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Forbes digital media strategy monetizes content management system

Digital Strategy Innovation Summit: Forbes is banking on its homegrown CMS tool to build new partnerships and bolster its digital media strategy.

It's no secret print journalism is struggling. Newspapers and magazines have spent years building up their online...

presence only to realize that print and digital are distinct products rather than mirrors of each other. That leaves media companies like Forbes Media LLC in uncharted territory, experimenting with new ideas to create a new digital media strategy playbook.

In fact, according to Tom Davis, the CMO at Forbes, experimentation is key to the media company's recent successes, which he said can be measured, in part, by its growth in readership on all platforms (including print). A part of that success can be attributed to its content management system (CMS). The platform, named Falcon, gives Forbes' contributors and businesses a place to promote their brands -- personal and commercial -- while giving the media company a chance to build unique relationships with advertisers and B2B companies. And employees and outside contributors are taking full advantage of the proprietary CMS tool. Today, Forbes' reporters and content contributors publish 300 to 400 articles per day, according to Davis.

Native advertising platform takes off, raises questions

One of the most successful applications that leverages the Falcon CMS is BrandVoice, a native advertising platform Forbes launched in 2010. Native advertising refers to the integration of marketing content with a website or service in such a way that it is not easy to distinguish from the rest of the material presented in terms of its content, format, style or placement. 

Tom DavisTom Davis

According to a recent article, businesses such as NetApp, Symantec, CenturyLink and SAP have published more than 4,500 posts on the BrandVoice platform, netting 33 million page views. The platform is successful, Davis explained at the recent Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in New York City, because it addresses a serious problem for advertisers. "There's no more mass communication," Davis said. "Brands no longer want to just sell to audiences, and audiences are so sophisticated, they no longer just want to be sold to."

Before being handed the CMS keys to the BrandVoice platform, businesses are vetted and contractually agree to produce thought leader-type content rather than content that looks or feels like an advertisement, according to Davis. In return, Forbes agrees to provide unlimited space on its platform and guarantees 25,000 clicks per month as well as special promotions on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

BrandVoice customers also have access to a real-time dashboard and monthly reports that provide visibility into how the content is performing and how consumers are interacting with the content -- how much time readers spend on a page, what they're mousing over, how they're sharing it, and how influential they are in bringing additional readers to the story.

"One of the things that separates Forbes from much of the other native advertising platforms out there, is we do really believe in this transparency model," Davis said. "Not only do users know who is publishing at all times, but we give users access to understand how the content is being consumed: Is it on Forbes? Did they find you through social? Through search results?"

The service is not cheap. BrandVoice customers pay $75,000 per month and have to sign on for a minimum of four months, according to Davis. Nor is this digital media strategy without controversy. Last year, while Forbes was looking for investors, USA Today columnist Michael Wolff called the digital publisher "an obvious fraud."

"It is not a magazine or editorial operation at all. It is just, in effect, a user comment site that allows commenters the pretense of saying they have written for Forbes," Wolff wrote. And Digiday editor in chief Brian Morrissey pointed to the quality versus the quantity question: "Forbes now boasts an audience of 28 million unique visitors per month, yet to get there, it publishes up to 400 articles a day, including 10 posts from advertisers under the Forbes BrandVoice program."

Digital media strategy includes legal, real estate publishing

The BrandVoice platform is just one example of how Forbes is using its CMS technology to build new business relationships. Another more recent example pushes Forbes beyond the content generation business and into the content management business.

In 2013, Forbes announced it was licensing its Falcon technology to ALM, a legal and real estate publishing company. An article about the announcement stated Forbes would "host ALM's flagship website, www.law.com, and provide ongoing consulting and custom software development services." The site is still the property of ALM, but it's powered by Forbes technology in the background. Davis described the move as "a whole other part of the business."

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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