The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Why Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post is great for associations

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Thu, Aug 08, 2013


This week’s announcement that founder Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post is big news here in the nation’s capital. We all know the newspaper industry has been (and is going) through turmoil and upheaval.  Major newspapers have laid off editorial staff with a dismissive phone call and more are on the auction block.

However this news is personally comforting knowing since the newspaper I grew up reading will now be shepherded toward its future by a proven innovator who takes the long term view instead of eyeing the next quarter’s profits.

But as we think about associations and the delivery of association services we should also be comforted.  We hear each day about the need for innovation, how “millennials don’t join,” and the “end of relevance.”  Some might say that while we haven’t seen as much upheaval as the newspaper industry, we have seen change come just as fast and uproot traditions and business models.

Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post shows there is a bright future for associations… if they heed the lessons and adapt.

Mission and content are still critical

“The values of The Post do not need changing,” said Bezos in his letter to Post employees announcing the sale. Bezos goes on to say “Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post -- as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States -- is especially important.”

The takeaway for associations is that the role they provide in society is just as important and is even more critical today. 

The Power of A campaign highlights this for us and I regularly speak with association members who value their membership.  Individuals and companies engage with their associations to network and grow their business, find personal growth and stay current in their professional fields.

This role has been and will be needed in society. While issues may come and go, there will be a need for institutions to shepherd these connections and functions.

Content consumption is changing (and the change is only speeding up)

Bezos admits he reads the newspaper every day. He just doesn’t read it in print… he reads it on his tablet.  (He even says he sees a day where newspapers are all digital.)

While it is interesting that Bezos is a consummate content consumer on digital devices, the trend shouldn’t be breaking news. 

Adobe’s 2013 Mobile Consumer Survey Whitepaper points out that 65% of mobile device users report that they read news on their mobile devices.  Deeper segmentation in the whitepaper also finds that tablets are increasingly being used for consuming books (about 36% of respondents), magazines (about 27% of respondents) and videos. 

However, one statistic that jumps out from this report is the age segmentation for people using tablets for education:

  • 24% of users aged 18 to 29
  • 19% of users age 30 to 49
  • 13% of users age 50 to 64

Basically the younger the audience, the more likely they are to consume education on a tablet device. This is what they are used to and as they mature into middle career workers, it is what they will expect.

Given how the iPad and tablet revolution is only 3 years old (the first iPad was introduced in 2010), think of how much content consumption has been disrupted in this short time frame.  We can only start to guess at what might be next.

Technology will be even more central to success

The bottom line implication of all of this for associations will be to shift their content, learning and education models as technology evolves and content consumption patterns change.  The ability of content publishing systems such as the association’s website to publish, consume, distribute and adapt to varied formats will become critical to the success of the association.

A website redesign has traditionally thought of as a “technology project” or a “marketing/communications project” depending on which group initiatives the project. The reality is that website redesigns are now “marketing technology projects” that have to consider both the organization’s marketing and business goals while delivering a flexible technical infrastructure that allows the organization to scale and grow its content distribution.  The ability to adapt with responsive web design, share social content and integrate with other systems will crucial to the success of organizations.

It is a powerful combination – mission and technology. And at the crossroads of the two sits the role that associations occupy in our society.  By putting the right technology in place and delivering the right content in the right format at the right time, associations will do just fine.

Jeff Bezos has shown us there’s a future… we just need to map the right path there.

Multimedia options for content

(Photo credit: Flickr, Tony Hall)

Topics: web strategy, Websites, content strategy

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