Ryan Singel is the co-founder of Contextly, a digital publishing tool that helps content creators and publications engage readers by providing high-quality content recommendations. The former editor (and co-founder) of Wired’s Threat Level blog, Singel comes from a journalistic background focused on privacy, crime, and online security. In a blog post announcing his career shift, from editor/journalist to startup co-founder, Singel wrote:
“Ten years of writing and editing at Wired, covering everything from the NSA to Y Combinator, has taught me many things: that privacy and transparency matter, that journalism is hard and fascinating, and that, while the future of news and publishing is the Web, the tools for online journalism remain frustrating. Writers must move faster than ever and are now often their own editors, photo desk and publicists — though the tools they use are too often kludgy and inadequate.”
With frustrations and challenges like those in mind, Singel and co-founder Ben Autry launched Contextly in 2012. We caught up with Singel this week to ask him a few questions for our Content Marketing Minds blog series. Check out his responses below, which offer a unique perspective on how journalism, content, and reader engagement are intertwined — and how brands can set themselves apart by practicing authenticity.
MM: What do you see as the biggest challenge for brands in using content to reach audiences successfully / meaningfully?
RS: In a phrase, companies are trying too hard to be cool. I’m particularly not a fan of things like Verizon Wireless’s campaigns on Buzzfeed. Take for instance their back to school campaign: 17 Things You Actually Kinda, Sorta Miss About School. The 10 Stages Of Going Back to School As Told by Emoji.
As my good friend Mike Isaac of the NY Times likes to say on Twitter: Ughh.
That’s just simple pandering — trying to appropriate what kids do on the internet and put a mega-corporation’s name on it.
There’s nothing that’s “Verizon Wireless” about it, other than it’s that company’s money being used to hire cool hunters.
That’s what you do with “content marketing” when your company doesn’t stand for anything.
The hardest part for companies when trying to do content marketing is actually being in business for a real reason, other than just making money. If you can honestly identify that, then all kinds of advertising gets easier.
MM: Do you have any advice for marketers struggling to prioritize goals and objectives in the crowded digital space? How does Contextly factor into that equation?
RS: Think long-term and high-value. And think like your customers. Be mission driven. What’s the purpose of getting Facebook followers? Or Tweeting 20 times a day? Or having a Tumblr or Instagram account?
For companies that have useful and deep blog content, Contextly helps get readers diving deeply. The data shows that people who show up and read just one story are statistically unlikely to return, while those who visit a site and read more than one post are likely to return.
Our mission at Contextly is to help publishers of all sizes and types to build long-term audiences.
We do that by giving readers a great experience, with high-quality recommendations that show up where they are useful, without being annoying. For instance, we will never make a “slider” that pops out from the bottom right of the page when a reader nears the end of a piece. That’s a gimmick and it’s one that interferes with your reader’s flow of attention.
Instead, we surface relevant, personalized, evergreen and trending content, whether that’s video, products, or a blog post. We then show it to readers where it’s useful, making something that’s good for readers, writers and publishers.