optimization are well-poised to succeed in a rapidly shifting ecosystem. Adopting this kind of approach to content creation leads users to believe organizations understand them.

This “you get me” objective seems key in creating a network of shareable content that grows organically by self-appointed brand and content evangelists who are all too willing to help spread the word about really great content. The key to converting users into evangelists comes with a level of trust, quickly undone by an organization’s insistence on a traditional mass media business approach. Putting the user first, last and always creates new storytelling opportunities as well. Livestream apps like Meerkat and Periscope allow users to engage in the content creation. Involving users on the front end of the story-creation process creates “curiosity journalism,” according to Neiman Lab’s Justin Ellis. Vox’s Allison Rockey noted, journalists must “care about the share.”

One final takeaway from the symposium: It’s time to get radical. Content creators and news organizations, in general, aren’t moving quickly enough nor radically enough to maintain user-bases bent on content-grazing and optimizing their limited time and resources against a more complex content ecosystem. As the landscape gets more cluttered, resonance is harder to achieve. Leveraging data, earnestly engaging in the practice of delighting consumers while executing against core journalistic and content missions, and understanding technological advancements that better position content creators to resonate in a chaotic landscape are all opportunities to win at a time when winning in media might become central to survival.

Jim Flink  
 
Consultant



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