The future of online presentation
Recent technology developments have sent traditional media into a tailspin, turning nearly every proven marketing strategy into a gamble. Across the world, in every industry, companies are scrambling to update the marketing tactics on which they’ve relied for generations. At the same time, consumers are craving engaging, relevant content that complements both their interests and their lifestyles. The most popular search engines have responded to these demands with fundamental changes that have shaken the advertising industry’s foundation. As marketers, publishers and business owners strive to keep up with this critical juncture in online media, two things are clear: multiplatform digital consumers are driving the future of online presentations, and long-term, positive branding hinges on a company’s ability to create personal connections with its customer base. In other words, the future is changing around us…and we’re the ones doing the changing!
The arrival of new platforms changes the publishing landscape
According to the Pew Research Center, the younger, hyper-connected generation is rapidly becoming dependent on mobile technology. This makes sense, as larger numbers of personal devices now come equipped with out-of-the-box networking capabilities. Smart phones, iPods, and even video game consoles all now rely on connectivity not as a selling point, but as an absolute necessity. Between Summer 2011 and Spring 2012, tablet ownership grew nearly 50 percent, and roughly 44 percent of Americans are now smartphone owners. These two developments have drastically influenced how consumers find and follow their news, their entertainment, and their friends. It is now common to read a newspaper from a tablet screen, listen to music streaming over the Internet or converse with others electronically via text and video. These sweeping changes in how people access information make responsive web design a critical element in marketing campaigns. Digital mavens who rely on numerous devices and browsers are demanding a consistent, single source of content that is easily navigable and quickly supplies essential information. Individual landing pages are increasingly proving to be an engaging way to connect with customers from any channel, whether it is through a QR code, a pay-per click advertisement or a specific keyword search. One way or another, potential customers and clients are being driven to the content they seek…and that provides companies and marketers with a built-in audience. App development in the publishing and business industries is also skyrocketing. Downloads available through the Apple App Store have increased exponentially from 10,000 in late 2008 to 799,850 in April 2012, with 895 new games and applications posted daily. Gaming, books, entertainment, education and lifestyle apps, which are enjoying immense popularity, can help to facilitate meaningful business to consumer connections. National Public Radio (NPR), for instance, reports that 80 percent of radio listeners also access content via its Android app. Unfortunately, this pursuit of the tablet audience requires significant time and financial investment that few media producers are willing to expend, and that refusal to embrace an app’s added reach is increasingly becoming a commercial liability. The critical issue in overlooking all these devices is the potential loss of a customer. The nature of the Internet enables consumers to simply select the next person on the list who does provide the services they are seeking…and that list is both easy to access and full of competitors willing to give customers what they’re looking for. “From the content-delivery perspective, if you are not able to deliver to all the different platforms, then you are missing a portion of the market who might want to view your content on a platform that you do not support,” explains Alex Dobrushin, chief marketing officer for Wowza Media Systems, Inc., in an April 2012 article in Streaming Media magazine. “You’re also missing an opportunity to generate revenue from that content.”
The growth of content aggregation, curation and creation
This ability to instantly access information from anywhere requires publishers to present strong, useful content. News aggregators that gather value-added information are becoming the go-to resource for those seeking more details about the topics that interest them. Social bookmarking websites, such as Diigo, Delicious and Reddit, are successful simply because they point the way to interesting third-party content. Users can even help to curate the material, which makes it more likely that what you’re looking at is something worth seeing. Due to the nature of Google’s search algorithm, original content is paramount. Recycled product descriptions are now removed from the first page of search results — or at least they’re supposed to be — while keyword-laden and scraped articles do not attract unique and repeat visitors. Content curators who produce a diverse mix of quality blogs, videos, tweets, posts and wikis are a hot commodity in the business world right now, simply because this is exactly what consumers and readers are already looking for. Traditional media outlets, which have suffered a steep decline in loyal readers, are experimenting (often successfully) with the aggregate, curate and create business model. The news outlets who embrace such an approach are often significantly outperforming traditional sources of information, including print weeklies, such as Time and Newsweek, cable news wire services, such as the Associated Press, and entertainment outlets, such as the Hollywood Reporter. The Daily Beast, which presents a “smart, speedy” viewpoint on world news, experienced a 251 percent growth in 2010, while the Huffington Post’s syndicated columnists, blogs and news articles attract 36.2 million unique monthly visitors. The news aggregator has launched 44 new channels during the past year, including HuffPost Green and HuffPost Gay Voices, which dominate comScore in their respective categories. This is good news for readers who had long turned their attention toward smaller blogs with a personal voice that appeals to them; the uprising of aggregators provides a wider swath of relevant material to a much larger readership, and that benefits everybody. Sources that offer a blend of online and offline content alongside paid subscriptions and free information are flourishing. This multi-platform strategy works because it serves the varied interests of a diverse audience. The ad-supported Washington Post has experienced great success this past year by adding Trove, a free social news site that aggregates content from more than 10,000 portals. The venerated news outlet also charges for e‑reader article downloads and recently launched a paid iPad app for premium political news. This platform diversification is critical. According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2012 report, “mobile technology is adding to news consumption, strengthening the appeal of traditional news brands and even boosting reading of long-form journalism. The move toward mobile holds some promising options for news producers.”
