Thursday, December 03, 2009

When it comes to online content, more niche usually trumps more masses

I've been paying closer attention to Mashable lately. If you aren't familiar with the site, it prides itself on covering all aspects of social media, and even has the tagline "The Social Media Guide". The site has been growing like a weed for months, and every new post gets hundreds of RTs on Twitter.

But what's caught my attention recently is the content of the posts. As the site continues to grow, it seems to be moving away from just covering social media, to more broader 'news' stories.

For example, here are some of the titles of posts that have appeared on the site just in the last week:

Tiger Woods Injured in Car Accident
This is Why You're Fat: Thanksgiving Meals Average 2,200 Calories Per Serving
Black Friday Deals Online: 5 of the Best Tech Bargains
Want to Buy a Dual-Screen Laptop? Now You Can
Blackberry Deals and More: Carriers Celebrate Black Friday
Black Friday: Best Buy's Deals Include $200 HP Laptop

There are many other posts where the social media connection is a bit hard to see, to put it kindly. Now I understand why Mashable is writing and posting about Tiger Woods and Black Friday Deals; because it will get the site a flood of traffic.

But in the process, Mashable is losing its focus as being 'The Social Media Guide'. And it's an easy mistake for content creators to make. Hell the first time I had one of my posts picked up by TechMeme and saw a sudden crush of traffic, I was tempted to change my writing to get listed there again.

I think this is an important lesson for all of us to keep in mind; to not get intoxicated by the rush of tweets and traffic that might come from writing a post that's not the focus of your blog/site. Sure, it's great when the traffic starts shooting up, but if you aren't staying with the content that GOT you to where you are now, then you're leaving the door cracked open for the competition. In fact now would be a great time for a competitor to launch a site that's super-focused on social media, that can crank out several posts a day. If the posts are high-quality, and if Mashable keep veering away from covering just social media stories, then the opportunity would be there for the new site to establish itself as the 'new' Guide to Social Media, and occupy the area that Mashable is moving away from.

We have a sayin' down South that you 'Dance with the one that brung ya'. This applies to your online content as well, don't lose focus of what got your blog/site its readership in the first place. And don't confuse traffic with readership. The former is often fleeting, while the latter are the people that stick around.


Will Scott said...

Hey Mack,

And as you know I'm familiar with down south phraseology ;)

So here's what I think: when Mashable was the only game in town it was easy for them to maintain their focus AND get relevant traffic.

With the volume of good social media news, observation and commentary out there they probably have trouble developing the traffic they used to - or moving the advertising needle sufficiently to warrant their editorial costs - sticking to their niche.


Mack Collier said...

Will this chart shows they've passed Tech Crunch -

I think Twitter is driving a TON of the site's traffic right now, and they are getting a bit intoxicated by all the RTing, and wanting to branch out to cover other areas in order to get even more traffic.

Tiger Woods? Thanksgiving calories? Come on...

Christian said...

I have noticed Mashable taking on a more "sensational" editorial stance. I don't necessarily have a problem with it as long as they focus on the "social media" aspect of it all...

How is it affecting social chatter?
Any new/interesting things come out of the news that affects social?
Are tweets and trending topics causing Twitter to fail?

@cliquekaila | Vertical Measures said...

Agree with you Mack, I've noticed the same. I actually even stopped really reading Mashable unless I see a lot of my followers tweeting about a specific post (my followers are mostly social media folks, so likely what they tweet will be in the my desired niche).

Interestingly I noticed the change right around the time Michael Jackson died. They were quick to report the death and how social media had impacted spreading the news of his passing. Thereafter they've jumped on the bandwagon of major stories quite quickly (Balloon boy, etc..). They do have a way of integrating a little bit of a social 'theme' to most of the posts, but it does seem they're stretching. Your advice is a good one: keep your content consistent with your overall message and niche or else it can become muddled a bit.

Rebecca said...

This isn't your imagination - one of their writers that I've been working with told me straight out they are focusing on content that is more "mainstream." So while they covered the Alice launch a few months ago, they haven't covered any news on us since. Apparently, mainstream means celebrities, not toilet paper ;)

While I agree that Mashable is going off a bit - and I unsubscribed awhile ago - I don't agree that this is good advice for everyone. Like, most people aren't going to be huge like Mashable and their interests change.

But you're right that someone could easily start a blog on social media - huge opportunity there, except most people's blogs on social media suck. This could also be a sign that social media is becoming mainstream enough that we don't need to talk about it as much and instead just use it. (There aren't huge sites dedicated to phones or TVs for instance).

Anonymous said...

Some really good points. I am going to trim some fat off my ed tech website tonight. It's hard to stay on topic. Thanks for the reminder!

Mike Billeter said...

Although I agree that certain posts definitely don't fit what I've come to expect from Mashable, I'm not sure I agree that they are posting stories like the Tiger post stories just because it will get them "a flood of traffic."

The day that news story broke, I saw about 25 scattered tweets in my stream that fell along the line of "Is this for real? Was Tiger really in an accident?!" or "Can't believe Tiger's in serious condition after a car accident. What happened?"

The first consistently linked-to post where I saw legitimate information was that Mashable post. It was the only clarifying post I saw for quite a while until other news sources started picking it up. Now, if I'd just woken up and read the Mashable post, I'd be wondering why they felt compelled to cover it. But seeing a sea of uninformed Twitter users rambling and speculating made me appreciate that Mashable actually gathered information and posted it in a trusted place that people could share instead of just reading 4 dozen tweets speculating that "it's probably safe to say he was intoxicated."

