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Social Media and Publishers: A Business Case


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This paper provides a 5 step process for magazine publishers in considering a social media strategy. Featuring interviews, insights and tips from editors at Time Inc, Hearst, Rodale, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Conde Nast and more.

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Social Media and Publishers: A Business Case

  1. 1. Social Media and publishers: a Business case tips for Magazine Brands to Build a Successful Social StrategyW hen it comes to the social media/ networking phenomenon, consumer and business magazines—and the advertisers and sponsors they serve—are faced with some tough decisions. Ignoring socialmedia, or reducing it to an afterthought, sacrifices theopportunity to reach millions. Viewing it solely as adrain of time and focus away from other channels—oreven as a risk to print—misses unique opportunities foraudience interaction. However, embracing it poses anarray of challenges, not the least of which is the rapidly-changing nature of the medium. Even for magazineswith deep pockets, it can be difficult to find a strategythat measurably benefits the magazine brand. The medium itself will surely endure well beyond thefad stage simply because “social networking” is nothingmore than a digital/mobile extension of what people donaturally: Gather together and interact around commonly-held beliefs or interests. Although some publishers feeleclipsed by the new medium, they are actually betterequipped than other businesses to engage with theirconstituents in meaningful, sustainable ways. enduring presence. To do so effectively requires a high This paper will share learnings from brands at Hearst, level of understanding of the audience’s needs.Rodale, Time Inc., Condé Nast, Martha Stewart Living content is King, But the Subjects are restlessOmnimedia Inc., and b-to-b publishers Penton andUnited Business Media to explore an outline for building Social media is optimized for short-form content—a successful strategy that incorporates social media to concise, memorable and, hopefully, easy to share withengage readers, enhance the brand and drive subscriptions. friends or colleagues. It is also one that requires creative thinking and originality.Step 1: UnderStand What YoUr Content for this new medium must meet some rigorousaUdience WantS and seemingly arbitrary standards. Social media users demand relevance to their personal interests, and tend to The audience for any information or entertainment be resistant to heavy-handed persuasion. In addition theymedium is self-selecting. If the narrative does not meet a want some level of entertainment value, applicability andneed, the participant will go elsewhere. (hopefully) inspiration. In other words, social media is a fickle environment, Quizzes, surveys and other sorts of interactive contentwhere brand loyalty is hard to win and easy to lose. It’s also are showing some promise. While the popularity “pollcrowded and full of distractions—namely, users pursuing of the day” is not a new phenomenon in the publishingtheir own agendas. In this flood of individual interaction, world, it is proving to be particularly well suited to socialit is difficult for a magazine brand to create an engaging, channels because of its short form and highly shareable 1
  2. 2. content. This is also true of slightly longer, opinion orfeedback pieces like personality tests and surveys. Inaddition, a personal quiz result is 11 times more likelyto be shared than a static web page, according to PangeaMedia, a provider of social marketing and engagementtools.Step 2: decide Who SteerS the Ship For the most part, editorial and content creation groupswere the driving forces behind the successful social mediaefforts we examined. Advertisers and sponsors, whenparticipating as team members, benefited from editorialleadership and innovation, arguably more than they couldhave with marketing alone. Content curation via social media is still not at thebest practices stage, but Time Inc. and other publishersare experimenting with techniques such as polls andresearch within their content verticals as ways of gauginguser interest. Although the editorial teams remain thegatekeepers of content, social is influencing its direction.Publishers were quick to note that reader comments andfeedback are nothing new, although the chaos of socialmedia poses more editorial challenges than the simplerdays of letters to the editor. Source: L2 Think Tank’s Magazine Digital IQ Index, July 2011Step 3: chooSe YoUr priMarY (MyRecipes and Real Simple) have created their own opt-inenvironMentS social network, with others focusing on Facebook, Twitter One dilemma we encountered during our interviews and other open platforms. Both sites are experiencingwas the choice of venue for a magazine’s primary social significant presence. One school of thought is to create a brandpresence on the popular open environments, currently led Step 4: picK YoUr partnerSby Facebook, followed by Twitter and a handful of other, Most publishers do not have the technicalmore specialized sites. The other choice is to create private, programmers on staff that are required to create socialmembers-only sites—with their own profile mechanisms media-like sites from scratch or even to enhance existingand Facebook-like features for posting updates, joining social media sites like Facebook. In addition the datadiscussions and sharing information. and analysis required to leverage social media effectively These are by no means mutually exclusive choices, but a requires an arsenal of tools that it just doesn’t make sensemagazine’s limited resources will almost certainly require for a publisher to build in house. To that end, a new classsome strategic setting of priorities. Consumer magazines of service providers has arisen to fill in the developmentwe interviewed tended to favor the open approach, gap.going to where the people gather in large numbers, while For companies looking for a more efficient, creativebusiness magazines were more divided on the issue, with way to create and publish interactive content to a myriadmore instances of brand controlled, member-only sites for of social networks, there is Pangea Media’s SnapAppacquiring and sharing information. (, a marketing platform that enables Closed platforms offer the benefit of collecting more publishers to easily create custom surveys, polls,user demographics upon registration and a tighter link to sweepstakes and quizzes and publish these on websites,network sponsor opportunities. However, adding another blogs, Facebook and Twitter (including mobile) amonglayer to their existing interactions on social networks other places. The company works with a publication’scould be a difficult proposition. editorial and marketing teams to understand specific Like many consumer publishers, Time Inc. has many social media goals and then to create the quiz, survey orsocial components in their multi-platform offerings. sweepstakes that can help publishers realize these goals.However, only two titles in the company’s Lifestyle Group Publishers using SnapApp are able to use the platform to 2
