6 ways to boost online content volume

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Quantity or quality? The debate continues among digital publishers that understand the need to produce lots of content to attract audience and drive page views — but are still not ready to go down the "content farm" path. Here's an overview of some of the ways media companies are supplementing their original content to keep their sites fresh. While the ideas are not new, the tactics and technologies are evolving.

Aggregation/curation ― These days almost any major media company you find is linking to outside sources, but they use different methods. Curation platforms help publishers combine automated aggregation (quantity) with editorial oversight  (quality). For smaller operations (like this one), editors can manually link to some of the best content out there as a group effort.

Syndication/licensing ― With roots in the print world, content syndication has extended its important applications to the online world. While leading content syndicators companies like the Associated Press and Bloomberg remain prominent online, the “really simple syndication” of RSS allow websites to embed feeds from a variety of websites ― at a fraction of the cost.

Content syndication is useful for general news, evergreen content and, increasingly, more topically focused content, such as technology blogs or automobile coverage. Companies such as Studio One Networks and Demand Media are emerging to offer topic coverage across a variety of niches. Studio One offers its advertising-supported content for free to its media partners. Other outlets sometimes allow for advertising revenue-sharing arrangements.

While some RSS feeds are free, many content providers often charge a licensing fee for commercial use ― so make sure you have the proper permissions before publishing RSS feeds on your home page.

Content sharing ― Content exchanges help news organizations work together toward the common goal of providing in-depth coverage of a topic with fewer resources. Publish2 is a startup offering a service called News Exchange, a peer-to-peer marketplace where publishers can create content-sharing networks for topics such as local or feature news. Publishers can also distribute their content, essentially creating their own  news wires and deciding how much to charge for it.

Content sharing is a way for newspapers to collaborate with other organizations that they once considered competitors. The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, for example, are sharing some content in print and online. A number of newspapers have banded together to form regional content-sharing networks, in some cases to sidestep the rising fees of the Associated Press. In 2008, Ohio's eight largest newspapers formed the Ohio News Organization (OHNO) to share content. Similar arrangements have sprung up in other regions, including a consortium of five papers in New York and New Jersey.

Magazine and niche publishers can learn from the newspaper example, potentially swapping coverage to expand their scope. 

Press releases ― Most journalists gag at the thought of posting press releases as a way to beef up content, but it's becoming a more accepted practice, particularly among B2B publishers. Linking to or summarizing outside press releases is a way to direct users to important deals and products announcements you don't necessarily want to cover, but still might be of at least of peripheral interest to your readers. Reuters has an extensive listing of press release headlines, which could be executed on a micro scale.

Posting relevant press releases is actually more transparent than simply doing a casual rewrite of a press release to make it look like your own content. Offering announcements “as is,” without endorsement, is better than rewriting a press release without the proper due diligence of reporting or analysis. It also can save valuable resources by keeping your staff focused on original reporting.

Social media ― While social media has become an important part of digital strategy for many media companies, we tend to think of it more in terms of increasing traffic and brands rather than as a content enhancer. If anything, it's seen as just another task distracting editors from producing content.

But social media itself can be content. More media companies are finding ways to leverage outside social networks right from their homepages. For example, plugins can sync site comments and community to Facebook and widgets can display a stream of tweets on your homepage.

Integrating social media onto a website might not solve all your content needs, but it could add some substance and promote interactivity ― and get more use of all that social media promotion you've been doing anyway.

User-generated content ― It's hard to talk about social media without talking about the buzzword of user-generated content. Websites like iStockphoto have managed to build entire businesses on the concept of UGC, so there must be something to it. Publishers can harness UGC community blogs or forums.

Web communities are most effective when they are industry- or topic-focused. For instance, industry professionals might be more than willing to offer a blog and increase their brand via a well-respected publication. Forums can bring together users who want to leverage one antoher's knowledge, such as investment professionals at Registered Rep or brides at The Knot. In B2B, publishers are warming up to the fact that their audiences are experts on the topic and giving them more ways to contribute their own content. Ziff-Davis, for example, earlier this year launched eWeek Labs, a site featuring product reviews from IT professionals.

UGC might not be for every publisher, but it's worth considering. After all, why not turn the people you're producing for into producers themselves?
 

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