So You Want to Be a Media Mogul: Lessons From Econtent Entrepreneurs

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Article ImageBack in 1913, you had to have deep pockets and important connections to start a media empire-or even a not-so-successful publication. The Hearsts and Pulitzers of the world brought content to the masses, and there were fewer opportunities for up-and-comers who wished to compete. Fast-forward 100 years and suddenly the playing field is leveled. Nowadays, virtually anyone can be a publisher ... but success still isn't easy.

While it may be easier than ever to disseminate content to the public via the web, it's not easy to build and monetize your audience and quickly expand a fledgling presence into a thriving publishing empire. Nevertheless, every year a few more brave souls take a leap of faith into the great econtent unknown and manage to make a go of it. Here is their advice to the future digital publishers of the world.

LIVING LA VIDA MEDIA

Want to know what it takes to become a leading internet age publisher? Ask Tony Mamone, co-founder and CEO of Livingly Media in San Carlos, Calif., and he'll tell you the secret is to emphasize quality as well as quantity.

"My mantra has always been to create an insane amount of quality content," says Mamone, whose properties have published more than half a million articles and several million digital photos. In 2006, his business first launched Zimbio, which comScore, Inc. ranked as one of the top five entertainment news properties, with more than 20 million global readers a month. Next, he rolled out StyleBistro, which in just 2 years has grown into the fourth ranked fashion and beauty property, read by 5 million people. And last summer he acquired Lonny magazine, which enjoyed more than 1 million visits in January alone.

Andrew Schrage, who co-launched the personal finance blog Money Crashers in 2008, grew his readership from 10,000 to more than 800,000 a month in 4 years. What helped Schrage become an e-entrepreneur was subscribing to the tried-and-true tenet that content is king, "specifically, relevant, unique and creative content," he says.

"No matter your niche, chances are that you'll face stiff competition, and entrepreneurs who can generate content that their readers can get actual value out of will be the most successful," says Schrage.

Cassey Ho took a different road to publishing vitality-a path paved more by video than text. Her Blogilates fitness site has more than 400,000 subscribers, and her YouTube channel featuring workout videos has more than 38 million hits. The Pilates instructor chose to build her 4-year-old publishing enterprise around her favorite things-fitness, food, and fashion-and hasn't looked back since.

Her advice to would-be econtent impresarios? "Start out authentic and stop competing and comparing," Ho says. "An original is worth more than a copy."

CONCENTRATING ON CONTENT AND CUSTOMERS

To be a thriving digital publisher today, you need to be focused foremost on providing high-caliber content that connects with users, says Neil Mody, co-founder of nrelate--a content discovery company in New York City whose network now boasts more than 65,000 publishers and 30 clicks on content per second.

Taulbee Jackson, president and CEO of Raidious, an enterprise social media and owned media agency in Indianapolis, says the most significant change he's seen in the realm of digital content is the audience's demand for quality, as evidenced by the algorithm shifts that major platforms such as Facebook and Google are making.

Search results ranking algorithms such as Google's Panda and Penguin and Facebook's EdgeRank "were put in place to defend users against being exposed to bad content," says Taulbee. "Think about the ramifications for that. There is so much bad content that these companies felt it was necessary to help their users proactively filter out all the irrelevant noise. That is a big deal."

Remaining relevant to your readers is about knowing what they want and giving it to them. "A digital publisher has to be humble and do what the audience wants, not what you want to do. Be empathetic to their needs and deliver what they are looking for," Jackson says. "People don't just want good stuff, they want amazing, remarkable stuff. Do something that your audience finds truly remarkable. Spend money on it, put effort into it, and care about it. Remove subjectivity, and let the audience tell you what to create through the data they provide you. It's not about you, or your brand-it is about the audience."

Tim McLaughlin, president and founder of Siteworx, LLC-a Reston, Va.-based interactive design and application development company-agrees that knowing your customer base is crucial. "You must understand your audience and their inclinations in order to provide a successful product or service," says McLaughlin. "Find ways to get to know your user and engage with them through a combined social and multi-channel strategy to provide what they're asking for."

Part of knowing whether or not your audience is happy is scrutinizing your numbers. "Digital publishing is an awesome environment for testing and learning," Mamone says. "Always look for metrics and statistics that can act as your barometer. If you're going to redesign your homepage, for example, first ask yourself why, then be disciplined enough to track the metrics."

Whenever Mamone's team adds new modules to pages or rolls out new designs, "we always pay close attention to metrics such as exit rates, click rates, the number of pages read per visit, et cetera," he says. "We've been doing this recently on the Zimbio.com homepage, and it's helped us more than double the number of clicks to our featured stories."

It isn't all about analytics either. Sometimes it's about establishing a connection with your users, and nowhere is that more important than on social media networks. "These days, you can't just have a YouTube or Facebook presence-you need all of them and you have to create new content for all of them," says Ho. "The upswing is that once you get going, your fans will interact with you."

Ho says she started with a single YouTube video and, after reading the comments/reactions, "I knew that I had to start making more videos. Before I knew it, I was getting so many questions and requests that it was easier to start using Facebook, Twitter and my blog to create workouts and to answer fans' questions. Once I opened my brand to more social media platforms, my fan base expanded because I was more accessible, and so was engagement with my fans."

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