How Fortune draws from 5,000 outside contributors

Heeding the call for traffic growth, Fortune has joined the growing ranks of publishers that are opening up its site to posts written by non-staff contributors.

Each publisher has a slightly different approach, and Fortune is no different. The Time Inc. title draws from a 5,000-person contributor network who supply what Fortune digital editor Aaron Task calls “our op-ed page.” The result is commentary from executives like Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent (“Every moment of every day is an opportunity to start or strengthen a relationship”) and Shark Tank contestant Robert Herjavec (Place “more emphasis on the cause and less on the blame”). Recently, the site had executives including Cinnabon president Kat Cole and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky dispensing advice about how to succeed at work.

In taking an open approach, Fortune joins the company of Forbes, The Huffington Post and Yahoo Finance, which also rely on outside bloggers to bolster their traffic. Fortune has been careful to distance itself from Forbes, which was early in opening up its site to outside writers (and brands). Fortune’s editor has criticized Forbes for making it hard to tell what’s staff written and what’s not. Opening the door to outsiders has had its misses; Gawker once briefly shut down parts of its platform in response to violent pornography posts, and Forbes said it was investigating after a contributor reportedly asked a PR agency for money to write about the agency’s subject.

Fortune also has to keep in mind the concern of ad buyers like Jeremy Tate of Starcom who wonder about the goal of the contributed content. “What I’d want to understand from Fortune or any publisher supplementing their editorial using a contributor model is the role that content plays and how they’re ensuring it maintains the editorial voice a media brand is known for,” he said.

Lest it repeat the mistakes of others, Fortune solicits and edits the opinion pieces itself, using a team of five. The expert advice comes from invitation-only communities of people whom Fortune has put on an editorial list like Most Powerful Women or have attended one of its conferences. Of the 120 posts a day that get published on, only about seven are contributed. At Harvard Business Review, by contrast, the vast majority of the site’s content comes from outside contributors.

The Fortune approach isn’t dissimilar from sibling title Time, which has a big group of influencers and experts that it asks to write on specific topics in news. The contributor network represents about 10 percent of the content and roughly 15 percent of the traffic, Time digital managing editor Edward Felsenthal said.

Fortune’s approach naturally limits its ability to grow its audience. Fortune had 11 million unique visitors in February, up 33 percent over a year ago. But it still lags other business news sites, including Forbes at 40 million, Business Insider at 46 million and Yahoo Finance at 78 million. (Figures are from comScore.) The site is also competing with other platforms that offer a megaphone for executives’ voices, like Medium, LinkedIn and Forbes.

Task conceded that the competition and editorial requirements make it tough to grow Fortune’s contributed content, but that it’s putting quality over quantity.

“It’s important that every single piece of content is edited, and we verify who’s writing for the site,” he said. “It’s better for our journalistic integrity. There’s no guarantee something won’t be controversial. But I feel lot more confident someone I’ve never heard of won’t end up on the site.”

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