I read a quote the other day that made me smile:
“We assumed wrongly that these new competitors, whether it was BuzzFeed or others, were doing so well just because they were doing something journalistically that we chose not to do. We were arrogant to be honest.
We looked down on those new competitors, and I think we’ve come to realize that was wrong. They understood before we did how to make their stories available to people who are interested in them. We were too slow to do it.”
The quote came from New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet in a wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel.
This made me smile because it validated a perspective I have held for a long time when it comes to online publishing and various channels. It’s imperative to separate how a tool functions from the content it contains.
A now-classic example of this conflation also occurs with Twitter.
The knee-jerk reaction from some esteemed, or legacy, or traditional organizations is that they don’t want to “do Twitter” because they don’t care what others had for breakfast, or what a certain celebrity is up to.
Fair enough. Me either.
However, this misses a larger point. Imagine judging the value of the telephone for your business by the conversations held by a teenager on a phone. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison and letting it prevent you from exploring the possibilities of using that channel can hamstring your ability to reach a broader audience.
The key with sites like Buzzfeed, or services like Twitter, is they understand the value of connecting targeted content to niche audiences. In Buzzfeed’s case, they actively built a publishing platform that is very sharable, and did much work to ensure that the content reached as many people as possible. In Twitter’s case, they opened up an API that created an entire ecosystem that effectively did the same thing.
These opportunities exist for non-profits as well. Any organization with a wide range of content could benefit from robust taxonomies with numerous landing pages. The organizations that recognize this and follow through with a digital content strategy that acts on it has the ability to reach its potential and say ahead of its competition. (And of course, we LOVE working with such organizations.)
Not doing so, for whatever reason, comes with a price. This price was articulated by Baquet in the Der Spiegel interview.
Perhaps the ultimate punctuation mark on this entire story is the fact that Dao Nguyen, previously Buzzfeed’s “Growth Czar” who is credited quadrupling the site’s traffic, has a new title as of October.
She’s now the publisher.