3 lessons to inspire digital marketing success from Arianna Huffington

The founder of the Huffington Post shares the ingredients to how the digital media publisher has been successful through customer engagement, as well as her insights on professional inspiration

Arianna Huffington with Marketo CEO, Phil Fernandez
Arianna Huffington with Marketo CEO, Phil Fernandez

During her presentation at this year’s Marketo Marketing Nation Summit, Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington, spoke at length on the rise and ongoing evolution of the hit digital media website, as well as her personal views on professional success, which have culminated with the best-selling book, Thrive.

While the content was somewhat self-serving, there were several insights shared that could help CMOs seeking to build a better and more personalised relationship with their prospects and customers improve their chances of success. Here are a few of those gems.

1. Stop presenting, start engaging

According to Arianna, Huffington Post’s successful disruption of the media landscape was based on the recognition that it’s no longer enough to just ‘present’ information to its audience. As consumers increasingly gain control of the types of information they can tune into digitally, it’s vital to build a two-way engagement through content.

Huffington Post will be 10 years old on May 9 2015 and today maintains 850 journalists and editors, along with thousands of bloggers, writing up to 2000 stories a day. Under a new joint venture with Fairfax, the site will also launch in Australia later this year, bringing its total country tally up to 14.

“We moved the industry by creating a site entirely focused on our audience, and from top-down presentation to engaged participation,” Arianna said. “This is where the marketing is now – you need to move increasingly into engaged marketing. We recognise that it’s not enough to do just top-down presentations; we need to engage customers.

“The key was that self-expression is the new entertainment. [Musician] Will.i.Am said it best: ‘As consumers, we went from sitting on the couch consuming news, to galloping on the horse, sharing that news experience’.”

2. Keep disrupting your business model

According to Arianna, another ingredient in Huffington Post’s success is its ability to constantly disrupt its business model. Two years after launching as a news and politics site for example, the publisher had grown to include sections on business, entertainment, media and increasingly, lifestyle.

“We never said ‘this is the Huffington Post, we can now just do maintenance on the site’,” Arianna commented.

Hand-in-hand with disruption has been working to earn consumers’ trust, she said. “Trust is the new black – there is nothing more important in our business as well as for marketers,” Arianna claimed.

“People become your most loyal readers when you add value to their lives. It’s about moving from being nice to have, to must have, and being useful to becoming indispensable.”

Covering a larger swathe of topics people are preoccupied with has been instrumental to this, she said. This has seen it launch a divorce section, with a large focus on co-parenting advice, as well as teen, college and over 50 sections.

“The third phase for us was to recognise the world was changing and people were communicating by sharing the news. Social is the new front page,” Arianna said. “Now we’re on many platforms and new media – our focus is to inform, inspire, entertain and empower.”

3.Stop multi-tasking

In Arianna’s new book, Thrive, the focus is on helping working professionals embrace the “third leg of the stool” of success – thriving - using four principles: Wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving. The book stemmed from Arianna’s collapse several years ago from burnout, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

“We are paying a heavy price through this collective delusion that burnout is the only way to succeed,” she commented. “We have shrunk success down to power and money… but we need a third metric.”

All of us should focus on our well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, she said.

“In our business, we value creativity more than anything else, and nothing kills creativity more than stress,” Arianna said.

One of the key contributors to stress is multi-tasking. According to Arianna and a wealth of modern scientists, multitasking doesn’t exist; it is in fact simply task switching and one of the most stressful things you can do.

To help employees focus on the task at hand, Huffington Post now stops staff from bringing devices into meetings. Arianna noted the decision has cut leadership meetings down from over one hour to 30 minutes, while making them more productive.

The media company has also opened two nap rooms to allow staff to rest during the day, and provides breathing classes and healthy snacks. But the most profound change has been from allowing people to turn off their devices after work.

“If something is urgent, we will call or text,” she said. “People need predictable time off, and to be able to be with children, friends and loved ones without feeling they have to be on smartphones in case boss or clients get in touch with them.

“We are in a 24/7 media business, so we have created teams so someone is available all the time, but it’s not the same person available all the time. That doesn’t work.”

Nadia Cameron travelled to Marketo Marketing Nation Summit as a guest of Marketo.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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