Francesca Zunino Harper is a linguist, translator, and publishing professional. She worked in the British and international academia researching on comparative literatures, translation, and women’s and environmental humanities for several years. She now works in the Humanities and Social Sciences area of publishing. You can follow her @ZuninoFrancesca.
What is the future of media and publishing? How do we predict what is going to happen? How can we as publishers and media professionals keep being original and think about today’s users and tomorrow’s content? Possibly only Nostradamus could have been able to predict the answers. And he was often wrong.
Even without crystal balls or magical foretelling powers, the event organised by the content recommendation and personalisation service for publishers Bibblio on the (predominantly digital) Future of Media and Publishing last night, and hosted by We Work in its grand Waterhouse Square space, was positively thought-provoking.
There were no supernatural prophecies but a lot of practical, insightful, valuable advice to take away from both the first and last presentations (by Adam Flint, senior product manager at a big fashion brand, and Toby Abel, CTO at Krzana), and by the brilliant all-women panel, formed by Louise Tierney (Director of Data at SAM), Sophie Rochester (founder and CEO of Yodomo), Emily Wilson (Head of UK Consumer Marketing at Oath), and Katie Roden (content, marketing and publishing strategist and Google Masterclass trainer) and moderated by Bibblio’s cofounder and CEO Mads Holmen.
The only constant is change
Adam kicked off by highlighting how teams and businesses should not follow pre-constructed maps with pre-defined scopes and solutions, and not see change as failure: change is creative, and we should focus on priority problems, on testing solutions and not hypotheses, on smaller, less top-of-the-list issues, on being minimal to keep the problems relevant.
Afterwards, Mads enthusiastically guided the panel’s conversation towards digital-users-related issues for both the publishing – books, newspapers, magazines ? and the media and content brands industry – start-ups as well as big companies. The ice was swiftly broken with a question on GDPR. Everyone agreed that even if it means losing an average of 75% users (as happened in Canada), this would probably not really impact a business: the remaining 25% are the highly engaged users to retain. So how can we show this core 25% that the content we produce is in line with what they want?
Emily stressed the importance of keeping the active users engaged by pushing notifications and recommendations, personalising, tailoring, and retargeting content, telling a building story, being selective of the medium, and differentiating between medium and media to broadcast and advertise the message.
Tell the right story for the right moment
Storytelling is fundamental, said both Katie and Louise: we need to shift from the idea of content as acquisition and reach people’s feelings, constantly reinventing the content and being creative. The key is to get people excited. Professionals need to understand that people are not linear, not assuming what people want but focusing on individual moments when users welcome the business into their lives. Think about people’s interests and passions and share them, do not just use demographics based on hard data. Do not fail to grasp users’ emotions and feelings; look at what people feel and how they want to feel, not just at consumption.
And the same person is not always the same persona, Mads added. Think about Spotify wanting to know where the user is to tailor the music recommendations: reach the person as they are in each particular moment.
Nevertheless, can we really personalise content? It’s very easy to fall in the trap of overpersonalisation tools and use algorithms and data to presume to know what users want. So how do we stay ahead? Sophie suggested that after the recent Facebook ads’ political troubles it will be interesting to see how the battle between technology-driven numbers and what really engages customers unfold. Monochromising is terrible, she said: chasing numbers means forgetting about content, quality, and ethics; “publishing is the last bastion”. Don’t chase what everyone else does, go for the power niche and you will know who your customers are.
Looking to the future
Toby’s final chat on the future of journalism reminded us that making predictions is dangerous, the ad model is dead, and there’s a need to free journalists’ time by automating non-core tasks to allow them to focus on producing incredible content and powerful analysis. He then predicted that by the year 2022, 80% of working professionals in London will be reading a paid subscription, which as some of the audience stressed goes against the idea of information being equally accessible and not stratified.
So, content professionals, to create really high-value content and make users trust our companies and brands as safe and reliable spaces we need to personalise our content, constantly re-imagine our storytelling inserting surprise elements that speak to users’ feelings, and give consumers varied options to choose.
You’d need a crystal ball to know which of these concepts will guide us successfully into the future; without one, it’s up to us to keep following the latest new ideas and sticking with the ones that work best. And events like this MeetUp are a great way to stay ahead of the curve.