July 21, 2016
Last week in New York, Bloomberg Digital Managing Editor Michael Shane joined a panel discussion at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit that included top executives from Thrillist, New York Public Radio and others. Together, they explored what innovation means – and how to do it fearlessly.
L-R: Michael Shane, Managing Editor, Bloomberg Digital; Rich Slatter, Head of Product, Whalerock Industries; Peter Weingard, VP & CMO, New York Public Radio; Mike Rothman, Co-Founder & CEO, Fatherly; Ben Robinson, Editorial Director, Thrillist
Read on for five key principles that will help you take risks, try new things and define what innovation means for you:
1. Focus on your users.
“The same person can be a different audience on different platforms,” said Shane. “When I wake up in the morning and read an email newsletter, I’m one kind of audience. When I’m listening to a podcast on the train on the way to the office, I’m another audience – and I’m still the same person. I have different needs and expectations for each one.”
“At Bloomberg, we experiment all the time with different formats for stories,” he noted. A feature on fiscal policy, for example, got a playful web execution: it looked like a 16-bit side-scrolling video game. That’s “because the audience we’re trying to reach on the web, in that context, is going to be different from the audience who may read that story in the print magazine or on the Terminal,” said Shane.
Another new storytelling format (an algorithm-driven, computer-generated animation that hits users within minutes of the market’s close) reaches users primarily on Twitter and the mobile app. Other stories employ different strategies with various livestreams. All take into account what audiences need in the various places they engage.
2. If you’re not measuring what you’re doing, you’re not innovating.
“Thinking about storytelling format, and who that audience is, is really important,” Shane said, “because it’s going to tell you what to measure, and who to measure, in a focused way. You are what you measure – and you have to be really hard on yourself as to what’s working and what isn’t, and using that to keep doing more, so that you’re not doing anything in a vacuum.”
Transparent measurement sets expectations, generates support for new ideas, and creates a culture where risk-taking is possible. “You have to find a way to explain what you want to try, because practicing innovation means you’re thinking two or three years ahead – but you can only work one day at a time. So not only do you have to say, here’s what success looks like at the end of a six-month pilot, you have to define what you’re going to be looking at two weeks in, one month in, three months in. All along the way you have to write the atlas that’s going to get you there in one piece.”
3. Destroy silos.
Innovation takes a village – and the media village today is a big one. Content can be made by journalists, bloggers, brand marketing editors, or others; the product side includes designers, developers, engineers and business development people; the business side funds new projects. “Unless those three things – content, technology, revenue – are working as one, in a big three-way bear hug, you’re missing out,” said Shane.
“If there are silos, you have to destroy them. You have to light them on fire and watch them burn. Because getting rid of those silos is what unlocks the ability to try the biggest things.”
4. Sometimes, the most effective innovation happens when you’re iterating.
“When you stack up a year of iteration, what you then have can be incredible innovation,” said Shane.
“If you launch major initiatives – and you have to do that – you’re going to learn a lot, very quickly. It’s good to take those huge risks, and they really feel innovative when you’re taking them. But sometimes longer-lasting, more effective innovation happens when you’re iterating.
“When you iterate, you’re doing things in small enough pieces that you’re getting data back fast enough to make decisions really quickly,” Shane said. That allows the sum of the parts to become bigger than the whole.
5. Design with empathy.
The bottom line is to be tightly focused about what you try, and where – and to intimately understand who you’re trying to reach, letting their needs drive your ideas. Shane recommended starting with a relentless focus on the needs and expectations of the audience you already have – and the audience you want. Assume you know something they need to know – and that they’ll let you know through the data if they don’t.
“Empathy should be the default posture for anybody making stuff on the internet,” Shane said. “The internet needs a lot more empathy, both in content and product design. That’s just the fundamental principle: are you listening? Are you empathic when you’re thinking about your business, and your journalism, and your stories, whatever your focus is?”
– Jen Robinson | July 21, 2016