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October 16th, 2012

The Importance of Owning Your Platform

If you ask most people who have actually put together a solid, sustainable corporate publishing program you’ll find that most of them adhere closely to the hub-and-spoke model. There is one core asset – in most cases an on-domain blog – that constitutes the program’s home, where most of the attention is focused. Material from there is then distributed, usually in the form of links, on networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and whatever else makes sense for that particular program and its audience.

But if you follow the developments in the world of social publishing tools you’ll see trends are straying farther and farther from this model, with people being encouraged to use X service for this purpose, Y platform for something else and so on and so forth. All the new players that are emerging or gaining prominence want to own a particular slice of people’s online publishing time and an increasing number of them don’t fit in nicely with the hub/spoke model.

More than that, even, the trend clearly shows that the concept of owning your platform may be falling out of favor. While social publishing did largely start out with an unowned model (Blogger, Typepad and other early publishing tools were all hosted and managed outside of the control of the publisher) the rise of self-installed WordPress and MovableType sites started to change that and people/companies took on ownership of their publishing outlets, giving them more control over speed, uptime and trouble-shooting.

Over the last couple years though the “shiny object” crowd has drawn attention to a variety of platforms and services that are all hosted remotely (I refuse to use the term “cloud” here) and over which the person or company who’s actually doing the publishing has little control. Don’t like the way Pinterest handles links?? Tough. Don’t care for how Quora displays information? Too bad. Want to reach the growing and influential audience on Tumblr? Go for it, but don’t expect to be able to archive those conversations.

Many of these sites and services are great and since each has its own unique type of audience (there is some overlap obviously) that requires its own unique strategy it’s important that due diligence be done to see if any given one warrants inclusion in a publishing program. But folding them in to an existing program also brings with it risks:

  • Each outpost represents its own time commitment. If you can’t make that commitment don’t get involved.
  • Each one represents its own security risk. Because these are all hosted by another party with their own idea of what constitutes adequate protection from hacking each password you put out there is another opportunity for someone to steal it.
  • Any given one may not be around in six months. While X service may be the toast of the town now doesn’t mean it’s in for the long-haul. The “shiny object” crowd isn’t often concerned with business model.
  • Not every new site allows for the exporting of content. If you can’t take it with you when it folds, what’s the backup plan?
  • It can be hard to stick to a single objective (ie increase online sales) if you’re spreading material so thin.

Publishing models that take the “spray and pray” approach – putting little nuggets of content on all sorts of networks but owning nothing and not focusing on a single hub – are hard to keep focused and are even harder to sustain. With so much attention being paid to going everywhere and trying to be all things to all people there’s a necessarily attendant lack of attention to any one platform, something that’s immediately apparent to anyone who’s actually paying attention.

While new platforms and tools should always be evaluated – Andrew Stoltzfus wrote a great post earlier this year on just that topic - it’s also incredibly important that programs be focused around a central pillar in order for program managers to make sure the program is always speaking with a consistent voice, is always hitting important beats and that there is a clear path the audience is expected to take as they come with you on this content journey. It’s even more important that the central pillar be one that’s owned and managed in-house or the program may fall victim to any number of potential dangers inherent when you don’t own where you live.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

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