Website survival: If you’re not a publisher of content, start now

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Mitch Joel

When brands sit down to evaluate what they’re doing online and in the mobile channels, the first realization they have is that what they’re doing is usually not up to snuff with the massive amount of online usage that their consumers are engaged with. And more often than not, they also grapple with what their peers and competitors are doing in these spaces as well.

It’s all fine and dandy, as brands continue to try to out-design their competitors, but the digital landscape continues to evolve. And there’s a bigger, scarier realization that comes with just a little bit of scratching beneath the surface: Your website is not important any more.

Becoming a publisher of content online is what the digital channels are really all about.

Brands still get caught up in the functionality and minutia of what their website is (or what it can be). All of those shiny bells and whistles won’t amount to anything if you’re not constantly and consistently publishing content (which can be done in text, images, audio, video or any combination of those formats) that adds value to consumers’ lives. It’s not something brands like to hear, and the number-one retort when you explain to a brand that online works not based on what you’re showing people, but rather on the type of content that you’re publishing, is: “But we sell Product X. We’re not in the publishing or content-creation business.”

News flash: Yes, you are a publisher. And, if you’re not, you better start … soon.

The age of creating basic websites that shill your brands, products and services with mumbo jumbo and corporate rhetoric is over. The age of brochureware websites is just that — “an age” … it can’t (and wasn’t meant) to last forever.

The new types of employees that are going to fill the marketing, communications and sales departments of the most successful companies in the future are going to have job titles like “Community Manager,” “Editor In Chief,” “Blogger,” “Podcaster,” “Videographer” and “Social Media Director.” Don’t be surprised if words like “ROI” and “CPM” suddenly become replaced with words like “Engagement” and “Customer Reviews.”

Look no further than Amazon. What was originally an online e-commerce website for selling books has pushed well beyond that. The sheer retailing power of Amazon is staggering. Beyond the selection of products that they have expanded into (not to mention the development and sale of multiple technologies and the acquisition of other companies along the way), they are a juggernaut of content creation. Around each and every product you will find Amazon’s description sidled up against major industry news outlets’ reviews and customer comments and much, much more. Authors of books are invited to add their own blog feed, there are forums for discussions and even video demos. It’s no longer about the cheapest price or free shipping at Amazon, it’s about publishing enough information and product clarity that the consumer feels confident in their purchasing decision. Amazon is able to sell massive amounts of products because they are able to create an online atmosphere of confidence through the publishing of original content, the republishing of mass media content and the platform for any individual to publish their own perspective on what the product is like in the real world.

Is Amazon an online merchant? Is Amazon a great website? Or is Amazon really one of the leading publishers of content, reviews and insights about products and merchandise? Others have created websites that sell the same products for cheaper. Competitors have designed websites that are way more engaging and pleasing to the eye. Amazon has been winning the retail war by becoming a trusted provider of content that surrounds the products they sell. This is paramount to understanding what success looks like in the online channel.

This concept of “brand as publisher” extends well beyond your garden walls as well. When you create a page on Facebook, it’s not about a “build it and they will come” model. It’s an iterative process (like publishing) where you continually pulse out valuable content that people select, save, star and share with their own peers.

A brand on Twitter is really just publishing thoughts of value in 140 characters at a time, at a consistent-enough pace that builds interest in who you are, what you’re about and how you connect back to your consumers. Communities are created around this content, and those communities are expecting an engaging back-and-forth type of conversation. That can’t happen with a static website. That can only happen when brands shift their mindset from being a “marketer” to a “publisher.”

Some of the greatest brand stories of the past decade have done just that. From Dell and Starbucks to Zappos and Doritos. These brands are no longer just pushing out marketing messages, they are becoming publishers of text, images, audio and video. They’re not just publishing in their own spaces, they’re publishing on the platforms where their consumers are congregating, and they’re even pushing out further by publishing on their consumers’ spaces (with their permission) and enabling their consumers to publish content about them as well.

Is your business ready to become a publisher?

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image and the author of Six Pixels of Separation.

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