It’s the process stupid!

It’s the process stupid!
6 March 2017 Laurens de Knijff

It’s the process stupid!

Last week i found an interesting read about a Dutch newsplatform called Mindshakes. They are a spinoff of a traditional newspaper, focussed on millennials. They produce some really interesting content in a very modern way, serving a mix of short ‘mindsnacks’ en longer ‘mindfood’ content.

The most interesting part is how Mindshakes tries to involve their audience in a very early stage. From the moment that an idea is born, they test it on social, and ask questions to their followers. Their audience gets a role in the process. This a great concept, and an excellent fit for millennials. Basically treating them as, ‘The people formerly known as the audience’, as Jay Rosen once put it.
They use a nifty tool for this: Hearken. It helps a newsroom in a very practical way, seeding ideas to a community and channeling the feedback. It is all about the involvement of the public in an early stage. I found a very simple but powerful graph on Hearken’s website. It looks roughly like this:

The first time i saw this, it blew my mind.: These two simple lines sum up almost all of my problems with modern content production and distribution! The newsroom and the public are out of sync. Somewhere around the publication moment there is a handoff between the two. And right after that they lose each other.
Many more problems can be visualised by these two lines, let’s focus on two.The first one, is the one that Hearken is trying to solve: the public is only engaged áfter publication. It is the green line. Let’s call this the Uphill problem. The public is involved too late in the process, it takes considerable marketing effort to mobilize an audience, and drag them ‘Uphill’ in a very short time.

Hearken offers a great tool for solving this problem. If you start uphill, it saves a lot of ‘dragging’ effort after publication. The cause for this problem is in the traditional separation of the ‘making’ and ‘marketing’. Before publication we call it ‘making’, in which creative people are doing their thing, but the audience is not involved. And after publication we call it marketing, in which the content is static, but audience specialists try to drag the audience to the content.

The second problem is not addressed by Hearken. It is the blue line: the editorial attention. It goes straight down after publication. Let’s call it the Downhill problem. This is often the default situation in media companies: “Hi, here is some great content, bye now, i’m off now making the next piece of great content, see ya!”
But editorial attention shouldn’t stop at the publication moment. It is merely the beginning of a story. It can live for several days or longer. During that period there is still lots of editorial effort to be done to keep it alive. Things like: collecting feedback, corrections, looking at data, optimizing headlines, A/B-testing, highlighting on a homepage, sharing on social, participating in comments, spotting follow-up opportunities. They all take place áfter publication, but most of the time they are ignored.
Right after publication, the editorial attention shifts to producing the next piece of content. Creating more content is not the solution for the uphill problem. Every piece of content that is generated needs to be dragged uphill. More content for the same audience means more ‘marketing effort’ and less audience per piece. The next piece of content becomes a competitor the previous one. It is a classic example of Content Shock.
So, how do we fix the uphill and the downhill problem? Newsrooms could start by focussing more on the process as a whole. The process should be your editorial product, not the publication. Getting the attention of an audience is hard enough these days. Focus on keeping the attention high, by nurturing that audience. Listen to them, talk back, look for extension of the attention. It’ll save you a lot of ‘dragging’.