As we move further into a heavily aggregated, curated and crowd-sourced world of distribution for media, one challenge that the established players (in both digital and traditional) face is a loosening of grip in the context and branding related to the content they publish. In a world that existed before the advent of Twitter, Facebook and the aggregators like Techmeme, the sole point of distribution for publications was their own website. Briefly, there was a belief that RSS readers would change that, but it never picked up enough momentum to be ever called a tool that was used by the masses.
A common theme that I am hearing consistently from publishers of all sizes is the increasing volume of referral traffic from the new distribution channels. While this windfall in traffic is definitely is not a bad thing, it also points to a future where the concept of a homepage will gradually decline and your primary mode of reaching out to your audience will become something over which you don't have anything beyond a small degree of control.
Leveraging these new channels also mean that you are exposed to risks like fake profiles & accounts (seen in the case of the fake Twitter ID of BP) and change of terms of service that is one-sided, leaving you open to a significant loss traffic and revenue if you were to run afoul of the rules of the platform you are riding on. This also brings about a problem of a loss of branding and context when you are not a primary source for the information you publish.
Death of branding in such a situation happens in two ways:
1. The platforms enforce their own rules regarding appearance. Twitter, for instance, only allows you to put up a background image that can't be linked to anything else. Compare this with your regular home page. The difference is significant. In the matter of Facebook the difference is even more stark.
2. There is also the loss of form factor since most of these platforms allow you to access the data over their APIs, which further strips the content of any form of branding. You look and feel similar to twenty other accounts a user may follow. There is little difference between you and the “what is your favourite kink?” quiz.
Death of context happens when you get linked to contexts completely outside your control. In the pre-social world, linking was from the homepage/section page, to the story page, which was a completely controlled environment. In the current world, for a controversial topic or publication, there is always the chance that you get linked to something that has a “LOL” attached to it. With real time search results now being made a part of regular search results, the chances of these results erasing the original context is a major problem.
To get around these issues a two-pronged strategy is required:
1. Ensure that your readership/audience is engaged on all major platforms primarily from your own accounts. You need to own the conversation on the platform. This, though, is not for everyone and it can be major problem for smaller players in terms of cost and sustainability.
2. Capture the interaction of your regular audience on your own domain, thus providing a substantial value differentiation in what a member gets on the external platform and your own domain. When you find the people who interact and contribute consistently, reward them and incentivize others into doing the same.
In short, the new forms of content distribution are wonderful things, but do not grow it at the cost of your own domain by neglecting it. Build proper funneling strategies to measure engagement, retention and churn. If you value your own place in the pecking order, don't sign your death warrant by helping build a distributed iTunes store.