As far as the "This Is Why You're Fat" post goes, the entire post is social media focused. TIWYF is a popular site that consistently gets solid traffic on social networking sites like Digg and has plenty of links passed around on Twitter daily, and they've started a social media-inspired effort to integrate real life activity with Twitter. It's a reasonable post focused on a somewhat innovative social media effort.

I guess I just don't quite see how that has strayed from Mashable being "The Social Media Guide." I know those are just two of their posts that I'm picking out, but we're moving into an era where people get as much of their news from Twitter and other social media platforms as they get from anywhere else, and trying to keep those two facets of society separate seems like an unfair burden to put on Mashable's shoulders. We all talk about the consistently decreasing gap between traditional news media and social media, and I feel that Mashable's doing as solid a job as any other source to bridge that gap.

Reading through this comment, you'd think I worked for Mashable or something. I just think it's interesting how often we recognize that real-time news and social networks like Twitter are so intertwined, but a site like Mashable reporting on those intertwined news pieces is perceived them trying to capitalize on sensationalist news stories.

Regardless, you bring up good points on the "dance with the one that brung ya." I've seen plenty of good companies over the past few years suddenly decide that they "do" social media and pitch it to clients and things of that nature and it's so sad to watch them make mistakes as they try to jump on bandwagons. Hopefully Mashable doesn't fall prey to the same pratfalls.

Samir Balwani said...

Agreed, I think it's easy to lose site. Maybe the new year is the perfect time for everyone to take a step back and see where they are, and decide where they want to be.

Matt McGee said...

Wow, crazy to open my feed reader and see a screenshot of my Twitter feed. :) Thanks Mack. Bet this explains the new subscribers today, too!

Mike -- you're right that there's a ton of news that gets spread via social media. But that doesn't necessarily mean said news belongs on a site ABOUT social media.

Verilliance said...

I agree. Who knows what Mashable is up to here, but it feels scattered, and sort of...desperate. Like maybe the greed bug has set in. It seems people hit a certain threshold with fame, attention, money, power, etc, where they suddenly need more at any cost to integrity.

Again, I can only guess at Mashable's motivations here, but that is how my gut reacts to seeing a well-respected niche site suddenly veering off in other directions.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree.

I was reading both Mashable and ReadWriteWeb and trying to decide which to stick with (there was a lot of overlap and both was a bit too much given all the other stuff in my RSS reader) and what finally pushed me to ReadWriteWeb for good was a Mashable post on Susan Boyle of Britain's Got Talent.

Perhaps in that case the link could have been that she was huge on YouTube, but this was not a post about that.

Deni Kasrel said...

Glory Hallelulah -- thank you for this one. I have been thinking the same thing about Mashable.

Love your line about traffic versus readership. It is so true; yet too many pursue numbers for the sake of numbers. Some of this may be due to ability to attract advertisers, in which case faithful readers take a back seat.

Of course, there is another whole issue regarding whether the Tiger Woods story warrants the degree of media coverage it's getting; but that's another fish to fry (not sure what region this saying comes from ;-).

Luke said...

Great post and something many bankers should read that are just staring to dip their toes into the content marketing waters. I see many messages from banks that are non-related to financial topics. It's fine to post pics from your recent branch opening but if that's all you talk about then you won't be seen as the authority on financial topics, you'll be seen as a successful purchaser of retail space.

Mack Collier said...

Matt, even I know it's got to be something else ;)

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I really didn't mean this post to be an indictment of Mashable, as I've done the same thing. The first time I got a post featured on TechMeme and saw a crush of new traffic, I wanted to see that traffic come back. Of course it was traffic from a tech-based source, so everyone was visiting here and leaving 3 seconds later.

Which is why I think focus is so important, otherwise people just come and leave as soon as they don't see what they were looking for.

esteban said...

I'm in Texas and I've never heard that actually said out loud lol..

I think you make a great point. It's important to focus. Just like large companies need to focus on their core competencies, blogs and media outlets need to know their audience and their competitive advantages. However, what if Mashable's audience is changing? What if their audience wants to hear about Tiget Woods? I personally would not go to Mashable for that (nor would I read that post), but I can imagine a lot of people that would.

Unknown said...

Hey folks,

Thanks for the constructive feedback.

Scope is always an interesting issue for content creators. But I don't think anyone should be scared to step outside predefined notions of coverage scope and test the waters. Mashable is unique precisely because we experimented with new ways to approach the topic.

Sometimes I think we venture a bit further out of those boundaries than usual (eg. Tiger Woods), but I'd rather editors tried that and course-corrected than never tried anything new. I clearly remember the days when people told us to stop covering Twitter because it wasn't important :)

Points noted and feedback passed to team - thanks for keeping us on point and have a great weekend!

Mack Collier said...

I hope companies note how @Mashable responded because that's how you do it. They addressed the issue, told their side of the story, were respectful of existing comments, and thankful.

Good stuff, that's how you do it!

Anu said...

I get the sense that more than Niche, the media industry needs to personalize the content for the reader. I want tech news and not Tiger Woods stories when I go to Mashable, they should create a way for us to personalize the experience. Same goes for CNN, ESPN, etc. it should be different for each person who visits.

Just my own thoughts, but what do you think?


Mack Collier said...

Anu I think that's a bit reason why everyone is talking about filters, because we have so much content in general coming at us. I think this is a big reason why sites like AllTop that aggregate then let you filter content, are becoming more popular.

BuzzBox Inc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anu said...


I run a company in filtering new space,, so I agree with you comment. (wrong log-in for last comment)

I just get the feeling that media companies don't want to embrace personalization by the user. They want a unified experience and not a unique one. I guess I'm trying to understand this as I'm starting my company to see if I am missing something. Maybe I'm not.