Online, Brands Are Built One Atom At A Time

Jason Fry of Reinventing The Newsroom wonders what content atomization means to media brands. On Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Fry argues that media brands are increasingly meaningless today because we, as readers, don’t rely on them for news; rather, we rely on our network for leads to news and search engines to find said news.

Too often, home pages are committee-built disasters anyway — a cacophony of news, features and corporate messaging from every internal constituency too big to be ignored. Readers, relentlessly trained to hunt for signal, rightly dismiss them as noise. When he was consulting for the Guardian, TBD.com’s Jim Brady shut down the Guardian America front page, explaining to PaidContent’s David Kaplan that “you’re better off putting your stories on Twitter and posting them on Digg and Facebook and pitching them to blogs that can move a lot of traffic, than posting them on a section front that’s getting no traffic anyway. One of the things I pushed for was that you have to get away from the idea of getting people to simply come to your home page. You have to get your home page to the people.”

What can non-media brands learn here? Plenty. For one, any brand operating online needs to create content worth talking about and sharing, and it must be easy to find via search. This may sound simple, but it’s not. Media companies are content pros, and they’re struggling to adopt an entire new set of rules for the digital space. It’s like they were playing polo for 100 years and now all of a sudden, they’re made to play water polo.

Fry mentions consumers relentlessly hunt for signal while ignoring the fluff. That’s also the way people shop online, whether they’re shopping for information, or shopping for a product in an online store. Again, there’s a lot to learn here for brands of all shapes and sizes. Traditional advertising is heavy on the fluff, but that doesn’t play online, not when someone is hunting for a good price on a new canoe or that special case of wine.

The point about needing to get your homepage to the people is also well made. To me it means more than adding one’s URL to every point of contact, it means making one’s homepage worth visiting. As mentioned, that takes content that’s worth sharing and easy to find. It also means the brand’s website and social channels must be a special destination of some sort. Brand loyalists need to be rewarded for their visits and time spent. This can be accomplished through web-only promotions, by creating special clubs for online fans and/or by incorporating social gaming mechanics into a site.

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