No More Websites. Only Publishers.

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Websites are not websites anymore.

When a brand manager sits down to evaluate what she or he is doing online and in the mobile channels, the first realization they have is usually it’s not up to snuff with the massive amount of online usage that consumers are engaged in. And, more often than not, they must also grapple with what their peers and competitors are doing in these spaces as well.

As brands continue to try to out-design competitors, there could also be a bigger, scarier realization: your website is not important anymore.

Becoming a publisher of content online is what the digital channels are really all about. Brands still get caught up in the functionality and minutiae of what their website is. All of those shiny bells and whistles won’t amount to anything if you’re not constantly and consistently publishing content (which can be done in text, images, audio, video or any combination of those formats) that adds value to the consumer’s life. When you explain to a brand manager that online works not because of what you’re showing people, but rather on content they’re publishing, the response is often: "but we sell Product X; we’re not in the publishing or content creation business."

News flash: yes you are a publisher. And, if you’re not, you better start being one.

The age of creating basic websites that shill your products and services with mumbo jumbo and corporate rhetoric is over. The age of brochureware websites is just that – an age. It can’t (and wasn’t meant to) last forever. The new types of employees that are going to fill the marketing, communications and sales departments of the most successful companies are going to have job titles like community manager, editor in chief, blogger, podcaster, videographer and social media director.

Don’t be surprised if terms like "ROI" and "CPM" suddenly become replaced with terms like "engagement" and "customer reviews."

Look no further than Amazon. What was originally an online e-commerce website for selling books has pushed well beyond that. The sheer retailing power of Amazon is staggering. Beyond the selection of products they have expanded into (not to mention the development and sale of multiple technologies and the acquisition of other companies along the way), they are a juggernaut of content creation. Around every product you will find Amazon’s description sidled up against major industry news outlets’ reviews, alongside customer reviews and much, much more. Authors of books are invited to add their own blog feed, there are forums for discussions and even video demos.

It’s no longer about the cheapest price or free shipping at Amazon, it’s about publishing information and product clarity so consumers feel confident in their purchase decisions.

Amazon is able to sell massive amounts of product because it is able to create an online atmosphere of confidence by publishing original content, republishing mass media content and by creating a platform for any individual to publish her own perspective of what the product is like in the real world. Is Amazon an online merchant? Is Amazon a great website? Or, is Amazon really one of the leading publishers of content, reviews and insights about products and merchandise? Others have created websites that sell the same products for cheaper. Competitors have designed websites that are way more engaging and pleasing to the eye. But Amazon has been winning the retail war by becoming a trusted provider of content that surrounds the products they sell. This is paramount to understanding what success looks like in the online channel. This concept of "brand as publisher" extends well beyond your garden walls as well. When you create a page on Facebook, it’s not about "build it and they will come."

You create content within the platform that entices customers to become your "fans."

Similarly, a brand on Twitter is really just publishing thoughts of value in 140 characters at a time in a consistent enough pace that builds interest in who’s doing it, what they’re about and how they connect back to their consumers. Communities are created around this content, and those communities are expecting an engaging back-and-forth type of conversation or communication. That can’t happen with a static website.

Is your business ready to become a publisher?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Brands have to become publishers of online content.

Vancouver Sun – Website survival: If you’re not a publisher of content, start now.


  1. Great post Mitch, I think traditional websites lack a lot of important things which are must in this social age.
    They should understand that there a lot of benefits of becoming a content rich website, it helps in SEO, building conversations with customers,showing further response to the conversations going on Facebook fan-pages or twitter.
    But the problem here is most of the brands which are using social media hide there social efforts on there main websites, So still a long way to go and they should better start doing it now.

  2. Mitch,
    This is a very insightful article, and agrees with David Scott’s philosophy in World Wide Rave that online publishing is increasing in value. Also, you provide an excellent example in citing Amazon as an industry leader because of publishing content and customer reviews. I think as people become more accustomed to providing their own opinions on social media sites, having a platform for customer reviews will be critical for success.

  3. You’re so right when you say managers are going to respond “But I’m not a publisher, we make X”. I hear this a lot and it can be difficult to change people’s thinking. Often it’s being done on the inside of companies by younger, more Net-savvy staff.
    The companies that get this will move ahead, the one’s that don’t will struggle. Just like the corner stores that failed to grasp the significance of the mall.

  4. Great post Mitch.
    I’m finding a lot of brands who think they’re “publishing” but are just rolling out their ads on to YouTube and waiting for the Viral! But it’s not about that. Content needs to be created specifically for these new communities and be conceptually focused on consumers’ social behaviours.
    You’re right, publishing is what brands need to embrace, and publishing is more than just hitting the upload button on YouTube or the update button on Facebook.

  5. The biggest hurdle is the level of transparency that traditional or corporate companies need to overcome before they can become publishers. I see a definite generational gap when pitching social media ideas – training is involved: the conversation and the topics need to be brand relevant and brand cohesive. I don’t think the brand design is irrelevant as branding has an incredible impact – the branding and the publishing need to coexist, which doesn’t seem to happen. Web designers often dream up the bells and whistles without bringing the writers, bloggers, social media managers, etc into the conversation.

  6. Very true content, content, content is what we should be focusing on in the business world. Also as you said we must embrace the newer tools for spreading content i.e. Facebook Pages, Twitter, and YouTube so that businesses are able to connect with their customers on a more personal level.

  7. I guess that’s why facebook, twitter etc., became so popular, people need a place to hang and corporate websites weren’t inviting people in…spot on Mitch and Stacey!

