The recently leaked New York Times Innovation report has become required reading because the document provides a candid snapshot of a legendary brand struggling to embrace the realities of running a business in the digital era. In unsparing language, the internal report indicts The New York Times for failing to master “the art and science of getting our journalism to our readers.” I believe The New York Times Innovation report offers many lessons for content marketers regardless of your industry. Among those lessons: it’s not enough to produce great content. You have to be a content hustler, too.
Content hustling means sharing an idea across multiple distribution channels ranging from a brand’s website to its social media spaces. Content hustling requires companies to empower employees to act as brand ambassadors, relying on their personal networks to share corporate thought leadership. Essentially The New York Times takes itself to task for being a woeful content hustler.
“Readers are finding and engaging with our journalism in vastly different ways,” the report asserts. “More readers expect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, and through email and phone alerts. But the newsroom pays less attention to these platforms, even though they offer our main, and sometimes, only channels to tens of millions of readers. Here, too, we are lagging our competitors.”
The report calls out Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and USA Today for aggressively sharing its content in ways that The New York Times does not. “. . . Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and USA Today are not succeeding simply because of lists, quizzes, celebrity photos and sports coverage. They are succeeding because of their sophisticated social, search and community-building tools and strategies, often in spite of their content.”
In the report, Paul Berry, who helped found the Huffington Post, eloquently describes the core problem with the way The New York Times views content creation: “At The New York Times, far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish. At Huffington Post, the article begins its life when you hit publish.”
In other words, in the digital world, you cannot expect your audience to find your ideas based on their merit alone — which is true even for The New York Times. You have to find your audience with each piece of content you create. And, no wonder: we’re drowning in information. More than 76 million blogs exist on WordPress alone, and new publishing platforms (both visual and text-based) emerge constantly. Tumblr did not even exist seven years ago. Today, Tumblr hosts more than 184 million blogs. But here’s the thing: smart publishers don’t circle the wagons and simply focus on turning their websites into more appealing content destinations. They nimbly share their ideas across multiple platforms and make their websites more appealing content destinations.
For instance, Buzzfeed, praised for creating “highly shareable content” in The New York Times report, is a multi-platform brand. The Buzzfeed website is the hub for popular quizzes, lists, and news articles about entertainment, sports, and popular culture. Buzzfeed also relies on a multitude of platforms to share its content and to attract readers, including an app and social spaces such as Facebook and Pinterest. But its staff writers, such as Kate Aurthur and Alison G. Vingiano, use their personal social spaces to promote their Buzzfeed stories and comment on the news.
Although The New York Times was correct to cite Buzzfeed, I believe TMZ is also an effective content hustler. Say what you will about the redeeming value of its gossipy content: TMZ long ago morphed into a multi-platform brand. TMZ not only scoops mainstream news organizations, the celebrity gossip site treats social channels like Twitter and Facebook as rapid-fire content reporting outlets — with founder Harvey Levin setting the example by relying on his own high-profile personal brand to promote TMZ content.
TMZ creates whimsical visual GIFs on Tumblr (thus smartly relying on a popular content format on Tumblr). And, years ago TMZ learned how to bring a TV experience to its digital audience by providing streaming commentary on its TMZ Live show. Hence, TMZ can break a story on its website, spread the news across social, repackage content visually on a site like Tumblr, and then analyze its own stories on TMZ Live.
If you want to be a successful content hustler, I recommend that you:
- Always look for ways to re-purpose shareable content from the inside of your company. For example, if you know your chief creative officer is about to present at Cannes Lions, create a strategy for turning his or her presentation into shareable content, an example being a series of blog posts linking to the presentation (which you should post publicly).
- Empower your workforce to aggressively use their personal social spaces to share content (but make sure you have a social media policy in place, too). Encourage your most prolific and valuable corporate bloggers to get involved in the recently expanded LinkedIn publishing platform.
- Think in terms of paid, earned, and owned media. Share your content on all the spaces you own — and make it findable via search engine optimization. Use social spaces such as your corporate presence on Facebook, SlideShare, and Twitter to draw readers to your primary content publishing site. Look for ways to promote your content (e.g., via promoted Tweets) and to earn impressions through an influencer outreach program. I have personally turned blog posts into news media columns and helped corporate executives do the same.
- Learn from other content hustlers as The New York Times is trying to do. And look outside your industry. Resist the temptation to judge the quality of a publisher’s content. Look at how successful publishers distribute what they create.
Finally, don’t overlook a fundamental assumption: your content needs to be worth hustling. Buzzfeed succeeds not only by knowing how to share content; the publication relies on humorous, well written, and easily digestible stories that people want to read, combined with a strong visuals ranging from GIFs to videos, all created quickly to be relevant to news cycles. You don’t visit Buzzfeed for in-depth New Yorker style commentary. You visit Buzzfeed to be engaged. And Buzzfeed delivers.
How do you hustle content?