4 things publishers can learn from Ranker

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For a simple operating system for lists -- or even a well-executed instance of "connected list making" -- Ranker is a lot of fun. Ranker, the three-year old start-up that in 2011 secured $1.3 million in funding, harnesses the power of crowds to answer the eternally asked question "what is the best --?" You know: the sort of things that friends ask each other at brunch or at three in the morning.

The Ranker platform is a cross between a Q&A platform and a social platform. As of March 2011, the site boasted 1.6 million monthly visitors with over 25 million monthly ad impressions. So it's doing something right.

What are those things? Here are four that hold lessons for publishers.

Engagement is king

One of the things any visitor to the site immediately comes away with is that Ranker is highly addictive. That is because the platform successfully embroiders so many elements that make for good social engagement: a robust community, great user-generated content and, best of all, rankings. Ranking appeals to an all-too-human conceit -- that we are all experts. Highly addictive = high engagement rates.

The crowd has the power

Rankings are immensely publisher-friendly. Further, lists are fun. End-of-year lists, "Best Of" lists, "Richest Lists" -- they all work, in print and on digital. I recently called out the Village Voice Media's "Best Of" app as being an interesting example of hyperlocal social media (Foursquare integration soon to come). That app works for The Voice because they have an impeccable reputation in food and culture criticism. Now -- how much more fun, how much more engaging would this be if The Voice, or a competitive hyperlocal publisher allowed for crowdsourcing their own "Best of" list.

Why shouldn't a hyperlocal publisher harness the power of crowds to rank, say, the best steak houses in your city? But let's not stop there -- Why shouldn't an entertainment publisher harness the power of crowds to rank the top 25 viral videos? Entertainment Weekly, my favorite magazine, is quite expert at creating entertaining Top Ten lists compiled by their staff reviewers and experts. PopWatch, the digital incarnation of the magazine, ought to be harnessing the power of the crowd at every opportunity. Time Warner certainly has the resources to create a more crowdsourcing-friendly platform for pop-culture rankings.

An accessible platform

Ranker's platform uses a Netflix-style drop-and-drag interface with a large back-end database. The Ranker app is also fully distributable to other publishers and bloggers who want to do rankings (hint, hint).

A word-of-mouth machine

Although there have not been that many stories about Ranker, the word of mouth is really quite good.

"It's not as simple as piracy, it's not as simple as profit, it's first and foremost about marketing," writes Bob Lefsetz in Lefsetz Letter on the subject of getting the word out in the music industry. "Your marketing is done by the audience today, via electronic technologies, and you must do everything in your power to help them spread the word."

What a band needs to do to get the word out about their music is not unlike what publishers encounter in getting their stories across on social media. To that end, CrowdRanked lists -- like Ranker's The Top 25 Greatest Internet memes of 2010 -- can be shared across their social plaforms. 

Those rankings, user-generated content, are by their very nature the sort of things that translate well on a social network like Facebook. And that might explain why that particular ranking on Internet memes has had over 445,000 views. And counting.

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