The death of legacy publishers – television stations, newspapers and magazines – has been predicted time and time again. And yet, many of these traditional outlets have proven themselves remarkably adept at fending off digital upstarts. They have invested in their own digital divisions, hired startup talent, or bought small companies to take on the task. Along the way they have also adopted their challengers’ tactics, in the form of interactive content, innovative formats and digital means of distribution.
The publishers who have thrived have been those who reshaped their content to better fit social channels (Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat) and be consumed and shared on mobile devices.
A large part of this transformation has been facilitated by interactive formats that allow readers to actively engage in-article. They have become particularly beneficial to publishers around notable moments in time like the Grammy Awards, Super Bowl and a major election, while also proving popular when reporting on everyday current events.
Finding Common Ground
Consider The New York Times’ recent “Super Bowl Zoo” advertising quiz, which prompted visitors to “match the memorable spokes-animals with their products.” Readers were playfully challenged to correctly match squirrels, cats and Clydesdales with their appropriate beer, car, or energy drink sponsors.
But The New York Times doesn’t just utilize interactive formats for light topics, exemplified best by their use of an engaging map to showcase conflict in the Middle East. On a parallel path, the popular podcast Serial, only in its second season, is illustrating a somber topic in a similar manner by publishing maps to illustrate content in a way which compels readers to click to see what’s next.
The common, digital ground between a top-tier and young outlet speaks volumes – serious content can be as equally engaging, if not more, than fluffier content about animals. In fact, ensuring there is a mix of serious and playful, but always engaging, content is key.
Formats + Finance
In the UK, The Telegraph, founded in 1855, frequently utilizes formats to explore topics like music, politics, sports, technology and personal finance. In one recent instance, their digital team used Playbuzz’s quiz format to gauge users’ financial savvy around grocery shopping.
Financial news has proven to pair well with formats. Take widely-respected financial news organization CNBC which highlighted that the topic of money can be a bit more playful by tapping into their audience’s excitement around January’s $1.6 Billion Powerball Jackpot. Via Playbuzz’s Swiper format, the outlet solicited audience response in answer to the question: “What Would You Do If You Won the Powerball Lottery?”
Formats like Swiper are uniquely well-suited to mobile engagement, since they utilize familiar smartphone gestures.
Clearly, news can be fun. In fact, The Economist has a weekly “9-tile” quiz that challenges readers to recall a diverse range of current events. With each question correctly answered, the tile reveals a segment of a larger picture (often of a political leader) which readers must correctly guess in order to earn points – a fun, interactive way of gamifying geopolitics.
But we all know that politics heats up most in the U.S., especially during election season. During the current presidential race, we have seen polls utilized most when representing how well a candidate is tracking. Legacy publisher Wall Street Journal has taken this route, creating interactive polls that users can hover over to see how presidential hopefuls from both parties are doing.
In a time when, as NPR recently reported, the flaws in landline phone polling have become increasingly evident, online polling formats like this lend themselves well to gauging political sentiment. That’s likely why TIME has continuously asked readers to vote on presidential debate winners via Playbuzz polls.
Notable is how polls have become topics of conversation on social media, with candidates themselves tweeting about their results such as Donald Trump declaring himself victorious at the ninth Republican debate with this tweet.
Don’t Fight Today’s Battles with Yesterday’s Publishing Tools
The nature of news has changed, and with it, the very means of storytelling. Legacy publishers have undoubtedly been forced to embrace interactive content and formats in order to successfully distribute digital content. It’s time to sink or swim – and those who stay afloat will be the ones successfully engaging with their audiences in dynamic and meaningful ways, not those who try to fight today’s battles with yesterday’s publishing tools.