Over the past few days, much has been written about a proposal issued by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy seeking to introduce a government funded media regulator, in place of the Australian Press Council.
Not surprisingly, much has been written about the proposal because, at first glance, it stands to mostly effect the people who write. I’m talking about the usual suspects — newspapers, magazines and commercial news websites — and their broadcast counterparts.
While the mainstream media rage about independance (as they should), no-one has yet addressed how these changes are likely to affect a far larger and arguably more influential interest group.
Naturally, I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of businesses that engage in content marketing.
What if you blog for business?
In addition to concerns relating to freedom of the media, coverage has focussed on two glaring faults with the proposed reform.
Firstly, it proposes to regulate bloggers and other online authors that generate more than 15,000 “hits” a year. Secondly, it uses the word “hits”, which is disturbing due to the obsolescence of the term. Most sites are now measured by Visitors and Views. A website attracting over 40 Visitors a day could, therefore, fall under the scope of the proposed media authority.
Furthermore, it neglects the most significant shift in media ownership since the arrival of the Internet — the rapidly growing adoption of content marketing.
While the mainstream media rage and the government continues its efforts to regulate journalism, an overlooked shift is occuring.
Media ownership is decreasingly the domain of a select few. It is shifting to just about anyone with an opinion or even just a desire to share the opinions of others. (For example, if you own a Twitter account chances are you are now a media aggregator.)
The means of production is no longer a barrier to entry, which means that the only thing left of any consequence is the content.
What is content marketing, anyway?
Over the past three years, I’ve been privileged to teach, coach and consult to over 150 businesses. It’s what I do when I’m not running Anthill.
And while my lessons and advice have come in a variety of forms, using whatever language seems most appropriate to the client, these classes and coaching sessions largely preach one message above all else: The power of content marketing.
In fact, in my experience (and for most of my clients), there is no method more reliable for generating site traffic, leads and online sales than through the creation of search engine optimised, social media friendly content.
(Actually, I tell a lie. If you have a massive advertising budget, advertising is perhaps equally reliable. But it requires… yup… a massive advertising budget. Enough said.)
Boring definition alert! According to Wikipedia, the term ‘content marketing’ is:
“…an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to engage current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action.”
But, to put this in the perspective of business owners and bring the concept of ‘content marketing’ back to the proposed media regulation reforms, please allow me to present Exhibit A.
Exhibit A: Bloggers get more leads
I have to thank one of my online marketing workshop buddies, Biagio LaRossa, CEO of communication technology outfit generation-e, for bringing this amazing piece of… you guessed it… content marketing to my attention.
Created by Hubspot, for the purpose of lead collection and sharing, this slide deck demonstrates — over 24 slides — how companies that blog not only generate more traffic but also generate more leads (and, by extension, sales).
Hubspot content marketing analysis
If you have time, download and read this report. Based on the activities of over 4,000 businesses, it found that businesses that blog get two times more traffic and three times more leads than business websites that don’t.
This is because organisations that create content that is compelling to their target audience (not compelling to the world at large) are more likely than others to attract the interest of search engines and are more likely to exploit the ‘sharable’ nature of social media.
Hence, please allow me to introduce Exhibit B.
Exhibit B: Traffic comes from being findable and sharable
Below is a screengrab if Anthill’s site traffic by source from 2009. If you already use Google Analytics (Google’s free site traffic measurement tool), this slide will be familiar.
Anthill Traffic Sources
While Anthill is a media business, I’m happy to make the argument that this is how the traffic source breakdown of any healthy business could look.
Firstly, from where does the greatest volume of Anthill’s traffic originate? The answer: Google.
This is because search engines attribute greater importance (i.e. PageRank) to sites that update their content frequently and have large volumes of content. Furthermore, sites with more content are more likely to be found as a result of search engines queries simply because the probability of a matching search query increases. (This is called Long Tail Theory.)
Also, good content attracts ‘backlinks’ (links from other websites to your content). This also increases the importance of your page according to Google, which treats every backlink as an ‘endorsement’. (I’ll save SEO theory for another day.)
Secondly, take note of the other sources of traffic identified above.
