Google and Facebook recognize it: Ephemeral content wears thin.
If their algorithms continue to surface popular but ultimately meaningless content, people will slowly realize those online spaces, too, add little to their lives. Audiences will eventually gravitate to other places that offer more meaning and fulfillment, where they can find deep, rich content. Think about how users moved away from Farmville and other casual games once the novelty wore off.
Smart media organizations have recognized the importance of distinctive high-quality content for inspiring audience connections, and they have begun investing heavily in meaningful productions. Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” and Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” have followed the lead of HBO, AMC, and other channels to produce long-form, binge-worthy content for audiences craving deep characters and sprawling narratives.
But it’s not all fictional franchises. ESPN reinforced its credibility with “30 for 30,” a series of well-recognized sports documentaries now in its third iteration. Those documentaries spread through Netflix and continue to be shared on Facebook, Reddit, and other social-media platforms because of their attention to detail and commitment to storytelling.
As the online-analytics discussion has turned toward engagement over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more about content longevity in a news context. How can we make our offerings the kind of content that people binge upon, return to, and reference time and again?
The Times already has me hooked. I pay for the digital edition and trust its NYT Now app for regular news updates. But I hadn’t used its Cooking site much — until I was preparing for Super Bowl Sunday.
Like many Americans, I was planning on making chicken wings as an appetizer. When I checked the news on the Times front page that morning, there was a link to Super Bowl recipes on its Cooking site.
I clicked on the Buffalo chicken wings recipe from Mark Bittman and immediately saved it to my Pinterest account, where I store recipes and reference items. I then noticed the Times also allows you to save the item in your own recipe box at its site. It’s a brilliant move to offer social-media options in addition to the recipe box; in this case, I created a box and ended up saving it in both spaces.
In fact, the Cooking site’s intuitive and easy-to-use interface is designed much like Pinterest. You can save recipes in a customizable recipe box and explore the site visually, according to your needs.
In this flurry of recipe exploration, I also discovered an article link within the cooking site to a longer piece titled “The Key to a Truly Great Chicken Wing.” I read the entire piece — I have since converted to grilling chicken wings — and then saved that article, too, to my Pinterest.
It was then I realized the article was from August 28, 2013.
Here we have a 2½-year-old article being read, shared, and saved in 2016. I spent more than 15 minutes among various Times pages exploring content deeply. And here I am, days later, writing about it and sharing it again.
Part of the reason for that: I didn’t experience the sense of clickbait regret that comes when I’ve been seduced by a vague headline. It was meaningful content that was well-written, passionate, and educational. It was relevant to my life. It was worth the click.
Granted, a wing recipe is not news per se. But it’s content that goes beyond a frivolous Vine that elicits a giggle. And it’s a piece I will return to time and again, especially when I want to recommend chicken-wing tips to a friend or family member.
From chicken wings to news
These regularly updated content items offer easy-to-navigate stacks to review today’s major news topics. Within each stack are Q&A explanations that include myriad links to older Vox posts on the topic.
When I’ve brought up the idea of longevity to journalist friends of mine, they say they’ve been doing such articles for years; it’s the evergreen story of old. To me, those stories smack of clickbait — quickly rehashed tales and how-tos meant to capitalize on a holiday, event or anniversary with little thought about the audience’s needs or desires.
True engagement emanates from the audience first. How do we as media organizations fit into their lives? And how can we fulfill their needs in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to them?