Fake news always seems to be in the news these days. Media companies are working themselves into a frenzy wondering why so many disaffected readers have turned towards click-bait headlines and conspiracy- monging websites, instead of opting for their own tried and true content.
So, how can a website hold onto an increasingly divided audience when there are so many other – more ideologically tailored — options to choose from?
I think the answer is simple. Mainstream news outlets have done enough solid reporting throughout the presidential campaign to earn the trust of the broader American electorate. But the content needs to be placed in front of the right pair of eyes. If The Washington Post wants its liberal readers to remain loyal subscribers, it should send them frequent updates on investigations and new allegations. If The Washington Post wants more Trump supporters to visit its website, it should place its vigorous reporting on the shortcomings of candidate Hillary Clinton front and center, but only when these particular readers visit the website.
By clustering their audience in a clever way, media companies can hold onto their readership – even grow it. And media consumers are rarely one dimensional. Once they’re in, they will move beyond the content that drew them in and they will check out other verticals (perhaps a cat video?).
It’s more important than ever for media companies to place an emphasis on targeting readers with the right content. This should begin with the use of sophisticated tools such as behavioral analytics, which allows a company to cluster its web visitors based on, for example, how they navigate content, how much time they spend on each story, if they read the entire store or scroll to the end, if they click to watch an embedded video, or if they skip or decide to sit and watch an entire ad before a video starts. Understanding these kinds of behaviors helps media companies to serve each web visitor the most relevant and personalized content.
Netflix did this brilliantly, and guess what happened? They are no longer remembered for their “Be Kind, Rewind” days. They rose overnight to become one of the preeminent media companies of our day. And Youtube gives video recommendations without you even knowing that they are recommendations.
It’s time for newspapers and other traditional media companies to shed their old ways. When we get people on both sides of the political divide to trust real news, and warm up to the stories that may question their world view, we can start having constructive debates over the future of our country.