Anthill’s ‘direct’ traffic, in this instance, was largely generated by email newsletters that send direct links to subscribers. This, of course, presents another argument for another form of content marketing — the humble company newsletter.
The remaining sources relate to social media channels — Twitter and Facebook. Ow.ly is a by-product of Hootsuite, which we use to manage our Twitter account.
In short, compelling content is more likely to be ‘shared’ via social media channels by people with an interested in what you’re saying (your target market). Content marketing allows you to help you target market do your marketing for you.
Exhibit C: Consumers no longer care about the channel
This last point is what the media reformers, responsible for the proposed authority, have failed to understand. (And it’s what the major media brands are working desperately hard to ignore.)
Put simply, customers once cared about the source. Now, they don’t.
They care more about what Google serves up (in response to a search query) and what their mates and business contacts share with them.
For example, if I wish to know about the political situation in Thailand, I am unlikely to go visit the Thai Government website, the Australian Consulate website or even a major Australian or global news organisation’s website.
Instead, I will visit Google and enter the search term ‘Thailand political situation’. I am just as likely to be directed to a major news outlet as I am a politically savvy blogger’s own analysis.
To really drive this home (pun intended), below is a chart that was shown to me by social media adviser Ian Lyons, who found this chart on the Datalicious website, referencing a DigitalBuzz article. (It’s what you might call highly ‘sharable’ content, yes?)
Australian brand sites losing to the Social Web
Once upon a time, if I wanted to know about Holden cars, I would head to the Holden website.
Now, Google and my friends take me to other, far more reliable places to gather information, largely provided by independent bloggers and commercial organisations that have more to gain from creating quality content to attract and hold my attention than the actual car makers.
And how does this relate to traditional media? This chart tells a similar story.
In short, commercial bloggers and content marketers are robbing traditional sources of news of their traffic. Why? Because content marketers can now often make more money from news than traditaional news organisations.
Case study: From solar panel company to news outlet
By now, you may have began (I hope) to begin to appreciate the growing influence of content marketing and its influence on the Australian media landscape.
But, just in case you’re still on the fringes of acceptance, here’s a true story about one company that is blurring the boundaries between traditional Australian hardware reseller and online media news outlet.
In mid 2009, Anthill lost one of its regular advertisers — a solar panel company. It wasn’t among our biggest advertisers but its advertising spend was consistent (and, naturally, welcome).
During our attempts to win back this lost source of revenue, we stumbled upon what any media company might describe as an ‘alarming development’.
Rather than continue to spend upwards of half a million dollars a year across multiple advertising mediums — from websites to television and radio — this organisation had opted to hire a journalist instead in aid of aspirations to become ‘Australia’s leading source of Cleantech news’.
How could a solar panel reseller justify such a lofty goal?
Firstly, a single salaried full-time cleantech writer would, indeed, make this company the most resourced cleantech news outlet in Australia. The Australian Newspaper does not have a full-time cleantech writer. And neither does the entire Australian Broadcasting Corporation!
Furthermore, the commercial rationale for becoming Australia’s leading source of cleantech news far outweighed that of any media organisation. The margin on a solar panel is far greater than the margin on a ad. And, by creating relevant news, it stood to ‘own’ rather than ‘rent’ its audience.
Within weeks of making this decision the company’s website was attracting vastly more traffic and significantly more leads for its solar panel product. Several years on, this organisation is generating 10 to 15 times more leads than it did when spending its annual marketing budget on traditional advertising. Ironically, this organisation recently approached me to find out how it could further monetsie its traffic by putting bannner ads on its site.
So how does all this relate to the media reforms?
The most troubling aspect of this reform is that does not clearly articulate what it means to be a ‘News’ site. For example, does your company blog qualify as a source of news? Furthermore, it does not factor in these seismic changes described.
If there is one unchangeable aspect of media and news is that it will always be owned by those who can generate the greatest financial return from its ownership.
The organisations with the most to gain — financially — will always be those willing (and able) to invest the greatest resources into quality journalism. And these organisations are no longer the likely suspects (i.e. those stuck with the traditional advertising ‘cross-subsidy’ model as their primary source of revenue).
Instead, the ‘sews’ will be owned by those most able to financially fund the best ‘content’. And what the proposed reforms fails to recognise is that these people could be… well… you.