What Bryan Goldberg Can Do Now to Fix Bustle

We are introducing a new feature on The Strategy Room called Four on Friday. Each Friday during the 4:00 hour, we will share four tips on a subject of interest from the week, four thoughts on the week ahead or four points on anything else that comes to mind.

This week, we tackle Bustle.

On Tuesday, Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg announced the launch of a new venture: Bustle, a website for smart and savvy women of the 18-34 demographic that “puts news and politics right beside fashion tips.” The clumsy, self-congratulatory announcement met with swift and venomous criticism over the course of the week.

The manifold reasons for this backlash already have been stated by countless blogs and online publications. I will not repeat them here. But with Goldberg backed into a corner, what should he do? Did Bustle’s poor launch announcement tank the site permanently before it even got off the ground?

Not if Goldberg plays his cards right. Here are four tips direct from his target reader:

1. Listen.
All this hostile criticism is actually priceless information on what Goldberg’s target demographic actually wants. If he’s smart, he’ll carefully review every article, comment, and tweet; check his attitude, and adjust Bustle’s trajectory.

2. Apologize.
There’s only one way to escape the wrath of a misunderstood and betrayed audience: Say you’re sorry and mean it. He’s got a good start on this one.

3. Step aside.
As the Internet widely noted (with a healthy dose of bewilderment), Goldberg somehow raised $6.5 million in funding for Bustle from reputable backers including Google Ventures. Surely they had their reasons for supporting the venture. But so far these cohorts have been tight-lipped since the backlash started, offering sparse, bland support of the 140-characters-or-fewer variety.

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I want to hear more from these early backers. I especially want to hear from women who had a direct hand in the decision process, assuming there were any. What did they see that we aren’t? What about Bustle’s lead editors? Surely they have insights to share.

To reel in the negativity, get these three steps done swiftly. Acting in slow motion will merely fuel it.

4. Clean up the brand.
Bryan, allow me to welcome you into 2013—“a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes” is nothing new. It’s unfocused, unoriginal, and some are calling it outdated. If Bustle is going to make it among the slew of successful sites geared to women, it needs to tighten its focus. Like Jezebel, one of the women’s sites Goldberg admitted has done well, Bustle is going to need to identify its worldview and infuse it into every article it publishes.

These four steps don’t get Bustle completely out of the doghouse … but they are critical to curbing the backlash and laying the groundwork to rebuilding relationships with readers. Content is still king (or, ahem, queen) of the digital media game. Long-term, if Goldberg can remove himself from the spotlight, Bustle’s success will come down to its substance.

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