9 key points from the Business of Digital

April 19, 2011

On Thursday I had the opportunity to attend Magazines Canada’s all-day seminar the Business of Digital. With speakers including consultants Kim Machado and Kim Pittaway, Transcontinental Mobile’s Brady Murphy and Comscore’s Brent Bernie-Lowe, it was a great chance to catch up with both people and ideas in the digital world. Here are 9 key points from the event.

1. Google is dominating ad dollars
You know those charts showing an ongoing increase in online advertising dollars? Google is taking a huge chunk of that. According to Bernie-Lowe, almost half of online ad spend goes to search, and Google owns 80 percent of that. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re considering who your competition is.

2. Mobile is growing fast
Murphy says that 40 percent of the Rogers wireless customer base has smartphones – and a full 50 percent of all Canadian phones are predicted to be smartphones by 2012. Peak usage, he notes, is during “commuting” time – between 8 and 10 am and 5 and 7 pm.

3. Advertisers are now publishers
Machado pointed out that the competitive set editorially has grown wider as well – many advertisers are now publishing content on their websites and interacting directly with consumers, rather than via media. Pampers, for instance, she mentioned, has more than 550,000 fans on Facebook.

4. If you’re not on it, you don’t get it
This was Pittaway’s key message when it comes to social media, and it’s a good one – you have to use social media tools (properly!) before you can pass judgement on their utility and your strategy using them. The specific Twitter strategies she referenced were to listen, connect, share, ask and respond – all of which are focused on participating, not just broadcasting. Make sure you understand the medium you’re working in.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Machado gave examples of brands using social media tools to augment the capabilities of their sites. For instance, Food & Wine has hosted expert-reader chats on Facebook – since they don’t have chat software on their site. Instead of creating everything from scratch – or bemoaning your lack of tech resources – make use of the many free tools that exist online.

6. Beware of Shiny New Objects™
Murphy discussed trends like QR codes and augmented reality and how these are what he calls shiny new objects – tools that are good to show innovation but have limited reach and utility. Be careful not to pin your hopes on fancy gizmos that are yet unproven (but do use them for PR and to demonstrate to readers that you’re up to date).

7. Create online traditions
This was one suggestion from Pittaway that I really liked. In the same way that you have regular features in every issue of the magazine, have regular features on your online platforms. Do a weekly link roundup on your site, a (meaningful!) follow Friday on Twitter, or a daily inspiration on Facebook. These traditions create continuity for your readers and make your staff’s workload a lot more predictable.

8. Launch and learn
The day ended with a panel discussion on mobile, moderated by Steve Maich from Canadian Business and including Deborah Hall (Torstar), Tina Barnes (Postmedia) and Stephen Henrik (The Globe and Mail). One of Henrik’s tips was to “launch and learn”: “don’t be paralyzed by analysis,” he said. Barnes agreed, saying to experiment: “our strategy today may not be our strategy a year from now.”

9. If you don’t build it, they’ll still come
“People are going to go to your mobile website whether you have one or not,” noted Henrik, pointing out that mobile traffic is increasing rapidly (check your internal analytics if you don’t believe him) and sites that aren’t mobile-friendly are providing a very poor user experience for anyone who comes across them. Interestingly, he added that he hasn’t seen an impact on web traffic from mobile, indicating that overall web visits are increasing.

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