News content - the long tail of waste
I was recently with a leading football team discussing the content they produce for their website. When I suggested they consider not doing any news stories, they looked at me with incredulity. After all, their team of four were trained news journalists who believed passionately in reporting the facts, documenting the injuries, updating the public on vital team news and recording the history of their club.
The reality is that for most sports organisations producing news content is wasted effort, and a hard look at the analytics shows how it’s costing them, directly in salaries and time and indirectly via the opportunity cost. We have a method of helping called, inventively, ContentMix… and we thought we’d show a little of how it works and what it achieves. This graph shows the anonymised performance of the top 100 articles on the website of a global sports organisation’s website.
The top four or five pieces do well (relatively) but the rest contribute to what we call ‘the long tail of waste’. Every one of the remaining 95% requires time, in writing, subbing, picture editing and publishing - and the audience isn’t interested.
We all know the old saying about advertising, attributed to John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half." Well, digital allows you to measure your effectiveness a lot more accurately, and that applies as much to your content output as it does your advertising spend.
When we looked at the analytics for a renowned governing body we discovered that in one year their top 100 news stories accounted for 0.5% of total site traffic – and that was the best of the news not even accounting for their ‘less engaging’ long tail.
Another club told us they were very stretched for resource and probably needed to hire more people to do content. We found they were investing most of their efforts into information content, including interviews, training pieces and daily news round-ups which were barely registering with the fans. Of their overall ContentMix 40% was dry, informational and unnecessary. In any other area of the club 40% wastage would not have been tolerated but the content team were blindly ploughing on, feeling obliged as much as anything to churn out news.
Before we get over-excited, a dash of reality. We’ve spent enough time working with and for communications directors to know that there are times when a club just ‘has’ to do something. Signing a player without making a statement would be odd. Firing your manager without a story on the website, though it might feel easier, would be odd. We know that there are some things that you have to do. But there should be very few and our point in this story is that far too many sports organisations are just churning out news without really addressing whether that’s the right thing to do. There’s good news and bad news… with the good news being where it’s not a waste of time creating it.
Blindly producing news is a pattern we see repeated over and over as clubs, leagues and governing bodies feel the obligation to produce ‘news’. Yet in the digital age, we are all news makers, and very few sports organisations have the sophisticated data-led approach of a media house in forecasting, tracking and reacting to audiences that allows your content to stand out.
Most sports teams, even the big ones, don’t have big digital teams and can’t afford to be wasteful. The problem they face is four-fold:
1. Tone of voice: most sports bodies are hamstrung by a need to be positive or uncontroversial about the content they produce, often leading to anodyne, inauthentic pieces. Fans now get and give their opinions far more freely via other media.
2. Content ROI: few organisations employ a content ROI approach, measuring the effort and cost it takes to produce content and the return it brings, commercial or otherwise.
3. Content purpose: there should be a reason why you make any piece of content. For example, you might be trying to inform, you might be trying to entertain. Purpose needs to align with the overall strategy. We categorise content into six key purpose areas and help define the right mix to fit with our clients’ strategy.
4. Text: for some reason we still employ writers, to do things like mid-length match reports. While the written word still has a part to play - largely in hyper-short or long-form - it needs to be accompanied by more visual story-telling formats that are more readily consumed on mobile devices and by younger audiences – that means writers need to be content producers.
Where clubs do hold the advantage is in exclusive content: access to players, behind-the-scenes content, announcements and insights not available to the wider public. This content always out-performs the mean.
These formats notwithstanding, our consistent finding across sports is that digital content needs a marketing approach: it needs to be audience focused (that means targeting and segmentation, it means optimising content according to favoured formats, and to be consumed on platforms and devices where the audience are) and ROI-focused (that means drilling down into numbers like the lifetime value of a fan, user cost per acquisition and relative value of content channel and type). These are not skills that are beyond the reach of news journalists, it’s just an approach and a discipline that needs to be implemented and rigorously followed through.
The arms race of sport requires constant performance improvements – the same goes for digital. Identifying which portions of your effort are producing the lowest returns frees you up to do a lot more good work - that’s the good news.
To find out more about ContentMix please get in touch