Engaging customers with interactive media
The prevalence of personal communication outlets, from social media and customer review websites to blogs and videos, has created intimate channels that enable consumers to communicate in real-time. While these channels are social by nature, the end-goal is to build strong communities. In the October 2011 blog post “Perspectives on the Future of Community,” Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader NetworksAccess, notes that “valuable content is the single most compelling driver for participating in an online community. Content serves as the trigger to join, providing contexts for conversations between members. People come for content and stay for community.” Additionally, during the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism, which took place April 20 – 21, 2012, Debra Galant, the founder of Baristanet, stressed the importance of providing “quality coverage of local issues.” She also noted that a “sense of personality and personalized writing is what differentiates” hyperlocal news sites, such as Patch, from traditional national news sources. Specialized, private online communities are gaining traction as network websites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, grow to enormous proportions. Platforms that provide targeted connections, like Google+ Circles, offer some control over who receives information. These gated communities assist news aggregators and curators in meeting the specialized needs of their followers. Ultimately, it’s clear where the internet is heading: personal engagement, and personalized content. For web designers, that’s both impossible to ignore and a thrilling challenge to embrace.
To say that the popularity of streaming media is swelling is a massive understatement. YouTube currently attracts 800 million monthly visitors. This AdSense-supported website supplies a lucrative revenue stream for Google, which has more than doubled its advertisement partner ad revenue for four years straight. Businesses, from the Wall Street Journal to Disney, are leveraging the user-generated content platform by posting commercials, infomercials, product reviews as well as CEO and customer testimonials. Customers, contrary to generations of belief that that they are there to be served, are increasingly demonstrating that they enjoy serving themselves, shaping their own experience, and having a little fun along the way. As video becomes a mission-critical method for engaging customers, innovative leaders are curating new platforms that cater to their niche audiences. The Huffington Post Streaming Network (HPSN) is set to launch this year, providing 12 hours of news content designed to rival cable news outlets like CNN. The paid NBA League Pass, which is available via television, broadband Internet and mobile channels, permits basketball fans to watch, rewind and record up to 40 live games each week. The on-demand access is supplemented with a vast array of content, from player statistics to play-by-play reviews. Recent federal government mandates established under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act now requires the inclusion of captioning on most streaming media. This is sure to have a colossal impact on how videos are curated, shared and indexed, so, as always, it’s important to look to the future if we intend to survive beyond the present.
The ever-evolving nature of technology, combined with the recent recession, has severely affected how and where advertisers spend their dollars. Print newspaper advertising, once the dominant method for notifying the public about department store sales and job openings, lost nearly 40 percent of its supporters between 2006 and 2010 to online outlets. Strategically placed backlinks attached to blog posts, articles, videos, forums and social networking sites are proving to be much more powerful for attracting potential customers. The most effective links point consumers to content that is valuable, even if it directs them to off-site information that is not associated with the company. After all, attracting the customer to your site or blog isn’t going to do any good if you can’t also furnish them with the information that they seek. By providing that information, even through external links to other companies or institutions, you are demonstrating a respect for their time, and establishing yourself in their mind as a resource worth recommending and returning to.
Implications for the future presentation of online media
The diverse array of technologies that enable us to access information is drastically impacting the presentation and consumption of online media. Rising to the top of the viewing platforms are the iPad and iPhone, both of which are expected to receive an iOS update this year. In addition to video streaming, innovative advertisers are keeping on an eye on developing strategies for Internet-connected televisions and gaming devices, such as Xbox and PlayStation3, as well as the recently announced Wii U. With this constant evolution, marketing strategies must be flexible so that they can adapt to any present and future format. To ensure adaptability, content must be attached to detailed metadata and then digitized and stored at the highest quality. Additionally, loyal brand buy-in will only result when companies listen to their customers’ challenges and goals, then develop helpful solutions.