What You Didn’t Know About the State of Media

A Guest Post by Sean O’Neal, President, Onclusive

We have all observed the dramatic trends in the world of publishing. Compared to ten years ago there is now a seemingly infinite number of blogs, influencers, and niche content sites. And there are thousands of new publications appearing every single day. The proliferation of independent, digital-first media properties has occurred so rapidly that it has become virtually impossible to keep up with, and just as hard to discern between reputable news sources and everything else.

There are obvious benefits to consumers in having access to real-time information from a broad set of perspectives. Digital media has given us an alternative to the bias of media monopolies, not the least of which is corporate and political influence. But democracy comes at a cost, and this “democratization” of the media is no exception. We all want more choice. The challenge is when the choices are endless.

Now, if you are in the business of influencing the media (like my friends who work in PR), this fragmentation of the media landscape has introduced an entirely new level of complexity to your job.

While media relations has always required a great deal of skill, hard work, and luck, in many ways it was pretty simple. I have a set of target media outlets, probably a combination of tier one national outlets and industry trade publications, and there were a few key journalists at each publication who I maintained relationships with. When the time came to get my story out, I hit speed-dial to get one of these journalists on the phone and gave them the pitch. I got a “hit” in a recognized news outlet and my job was done.

Today, it’s not that simple. Now, instead of hitting speed-dial, I need to comb through and endless sea of media outlets and authors to find the ones who are best to help me tell my story. And how can I know which publications can actually help drive real business results?

To get at this, my company Onclusive analyzed over 1.6 billion pieces of content published globally during the calendar year of 2018. All of the content was captured directly from Onclusive’s proprietary newscrawaler, which is the largest aggregator of communications content in the world.

The results were eye opening.

The media ecosystem is expanding at a much more accelerated rate than anyone expected. But it’s not just growing, the shape of the of the landscape is changing and has grown a “long tail” of lower-tier media outlets.

We compiled this data and published as the 2018 Global Media Report. The report shows:

  1. An increase in the total number of publishers from January to December, almost exclusively driven by new “tier 3” publications
  2. An increase in the number of articles published by month, driven by “tier 3” publications while “tier 1” and “tier 2” publications decreased overall article volume
  3. An increase in the number of articles per journalist, with a corresponding decrease in the average number of characters per article

The length of an article matters more than you might think. One of the key performance indicators of digital content is how well it ranks in search engines like Google, since a large portion of publisher web traffic comes through these portals. And while no one knows exactly how Google’s search algorithms are tuned, and since the tuning changes frequently, the best we can do is look at testing data. A recent study from Backlink.io shows a direct correlation between the length of an article and its appearance on the first page of Google’s search results – the ultimate destination for any piece of content.

Generally, the longer the article, the better the rank in Google. Specifically, the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words. Journalists take note.

We also analyzed and ranked every media outlet globally in order of article count. The 2018 Top 50 Publishers List, which is contained in our report, highlights a massive shift in the media outlets which are producing the most content. For example, digital disruptors like LinkedIn Pulse, Patch, and LiveDoor all share the list with mainstream publications like BBC, New York Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Okay, so things have changed. What is a media relations professional to do with all this?

First, be prepared for anything. Don’t assume that the things that have worked in the past will work in the future. To paraphrase Rumi; don’t resist the change, it may present a great opportunity.

Second, get data. The only way to sift through everything that is happening is with hard data about what actually works versus what is just a waste of time. Don’t just keep pitching the same journalists at the same publications over and over again without knowing the true impact of those placements. Compare your existing strategies with other, less obvious media outlets. It is quite possible that these “lower tier” placements will drive the most reader engagement and influence.

The fragmentation of media and journalism that we are witnessing will likely only continue. Basic earned media monitoring techniques are becoming obsolete, and traditional journalist contact databases are capturing less and less of the true population of influencers that really matter.

Ironically, while technology is to blame for all of this, it will also be our savior as this may be as much of a math problem as anything else. But you don’t need to be a data scientist to survive in the new PR world – that is why we have artificial intelligence. The machines can now take over what has become an otherwise insurmountable tasks of reading, analyzing, and scoring billions of pieces of content every year, so that us humans can focus on storytelling.

After all, every other aspect of business takes advantage of data and technology to more effectively manage change. Now it’s time for communications to adapt.

Sean O’Neal is President at Onclusive, the data science company for marketing and communications. Onclusive technology reveals which earned media drives actual business outcomes and delivers winning content to targeted audiences at scale.