What drives content design?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I was reading a post, "The Facebook Reckoning", at Ben Thompson's always-excellent blog, Stratechery. It steps through some of the mechanics & economics of digital publishing, and then the implications of Facebook Articles.

Ben describes that publishers, in a pageview-driven model, have an incentive to get people to click, to increase ad impressions. This can sacrifice quality.

With Instant Articles, he asserts that publishers have an incentive to get people to share. This will increase revenue via Instant Articles. Content designed for sharing can certainly be different than something designed for a click.

With Antenna, and our forthcoming ad platform, publishers will have a different (new? better?) incentive: to create content that gets people to engage. Or, more specifically, to get people to react on specific pieces of their content. This is a different bar than sharing.

I'll paint with a broad brush here: reading and sharing are not strongly correlated. As we learned from Chartbeat:

"We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading," Chartbeat CEO Tony Hailie tweeted on Feb. 2.

Which makes sense. Retweeting from the feed and Liking from the wall are really, really easy to do.

Most reactions on our platform occur on content, not at an article level. The vast majority. In fact, most reactions are on text. People gotta read to react.

Put another way: if people are reacting, they're paying attention.

What incentive do people have to react? Well, it's giving feedback. It's letting a publisher, or author, or other members of a community know what I think about the content. This is different than comments. Much different. With comments, readers converse; they react to each other. Antenna is where people respond directly to the content (our clients gave me this comparison, by the way, and I think it's powerful).

This is so important! I read about things all of the time that I don't want to share to my Facebook or LinkedIn networks. Maybe I think that Broncos trade was a good idea, or think that Yahoo's strategy is off-kilter. I don't need to share that out, but if I'm engaged with content, I'll react. I'll leave a remark. I'm leaving my mark.

The other people who read the same stuff I do are sort of a flash social network. Or, really, an interest-based one. I don't need to friend up with people who read the same sites I do. We already come to the same places. Antenna is just making it easier for me to understand what my fellow community members think, and for me to share my two cents with them, too.

We know this has value to a community. Nine months of A/B testing on our entire network showed publisher partners see a lift in return visits after installing Antenna.

So, I think that content which is designed to encourage engagement with Antenna will look different than content designed to encourage sharing. Time will tell, but we think that will be a good thing.

Structured feedback on everything.


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