Promiscuous media: News needs to go where the people are, not the other way around

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A post at The Awl notes that NowThis News — a media startup funded by former Huffington Post and BuzzFeed backer Ken Lerer that has a partnership with NBC Universal — is bypassing the need for a website and inserting news updates into a number of different apps and services such as Vine, Instagram and Snapchat (something it has apparently been doing for awhile now).

As ridiculous as the updates posted to Snapchat may look, with poorly handwritten text superimposed on newsy images, NowThis News has gotten something right that many media outlets continue to struggle with: namely, that if it is to be effective, news needs to reach people where they are, not sit on a home page somewhere waiting for people to show up.

Coincidentally enough, BuzzFeed is doing something very similar to NowThis News: as part of an ambitious expansion the company announced last week — at the same time that it closed a $50 million financing round from Andreessen Horowitz that values the company at close to $1 billion — BuzzFeed said it is staring a new unit called BF Distributed. This part of the editorial operation will eventually have a dedicated staff of 20 people, who will create content that appears not on BuzzFeed’s website, but lives on other apps and services.

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As Alyson Shontell of Business Insider noted in a post about the new BuzzFeed strategy, this is interesting because it suggests a future in which content companies may not even have websites at all. A similar desire to create content for many different platforms seems to have been part of the reason that former Reuters blogger Felix Salmon left to join the Fusion network. Salmon said a promiscuous approach to media would be a key feature of his new job:

“If our audience is on Instagram, we’ll make 15-second videos for them on Instagram. If they’re on Upworthy or BuzzFeed or Vox or even Snapchat, we’ll try to find a way to reach them there, too. It’s what I call promiscuous media: put everything where it works best.”

The idea that news — or any other form of content — should go to where the potential audience might be isn’t that revolutionary. Most media outlets, even mainstream ones, have gotten used to the idea of posting things on Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus. But in most cases, they still see these posts primarily as a way of driving people to their websites, not as content that lives and dies solely on that platform or within that ecosystem. Everything is still measured by the number of eyeballs or clicks that show up at the media outlet’s home page, because that’s how the traditional advertising-based revenue model works.

That model is eroding, however, and media companies have to figure out how to evolve. One risk with a distributed strategy is that your content becomes subject to the whims of the platform or app you are publishing on — and we’ve seen how a simple algorithm change by Facebook can torpedo a media company’s growth in the blink of an eye. But regardless, content creators have nothing if they don’t find an audience, and increasingly that audience is elsewhere. Desperately hoping they will decide to come to your website doesn’t seem like a smart strategy.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Janie Airey and The Awl

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