Each time a revolutionary piece of technology disrupts an industry, it is met with both resistance and excitement. For those technologies that inevitably reach massive consumer adoption, there are a number of winners and losers. Take the Internet, for example. We’ve already seen it dramatically change several industries with success and loss stories along the way -- Netflix vs. Blockbuster, record labels vs. Apple (and now Spotify), encyclopedias vs. Wikipedia.
For digital publishers none of this is news, but we do see both significant challenges and huge opportunities with the migration of content consumption from print to digital. Specifically, there’s still an open question around the best way to monetize online audiences. But the ability to grow an audience quickly and dramatically has proven to be a massive success online. With better ways to understand audiences, free ways to distribute, and easy ways to slot in business models, upstarts in digital media are showcasing the upside of this evolution.
Most recently, we can see the emergence of social media as a main way for digital publishers to distribute and engage audiences with their content. We can now reasonably expect to uncover a headline while scanning Facebook on the subway or refresh our browser to follow a breaking story as it unfolds throughout the workday. Gone are the days when reporters met a daily print deadline and the paper was “hot off the press” first thing in the morning. Today, readers want access to the news as it happens.
How can technology help the media adjust to these new reader preferences? Online publishers need to set new deadlines for digital content -- deadlines which bring this content to as many loyal readers as possible, exactly when (and where) they are most likely to read it.
The good news is that there are some general trends that provide insight into optimal deadlines.
(Disclosure: I am CEO and co-founder of Parse.ly.)
Of course, it’s not as easy as saying, “the new digital deadline should be noon on Tuesdays.” You’re trying to reach your readers, which means examining their preferences and creating your own digital deadlines to match your audience’s ideal news cycle. That is, rather than operating on a deadline imposed by the restrictions of technology, we're now able to create an unlimited set of custom "deadlines" based on the requirements of the media audience.
As the digital media tries to create a more customized news cycle, here are four questions that technology can help us to answer:
When are readers on my site?
When do you typically see the most traffic? When are your loyal readers looking to you for content? Do your weekday numbers differ from the weekend? Identifying your busiest site times is a great place to start in developing meaningful digital deadlines.
What are they reading?
Does my audience read different types of stories at different times? Keeping track of which topics are popular throughout the day, week, and month will help you to make more targeted decisions about when, and how, to publish your content. A short post about local traffic, for example, might do well just before the weekday commute; but, your readers might be looking for a “listicle” about travel on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
Which topics and article formats perform best on your site at any given time? Examining these trends in your data will help you to offer exactly what your readers are looking for throughout the news cycle.
How are they accessing content?
What kind of devices are readers using? Learning what device readers are using to access your posts can tell you what they’re doing as they read your site, or what they’re interested in reading about. According to recent polling data, nearly 80 percent of smartphone owners are now using their mobile device for regular news consumption. Tracking the peak times and the lull times for different devices can help you post relevant mobile content when it’s most likely to be consumed.
What content is your audience reading on their mobile devices vs. desktop, and how can you time your online publishing to match these trends?
What role does social media play?
How are your readers using social media platforms, and what are the general trends in terms of timing? One third of Americans report getting their news content from Facebook, and other social media outlets are becoming increasingly popular as well. Close to 40 percent of referrals to Parse.ly’s network of nearly 400 digital publishers are from social media. So, online publishers are rightfully interested in figuring out the optimal times for social media sharing, and there’s plenty of data out there to get you started on understanding these general trends.
Which social media platforms generate the most referrals to your content, and when? Examining the trends specific to your audience is a critical step to ensuring that your deadlines complement readers’ social media usage.
TLDR: Trying to get your content to the readers who want it is not a new challenge for publishers, but in the midst of a worldwide digital news shift, the goalposts are shifting. By understanding general trends in the digital daily news cycle and by focusing on your loyal readers’ behavior and preferences, it is possible to create new digital deadlines to help your content make the biggest possible impact.
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