Jon Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times. He previously served in editorial roles at The History Channel magazine, Intellectual Takeout, and Scout. He is an alumni of the Institute for Humane Studies journalism program, a former reporter for the Panama City News Herald, and served as an intern in the speechwriting department of George W. Bush.
Building the Framework to Reach Youth Audiences
Many companies talk about how they want to reach Millennials and Gen Z. This makes sense because these groups represent the future. In fact, they are the future. But talking about reaching youth audiences is much easier than actually reaching them.
First, you must understand the youth audience. Second, you must have a brand, message, and product that appeals to them. Finally, you must have the ability to reach them. This requires answering several questions. What platforms do they use? How do they communicate? What interests them? What turns them off? What motivates them?
These are questions FEE has been asking the last two years. We’ve learned a great deal, but the last question still looms large: How do we reach them?
Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville are two of America’s most celebrated writers. They also both died in obscurity, relatively impoverished.
I use this anecdote to show a dilemma. Creating a wonderful product—whether it be a chair, a novel, or a computer—is not enough. You need to reach your customer. This is both easier and harder in the digital age. As anyone who has ever started a blog knows, no matter how brilliant, provocative, or insightful your thoughts might be, people rarely stumble on them. The internet is a busy place, and without a vehicle to disseminate your content, it’s going to usually have as much influence as a tree falling in a forest.
Social media, of course, is one way many companies reach their audience today. But relying on third-party companies who’ve shown an inclination to tweak algorithms at a whim is a risky strategy.
Most marketing folks will tell you that social media should be a tool to help you promote your product, but if it’s the centerpiece of your business, you’ve ceded too much of your destiny to third-parties. This is a reason FEE’s technology team has developed a system that has made us less reliant on the tech giants.
A Tool for Leveraging Contacts
The digital media world is new and ever-evolving. It operates under different rules than the old-media world, but the basic goal remains the same: companies and entrepreneurs want people to see their product.
Different companies will, of course, develop different strategies to achieve this. The marketing chief of Steven Spielberg’s new film isn’t going to use the same strategy as an entrepreneur who has created a new women’s fragrance.
At FEE, part of our strategy involved using our own technology to make it easier to share our products directly with dozens and potentially hundreds of influencers, FEE friends, and media.
Most writers, editors, and media managers will tell you it is often difficult to identify what separates a story that flops from one that goes viral. Sometimes it feels totally random. Perhaps it was a tweet from an influencer. Perhaps a reader shared it in a forum or chat room at just the right time. Perhaps the article got picked up by a massive aggregate like the Drudge Report.
Conversely, people in digital media—both writers and editors—can tell you about a great article that flopped. Was it a bad headline? Was the image dull? Did it contain something controversial that made people not want to share it?
All of these things can happen. To some extent, we live in the age of algorithm, as one futurist has dubbed it. It’s a numbers game, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean algorithms hold our fate.
At FEE, we’ve developed tools to make us proactive instead of passive. Working collaboratively with our editorial team over the last year, our technology team designed a system that allows us to disseminate any one of our articles—or all of them—directly to a specific party or parties at the click of a button: a leader at a friendly organization, a Twitter influencer, a political activist, or an op-ed editor at a major news organization.
At FEE, we use Umbraco (v7.12.3) as our content management system. Umbraco allows us to create custom field properties and relationships between different nodes very easily. For the Media Push Platform (MPP), we created two custom checkbox lists and configured them to show up on each article creation node. One of them is to select the media partner groups and the other is to select individual media partners. These lists come from our editorial team and can be changed at any given time. Our editors can select any number of groups and individual partners at any time, before or after publication of an article.
In order to push the articles, we needed to create nodes with media partner details; such as their name, email address or Twitter handle, partner group. We added a field for email addresses of anyone who wants to be CC-ed in the push email. The email template is also configured in Umbraco where we can add the article details programmatically by search and replace method. We created a twitter template to make sure the tweet/direct message does not exceed the character limit.
When the FEE editorial team is ready to publish an article, we select the desired groups and/or individual media partners and hit publish. Umbraco has a built-in overridable publishing event handler where we can inject our logic to send the push. When the article goes into the publishing event handler, it’s configured to look at the checked groups and individuals first. Umbraco adds IDs for all the checkboxes that help us keep track of the checked items. The handler gets the individual partner’s IDs from the groups and combines with the checked individuals to avoid overlaps. To avoid sending multiple emails every time we edit and republish an article with already selected partner items, we added a text field to every article that tracks the IDs of the individuals who were sent the article successfully.
How it Works
Using this system, we can target specific individuals or groups with content related to them. For example, if we have a trending story on education, like this article written by FEE’s Senior Education Fellow Kerry McDonald, we can send it to education scholars, Facebook admins, and selected editors at the click of a button, who can in turn feature the article on their own platform. If we have a feature on cannabis, like this piece written by FEE senior writer Brittany Hunter, we can send it to influencers in the cannabis space. If we have a trending article on liberty or poverty, we can send it to a dozen libertarian groups who have their own social media followings.
The technology isn’t groundbreaking. It’s simply a streamlined method that allows us to put our content in front of the people we want, and to do so selectively. To be sure, we’re still exploring how to best utilize these tools. What platforms work best? How often do we send articles to people in our network? How do put we something in front of people without being “spammy”? How effective is this technology absent other meaningful outreach efforts?
These are the questions we’ll seek to answer in the latter part of 2019. Regardless of the answers, I have no doubt that by creating a platform that allows us to seamlessly reach targeted influencers in our space with relevant and timely content, we’ve taken a key step in our effort to share the ideas of liberty and economics with the thought leaders of tomorrow.