The Value of Great Content
Niche publishers say that one of the greatest challenges in serving audiences is providing the most robust and creative content solutions possible. For them, this is a crucial step. It's their value proposition, and without it, they have no business.
"The control of the content has shifted to the reader," says Ned May, vice president and lead analyst for Outsell, Inc., a research and advisory firm that covers the publishing and information industries. Niche content providers are challenged to hold on to their audiences, to engage and communicate with them, adds May. One way they have responded is with strong content.
FreePint publishes a full slate of digital product offerings such as FUMSI, which is written by and for practitioners. "You want to write about the challenges the organization is having internally," explains Manafy. "But the real challenge with that publication is getting people to come out to share the stories." Another FreePint product is VIP, which focuses solely on the review of business information products and is also written for and by industry professionals.
"In both of those cases, it involves being out there and exchanging ideas," says Manafy. She says editors attend events, participate in user forums, and take on leadership roles to accomplish that. "So they are out there becoming trusted members of the community," says Manafy. She says she recently joined the American Association of Law Libraries group on LinkedIn so she could find legal content reviewers. "I found an organization that's looking for resources themselves. I found reviewers and I found potential readers," adds Manafy.
Bringing that sense of community and other value-added features to content is essential for providers and aggregators who specialize in producing and distributing niche content. "A lot of companies can aggregate and curate content," says Griffey. "The hardest part of it is coming up with analysis that makes it valuable." Griffey says members of FierceMarkets' editorial team are told that they are each one-third reporter, one-third analyst, and one-third community member. He concedes that being good at all three is quite an undertaking, but it's a necessary one. "But you definitely need it all," he says.
Building Niche Online Communities
Many of these niche-focused publishers have created formal and informal social communities in which readers can share their thoughts with each other à la Facebook. While these communities serve as a value-added feature to each organization's rich proprietary content-with very valuable user-generated content-they are also great places to learn more about what the users want in relation to their content needs.
Between those interactions and the ability to track user activity on their websites, these content providers can truly gain valuable insight into what type of content really resonates with the audience. Content providers "need to understand their audience through metrics on the site and how they're engaging with the content," says May. Fortunately, providers recognize their importance and continue to make these communities a prominent facet of their offerings.
Manafy says that social media gives FreePint an opportunity to strengthen its relationship with the information community even more. "The nice thing about Twitter and Facebook is you have an opportunity to support the members of a community," she says. "When you're part of a niche community, you need to support everybody. You need to connect with your reader base and become an upstanding citizen. Then they recognize you as a valuable member of the community. It's a real opportunity to be part of a community. In this market, it's going to be the only way to stay in business."
If that means promoting and featuring other providers' content, publishers are becoming more agreeable to the idea. "Content creators have accepted that third-party content is okay [for them to include]," says May.
Overall, those communities are part of an important feedback loop, a connection that niche content providers have gotten very good at cultivating and using as market research. "We serve the entire construction industry, so we hear from a big set of people," says Jones. "We let them drive the development."
All GlobalSpec content is free, but the company requires that users register before they view it. "Because we were able to register users and they trust us, over time, we've developed the ability to communicate with them," says Killeen, adding that the company reaches out to users to understand what they need. Years ago, when GlobalSpec asked the user community if it would be interested in an email newsletter, the response was positive. "It started with one and now we have 62," says Killeen. The company also has a formal set of user panels, and that's where GlobalSpec previewed its original concept of creating the virtual events.
A community site, CR4, has also been a valuable asset for GlobalSpec. CR4 is an online forum in which users can share ideas as well as view the latest engineering news. "We monitor the threads and that gives us ideas," says Killeen. "We map and watch and monitor the queries. It gives us enormous proprietary insight."