Curated Conversation: The Future of Content with Oracle, Vox Media, General Mills and Flipboard

Danika Azzarelli / July 17, 2017

(From left to right: Michelle Hulst (Oracle), Gabriella Schwarz (Flipboard), Ryan Pauley (Vox Media), Brad Hiranaga (General Mills))

During the Cannes Festival of Creativity last month, Flipboard joined Oracle, Vox Media, and General Mills at the Oracle Deck to discuss the current and future state of content. Coming from four different corners of the media landscape, the panelists explored the increasing need for passion-centric content, a renewed focus on distribution to achieve brand safety, and the role of data in defining and measuring success.

Flipboard’s Managing Editor Gabriella Schwarz kicked off the conversation with emerging mobile content trends. “Flipboard’s editorial team is looking through streams of content from the entire internet because it’s important for us to surface the highest quality content in a beautiful way,” she said. “We notice the higher quality the contentand more in-depththe better it performs. The metrics enable us to do that editorially. At Flipboard, we want to give the broccoli in the news diet, so people can stay informed about the biggest stories about the day, and then also engage with content around passion points. We are breaking the bubble.”

In a world where consumers would not care if 74% of brands disappeared from their lives, providing utility through content is crucial to success. Vox Media’s VP of Revenue Operations Ryan Pauley said, “You have to offer something back to your audience to make content resonate. You need to do all you can to delight with content.”

Passion-Centric Content Is the Future

To connect with consumers today, brands are having to act like publishers to keep up in the content game. Oracle’s VP of Strategic Partnerships Michelle Hulst pressed the panel for what types of content leads to meaningful connections, brand loyalty, and even purchasing?

“We believe in passion-based content, and the data reinforces that,” said Schwarz. She said Flipboard surfaces content based on people’s interests, resulting in an enriching consumer experience full of discovery and higher engagement.

Highlighting the cruciality of context for deeper engagement between brands and people, General Mills’ North American VP of Brand Building Brad Hiranaga said, “Understand which passions are related.”

Schwarz sees this trend impacting not only branded content, but publisher content as well. “I think it’s a crowded landscape,” she said. “We will see publishers go much deeper with longer form content around passions to stand out and connect with people.”

Content and Credible Environments

With an industry-wide concern around brand safety, it didn’t take long for the conversation to veer toward the importance of adjacency, partnerships, and human intervention in achieving brand-safe environments.

“Every meeting now begins with brand safety,” said Pauley. “It’s pushing the standard which is important and is having an impact.”

Schwarz chooses to see the positive effects of the “fake news” frenzy: “I think the fact that people have become better at spotting facts and untruths is a beautiful upside to the current media climate.”

Pauley noted that digital environments have never been truly designed for brand building. “There is still a lack of trust in digital,” he said. “We create spaces to build brands through adjacency and partnerships.”

In the past year, major technology companies found themselves in hot water after handing over the reigns to algorithms too quickly, resulting in unsafe environments for brands. Schwarz shared that Flipboard focused on brand safety from day one by investing in a global editorial team and hand-vetting the sources found on the platform. She believes a healthy, give-and-take relationship between humans and algorithms is the right solve.

“Editors are so important when we are talking about quality content and brand safety,” said Schwarz. “Editors need to inform the algorithms, and the algorithms need to inform the editors.”

The Role of Data and Measuring Success

With the amount of data available today, it can be difficult to determine where to rely on data and where to rely on creativity throughout the content creation and distribution processes. Oracle’s Hulst inquired about each way the panelists are incorporating data to make better decisions.

“You can’t have a content conversation anymore without factoring in distribution,” said Vox’s Pauley. “We look at insights before anything gets created. We look at real-time data to optimize while something is live, and then we use data to recap and improve. The data and analytics team has a seat at the table at every step of content creation and distribution.”

All the panelists agreed that data allows decision-making to be much more strategic, and that measuring content is key to successful evolution.

General Mills’ Hiranaga, a proponent for experimentation to see how you can continue to add value and grow, said, “Data gives us the confidence to experiment in a smart way.”

Data is shaping newer, direct channels of communications between brands and people such as real-time, mobile notifications.

“You can make anything interesting with how you phrase something,” said Schwarz. “We constantly A/B test headlines in notifications and email to see what resonates. Our users want information; they want to dive deep. We use data to find the new opportunities and new audiences.”

Hiranaga mentioned that data is altering the way General Mills is creating experiences and measuring the value they are adding, but that it’s not perfect yet. “We have a ton of room to grow in terms of metrics,” he said. “Metrics need to evolve and become more specific to what we are trying to do.”

Pauley believes data can help you shape metrics that are meaningful. “Data forces you to understand what you want to achieve upfront,” he said. “Knowing what metrics matter beforehand pave a clearer path to success.”

~Danika A. is reading about Critical Thinking