HeartbeatThis sponsored post is produced by Dennis Mortensen, CEO & Founder of Visual Revenue, Inc.

There’s been much debate lately about many of the changing ways of the online publishing business.  I like heated debate because it keeps us on our toes, and I like change because I believe change is the heart of our human existence. So let there be more of it.  It keeps things interesting.

But the pace of change, while dizzying to some, creates for me something entirely different, yet just as bewildering.  And that’s the degree and quantity of false assumptions (and therefore false conclusions) about what’s happening to media.  Not at the fringes, where we will always see extremes.  And not in the last five minutes, because there is no surer bet than that many of today’s darlings will turn out to be tomorrow’s dogs.  But at the center of what media really is – and that’s content.

A most recent high-profile-hubbub concerns our new aggregation economy, and the merits of sitting on either side of the aggregation fence: creator or collector. Surely, that which is created originally and in-depth should provide and return greater value for a specialized audience than anything that’s skimmed off the top and sold to the masses – en masse, no less. These are different approaches; they’re different models with different returns for the business.

But they’re both centered upon the content delivered, the audience assembled, and the relationship between the two. Targeted or not, audiences have an expectation that must (or at least should) be met.  That’s the critical point.

In a similar conversation we’ve witnessed for about two years now, the debate is not what’s being delivered to an audience, but on how that audience is getting there.  Do they search?  Are they social? Do they seek out content from the media properties of their choosing? Are homepages dead?  Is every page a homepage?

All are nice questions.  It’s among the most exciting and fastest changing topics as any, with new players entering and leaving the game at a sprinter’s pace.

What we’ve found, is that while the deck chairs are being rearranged a bit, the value and strength of a well defined media brand has never been stronger.  More value (as measured in views and loyal audience) is being derived, particularly by news properties, from their home pages than from the quick hits and sexiness of search and social traffic that arrives through the side door.  Thus, the real value is created by what you do with audience upon their arrival.

It’s a complex crunch of data that we use to prove that thesis. Important as it is, though, it should be viewed as a supporting point to a bigger truth that’s being missed. It’s being overlooked here, and also by the property that optimizes for advertising instead of content – and finds itself with a super-efficient page that no one is willing to look at.  Or the algorithm that creates a great set of related links – that have no soul.

Media properties must have a soul.  Don’t lose sight of that.

As the number of web properties expands toward infinity, this truth becomes ever more important. There will be increasingly endless avenues for people to find yours as well as a competitor’s, so every channel is important for bringing audience to your property. But the importance of every channel pales in comparison to audience experience: what happens when they arrive.

Are your visitors thrilled, delighted, satisfied, confounded or confused?  Will they stay? Will they come back? Do they see a distinctive and consistent voice and is it one that attracts them? And how do you create that?

My company and my colleagues, data-driven as we are, see media as the most interesting and exciting of industries because it is so filled with emotion.  It is human storytelling on so many different levels by so many different parties. Media is the industry that creates thrills, delights, surprises and satisfies most when it’s crafted by real people.  It can be data-driven, but at its best, it’s more than something aggregated, optimized, algorithmic, or automatic.

It’s human.  And it’s got soul.  And that’s why we love it.

Dennis Mortensen is CEO & Founder of Visual Revenue, Inc., whose Editorial Support Platform helps editors to better place content and provides real-time recommendations and predictive analytics to more than 250 global online publishers, including Comcast, The Atlantic, NBC Universal and Le Monde.  He is the author of Data Driven Insights from Wiley and sits on the Board of the Digital Analytics Association.

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