  8. Hello,
    When you say : The age of creating basic websites that shill your products and services with mumbo jumbo and corporate rhetoric is over!
    It cannot be clearer and I totally agree with this statement and the post in general.
    I feel, it will take time for Brands to get there. Most brands/smb/…compagnies in general are struggling to understand how to expand their digital footprint and how to get there using social media.
    Quality/quantity of content is often a concern too. Time, Ressources, Budget!
    I agree when you say that crucial jobs will be social media directors, community managers. the challenge will be to find people with enough operational experience to conduct Social media strategy.

  9. How many times does this same thing have to be said before the masses get it? We get so caught up falling in love with our products we can’t imagine customers don’t want to spend their days thinking and reading about us. Like everything else, good (and effective) websites are the ones that work hard to be what people want to experience and spend less time on how show off the product. It’s scary for a lot of people and it’s easy to say ‘we can’t spend money on chatter” but that’s what we have to do. Thanks for the post, Mitch.

  10. Thank you, Mitch, for this insightful article! A further illustration of your point: I keep hearing people say (of Twitter or the like), “Why would I want to know what So-In-So is doing every minute?” EXACTLY! Bad content, poorly executed. Of course, they use it to condemn Twitter et. al. instead of figuring out a way to use these channels well. Here’s to a new era of “brand as publisher”!

  11. Great post Mitch. This is something that’s been bubbling up for the past few years now, where less of what you say about yourself on your website matters; and more of what your are sharing and publishing speaks volumes about who you are and what kind of company you represent.
    I think the companies who already embody this and those that are working on embodying this philosophy within their company culture will be leaps & bounds ahead of everyone else.
    As for Google and other search engines that have been relying on the “traditional” website link network to determine who’s the most relevant source of information. They too will have to realize the movement away from websites and the importance of the online persona. I think they have access to enough data to tell which personas are relevant to a particular subject and who is just publishing noise.

  12. Wow, great stuff, Mitch, and a great discussion you started. I was about to bring up my friend David Meerman Scott’s books, but I see the second commenter (Kelly) already did. His “New Rules of Marketing and PR” from 2006 is built around this whole notion of thinking like a publisher, and it’s just coming out now in an updated Second Edition. I love the thoughts Stacey added that “the biggest hurdle is the level of transparency that traditional or corporate companies need to overcome”… and also “Web designers often dream up the bells and whistles without bringing the writers, bloggers, social media managers, etc into the conversation.” That is so true — a common problem companies have to work to avoid! I also think Michael’s comment is right on” “It’s scary for a lot of people and it’s easy to say ‘we can’t spend money on chatter’ but that’s what we have to do.” Yep, chatter’s the game!

  13. Well Mitch, that would work for big brands, but what about Small businesses? (I’m talking 1 to 5 employees). Surely they’ll get mileage out of their brochure-ware websites for a few more years yet?

  14. As usual an insightful and to the point post.
    It is also nice to find out when an expert in the industry with your experience validates your the steps you are taking on your online strategy.
    All the best!

  15. With things like Google Reader and free RSS readers for your iPhone, I could envision a world of tomorrow where all we do is produce feeds … no website, just a feed … truly we become only publishers of content for someone else’s feed.
    It kinda scares me at imagining a world without a website and purely feeds, but our business models would change and adapt … it could happen …

  16. Mitch, I am not so sure.. maybe this is too soon to predict that. Website still has to be that platform where people engage prior to responding to a call to action. Not that I am saying that the work of the publishing platform ends with branding.To me publishing ( are we at liberty to say social media?) acts as an intermediary to website’s top 3 business goals of customer acquisition & retention, conversion & lowering costs

  17. Companies that realize that a website is more like an interactive tool to reach out and form a community with current and potential buyers will be successful. It is all about creating value in the mind of the consumer in the marketplace.

  18. Failing to realize this transition is going to kill some companies. I’ve had to pull the plug on a recent joint venture myself. I set up the whole infrastructure, educated the partner and they just weren’t properly resourced to generate the content and manage the community, which was their end of the deal.
    To get proper attention with a targeted group of people, product companies need to provide value beyond their product. It isn’t something most people are used to doing if they are a product company and this paradigm shift is going to poke holes in the hulls of many companies.
    Zappos is another company that is totally getting it. A follow post on them would be well received.

  19. Agreed.
    Shifting from presence to engagement is the next step for bigger organizations. For many small businesses, however, the first hurdle of the web — creating a website that’s more than an online business card — is still a daunting task.
    It’s unfortunate. These small businesses stand to benefit the most from having a website, let alone a strong conversational presence. Yet many agencies and developers turn their back on them. Why? “Because they’re not big enough.”

  20. You are a savvy initiator! It’s true, a Static site just doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to be giving people value from the moment they find your site.
    But how can we prove this to nonprofits? How can their ROI from blogging be something measurable in dollar terms? This is what it’s going to take to get nonprofit leaders, hidebound in tradition, to understand this.

  21. Thank you. All of you. This is all new to me, a quasi backwoods luddite, in the sense of things you name here that I’ve felt intuitively.
    A new tribalism, yes. No, we don’t want to enter static environments any more. But ultimately we don’t want to live in surrogate environments either. Or, not only there. We’re all connected, yes, but the question is: to what? And if it’s only to ourselves, if it’s only within a nice neat solipsistic circle, that, too, for all the charisma and charm will only be another death-knell, too.

  22. Mitch, re your future titles of people in marketing departments — blogger, editor, social media director. There is a job to be done to help marketing directors lead from the front and embrace the idea of “we must engage by creating content”. Then there’s another big job of work to be done to retrain existing staff to create and engage outside their comfort zone of press releases, brochures — the mumbo-jumbo & corporate rhetoric you reference above.
    Would love to hear your thoughts on how to cope with the pain this may create. Hard to move forward if you first must turn your back on the mumbo-jumbo you’ve spent a career believing in. Even harder to become a content creator. Or do you see them using outsiders like content specialists to help them along?
    Sheila Averbuch — ENN

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