If your content had a calling card

Buzzfeed and others have shown the 'hub and spoke' model needs a tune-up

One thing that always stood out for me in Truman Capote’s novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was the calling card Holly Golightly presented to people when she met them. Underneath her name was one word: Traveling.

A polite way to say she had no permanent home.

I thought about the idea of being a perpetual traveler recently – and not just because it’s summer.

I was listening to BuzzFeed Canada’s social media editor Elamin Abdelmahmoud give a talk at Social Media Week Toronto. He said that about 75% of the content it produces isn’t published on Buzzfeed.com.

That surprised me. Here you have a successful digital media outlet that gets a lot of hits on its site. And yet, the vast majority of its stories, videos and posts have their home somewhere else.

What does that say for other brands and organizations?

Hub and Spoke Needs a Tire Change

In the last 10 years, social media has helped democratize the way media is delivered directly to audiences and that has given us the opportunity to become publishers in our own right.

Along with that came the hub and spoke content model, the virtues of which were espoused by many of us in digital marketing. Simply put, you treated your website/blog as the online home for all your company’s stories. And then you used social networks and traditional marketing disciplines like advertising and PR as the spokes to distribute and amplify your content.

A Renter, Not an Owner

So what changed? Mobile for one thing. And the fact that some of the biggest social networks have become our new media companies.

Consider Facebook’s Instant Articles and live video, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages and YouTube and Twitter’s Periscope. They’ve become our new publishers and broadcasters. Except the platforms themselves aren’t creating the content. They distribute it and take their cut, of course.

According to Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report, Google and Facebook get a whopping 76% of the digital ad revenue in the U.S. That’s a staggering figure by any count.

Now, businesses and media companies are being forced to alter course and publish on many different platforms in order to get in front of the people they want to reach. Their videos, stories and posts lives outside the comfortable digital homes they built. Similar to what happened when Facebook diminished the reach of company pages, content rules are morphing again.

What should your business do? Try to act like Buzzfeed and publish far and wide? Hang on tight to what worked last year and hope for the best? Ditch your website?

There’s no doubt the hub and spoke model needs a tune-up. A first step is learning to understand what Gartner Research calls unstable business processes.  That means embracing a strategic flexibility, accepting that seismic change is part of the marketing landscape and testing, learning, adapting – in near real-time.

It also means you should be constantly questioning why you’re creating content in the first place, whether or not it will have any value for customers, what you can produce better than anyone else and how you’ll spread the word.

Inside a Retailer’s Mind

One way to accomplish this is to adopt a retailer’s mindset. Think of your website or blog as your flagship outlet. Most of your customers won’t visit your flagship all the time, but it’s there to set the tone and personality for your brand. To give people a unique experience.

The content you publish on social media outposts like Facebook and YouTube are like stores in a mall. You don’t own them and never will and the mall takes a big cut of your revenue. But malls are a place where communities gather. And you realize giving up some autonomy and control for the opportunity to reach a bigger audience is worth the trade.

Will the shift to distributed content last for a while? I wouldn’t give up your website just yet.

Maybe now’s a good time to both adjust to the new flow and conduct some experiments on your own site so you’ll be ready to face the next content chasm.

Are you a perpetual content traveler or do you still maintain a digital home base?

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and teaches digital strategy at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. You can find him on Twitter @martinwaxman

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