What to do when brands become publishers

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If the people formerly known as advertisers begin creating their own editorial content to connect directly with consumers, where does that leave digital publishers?

At the recent Digiday: Social conference, Matt Goddard, CEO of R2integrated, which provides digital marketing and technology services, delivered a short presentation about just that. In one instance, he juxtaposed screenshots of Dell's and CNET's websites and asked audience members to tell the difference. No one could.

After the presentation, I chatted with Goddard about what publishers can do to stay relevant in a world where brands can connect directly with consumers. The edited transcript follows.

Summarize your presentation for those who didn’t get to see it. 

If you look at how people are digesting information, they are going to unique communities of interest. They are looking to a wide range of different resources that help them understand what they are purchasing and understand the subject matter to make them smarter, and in many respects, entertain them.

Publishers have played that role for us, and the brands have basically just advertised inside of [their] container.

Brands need to make the transition and say, “We aren’t just going to put our ads inside of this community container. … We need to go one step further. We need to be the content. We need to own the community. We need to become publishers.

Don’t we hear time and again that consumers trust company blogs the least?

You have just zeroed in on the biggest challenge and the biggest transition that these brands need to make in order for this to work.

Brands have to find avenues and approaches so that the customer will believe them when they describe different features, so the customer will feel enrolled in the product development process.

If brands don’t embed themselves in this process, then they will be sitting on the outside looking in while all of these peer-to-peer networks are used to make decisions. They have to find a way to coexist.

It seems like brands could use social media to lower that barrier considerably.

Communities of interest are forming inside of peer-to-peer social networks. So you have these fragmented groups of people with common interests that can include product-purchasing decisions.

The brands need to find a way to coexist inside of these social networks. And in order to do that, they still need to publish their information or act as the role of the publisher and say: “We’re going to be the custodian of this community” or “we’re going to participate in this community.”

Where they become even more like a publisher is when they start to create their own social networking communities, when they start to own them.

It seems that publishers and brands are moving closer together in the problem sets that they are facing. Do you foresee a way of publishers and brands working together? Or is this an adversarial relationship?

I think they absolutely need to work together. In some respects publishers are becoming brands and brands are becoming publishers.

Take MarthaStewart.com: They’re publishers, but they are also a major brand. MarthaStewartLiving.com, may be able to, as a brand, extend its revenue model to e-commerce, to products.  So you can see a major collision there.

Our message is simply this: If you are a brand, you need to acknowledge that this is taking place and find your way into the buying process.

I always tell people that social networking behavior has been around for a long, long time. Social networks form so you can make better decisions … to reduce your risk.

Social media has just streamlined it. The principles are the same, we just have to modify the content accordingly.

As a publisher what can I do to make sure that this conversion plays to my benefit? How can I make sure I’m not muscled out?

I’m not an expert in the publishing space, but my advice would be: find ways to partner with brands. Allow them to be publishers. But let your independent stature in the community be a differentiator. Work with the brands to help all of us make this transition though your digital assets and don’t be afraid to build you own assets.

Add products. Add advice. Look to other monetization strategies. Find additional things you can offer.

 

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