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Five ways to bring 2019’s CMS innovations to your office

Adapt newsrooms’ best online publishing products for your content operation

The end of 2018 brought lots of predictions for the future of content management systems at news organizations, but news organizations aren’t the only ones using CMSs. What does the future of content creation and distribution look like for everyone else?

We asked the Atlantic 57 product team how they’re creating forward-thinking platforms and CMSs for brands. Here’s how your content operation can adapt the improvements made in national newsrooms in 2019.

Prediction for publishers: building (or buying) CMSs designed for newsroom needs

The Washington Post and Vox have created and licensed custom CMSs for publishers with features, like subscription tools and a built-in “publisher-focused ad marketplace.” Even Investigative News Network has created a WordPress theme for small nonprofit publishers.

Prediction for everyone else: customizing CMSs to meet your needs — or ditching them altogether

“Usually one of the reasons people don’t like their current CMS is because it’s too rigid,” says Nate Luzod, lead developer at Atlantic 57. But it’s possible to modify your existing system to give it more flexibility and a longer life span. “One thing we do is to take a modular approach, particularly on WordPress, where most people stick to the default. We create a set of a dozen modules: a slider gallery, a text block, a pull quote, and so forth. Then, the publisher can drag and drop these elements to rearrange what they want to showcase on a page,” he says.

Other companies are ditching their CMS altogether. “Sometimes, for simple sites, you don’t need any customization or a modular approach,” according to Luzod. “You just need something that can go up quickly and work. We use a framework called Hugo that lets you manage all your templates on your desktop. Then, you run a command when you’re finished and the command turns the templates into HTML and other files so you can run your page on Amazon Web Server.” These types of static-site generators are “basically bulletproof,” he adds, since they are fast, easy to set up, and secure. They are a great, low-maintenance option for anyone who wants a web page.

Prediction for publishers: automating storytelling with artificial intelligence

Forbes is releasing a new CMS in 2019 that, Digiday reports, “recommends article topics for contributors based on their previous output [and] headlines based on the sentiment of their pieces and images, too. It’s also testing a tool that writes rough versions of articles that contributors can simply polish up, rather than having to write a full story from scratch.”

Prediction for everyone else: simplifying storytelling with interactive dashboards

Most of us won’t have robots, but we will make it easier for our communications teams and contributors to tell stories using our research and annual reports. “We’ve helped publishers organize data and make it interactive by creating filters and controls, so audiences can process data in an accessible way,” says Luzod. The team worked with the American Cancer Society to transform its research into the Cancer Statistics Center, an online dashboard that makes it possible for audiences to build custom reports and charts from ACS’s original research data. Other projects have included interactive maps and tables. These updates make it possible for audiences, contributors, news media, and researchers to create and share their own stories with the data that brands generate.

The interactive data dashboard for the Cancer Statistics Center.

Prediction for publishers: integrating analytics reporting into a CMS

Publishers have a wide variety of platforms to choose from when they want to improve their site performance, from Chartbeat and Parse.ly to TrueAnthem and NewsWhip. These platforms create reports on engagement data so publishers can adjust their distribution strategies in real time.

Prediction for everyone else: building engagement optimization into the content creation process

Even if you can’t afford to integrate analytics into your CMS, you can choose to optimize content along one or two key metrics. One company that partnered with Atlantic 57 wanted to improve the amount of time users spent on its site, so the product team worked with the group to optimize article recommendations in the website’s related-content module. “We built a pretty simple algorithm that looks at the tags on a new article and pulls in the most recent articles with those tags,” says Evan Byrne, full-stack web developer at Atlantic 57. The editorial team was able to spend less time finding related content while increasing the number of articles users visited.

Prediction for publishers: bringing audiences into storytelling with engagement-management systems

Media organizations in public radio and print have increased their traffic with the help of platforms and services like Hearken and Screendoor. Hearken integrates with an existing CMS and “allows readers to suggest questions and vote on the ones they’d like to see reported out,” according to Editor & Publisher. Screendoor has been used by groups like ProPublica to gather audience stories and reporting leads.

Prediction for everyone else: turning outsiders into collaborators with open-innovation platforms

Businesses that want to directly connect with audiences are creating entire campaigns — and platforms — for doing so. Atlantic 57 worked with MIT SOLVE to build a platform that would encourage anyone in the world to submit solutions to global challenges. The platform made it easy for audiences to submit ideas and easy for judges to review those ideas. It also brought in thousands of new users and increased submissions. As audiences pay more attention to strategies for corporate social responsibility, we expect more organizations will use open-innovation platforms to engage with the public’s concerns.

Solutions for MIT Solve’s Coastal Cities Challenge

Prediction for publishers: adopting new platforms, like smart speakers, to reach new audiences

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and others have all built apps for smart speakers as adoption in U.S. households climbs. But newsroom product teams have to customize the experience for each device due to different standards across the major smart speaker manufacturers.

Prediction for everyone else: using one platform to publish in multiple places to reach new audiences

Companies that don’t have the resources to build custom applications for every new device are turning to headless CMSs. Instead of juggling editors, like WordPress and Medium for instance, they allow organizations to create content once before distributing it across a variety of platforms. “A headless CMS can be pulled into anything. So, I can take content from an app and pull it into smart speakers,” says Russell Vea, senior developer at Atlantic 57. Developers at The Atlantic are already using such a system to publish content to multiple mobile formats like Google Accelerated Mobile Pages and its Chrome Extension, Serendipity. But CMSs are starting to move toward the headless space, and in a pinch, organizations can even use an RSS feed common to many platforms.

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