  3. 3. acquire customer data and analytics for future marketingand outreach efforts. SnapApp also offers publishers someinnovative options for spicing up ad units. One of SnapApp’s applications, online sweepstakes, hasbeen used by Martha Stewart Living with positive results.Senior Product Manager Sean Hendricks described thepublisher’s first two projects, “Martha’s Ultimate Fan” and“Martha’s Entertaining,” as promising indicators of thepotential for social media to enhance the brand. In the “Ultimate Fan” sweepstakes, users entered to wina trip to New York, plus VIP passes for the Martha Stewart In a sweepstakes for Martha Stewart Living powered by SnapApp,show and a meeting with Ms. Stewart. The “Entertaining” users signed up for themed emails at a 30 percent conversion rate.sweepstakes offered signed copies of Ms. Stewart’s book The campaign also increased MSL’s Facebook followers by 15 five entrants per week for four weeks. The SnapAppplatform provided the environment for creating and shop, a hang-out spot, or a bar where everyone knowsmanaging each sweepstakes event and analytics. Users your name. Consumer magazine social sites can actuallywere given the option to opt in to themed email lists, and become such places, but only if they understand anddid so at a higher than expected rate—30 percent. respect their intimate nature. The goals of the sweepstakes, according to Hendricks, Creative editorial engagement—integrating socialwere to increase interest in the TV show, to increase the media components into print and other channels—hasnumber of Facebook followers and, in general, to provide emerged as a major strategy for consumer magazinesa special, positive experience for the company’s social seeking to create a popular social media presence. Annmedia following. In terms of numbers, the campaigns were Shoket, Editor-in-Chief at Hearst’s Seventeen, describedsuccessful, increasing the number of Facebook followers their “Delete Digital Drama” campaign ( about 15 percent during each event. Hendricks noted com/join/Delete-Digital-Drama). In conjunction with athat the first two sweepstakes were not used to gauge PSA on ABC Family, and an article in the magazine itself,the medium’s impact on Web traffic or subscription Seventeen created an anti-cyberbullying campaign whichconversion, but that this was only the beginning. Future garnered over 100,000 Twibbon adoptions on Facebookcampaigns will be designed to test its effectiveness on the and Twitter, surpassing even Justin Bieber (“Twibbons”publisher’s Web, print, and especially its mobile channels. are icons that can be featured on a member’s profile image Social media analysis services—for advertisers and to promote a cause). Traffic to the Seventeen Web sitepublishers alike—include the likes of Alterian (www. increased significantly during the, and Converseon (,who provide social media monitoring and contentmanagement systems attuned to social networking. “...Those who see social as a drainAnalytics companies like Omniture ( from their other channels are neverare also adding social to their product offerings. going to be able to harness its powerStep 5: Set the tone and execUte to increase their brand.” Once a publisher has some understanding of theirsocial media audience’s preferences, where they prefer to Shoket said that social is just as important to ainteract, and whether the approach is driven by editorial magazine brand as any other channel, and should not beor advertising priorities (or both), it is time to build the viewed as competition to print or Web. “The Twibbonchannel—with internal resources, specialized partners, or campaign was a way to use social to elevate our print anda combination of both. initiatives,” she said. “It did not cannibalize them in any way. Those who see social as a drain from theirconsumer Magazines: Strengthening the other channels are never going to be able to harness itsaudience Bond power to increase their brand.” For consumer magazines, the ideal social media Seventeen also uses incentives such as coupons andenvironment appears to be one that feels familiar, fits with exclusive video (unlocked via Facebook’s “like” feature)one’s personal tastes, and serves as a comfortable place in to attract and retain followers, and to generally spread thewhich to interact with those of compatible interests. In word on topics of interest. Measuring success in new orother words, it is (in virtual reality) a living room, a coffee retained subscriptions has been elusive in terms of hard 3
  4. 4. numbers but the impact is ultimately positive, Shoket enthusiasm and sharing among readers. According tomaintains. Above all, the social efforts have increased the Cassanos, the magazine’s Jonathan Franzen and Arrestedbrand’s relevance to the audience—a fact recognized and Development gating experiments generated about 45,000supported by advertisers like Neutrogena. new Facebook fans, over 800 million combined media impressions, over three million Facebook impressions, andcontent, customer Service and incentives over 20,000 tweets with a potential reach of over 40 million Successful social media endeavors are not limited to people. In the Franzen example, the magazine offered anthe largest publishers. Sasha Smith, Rodale’s Executive exclusive 12,000-word piece available to readers only ifDirector for Creative Services and Digital Product they liked New Yorker’s Facebook page. Note the choice ofDevelopment, noted that most of her company’s titles have content—the bait was selected because it appeals to hard-strong, loyal followings on both