The most important first step when you’re beginning to consider distributed channels, people told us, is to determine what type of platforms to embrace and which to hold off on.

Do not try to do everything at once. Set criteria for determining which new platforms to explore and think about what existing assets you can use.

Start with your current audience; what platforms do they regularly use? Are you an niche LGBT-focused publication whose audience is active on Tumblr? Consider natively publishing there. If your audience is older and made up of heavy Facebook users, think about ways you can grow your presence there beyond a single branded Facebook Page where you post links.

One summit attendee, for example, suggested using platform-specific “SWAT teams” when targeting potential new platforms. These teams might consist of about five people made up of a mix of journalists, product and tech staff.

Mic operates in a similar way to this method. It assigns small teams to test Mic content on new platforms such as Facebook Live or 360 video, and it is quick to cut bait when new platforms or products don’t work out. Marcus Moretti, Mic’s director of growth and editorial products, says that it’s important to fail often in this process.

Mic’s foray into 360 video provides a prime example of this process. After assigning a mix of video staff and journalists to experiment with publishing immersive, VR-like 360 degree videos on Facebook, Moretti says that Mic found that many users were simple pointing their phones at the ground or disengaging. The team disbanded and moved onto the next project.

[pullquote align=right]This rapid experimentation and learning what works and what doesn’t allows a publisher to tailor content and develop some stories exclusively for certain platforms more effectively.[/pullquote]

This rapid experimentation and learning what works and what doesn’t allows a publisher to tailor content and develop some stories exclusively for certain platforms more effectively.

“For 2017, we are setting SWAT teams by key platforms,” Regina Buckley, SVP of digital business development & business operations at Time Inc. said. For Time Inc., these teams will include someone from editorial/video, someone from business development, someone from sales, and one audience engagement editor to run point on each platform.

Many people told us however, that it’s important to ensure that it’s not just smaller SWAT teams that are focused on these new platforms and products. Company-wide and newsroom-wide adoption is key for long term success. It’s critical for SWAT teams to integrate process and learnings into the larger newsroom.

Use metrics and goals to track platform growth

Another critical step when dipping your toes into the world of distributed content, is to set goals.

Redefine “metrics” as more than just traffic referred to your site. Consider your brand’s wider audience and what untapped communities you’d like to reach. Think through the benefits of engaging audiences in these new channels, too. It could be expanding your reach. It also could add potential revenue. (NowThis News has a design studio that produces sponsored video content for others in distributed channels. Facebook Instant Articles can include ad revenue sharing).

[pullquote align=right]Redefine ‘metrics’ as more than just traffic referred to your site.[/pullquote]

Make a profile of your target audience and think about what platforms they use.

Every platform offers different types of metrics; it’s important to look at those and figure out what targets you want to reach. That could mean 100,000 screenshots on a Snapchat story, or an average of 1,000 concurrent viewers on Facebook Live.

Consider developing your own new metric as well. Margarita Noriega, executive editor at Newsweek, suggests one way to build audience from the ground up on Facebook is to monitor which posts result in account profile views and follows.

“The most clicked and shared posts may not drive follows, and while traffic is the ideal way to expose people to what we’re building on our site, our accounts are what they see first and possibly last. Find out which posts drive follows — it will give you a better sense of what those people want to see more of in the future.” She notes this works especially well for building smaller brands.

Building a new analytics dashboard to highlight social metrics in addition to traditional web traffic is a an option for those publishers with the technical staff to undertake such a project. This type of integrated dashboard can help get newsroom staff excited about embracing new platforms. It’s also valuable for editors to see that even though a video received 2,000 views within a web article, that same video reached over 2 million on Facebook.

[pullquote align=right]Find out which posts drive follows — it will give you a better sense of what those people want to see more of in the future.[/pullquote]

The American Press Institute uses an approach in its Metrics for News program that also creates a blended index that merges various metrics into one, including social elements, so that the dashboard doesn’t have to choose only a couple of metrics that may each have limitations.

You can incentivize staff to care more about these metrics, too. Some have suggested giving out prizes for hitting social-related KPIs, much the way that traffic-focused publishers such as Gawker and Business Insider have handed out cash bonuses for traffic.

If you use this approach, contests or leaderboards, people told us, make sure to frame them as a carrot, not a stick. Also be sure to communicate successes and challenges on distributed platforms widely within newsroom throughout the process.

If you’re looking for metrics that a certain platform doesn’t currently offer, reach out and ask if it’s possible for them to provide that data. These efforts see greatest success when a publisher is able to get past the media relations team and connect directly with the product/engineering teams.

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