This is how media drives profit & social change.

Data led strategy is the answer to independent media viability (& social impact).

Be real & work for people.

Success in business is about making a product for a customer base that loves it. In the media business, that comes down to 2 things:

1. Know who you are

2. Know your audience

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If you've got them figured out (and if you have interesting things to say), you can create content that works for your audience AND that authentically reflects who you are. You can say what you need to say AND get people to engage with it, in other words.

That’s how you can grow an engaged, energized audience. It’s how you can start to generate sustainable revenue. And it’s how you can create real social impact.

How digital changed media the business

This was the old model of media. People made content. They put it in newsstands… and they got feedback on how successful it was based on how many bought it
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Then the internet came along and everyone lost their minds. The platforms made it easy and cheap to get clicks (they needed people to adopt the new tech). And media producers went along with it, thinking they’d figure out the money issue further down the road.

Now we’re down the road, and the platforms are making plenty of money. (They sell advertising space btw.They get people in one place and they show them ads. That’s pretty much all they do.)

And now it’s getting harder and harder for content creators to get organic traction because the platforms aren't giving that space away from free anymore (unless you’re helping them keep people online longer).

Digital now

This what successful digital content production looks like now (if you don’t have a paywall).

You produce content. You push it out, and you get feedback in the data – are people liking, engaging, sharing, reading?

If they are, then you’re beginning to build an audience that loves what you’re doing. And when that happens, you can begin to leverage their attention to influence the social conversation and/or start to generate revenue.
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Making data work

Data is a fashionable term in media now, but the key thing to understand here is that data alone is good for nothing. It’s like feeling good about yourself because you got a gym membership. You have to actually go to the gym.

Data only works when it's used underpin to strategy; to continually check how strategy is working, and to devise tweaks to make it work better.
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The attention economy

Users “buy” content with their attention. Creators exchange that attention for revenue and/or influence. 

After we've built the audience relationship ––when people are coming back to us again and again–– the next step is to convert that attention into social impact and/or revenue (through advertising, membership, paywall, product sales, services, or whatever). Relative to actually building an audience, that second step is comparatively easy. But for now, we're just focusing on brand and audience building.

Using data to drive attention

Data driven strategy is actually pretty simple. Let's say, for example, we produce a 3000 word article but our analytics tell us 94% of our readers stayed on the article page for less than a minute. That's a problem.

And the way we solve that problem is by making an informed guess (a hypothesis) about why people aren't reading, and then experimenting to test that hypothesis and find the solution.

Next time we can try writing less, or we can try a different style of writing, or a different layout. And then we can check the data again to see if our audience stays on the page for long enough to read the whole thing.

In business today, there's not one major company or media outlet – from the Guardian to Tesla – that's not using experimentation asa major part of their business strategy. (Why just choose a web design you think looks nice, when you can choose the design that definitely drives the most clicks or the most engagement?) Experimentation shows us how well we’re doing at giving our audience a good experience.
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It all comes down to the audience relationship

Audience building online works a lot like relationship building in real life. People choose to spend their time with other people who give them good experiences.

Farah Als’adi, social media manager for RNW media partner, Raseef22, explains it like this. "In real life, we expect our friends to have integrity – to keep showing up as the people we got to know and love. We choose our friends for a reason, and consistency and integrity are how loyalty grows.

“It's the same online. People choose to engage because they like what we do. And to build loyal relationships we need to keep showing up for them. Our content needs to be consistent and keep working for users or they'll fall out of love pretty quickly."
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The big question is, how do you get people to join your conversation?

This isn’t about just trying to get the biggest audience possible. That would be a race to the bottom – every publication would turn into a gossip mag. But then again, if every publication was doing gossip, that would leave huge audiences underserved with other kinds of content … and that would be a great business opportunity.

So how do we define “success”? That comes down to the difference in size between your potential audience and your actual audience. It’s just as valid for an academic publication to get a small specialist audience as it is for a tabloid publication to get a huge populist audience. Whatever the ambition, impact starts when we're effectively reaching the audience we intend to reach.

How do you know who to reach?

That depends on who you are. In real life, you find some people interesting and others a bore, and it’s the same online, obvs. (The people you find boring probably think you're a bore too btw).

Think of it like a party where there are different cliques. We go to the place where we think the most interesting conversations are happening. And online, our audience is free to come and go as they choose. Whether they stay or not depends on who we are and what we’re giving them.

Not everyone likes you and that’s ok.

If your audience is "everyone," or if it’s "young people," or "old people," or "leftists," you’re in deep trouble. Those categories are way too broad.

Let’s look at the "young people” segment, for example. It doesn't exist. There are a thousand different youth subcultures, each with distinct interests, values and ways of expressing themselves. What works for some young people definitely won’t work for others.

Instead, you need to define an audience segment that shares specific characteristics that mesh with your brand. Going back to the real life analogy, it’s kind of the same as how your friends are all very different, but they all share characteristics that mesh with who you are.
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So... how does all this impact content?

Similarly, if your editorial policy is to say what you want to say as well as you can say it, then sorry, but you’re in even deeper trouble. Editorial policy is about producing content that works for a specific audience. (In business speak, that means producing a product for a customer base that loves it.) Using data to understand if it’s working or not, takes success from the subjective (“I think it’s good”) to something we can actually measure and work to improve.
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Media viability comes down to doing 'good' content AND good media strategy.

By experimenting and iterating based on the data, mission driven media producers can figure out how to create content on the issues that drive them AND they can figure out media strategies that bring as many people as possible with them. That is how they drive both funding viability and quantifiable social change.

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