Hubs, Not Spokes

In this module, we discuss:

  • The decline of inbound marketing, and the rise of native publishing
  • How to map your editorial mission to specific channels and platforms
  • The role of website and blogs within The Business of Media


  • Outbound Marketing - marketing in which people find a business online via advertising and organic SEO (also known as push marketing)
  • Inbound Marketing - marketing through content that serves to attract customers through the different stages of the purchase funnel (also known as pull marketing)
  • Native Publishing - content that matches the form and function of the specific platform or channel through which it is published
  • Editorial Mission - the focus of your content, how you differentiate your content from direct and indirect competitors, how you are uniquely qualified to publish your content, and how to attract an audience
  • Owned Media - exposure gained through platforms and channels that are in the complete control of a person or business (e.g. websites, branded blogs, mobile apps)
  • Rented Media - exposure gained through platforms and channels that are not in the complete control of a person or business, but do not necessarily require payment to use (e.g. social media)

During Web 1.0 of the consumer Internet (circa 1995 to 2006), outbound marketing was the predominant opportunity for most businesses to get found online.

Then, around 2006, as social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were beginning to rise in popularity among users and then businesses, inbound marketing became the most popular and effective form of online marketing.

"Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be," according to Hubspot, a leader in inbound marketing. "By aligning the content you publish with your customer's interests, you naturally attract [visitors to your website who] you can then convert, close, and delight over time."

In other words, a business' website was its hub, and the various distribution channels available — namely email marketing and social media — were its spokes.

However, as the Attention Economy was ramping up, social media networks started to realize that the notion of inbound marketing was not in their best interests.

"A few years ago, the major [social media networks] were happy to have your links to great content," marketing professor Mark Schaefer writes, "but now they are transforming themselves into virtual news and entertainment channels because they want you to spend time on their site, not yours."

Cue: Native Publishing

As a result of the effects that inbound marketing was having on social media networks, they started to create native publishing tools, which gave businesses the opportunity to produce and publish the same content that they were sharing in their outbound links, in each social media network.

In other words, this content now lives on the given social media network, not on the website of a business.

As we mentioned in the module Types of Content Experiences, Facebook's Instant Articles allow business pages to create seamless, immersive long-form content experiences with faster load times in the Facebook News Feed, while LinkedIn features a built-in blogging platform called Pulse.

The other issue for inbound marketing is that some of the newer social media networks, like Instagram and Snapchat, do not make links clickable in the content of a post — ultimately creating difficulties for businesses that want to drive website traffic from these networks.

One Brush with Many Strokes

Now, with native publishing becoming more prominent across nearly every social media network, the question is: Do websites still have a purpose?

After all, Buffer — which runs one of the most popular social media marketing blogs — admitted in October 2015 that it "lost nearly half [its] social referral traffic in the last year."

Then, a month later, it was reported that referral traffic to the top 30 publishers on Facebook plunged 32 percent from January 2015 to October 2015, with the top 10 publishers experiencing a steeper drop at almost 43 percent.

In short, the answer is yes, websites still have a purpose, but the approach must be different than inbound marketing's methodology of one hub (your website) with multiple spokes (your distribution channels).

Within The Business of Media specifically, each channel and platform should be viewed and treated as its own "mini hub" of sorts, bringing your editorial mission to life according to the unique form and function of each channel and platform.

"With digital media, getting your content to the public is all about your technical platform and your distribution plans on social networks," says Dao Nguyen, Publisher of BuzzFeed.

In other words, identify how and why your target audience uses each social media network, and then give them content that fits those different molds, within the overall context of your editorial mission. Think of it as one brush with many strokes.

"We now live in a multi-platform, multi-channel, micro-media world," writes Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times reporter and Publisher of Silicon Valley Watcher. "The companies that successfully manage this task will be far ahead of those that sit back and wait."

The Role of Websites & Blogs

Even though consumers are spending more time consuming content on social media networks, and therefore less time consuming content on websites and blogs, the latter are still useful for content distribution because they are owned media, whereas social media networks are rented media. (More about owned and rented media in the module The Foundation of Digital Distribution: Converged Media.)

Within The Business of Media, it is common (and even recommended) that a website and/or blog be set up separately from the presenting business' website. Examples of this practice include:

Certainly, you can incorporate a content hub (a website that predominantly features content) into your business' existing website, like American Express' OPEN Forum and Red Bull, but there are two critical reasons as to why a business should start a content hub separate from its website:

  1. Producing lifestyle content often means incorporating other (non-competing) businesses into your content experiences, and it may seem awkward to create content about other businesses on your website, and
  2. If your business wants to generate revenue as part of The Business of Media from website-based content, such as digital subscriptions and/or banner ads, it may also seem awkward to enact these two revenue streams on your website.

The Business of Media is presented by yarn, a collective of talent across media, journalism, marketing and design that helps brands create, distribute and monetize memorable content experiences.

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