Tuesday, January 17, 2012

11 Ideas for the Fortune 500


When I saw that Fortune.com was looking for an editor to oversee its franchise projects (Fortune 500 and the like), it got me thinking about what I would do to reimagine content like this for the digital age.

There is a lot of excellent data here, but the online presentation really appears to be an afterthought to the static version that appears in the magazine. The feature up right now is "
100 Best Companies to Work For", so I made that one the subject of this exercise.


In thinking about how to package such lists I am guided by my fundamental belief about the power of multimedia journalism to allow a reader to go as deeply as he or she wants to into the content. I believe in layering information on the web - causal visitors should be able get all the top-level data they want at a glance, then one click takes the reader into the next level of analysis and another click gives people the raw numbers and customization they want to personalize the experience.

For me the overall concept should not be of making a bunch of digital lists, but rather of creating a deep and rich database of American corporations, and comparing them to each other in meaningful ways. With that kind of structure I think Fortune could bring in new readers, draw them in to more content, and not alienate the power users who want everything. 

Here is what I would do:

Organization

1. I would put the overall top 10 companies on the splash page. A row of clickable thumbnails with the logos of the top 10 would give readers the most important data without any extra clicks, and they are already able to get into the list wherever they want to depending on which company interests them most, without having to click in order.

2. The main articles and galleries ("They're hiring!" "25 top-paying companies" ...) are fantastic and I would do more to highlight them, like to make this a section of "Top Stories About the 100 Best Companies" populated with thumbnails for each story.

3. Instead of the nav bar at the top ("Full List | Near You | etc.") I would consolidate these sections and place them lower on the page. They could even go in expandable menus for "View list by TOP COMPANIES | BEST PERKS | Etc."

4. Instead of the video thumbnails (repeated in the video box on the right) I would add a video player right at the top, either with those four thumbnails that load a video in the box or with one on autoplay. 

Content

1. Create a Twitter list (@FortuneMagazine/100Best) populated with accounts from these companies (those that have them at least) and Fortune/CNNMoney's accounts, and embed the stream on the page. 

2. The more video, the better. While creating a video profile for each company is not realistic, if there is a video component for one out of every 10 companies (meaning 10 total) I bet the pre-roll ads will bring in significant revenue. Some could surely be pulled from past interviews with certain company or industry leaders that Fortune/CNN have run before as well. A great way to repurpose content.

3. I think it's important to relate this list to the other franchise lists. I would love to see a box on the right or lower on the page with a prompt like "Companies on this list also show up in:" and add linked icons for the other lists, whether they be lists of companies or of people who work for those companies. 

4. I like the idea of a "create your own list" feature across all of the franchise lists where a logged-in user can create their own database of companies. It would be like the "Perk Finder" but with a few more options and the ability to save it not as a custom URL but as a section on their "my account" page.

Obviously this one is a little bigger or long-term than the other ideas, but I think it would have the added effect of allowing journalists or news organizations anywhere to create their own mini-lists or galleries using FORTUNE's data, with all the links back and visibility that would entail.

Design

1. Persistent navigation is essential here. People should be able to jump around to some extent rather than going through each list linearly. Each page/entry should have the full list in a set of scrollable thumbnails along the bottom so that wherever in the list one is, one can decide where they want to go next in the list.

2. I think a set of logos for each list would be a great way to have some continuity across the features and would be a good visual cue that can be used elsewhere. Google appears on many lists, so its page on any of them could display the icons of the other lists the company is mentioned in, and a simple click goes to that new list.

3. Generally the ads are where all the color is on the page so they are what draws the reader's eye, a problem I would address by spicing up the title banner to look more like the main banner that has an integrated FORTUNE logo (rather than one in a box) and a minimal arrow for the dropdown menu. Doing that in a contrasting color like a silver could make it pop nicely. 


New content

I also see the potential to vet these lists a bit more for readers, always with an eye on the topics that are of most interest to readers in this changing business climate. Entrepreneurship and innovation, for example, does not have a very prominent role on these franchise projects. Some ideas:
Most innovative companies


Most-improved companies (turnaround stories are always appealing)
Rising stars (sort of a preview of next year's list)
Most charitable corporations
Most influential people in media
Most influential people on social media
Leading entrepreneurs

Who knows how these lists will evolve once the right person is hired, but Fortune needs to prepare for a day when the printed version may not even exist, and a Web-first mentality would vastly improve the interactive experience with the projects on Fortune.com.

This, I think, could help achieve that.

** Read part 2 of this exercise: 5 thoughts on what Fortune can do on social media
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