When content partnerships (still) don’t work

Content partnerships do not work, my colleague Sean Blanda posited last year.

From the very first conversations we’ve had that led to his post, I’ve wanted to prove this wrong. In truth, I do believe in the future, the expectations and roles will be sorted out, and content partnerships will be understood and successful.

But, for now, content partnerships still don’t work.

Content partnerships aren’t ‘linking out.’ That’s just how the web works. Content partnerships aren’t that the bigger website runs full content from the smaller website. Without payment, that’s plagiarism.

Content partnerships are a structured means to create content, share audience and/or build revenue that involves actual agreement.

I thought a local example of content partnership success was coming by way of Philly.com, which has to understand its role as a regional hub site. Last summer, for the first time in its history, Philly.com linked directly from its homepage to an outside site — Technically Philly — and, without exchanging money, the site was running our headlines with links back to our site.

The change was able to happen because Philly.com finally hired someone who could be dedicated to that development.

Unfortunately, our friend Daniel Victor left Philly.com in the fall, and his role hasn’t been filled. We haven’t seen any outbound links since he left and, though our headlines are back on Philly.com thanks to internal work by Leah Kauffman, that partnership that started in May 2010 has never brought much (if any) traffic or awareness and was even killed for six months because of inactivity.

Technically Philly also has a partnership in-name with WHYY NewsWorks, itself still a major test, but it’s not entirely clear what that means. They link to our content, which is novel by legacy media standards but not by the cardinal rules of the web, and they’ve had us on for talk-back interviews, but that, too, feels more like what happens as relationships between media outlets develop. (For example, we’ve done the same with NBC 10, though we have no in-name partnership.)

This is at the heart of why content partnerships, as they’re most usually understood, still don’t work.

It’s hard work and someone has to be responsible for it. Legacy media don’t have these positions in their newsrooms because they’ve never needed them before. They hired social media editors and web producers, but community outreach and management has never been fully grasped. Small shops, like ours, want results and little discussion and negotiation.

So, even when small successes are met and goals are set, in the long-term, content partnerships still largely fail.