Making noise is not a strategy

“We may lament this and chastise Facebook for its lack of a moral compass and civic responsibility — but it’s a reality we have to come to terms with.”

From Twitter, to Snapchat, to Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP, not to mention looking to VR to save the journalism business, too much energy has gone into making as much noise online as possible.

After years of trying to beat the tech giants at their own game, 2018 will be the year that news media (hopefully) accepts that making noise ≠ strategy. News publishers, exhausted by years of shouting as loud as they can on the web, will reluctantly accept defeat to their frenemies in Silicon Valley.

There is, of course, a clear logic behind this. Noise translates into clicks and site visits, which ultimately translate into adspend. Unfortunately, it is now undeniable that this model will only work for the likes of Facebook and Google.

We may lament this and chastise Facebook for its lack of a moral compass and civic responsibility — but it’s a reality we have to come to terms with.

If for no other reason, noise levels will decrease in 2018 out of sheer fatigue. Even the likes of BuzzFeed and Vice are struggling. If BuzzFeed, the masters of the listicle and all things sticky on the web, can’t make it work, what chance does the average news publisher? Pretty much none.

In short, while making noise has value — all publishers need to grow their audience — its merits as meaningful strategy are looking ever more dubious. More often than not it looks, sounds, and feels like desperation.

So what to do? As difficult as it may be right now given the financial circumstances most publishers find themselves in, it is critical for the industry to take a step back, resist the distraction of noise making, and focus on core strategy.

For example, rather than trying to reach as many people as possible, does it make more sense to focus on a specific audience and to develop bespoke commercial strategies?

Is content the only thing you can monetize? Are you underutilizing other revenue sources, such as conferences or events? Yes, we all want to focus on the bread and butter of journalism, but don’t underestimate the earning potential of alternative products.

Just look at Reuters and Bloomberg — neither make their real money off of their journalism, and neither need to! Both are data companies with a media front end. This doesn’t mean try to compete with them on data, but think laterally about what else you can offer your audience.

This won’t be easy — but if you have spent any time in media over the last 15 to 20 years, you’re already used to that!

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