Why Your Brand Needs an Emerging Platforms Editor

By Herbert Lui April 24th, 2014

Nobody knows what a newsroom is supposed to look like anymore. The cliched labyrinth of desks and typewriters has been replaced by specialized approaches that vary greatly based on staff sizes, freelancers, and the availability of public workspace. But there’s one new puzzle piece that every brand publication needs: an emerging platforms editor.

Emerging platforms editors are the next generation of mobile editors that publishers have begun adopting in recent years to optimize content for mobile readers. After all, 66 percent of tablet or smartphone owners regularly consume news on their devices. Many mobile editors are now being called emerging platforms editors as every publication attempts to figure out ways to innovate and explore new avenues of communication that extend beyond just mobile to Google Glass, and, eventually, virtual reality (hence Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus VR).

Enter the emerging platforms editor

So what exactly is an emerging platforms editor?

Emerging platforms editors help lead media initiatives in new technology, which usually means bringing content to audiences through new mediums like Google Glass. While this task sounds straightforward, it requires designing an experience that parallels print with an intuitive interface while also pioneering content delivery through new technology (and wrangling with technological challenges along the way).

David Ho, Wall Street Journal editor for mobile, tablets, and emerging technology, wrote on Poynter that good mobile and emerging platform editors should have journalism experience. Beyond that, emerging platform editors need to be immersed in technology. They need to understand the many variables that exist in technology, and they need to be avid early users of mobile and wearable technology. For brand publications, this could extend to marketers who understand technology, staffers who have previously worked in industry trade publications, or tech-savvy journalists with beats related to a particular brand.

Ho believes one of the major responsibilities for emerging platforms editors is to create a quiet, intuitive user experience.

Don’t annoy readers, and fight for the users

In an interview with Mediabistro, Ho talked about his approach to creating the Wall Street Journal iPad app: “My number one rule for mobile and tablets is do not annoy.”

The key challenge for any emerging platforms editor is to balance business interests with a clean experience when encouraging user actions, which is essential to increase subscribers and improve user engagement.

Naturally, calls to action are also crucial for brand publishers and content marketers who need to generate leads, convey thought leadership, and increase distribution. How do platform editors encourage users to do this without driving them away from the publication?

“You need to walk softly,” Ho explained. “Subscribe messages need to be really clear and simple. I think it helps you strike that balance when the calls to action are a smooth and easy part of an overall good mobile experience.”

Ho believes the best technology doesn’t draw attention to itself; it’s intuitive. People just know how to use it.

Build systems to tailor a unique experience

Creating a customized experience for every user is anything but simple for an emerging platforms team. It’s also an ongoing process to ensure only the most tailored content is shown to users at appropriate frequencies.

ABC News Emerging Platforms Editor Brian Orloff explained how ABC News reached out to its users: When readers “star” the stories in the ABC News app, they subscribe to receive alerts on that specific story. ABC’s editors control the tagging on the backend and ensure the tone and frequency reflects user expectations. For example, if a user stars a story about Twitter’s IPO, they’ll only receive alerts about that specific event—they won’t get updates about Twitter’s new features or designs.

Orloff and ABC News use Omniture and ComScore data to “track things like page views, video views, the number of users subscribing to (or unsubscribing from) all of our tagged alerts.”

Content marketers will need people to help architect similar systems in order to track and improve their lead generation and content distribution efforts. These platform editors will also need to work with sales teams and marketers to integrate calls to action naturally into the content experience for the user.

Introduce content to new, unfamiliar places

In the near future, there will be a need to gain insight into the user’s experience and correlate that with immediate needs, pains, or other variables that improve the content (and products or services).

“We will see a lot more of news and content based on location and motion and activity – contextually relevant digital information,” says Ho. “Google is clearly trying to chase this down with things like Project Tango—a phone that can 3D map its immediate environment—and Google Now, trying to anticipate what digital information people want before they even ask for it.”

In a piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab, CNN’s Etan Horowitz predicted the next generation of users will have little patience and expect more from mobile content suppliers.

Ho believes smartphones, Google Glass, and wearable technology are baby steps to a much more profound change that’s coming. The Internet will usher in an age where many more scenarios are possible; the app will understand highly specific user context, where the user is, what the user is doing—and serve up relevant information accordingly. A few basic possibilities include displaying the weather when you step in your closet, or a list of errands when you’re on your way out the door.

As companies introduce new technology and users adopt them, brands will need emerging platform editors to anticipate how users can and should experience content.

“[It] can often be like working at a startup—even within a big news organization,” Ho said. “The technology changes so fast, you have to be nimble and wear many hats. A mobile editor does a lot more than edit.”

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Image by Sergey Galyonkin
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