Visit the website of news video producer Now This News, and this will greet you:
NTN replaced its content with this single placeholder page in February. The company’s VP of social media, Ashish Patel, tweeted the news to followers:
We just shut the desktop site down. @nowthisnews to be truly socially distributed media company. Follow us wherever.
NTN relies on Facebook, Twitter, Kik, Tumblr, Snapchat and a variety of other platforms to distribute more than 50 pieces of content every day. Each video is tailored to the platform. You can still find a mobile site and app, but most of the action happens when people share NTN videos on the social network they’re using.
From summer 2014 to July 2015, views of NTN videos soared from 1 million per month to more than 420 million. It’s an extreme example of an important trend.
Few publishers are poised to abandon their websites, but more and more are figuring out that people reading their articles or viewing their videos is what matters. Getting them to view that content on the publisher’s site isn’t.
It’s why The Washington Post will make every scrap of its daily content available through Facebook’s Instant Articles, which is being tested by The New York Times and other publishers.
These publications recognize that mobile users who tap a link to their articles frequently give up when it takes too long for the page to load. By publishing directly to Facebook’s Instant Articles platform—and adopting its format—publishers are sure their pages will load instantly.
Keeping eyes on the article (and accompanying ads) matters more than driving traffic to The Washington Post’s mobile website or app.
The rise of “Instant Articles,” Apple News and more
Facebook isn’t stopping with Instant Articles. An app reportedly called Notify is in the works. It will “let users subscribe to certain news organizations, dubbed ‘stations’ and receive notifications when those outlets’ websites push out news stories,” according to The Verge.
Apple introduced its own take on Instant Articles with the announcement it would partner with publishers to deliver their articles through Apple News, a native app on Apple’s iconic mobile devices. Not to be outdone, Google announced the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, which will ensure that articles open in the blink of an eye—all within the publisher’s own site.
Snapchat and Twitter are also redefining how news is distributed.
Snapchat experiences considerable success with Live Stories—photo and video collections that let users look in on live events as curators select content that will comprise the montages.
Twitter’s Moments is similar; users tap the lightning-bolt icon and see collections of tweets, videos, Vines and photos around news and events that are curated by editors.
Converging trends are shifting communications strategies
Several trends are converging to catalyze this profound shift:
1. We’re getting our news via link sharing.
According to an American Press Institute study, Americans get their news through a variety of means, “from old-fashioned word-of-mouth to electronic alerts and social media. The survey reveals that most Americans are discovering news in more than one way. More than half of all Americans report using between three and five methods of discovery to find out about the news.”
Though the most popular source continues to be directly from a news organization—mostly TV news—social media is used by 44 percent of Americans. A Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation study found that 65 percent of both Facebook and Twitter users say they get their news on social media. It’s an increase from 52 percent of Twitter users and 47 percent of Facebook users responding to a Pew study two years ago.
2. We’re using mobile devices for social networking.
More than two years ago, Facebook revealed that nearly 80 percent of U.S. users were mobile. That trend has accelerated globally. More than one-third of Facebook’s users access the social network solely on a mobile device, the company said in January.
As people scroll through their Facebook News Feeds—not to mention other platforms where news links are shared, like Twitter, WhatsApp and Snapchat—the desire to get to the news without long load times intensifies.
3. Publishers’ packages are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
On the mobile Internet, bound publications have been rendered all but obsolete. Even internal communicators acknowledge the change. Large companies like ConAgra Foods and smaller ones like Fehr & Peers distribute articles through collaboration networks like Yammer and Chatter instead of on an intranet homepage. The organizations enjoy increased readership as a result.
Implications for communications pros
If every company is a media company, as Tom Foremski argued back in 2009, then organizations must recognize the change and think more like NTN—or at least The Washington Post.
PR pros must tailor content for distribution in various social channels. Companies like Coca-Cola that have developed terrific content sites don’t have to abandon them, but they do need to inject individual stories into the channels where mobile users will find, access and share them.
Instant Articles, Google AMP and other publishing schemes will undoubtedly open up to more than select partners at some point, and brand managers should be prepared to publish using these channels. Like NTN, they should refine each piece of content to best take advantage of each channel.
The curated approach on Twitter and Snapchat is more problematic. For PR pros to include an organization’s content in a montage, they must create relevant and compelling content that curators will want to include—and even then it’s a crap shoot.
However, both platforms offer partnership deals. Twitter’s Moments have already featured montages from organizations ranging from Buzzfeed to NASA. These platforms will be happy to take your organization’s money, but the content must be interesting enough to attract viewers. Ultimately, these may not be worth communicators’ efforts.
These new trends don’t mean that traditional media relations should grind to a halt. If you manage to place your news in a media article that is published as a Facebook Instant Article, it’s not much different from getting it into the publisher’s own site.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of “along with, not instead of.” If PR pros continue to focus only on the old way of earning media coverage, the audience that sees the content will grow smaller and smaller.