On my fifth-grade basketball team, my coach would get on me for having what he called "happy feet." My feet moved so much that it made it difficult for me to react quickly, and I’d often trip over my own shoes. He would tell me instead to plant one foot and pivot so I could change directions quickly and minimize the likelihood of falling on my face.
Now, since coming back to the media industry almost a year ago, it seems as though I'm constantly hearing about yet another big pivot — outlets planting one foot so they can change directions. While the constant (the planted foot) continues to be high-quality, engaging content, we’ve seen publications pivot to video, social media, and audio formats, and many are even pivoting back to focus on written content again.
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If you're interested in working with publications to contribute content, sometimes it feels as though you’re the one with happy feet as you try to stay relevant and get accepted. To improve your chances, it helps to know what those publishers are looking for. Based on our work with publications and data from our recent study, "The State of Digital Media 2018," here are a few tips for keeping up with publishers’ pivots.
With 1.5 billion active users every month on YouTube, there's no question that people are turning to video for education and entertainment. The barrier to entry for this format has decreased in direct correlation to the increase in our phones' camera quality. Not only that, but putting a simple 10-second ad at the beginning of a video made it easy for many platforms to increase revenue.
Several publications have begun including video in their content lineup, such as Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company. In fact, our research shows that 67 percent of publication editors plan to publish video content this year.
If you're comfortable in front of the camera and have quality lighting and sound equipment, several publications are open to video submissions and even regular video contributors. If you enjoy being on camera but don’t have the equipment, some publications are looking for people to participate in live interviews or take part in recorded webinars.
Just keep in mind: Video didn't turn out to be the golden ticket for every publication, with some visitors eschewing the non-skippable ads and talking heads for more traditional content. But publications have found a place for video done well. If you're interested in bringing video into your content strategy, check out our webinar with Lemonlight, "How to Marry Your Content Strategy to Your Video Content."
When 70 percent of Americans are on at least one social media platform, it would be foolish not to participate in some way. The options for publishers on various platforms have exploded in the past few years, thanks to the rise of Slack chats, Snapchat, and Facebook Live.
Some publications have selected one or two social media platforms to really focus on, such as Mashable on Snapchat and National Geographic on Instagram. Quartz even just launched a Facebook Messenger chatbot to engage more directly with readers.
By definition, social media requires a lot of content, sometimes more than even experienced publishers can create on their own. Similar to video, editors are often looking for people to help them create social media content, such as participating in interviews for Facebook Live or helping lead Slack chats.
Just keep in mind: Publishing on someone else’s platform means playing by their rules, even when those rules change. Many publications are feeling the pinch from Facebook’s latest news feed change. Especially in the social media realm, expect to re-evaluate content needs early and often.
From The Atlantic to Digiday to MarketingProfs, publications have found a perfect complement to their written content: podcasts. Some are as simple as a spoken version of published articles, while others take a deeper dive into topics already covered in their digital pages. Some, such as OZY’s "The Thread," use podcasts to tell a story in a way that can’t be done on a screen.
While podcasts have been around for well over a decade, many publications only turned their attention to this format in the past few years. With the rise of the connected home and Amazon Echos in millions of kitchens, podcasts and other audio versions of content have become a natural fit.
Just as journalists are looking for interesting stories to tell in their articles, they are also looking for interesting people to interview on podcasts.
Just keep in mind: As they do for written content, publications often have specific guidelines they follow for podcasts. Before suggesting a potential topic or person to be interviewed, be sure to listen to a few episodes to understand a podcast's format, and reach out to the producers for insights into what they're looking for. It's also important to remember that podcast editors tend to work weeks in advance, so this would not be a quick-turnaround opportunity.
After trying new formats, some publications, like WIRED, have doubled down on the journalistic talent they're known for. They recognize the importance of their planted foot — high-quality and engaging written content — and have created a paywall for their content. WIRED launched this endeavor with a piece from editor Nicholas Thompson outlining the shift as necessary to maintain what the publication's audience has come to appreciate. "Even as information has become cheap or free to distribute, we believe that quality information — built on great reporting, vivid writing, and illuminating insight — remains valuable," he writes.
After so many pivots, publications have come full circle. While there will always be value in having multiple formats that work in tandem, including video, social media, and audio, your entire content strategy all comes back to having interesting and educational stories told in an engaging way.
Like a good game of Tetris, I love connecting people and ideas. Exploring new places, new technologies, and well-crafted stories make me a better person. I am on a crusade to bring back the handwritten thank-you note.