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A year – almost – in BlueNotes

Twelve months ago, when I’d been at ANZ a couple of weeks, BlueNotes publisher Paul Edwards had a couple of central ideas about the yet-to-be-named online publication I’d been hired to edit.

"At BlueNotes we are not distant observers of the trends about which we publish. They affect us too."

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The target audience was business, in a broad sense – not just corporate customers but policy makers, regulators, investors, financial sector participants, small business people, academics. The sort of audience who might read the business papers or online publications from Wharton or McKinsey or Business Insider.

The content had to be credible, credible enough to actually be run in those publications. Indeed, part of the motivation behind BlueNotes was the recognition the modern media faces increasing challenges to resource and publish the kind of journalism the BlueNotes audience wants to read or watch.

That journalism is thought leadership. We aren’t out to replace the traditional media, BlueNotes is a niche publication, we need to bring some added value to whatever we produce, not replicate what is already out there. Our aim is quality not quantity, insight not speed.

Gratifyingly, from that broad ambition we have succeeded in producing journalism that has indeed appealed to our target audience and even, increasingly, is being used directly and indirectly by the traditional media.

Another of the driving insights behind BlueNotes was to be part of a new conversation facilitated by social media, not a broadcaster, and we have participated in – sometimes passionate – debates. From bank capital levels to what being digital means to why are women still judged on what they wear to work (our most read article, by the way).

Because BlueNotes set sail in largely unchartered waters (although there had been some notable explorers like GE Reports and Coke Journey) we knew we would map our way as we went. Exactly as every business negotiating the new social world knows it must.

We aimed for 3000 subscribers to our free weekly newsletter in the first year and we’re rapidly approaching that number in just nine months. Our readership continues to grow. Last month alone it grew by 42 per cent to more than 115,000 unique visitors since launch. With almost 1,650 twitter followers our social following has increasingly gained momentum, growing around 20 per cent a month. And BlueNotes has underpinned ANZ’s presence in LinkedIn where we now have around 160,000 followers

We launched BlueNotes to offer unique thought leadership, insight, research and analysis for a world which is increasingly social. But the social world is constantly changing, so BlueNotes must respond as well.

Since we launched in April, we have had a major site redesign and made a significant shift to a new digital design partner. We launched with seven major topic pillars but soon added an eighth. During the year we added a new one, Leadership, in response to extremely strong readership of articles on that theme. (And we are planning a special edition newsletter in the new year to highlight the topic.)

As anyone involved in the digital and social world would know, it is impossible to forecast precisely what your audience wants. That people would respond to Susie Babani’s pique about how women are still judged on what they wore, we knew. That they would respond in such numbers, who knew?

We knew ANZ’s GayTMs for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras were a social phenomenon but would that translate into readership for a story on the marketing lessons behind it? It did.

We anticipated that our audience, particularly investors, would be interested in hearing directly from ANZ’s senior management. But the response to new chairman David Gonski’s first interview on taking his position, Mike Smith’s observations from a trip to China, chief financial officer Shayne Elliott’s feedback from talking to investors or new Asian banking head Farhan Faruqui’s take on the bank he’d just joined surpassed expectations.

There were surprises: Hong Kong CEO Ivy Au Yeung’s personal take on the Hong Kong democracy protests had the site glowing as soon the “publish” button was hit. A column I wrote on whether criminals like contactless payment cards, in response to some comments by the Victorian police, was amazingly popular. Management commentator Leo D’Angelo Fisher’s acerbic take on whether corporate kissing is appropriate was another hit but so too were more hard-nosed items on real time payments, the opportunity in emerging ASEAN economies, analysis of China’s property boom and a video interview with an official from the Reserve Bank of India.

The management challenge of operating in the Asian century, of adapting to a digital and especially social world, of the ongoing challenges for women in business were perennially popular BlueNotes subjects.

Our first newsletter of the new year will bring you a choice of the most popular items on our major themes.

The overriding lesson for us here at BlueNotes is we are not distant observers of these trends about which we publish. They affect us too. We must constantly reassess not just what we are publishing but how we are publishing it.

At last week’s ANZ annual meeting, Mike Smith argued “in a more transparent, connected world, we have to do more to step out of our comfort zone and engage with the conversations about the macro-forces which are reshaping our world …. and to ensure we stay relevant to our customers and to the community”.

“These conversations may be challenging but I believe they will help stimulate new thinking within the bank …. and about the bank,” he added. That message is true not just for ANZ but for business everywhere. It’s also a pretty good mission statement for corporate newsrooms like BlueNotes.

The one thing we know about the audience BlueNotes is pitched to is you are already part of a social world, your habits are changing as new platforms and new technologies emerge, we have to be prepared to evolve too – and we’re always keen to get a heads up from you all about what we should be aware of and the direction in which we should be heading.

In this my final column in an extremely eventful year (did I mention BlueNotes is already an award-winning site?) I’d like to wish all our readers a safe and happy holiday period and a prosperous new year.

BlueNotes would not even be published each week without the superb work of my colleagues Jenny Farmer, Shane White and Nicole Franklin who handle the considerable production and new technology challenges which I am not remotely capable of. Thanks as well to Publisher “Rupert” Edwards who entrusted a new media vehicle to an old media hack. And to all my colleagues at ANZ, particularly the social media and communications teams who have played a major part in this first year.

And don’t forget, you can get the best of BlueNotes delivered to you each week in our weekly newsletter. If you don’t already receive out newsletter every Tuesday, you can sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

21 Nov 2014

BlueNotes gets new look as we pass 100,000 readers

Paul Edwards | Manager Operations Strategy, ANZ

You spoke – and we listened. After your feedback and nine months’ experience, ANZ’s award-winning digital website for news, opinion and insight, BlueNotes, has a new and improved design.

10 Oct 2014

BlueNotes is brand site of the year

Shane White | Senior production editor, bluenotes

ANZ’s BlueNotes has won its first award, after being named Brand Site of the Year at the BEfest 2014 Awards at Sydney’s Luna Park on Thursday in front of a who’s who of the content marketing industry.