Ten tips for digital success

Over the years, John Barnes, chief digital officer at William Reed Business Media has won more AOP awards that you can shake a stick at. James Evelegh tuned in to hear him being interviewed by Ciar Byrne for The InPublishing Podcast to see what insights he could pick up.

By James Evelegh

Ten tips for digital success
Photograph: Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash.

John Barnes didn’t start life in digital publishing because there was no such thing when he started his career in the early 90s.

His good fortune was to be working as a journalist on computing magazines in the early days of the internet, so witnessed its evolution at close quarters. He rose up through the editorial ranks to become deputy MD at VNU, which in 2007 was acquired by Incisive Media, where he was kept on and tasked with expanding their digital offering. When the part of Incisive he worked in was sold in 2017 to Infopro Digital, he stayed on as interim CDO before last year starting his own consultancy, Sloop Media. That proved short-lived, when one of his clients, William Reed, decided they wanted him all to themselves and offered him the position of CDO in June.

John Barnes.

So, John has been working at senior levels of B2B digital publishing for almost thirty years.

He has a great ability to talk insightfully about complex matters in plain English – to keep it simple. Listening to the podcast, here are my top takeaways for digital success:

1. Be inquisitive and try things out.

The secret of successful internet publishing is change. Some people are resistant to change, which when you consider how much the internet has evolved over the years, is not a good attitude to have.

2. Understand your market.

Not every publishing strategy is suitable for every market. You need a deep knowledge of the market you serve before you can decide which strategy to deploy.

3. Know who your visitors are.

In the days of controlled circulation publishing, this was one of B2B publishing’s great strengths but with the adoption of open access models where the volume of impressions was seen as all-important, publishers gave up trying to collect deep demographics. A trend that was evident last year and is now accelerating, is to put visitor insight at the heart of the publishing strategy, hence all the experimentation with registration walls. Logged-in behaviour is how you find out who your readers are and what they do on your site, and from that knowledge, so much else flows.

4. Build this knowledge incrementally.

Start small by getting an email address, then append more information as you go along. Don’t scare them off with a 15 page registration form. Make your requests for information natural and transactional. It should feel like a fair exchange: readers will be prepared to divulge more information about themselves if they feel they are getting something in return, for instance, a newsletter, PDF download or access to free articles. Data collection is a job that’s never done.

5. Produce quality content and journalism.

Without that, everything else is doomed to fail because, ultimately, John says, “it’s all about good content and trusted brands”.

6. Know your value.

To have any success in developing reader revenues, you need to know “what is the essential pull of your publication – what is it you do that is valuable to your audience.” Only by knowing how useful your content is and how different subsets of visitors use it, can you hope to price it right. It’s all about knowing and being able to articulate the criticality of your content.

7. Be a leading part of the market you serve.

Work within your market as an active and trusted player. The Covid-19 crisis has given publishers an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate this via special newsletters, webinar, podcasts, videos etc. For instance, William Reed, which serves the retail and hospitality sectors, has put together a series of how-to videos showing restaurants how they can go about returning to business safely.

8. Keep in contact with your digital subscribers.

One advantage print has over digital is the regular physical reminder to a subscriber of their subscription. With digital, you have to work harder; channel your efforts into the onboarding process, encouraging usage, keeping in touch via newsletters, monitoring usage and developing strategies for under / over-usage.

9. Give advertisers the metrics they want.

Yes, totals matter, but who saw an ad and how long they saw it for matters equally. It’s all about recognising that engagement with advertising is as important as impressions.

10. Innovate, always.

This lockdown period has unleashed a wave of innovation putting content firmly centre stage. “I think we’re going to look back on the last few months in a couple of years’ time as being an age that changed B2B and digital publishing for the better.”

Don’t scare them off with a 15 page registration form. Make your requests for information natural and transactional.

You can hear John Barnes being interviewed by Ciar Byrne on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by Acorn Web Offset, a specialist A5 and A4 magazine printer.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.