Social News Organizations: How Search and Social Media Are Changing the News Business (part 1)

In this six part series, we’ll explore how search, social media, and mobile apps have all been used successfully by publishers to maximize their distribution and revenue opportunities. We’ll also look at how newspapers can follow these examples and evolve to become less like newspapers and more like Social News Organizations (SNOs).

Newspapers remain an important part of any democracy or marketing economy because they are held to certain journalistic standards that most new media publishers are not. These standards help assure readers that news stories are objective and accurate, and not just gossip or opinion pieces. In this sense, newspapers help both citizens and investors make more informed decisions.

However, newspaper are threatened because their revenues are being eroded by digital media in three ways. First, digital content has reduced the demand for daily print content, eroding newspaper circulation and the value of newspaper ad space. Second, free online classifieds have virtually eliminated a major newspaper revenue stream. Finally, advertisers in general have moved more of their budgets to online media where real estate is cheaper, targeting is more accurate, and performance metrics are readily available. What these trends indicate is that the newspaper distribution and revenue models are obsolete and fail to address modern market realities.

Essentially, the newspaper business model focuses on (1) producing authoritative content so that they can (2) sell advertising. There is nothing in that model that necessitates that content be printed on actual paper. By focusing on their digital publishing opportunities as social news organizations, newspapers can secure a stable future in the publishing industry and as part of the news media.

Social News Organizations: Public Parks vs Walled Gardens

Newspapers and SNOs both share the business model of producing authoritative content (their product) so that they can sell advertising (generate revenue). While newspapers rely on print distribution for subscription and ad revenues, however, SNOs rely on digital channels to distribute their content and generate ad revenues. SNOs also have no subscription-based revenue stream.

In this respect, SNOs are more like public parks than walled gardens: content is protected behind a registration wall, but registration is free. So while newspapers might restrict access to their online content through subscription fees or micro-payments, SNOs still enforce subscription-based access to their content, but do not charge for those subscriptions.

They are able to discard the paid-subscription component because they don’t have the infrastructure overhead necessary to produce and disseminate a physical item. They are also able to maximize the value of online ad space by using user data to hyper-target ads and diversifying their ad offers.

Consequently, there are three defining aspect of a SNO. First, it is a journalism outlet that disseminates authoritative content across various digital channels. Second, it leverages those channels to acquire unpaid subscribers/registered users. Lastly, it uses the data available through registered user profiles to diversify their ad offering and better target media placements.

SNOs also use up to four channels to grow and maintain its registered user-base:

  1. SEO increases their digital visibility and grows their audience
  2. Social media retains users, attract new ones, and provides data that helps SNOs better understand them;
  3. Mobile apps enhance reach and retention, and bolster ad offerings.
  4. An optional (free) print edition can be used to drive additional users to digital content.

Essentially, SNOs are focused on targeting users as accurately as possible with both custom content and personalized advertising. While the custom content better engages users, personalized advertising increases the value of advertising space and makes it a better value proposition for advertisers.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at how SNOs can use SEO to increase their digital profile without “giving away” their content. Specifically, we’ll examine how SNOs can allow search engines to index all of their content, but then restrict unregistered users from accessing it.

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About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

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