Tag Archives: The New York Times

Your Focus Is Fake

Over the weekend the NY Times published an article about a company called Devumi that sells followers. As the piece says:

Photo by Jehyun Sung

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online.

Since social media is, well, media, an outlet’s ability to charge is based upon its reach. Since everyone has the ability to be a little piece of the media these days, having a bigger audience or the ability to demonstrate great influence by having hundreds of thousands of followers is a big deal. Take Facebook where:

up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

I’ve seen this happen first hand. I was working with a client and we were approached by someone (actually a pair of someones) who wanted to work with us. They proudly showed off their 1million+ Twitter followers as evidence of their ability to impact what we were doing. They seemed a little shady so I ran their Twitter account through one of the services that examine followers for signs that they’re fake. 95% of their followers were bots or fake accounts. No deal.

The Times piece is really excellent because the thing it points out to me is something that is important to you, or should be. The reason having fake followers works is that brands are too focused on reach and not enough on results. The thing those fake followers won’t do is to buy. Yes, you can buy fake click-throughs as well, but I’m quite sure that your conversion rate will plummet if you do so since no bot-master is going to spend a nickel going through your sales funnel. When celebrities (or celebrity wannabes) inflate their follower totals, it’s part ego and part to demonstrate their popularity. Does anyone look at real-world results that might point to those things? Ratings? Box-office? Ticket sales?

Have you ever heard anyone giving out advice (marketing or otherwise) tell you to be fake? Probably not. Authenticity is the underpinning of great marketing today. There is no incentive for Twitter or Facebook to fix this since their financial well-being is partially judged by how many people are on and use their platforms. It’s a shame, and if we did politics here we could talk about how this same problem has gone beyond marketing products and services and into influencing our political system. You can fix it, however, by measuring what matters. Reach doesn’t really matter. Results do. That’s how I see it. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Foxtrots And Cha-Chas

When I was a kid in middle school, I had to take ballroom dancing lessons along with many of my friends. Our moms rounded us up off the ball fields, cleaned us up, and deposited us into a room with an instructor and an equal number of members of the opposite sex. Most of what I learned from those lessons has evaporated over the years but one thing stuck: you can’t dance the foxtrot when they’re playing a cha-cha.

Oddly enough, what triggered that memory was a report issued by The New York Times that I think is instructive for any of us in business. In their words:

…to continue succeeding — to continue providing journalism that stands apart and to create an ever-more-appealing destination — we need to change. Indeed, we need to change even more rapidly than we have been changing.

The report goes through a series of potential changes to its reporting structure, staff and production processes with an eye toward increasing their subscriber base. It’s no secret that print revenues are declining and digital ad dollars are increasingly monopolized by Google and Facebook. The report, which you can read here, points toward being more visual and concise (ironically stated in a report that runs almost 9,000 words), using more diverse formats.

The Times published a similar report in 2014. That report laid out a series of goals and a timeframe that led to 2020. This report is a progress report of sorts as well as a refocusing and recommitment. It’s a fascinating bit of introspection and, more importantly, it serves as a great reminder to all of us in business.

We live in a world where the music changes often. If we’re dancing to the old tune, there is a very good chance that we’re out of step and dancing the wrong dance. This is what the Times found as it listened to the new music. They were too stodgy and too wordy. They weren’t integrating the people who produced words and the people who produced videos. They weren’t focused on their subscribers and how those subscribers want to consume content. They found, in brief, that they need to change the dance.

When was the last time you listened to the music to be sure your business is dancing in an appropriate manner? Is your team open to change or have they become oblivious to the music around them? Your customers are your dance partners. Are you in step?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

In Control

One of the interesting parts of The New York Times’ editorial makeup is the public editor. In addition to writing a few times a month, the public editor‘s role is to “handle questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity. The public editor works independently, outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper; her opinions are her own.” Margaret Sullivan is leaving that role and penned her last column over the weekend. In it she cautioned the following:

The New York Times logo

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The old business model, based on print advertising and print subscriptions, is broken. A new one — based on digital subscriptions, new advertising forms, and partnerships with other businesses and media platforms — is in the works. There are hopeful signs, high ambitions and lofty plans, but certainly no guarantee of success.

I think we all recognize that. It’s interesting that the Times seems have reinvented itself as a digital media company that publishes a newspaper. That paradigm change affects everything – how content is created, the speed with which it’s made available, and most importantly, the business model. The Times isn’t the only organization to have done this. Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), for example, has always seemed to think of itself as a digital services company that has Major League Baseball as its primary client, and not just as Baseball’s digital arm. Having run a similar organization for a league, I can tell you that the differences in how business is done based on that thinking are stark. Perhaps it’s time you stepped back and had another think about your paradigm?

Ms. Sullivan also struck a cautionary note:

As partnerships, especially with Facebook, the social media behemoth, become nearly impossible to resist, The Times shouldn’t let business-driven approaches determine what readers get to see. In dealing with Facebook and other platforms and potential partners whose businesses revolve around algorithms, it’s critical that the paper makes sure the news that readers see is driven by the judgment of editors concerned about journalism, not business-driven formulas that may only reinforce prejudices.

In other words, be who you are and service your readers.  Don’t let others control you and broaden your thinking about the best way to solve your customers’ problems. I think that’s a good mantra for any business.  You?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Blocking My Goodwill

One of the things I’ve done consistently throughout my life is to subscribe to the NY Times. I can remember a representative of the paper coming to my elementary school class to show us how to fold it for easy reading and to explain how newspapers are written and printed. 50 years later, I’m still a reader.

The New York Times uses an unusually large hea...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might have read that the NY Times is following the lead of several other publications and shutting down access to those people who use ad blockers. Instead, readers who visit the Times site will see, as Digiday reported, the following:

“The best things in life aren’t free,” the pop-up reads.”You currently have an ad blocker installed. Advertising helps us fund our journalism,” then points readers to two options: purchasing a subscription option, which doesn’t strip the site of ads, or to whitelist the Times, which disables the ad blocker.

It’s the value exchange – we give you content, you give us attention. I’ve written about this paradigm before and I came to the conclusion that there really isn’t any one correct answer for publishers when it comes to ad blockers. Cutting off access does little for most publishers since not many publishers can claim to provide truly unique and valuable content and readers can go elsewhere. The Times, however, can make that claim. The issue is that with upwards of 40% of US readers using some sort of ad blocking, curtailing access also means fewer page views that can be sold, lower time one site, higher bounce rates, etc. Still, given their success in digital, I’ll give them a “wait and see” on this. Except for one thing: They’re cutting off access for subscribers as well.  As a spokesperson put it:

Ad blockers do not serve the long-term interest of consumers. The creation of quality news content is expensive and digital advertising is one way that The New York Times and other high-quality news providers fund news gathering operations.

Want to know what really doesn’t serve consumers’ long-term interests?  Greed. My bill for home delivery, which includes online access, is around $150 a month.  I daresay that the Times has gotten full value out of me, just as I’ve gotten great value out of their content. I access the Times site as a logged in user, so it really shouldn’t be too difficult to identify me as a subscriber and not to hassle me about ad blocking.  Hopefully, they will.

To the extent it can, any business needs to treat each customer as an individual.  There are very few rules that can apply to prospects and customers equally, and not every customer is the same (the pesky lifetime value computation we need to do!). Asking a customer to pay for access and then asking that same customer to endure a barrage of ads as a condition for continued access seems like nothing more than greed and insensitivity.  What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?