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I was listening to BuzzFeed Canada’s social media editor Elamin Abdelmahmoud give a talk at Social Media Week Toronto. He said about 75% of the content they produce isn’t published on Buzzfeed.com.

That surprised me. Here you have a successful digital media outlet that gets a lot of hits on its site. And yet, the vast majority of its stories, videos and posts have their home somewhere else.

What does that say for other brands and organizations?

Hub and Spoke Needs a Tire Change

In the last 10 years, social media has democratized the way media is delivered to audiences and that has given us the opportunity to become publishers in our own right.

Along with that came the hub and spoke content model, the virtues of which were espoused by many of us in digital marketing. Simply put, you treated your website/blog as the online home for all your company’s stories. And then you used social networks and traditional marketing disciplines like advertising and PR as the spokes to distribute and amplify your content.

A Renter, Not an Owner

So what changed? Mobile for one thing. And the fact that some of the biggest social networks have become our new media companies.

Consider Facebook’s Instant Articles and live video, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, Snapchat – and now Instagram – Stories, YouTube and Twitter’s Periscope. They’ve become our new publishers and broadcasters. Except the platforms themselves aren’t creating the content. They distribute it and take their cut, of course.

According to Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report, Google and Facebook get a whopping 76% of the digital ad revenue in the U.S. That’s a staggering figure by any count.

Now, businesses and media companies are being forced to alter course and publish on many different platforms in order to get in front of the people they want to reach. Their videos, stories and posts lives outside the comfortable digital homes they built. Similar to what happened when Facebook diminished the reach of company pages, content rules are morphing again.

What should your business do? Try to act like Buzzfeed and publish far and wide? Hang on tight to what worked last year and hope for the best? Ditch your website?

There’s no doubt the hub and spoke model needs a tune-up. A first step is learning to understand what Gartner Research calls unstable business processes.  That means embracing a strategic flexibility, accepting that seismic change is part of the marketing landscape and testing, learning, adapting – in near real-time.

It also means you should be constantly questioning why you’re creating content in the first place, whether or not it will have any value for customers, what you can produce better than anyone else and how you’ll spread the word.

Inside a Retailer’s Mind

One way to accomplish this is to adopt a retailer’s mindset. Think of your website or blog as your flagship outlet. Most of your customers won’t visit your flagship all the time, but it’s there to set the tone and personality for your brand. To give people a unique experience.

The content you publish on social media outposts like Facebook and YouTube are like stores in a mall. You don’t own them and never will and the mall takes a big cut of your revenue. But malls are a place where communities gather. And you realize giving up some autonomy and control for the opportunity to reach a bigger audience is worth the trade.

Will the shift to distributed content last for a while? I wouldn’t give up your website just yet.

Maybe now’s a good time to both adjust to the new flow and conduct some experiments on your own site so you’ll be ready to face the next content chasm.

Are you a perpetual content traveler or do you still maintain a digital home base?

A version of this post was originally published in Marketing magazine.

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman conducts social media and online crisis training workshops, is a digital and communications strategist and speaks at events across North America. He's the co-founder of three PR agencies, president of a consultancy and has worked in the industry for 25 years. He writes a monthly column for Marketing Magazine, teaches digital strategy and is chair of PRSA Counselors Academy.

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