Passive partnership is in the rearview

“Instead of jumping onto every new platform, ask yourself: Why should we be here? Can we make it better? Add more value? Be more useful? Can we provide a unique experience?”

Want a better partner? Be a better partner.

The conversation used to go:

Boss: Are we on that platform?
Employee: Yes! Our feed is up and running.
Boss: Awesome, you rule!

Then we arrived at a point where we were everywhere, our feed funneling on overdrive to the far reaches of the web, app, and device world. We watched and waited with great anticipation as we saw spikes in traffic — then the inevitable plateau or, worse, decline.

And then this conversation:

Boss: Why are we on this platform, again?
Employee: Well, it used to be great, but now…
Boss: What’s our extraction plan?

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Today, we live in a reality where stories published to your .com will most likely only be seen by a fraction of the audience you can reach on the Facebooks, Apple Newses, and Snapchats of the world. The conversation is now shifting to finding ways to help your audience not only grow but, more importantly, thrive within dozens of ecosystems you ultimately have no control over.

In 2018, passive partnership is in the rearview.

Instead of jumping onto every new platform, ask yourself: Why should we be here? Can we make it better? Add more value? Be more useful? Can we provide a unique experience? If so, then yes, push ahead.

In the past year, through these partnerships, we began to see the creation of exclusive journalism and bespoke design and storytelling for high-value platforms — that’s the tip of the iceberg. To be change agents, media companies looking to make an impact must take a holistic approach to these relationships.

At its core, it takes a three-pronged commitment that includes delegates from your editorial, product, and engineering teams. Outline to partners what expertise your team brings to the table and how the platform can benefit from a partnership. Make lofty asks, demand more storytelling capabilities, express your desire to rapidly experiment, give tangible feedback — not only on the outward facing but also what’s under the hood (“If your CMS could do this, then we would be able to do X, Y, Z”) — talk UX and UI, and most importantly build candid and respectful relationships.

On the flipside, be open and ask what partners would want from you in an ideal world. (Exclusive stories? Best practices for handling breaking news and alerts?) Schedule standing check-ins to talk about successes and frustrations. Push for road maps and timelines. Express excitement. Become an “alpha partner.” In other words, put in the time.

Of course, you can’t be everything to everyone; some partners just won’t show the love. Those become case-by-case decisions as you try to figure out how to move forward and what your investment (both emotional and tangible) should be. Maybe they just get a 15-story feed.

Historically, these relationships have been a series of peaks and valleys. At the end of the day, we need to find a way to link those peaks and limit the valleys — if only for our own sanity. I believe this is how we can grow together. Otherwise we grow apart…and we all know how that ends.

is director of emerging news products at The Washington Post.

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