A Publisher’s Swiss Army Knife: The Main Challenges to Creating a World Class CMS Platform
Back in the good old days, monetization in the publishing world came from selling print media, and paid advertising.
Nowadays, the per-view price of a digital advertisements is in a steady downfall and more and more brands are putting their ad dollars into Google and Facebook rather than supporting publications. To rub salt in the wound, ad blockers are making online adverts even less appealing. With every new channel and device comes a new technological challenge for media outlets. In reality, publications need to start thinking more like product companies if they are going to come out the other side in one piece.
While once it was fine to just use a basic content management system (CMS) like WordPress as a storage tank for old and upcoming stories, in order to scale and monetize in today’s increasingly challenging environment, efficient CMS platforms need to act as enterprise grade publishing swiss army knives.
So what are the essential ingredients for a successful ‘all-in-one’ CMS system which could help struggling publications survive?
Searching for the Holy Grail
The first generation of CMS released in the early 2000s consisted of software that stored website content, enabled editing for novice web administrators, and allowed multiple web administrators to log in to a single system and collaborate on updating content. However, in the current hyper-competitive and multi-channel media landscape, the new generation of CMS needs to go a hundred steps further.
It is unrealistic to believe that leading companies can continue using 15-year-old technology –such as WordPress and Drupal–, which was designed for a totally different era. Since the first generation of CMS were born, we have seen the advent of smartphones, 5 generations of iPads, and totally new channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp enter the arena.
A number of leading publications have developed their own systems to weather the storm. Vox media built their own CMS system chorus and the Washington Post created arc. Having the best tech out there is crucial to survival in the increasingly unpredictable and extraordinarily fast-changing media landscape, and unless you are a big fish, creating your own content technology platform can be a difficult due to the huge development costs involved.
For the rest of us in the publisher world, there are an ever expanding range of quality SaaS options to choose from.
The key to success lies in having multiple components including mobile apps, deep granular analytics, personalization systems, email marketing and marketing automation systems, engagement analytics, and monetization tools which can all be integrated with each other, so things work seamlessly and transparently together. This is the holy grail for modern publishers.
Working on all channels
To date, even the publishers with the biggest budgets haven’t found a what it will really take to rejuvenate their revenue streams, but having the correct tech in place to accommodate all eventualities is key.
Consumers are turning to new channels to consume their news, from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to online sites and news apps on their smartphones. As a result, content needs to be flexible and canonical enough that it can be rendered on a range of devices and platforms and be instantly adaptable to any new players in the market. Whether it be Amazon Echo, WhatsApp, or Pokemon Go, publisher technology needs to be smart enough to take content and place it wherever your audience spends their time. If someone is playing Pokemon Go, they aren’t accessing your content unless you figure out a way to get it there.
With newsroom numbers falling, CMS systems of the future will need to automate this social distribution with cognitive systems or artificial intelligence, automatically monitoring what content is starting to trend and then intelligently pushing this content to social media channels automatically. The aim is to push the right content to the right user at the right time on the right platform and device.
Speaking the same language
The future of publishing is data-driven, but publications shouldn’t need to hire hard-to-come-by data scientists to make sense of it all. The insights from data will become the backbone which drive decisions about what to write when and where to publish. More than than that, data should show who to advertise to and with what content, how much to charge for various things, what content works and when, or what authors produce real results. Modern content technology platforms need to build data and predictive analytics right into their core. CMS need to be simple in their design but provide a single consistent view of the business, where the data and analytics flow seamlessly.
And when it comes to content creation, the most important factor should be consumption. People consume a lot of their media while on the move, on smartphones and other devices, so CMS platforms need to push short, snappy, bitesize content to the places where readers naturally spend their time, without reducing the quality of the writing.
What’s more, due to the ever expanding range of new devices and channels, content has to exist with no notion of how it will be consumed and needs to be stored in a way which has no presentation layer pollution, and that is not tied to one format.
Content should be universally saved in the same format, which can then be driven across a range of channels, and used and re-used to monetize when appropriate.
Made for the modern workforce
Rather than being designed for newsrooms — which are in decline, and probably won’t exist in their current form for much longer — the next generation of CMS needs to automate and harness time-saving new tech like A.I as much as possible. By 2020 more than 50% of the U.S. workforce is predicted to be a freelancer or remote worker, and if current newsroom cuts are anything to go by, the number will be much higher for journalists.
Instead of relying only on human editors, natural language processing can be used to link content to the most suitable channels, and allocate tasks and stories about new trends to the most appropriate remote workers.
To match the next generation of remote journalists, the next generation of CMS needs to be designed to be used on the move. This should include mobile editing and content tools and be adaptable to live feed streaming from journalists at the scene. Also, considering the rising trend of citizen reporting brought about by smartphones, platforms need to be open to user generated content (UGC), and have a system in place to filter out content which is really of value, with a mix of manual review tools, spam filters and barriers for trollish content.
Systems have to be robust enough to manage people accessing from all over the world, with different access rights, by moving all core business functions to the cloud, making content universally accessible, but also safe.
Even the biggest publications in the world are feeling the strain, and are coming up with short-term solutions such as native advertising, which will inevitably be made redundant by upcoming technology trends, and downward pricing pressure as the model spreads. To date, publishers who have tried to stitch all of these factors together by themselves have ended up with a precariously designed “Jenga stack” of technology, ready to fall with even the slightest amount of pressure. The New York Times has enough resources to focus on subscriptions, but everyone else needs to starting installing new systems which are forward-thinking, can adapt to new trends, and really reach their intended audience with the type of content they really want.
All of this, in one single well-integrated place, so that publishers can focus on their core competency, and leave the technology heavy lifting to best-of-breed technology companies.