Let’s not label Millennials and Gen Z as the only groups that have short attention spans. We all do when it comes to consuming content, regardless of age. It happens in part because we are bombarded with choices and our minds can’t keep track of everything we think we need to know. Who hasn’t made the mistake of trying to remember to read an article later only to forget it entirely?
From the content creator’s perspective, this creates quite the dilemma. As publishers, we respond by creating even more content and more choices and push it out harder and harder, hoping to rise above the noise that we are helping contribute to. It means a lot of great content that publishers know people care about goes undiscovered, not due to lack of interest but rather awareness that it exists. People want to find sources and follow the story as it develops. They want to know what happens next.
I’m not alone in my thinking. Adam Shapiro has spent his career as a journalist and at one time was Executive Editor at WNBC.com. He’s created a lot of content and wasn’t sure if and when it was connecting with people. “I felt hopeless that just creating great content (as a journalist) wasn’t enough to get it read," he said. "We had to get lucky and hope interested people would find it and read our story versus someone else’s version.”
That’s when he had his a-ha moment and the idea for AlertMe was born. As co-founder, Shapiro's focus is allowing readers to raise their digital hands to opt-in and get updates on the stories they care most about.
The idea seems simple enough. As a consumer, I know what I want to follow, so why can’t I tell a website just to let me know what happens next? Because keywords on their own fail us. If I told you I was a “shooter,” I can only hope you understand the context of me being the kind of basketball player who will throw up a shot before passing to a teammate and not something else. Does my interest in “seals” stem from an interest in the new baby seal born at the zoo, the singer’s latest concert or pride in our armed forces?
If the publisher can’t distinguish a consumer’s specific interest in one topic versus another, it’s frustrating for the consumer. As Shapiro says, that failure “crushes the editorial experience and trust in the source.”
The solution lies in natural language processing and contextual semantics. It’s a fascinating area that I’ve followed for many years. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have become better at not just reading the words but understanding what they mean. Basketball teams have shooters. Seals at the zoo are most likely the animals and not military personnel. This capability coupled with publishers' understanding of context -- they know their content and they know their audience -- means they can connect a user to the story they want to follow.
For a publisher, the integration is easy and clear: A button that says “follow this story” on every news page not only offers the utility of the alert but signals that stories evolve -- and the publisher is that source to keep people connected to it. That keeps readers coming back. Most publishers are happy if a reader opens a newsletter 20% of the time, but AlertMe emails are opened 55-60% of the time. Better yet, research shows only 4.7% of newsletter links get clicked, but with AlertMe, half of all of those users who received an alert go directly back to the site.
The benefits to the publisher are also clear. People have to register to receive alerts by email or mobile device. This creates first-party data that allows publishers to know their audience even better and create new, more targeted advertising opportunities as well. The alerts also mean people come back directly to the source. This is an increase in traffic that doesn’t come from an intermediary like Facebook, which drives traffic to publishers but also retains the relationship with the consumer and collects lots of data to use for its own purposes. AlertMe cuts the intermediaries between the publisher and the consumer out of the equation.
AlertMe works with 43 different publishers, collectively reaching about 60 million unique users a month. One Fox television station, KDVR Denver, promotes it heavily on-air and has captured an audience that not only opens the link themselves, but shares it with others, letting a new audience sample the station.
Because of the noise of the internet, publishers are going to have to work harder to connect with consumers. Providing a utility so that consumers can connect with content is one way to do that. It’s as if the next opportunity for publishers is what happens next in the stories they publish.
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