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Huffington Post exec: Social media, mobile are news distribution gateways

NEW YORK ? A Huffington Post executive at Mobile Marketer?s Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2016 said that as consumers rely more than ever on distributed news content on mobile-first platforms, namely social media, this is diluting time spent on destination sites.

During the ?Huffington Post: Examining the Mobile and Digital Strategy? session, the executive highlighted four growing trends in the online news industry and doled out advice for brands seeking to leverage previously-untapped content distribution methods. Mobile search and social media have both transformed the sector and become must-have tools for spreading engagement.

?Google?s algorithm made search the primary source of how people found information,? said Spencer Sloe, vice president and head of ad product and monetization at The Huffington Post. ?That became the dominant way people found your content online.

?Social media then [became] the largest source of traffic for content sites, accounting for between 30 to 50 percent of all external entries.?

Rapidly evolving consumption
Mr. Sloe tapped four key trends in the online content industry that are growing at startling speeds. They include the evolution of consumers? discovery mechanisms, the dominance of the mobile device, video becoming the most valuable format and the fact that audiences are moving off-platform.

Whereas news readers previously had their go-to destinations and publishers for daily or weekly content, a rising amount of individuals are relying on Google?s search function to find the most relevant content, or are flocking to social media to consume bite-sized pieces of information. Facebook, for example, maintains a sidebar on users' feeds that showcases news its algorithm deems most likely to appeal to them.

?Facebook isn?t growing as rapidly as it once did, but there are other social avenues rapidly growing,? Mr. Sloe said.

This delineates the rise of ?homeless media,? an offsite consumption trend that caused The Huffington Post to lose its spot as the number one publisher on Facebook.

The barrage of mobile consumption prompted The Huffington Post to revamp many of its approaches.

?The Huffington Post was very focused on desktop, and we saw this trend coming, but we weren?t really prepared for it,? Mr. Sloe said. ?It didn?t hit us as fast as some of the other folks, but when it hit, it hit hard.?

Headlines have changed to become pithier, while photos are cropped in ways that are optimized for easy sharing across several platforms. Additionally, the publisher has worked to develop a tool called responsive social referral ? a must-have for any content-first marketer.

If a consumer is reading an interesting article on his or her smartphone and would like to recirculate it among friends, he or she will spot an eye-catching, snarky headline that can be Tweeted out to followers with the tap of a button.

This feature has been repurposed for each different social network. For Pinterest, The Huffington Post focuses on beautiful, large imagery that users may want to share with others.

Endless scrolling, swiping and video features were also installed into the mobile model to better connect with readers.

New trends ahead
Video?s 40 percent annual uptick in consumption has prompted many publishers to sit up and take notice. The average consumption rate has increased from three minutes per day on mobile devices to 30 minutes daily.

The Huffington Post decided to invest more heavily in original content creation as part of its trend-adaptation efforts. The brand develops some content that does not have brand alignment, while other content done in conjunction with its partner studio does contain some brand inclination.

It has also branched out into producing online documentary series.

Delving into podcasting may be a lucrative strategy for some brands. The Huffington Post has begun dipping its toes into the podcast world, which has resulted in great engagement so far. As podcasts become more professionally done over time, opportunities for brands will continue to abound.

?We?re starting to see a lot of companies form around creating these podcasts,? Mr. Sloe said. ?The stats are starting to show that there?s an 18 percent growth annually, and usage is up more than 40 percent year-over-year.

"There are some really beautiful options for integrating a brand with a podcast.?