Facebook and Twitter. core New Yorker readers, not the casual ones, an effort toIndividual editors and contributors to Rodale magazines keep the fan base relevant and loyal.also maintain accounts. Runner’s World and Men’s Health Cassanos emphasized the magazine follower’slead in Facebook followers, at 286,000 and 213,000, underlying passion for content that he or she would berespectively; Women’s Health is the leader in Twitter motivated to read, enjoy and recommend or share. “Nofollowers (638,000), which Smith points out is far ahead of matter where people are,” she said, “they are lookingother magazines in that genre. for quality content.” She indicated that increased The Rodale approach includes a combination of traffic, reader loyalty and satisfaction will result fromcontent, customer service and incentives to discuss social media, but everything has to start with contentcommon interests. Smith credits Rodale’s practice worth reading.of facilitating discussion—rather than force-feeding Time Inc. officials concede the difficulty in tracking thecontent—as the reason for their social sites’ popularity effectiveness of social in terms of subscription conversionsin each vertical. For example, the #WHYIRUN hashtag and other conventional metrics, noting that social trafficcontinues to generate a huge number of responses, many is still relatively small, compared to the brands’ naturalof which are featured on the Runner’s World Web site. search and email marketing efforts. However, they alsoOther titles, like Bicycling, have used Twitter extensively note that Time Inc. brands’ Web traffic is significantlyto report on live events, with real-time analysis and higher as the result of strategic Facebook and Twitterexpert commentary, and to offer targeted e-commerce campaigns, particularly those that involve “like-enabled”promotions. articles and other incentives. Some brands, like Organic Gardening already havean audience that Smith describes as “a passionate, “Content is the new advertising”generous bunch,” who actively share a high percentageof Rodale’s Facebook content with their own networks.Increased traffic to the publishers’ Web sites, plus the Business Magazines: networking andsuccess of e-commerce tie-ins, has proven to be the actionable contentimmediate benefit. Refining editorial content, and making Business magazines’ social media presence is lessit increasingly relevant, has been another. Like other intimate than that of consumer magazines, but stillpublishers, Rodale is exploring new ways to generate focused on essential content. Rather than a livingincreased traffic via Pinterest and other social sites. room or other social gathering place, a business For some publishers, the intrinsic value of the content social site is more like a virtual conference—fullitself is the central pillar of their social media presence. The of job-critical information as well as networkingNew Yorker is a case in point. Conde Nast’s senior public opportunities for its members.relations director Alexa Cassanos was unapologetic about Business publishers are not only focused on circulationtheir primary goal: Increasing the number of subscribers and advertising revenue. They are quite often also involvedto their paid content Web site. Social accounts for over 16 with marketing their own events, sponsored researchpercent of total Web traffic, with increases in traffic as high and other paid services. This leads to a complex businessas 96 percent from social sites to during a proposition, not easily served by consumer-focused socialrecent promotion. platforms like Facebook. We found that major business Gated free content, accessible via a Facebook “like,” has publishers tend to use Facebook and Twitter as a conduitbeen the primary vehicle for the magazine, although they or funnel to their own, members-only social sites. Smallerhave also had success with Tumblr and other platforms. business publishers are more reliant on open platforms—Selected content from the magazine, or new content notably LinkedIn.written for social consumption, has generated significant 4
  5. 5. a proprietary approach to B-to-B community United Business Media (UBM) has taken a strong positionon business social media, with its wholly-owned subsidiaryDeusM ( The group has developed overa dozen online communities for verticals, sponsored bycompanies like IBM and Dell, focused primarly on contentand networking. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter arefrequently used, but primarily as a “funnel” to draw interestedusers into these communities, where they can create a userprofile and participate as a member of a virtual special interestgroup. Membership is free, with the understanding that thesponsor will have access to user profile information. Managing director Steve Saunders emphasized that high-quality content, and strict guidelines on keeping contentand sponsor-driven information separate, are essential tothese sites. Sponsor posts are clearly identified, and, while EBN, an online community built by UBM subsidiary DeusM, relies onthe sponsor can suggest article ideas, they cannot dictate a proprietary community model, but uses the primary social mediaeditorial coverage. Moderated user comments are given sites to funnel new visitors.more prominence than most b-to-b technology sites, withthe most recent comments previewed directly adjacent to comments and feedback, are improving the quality ofthe headlines on the home page of each community. the overall experience, according to Miller. Penton’s Content, both for external sharing and the site itself, is content teams drive the pace, tone, and frequency ofgenerally short (about 550 words) consisting of analysis or social networking activity, while the sponsors and internalopinion on topics of interest. Paid expert contributors to marketing teams generally tend to follow the contenteach site supply most of the content, which Saunders said teams’ lead. Users who engage with the end results arehas to be both frequent and on topic. typically more qualified business leads, as well as more The goal for UBM is to find constituents that are truly active consumers of Penton’s training and event services.vested in the site, and in the knowledge base it represents. The ideal social media presence of a business publisher—Sponsors obtain a source of qualified leads, to be sure, but whether private or on one of the open platforms—is that ofthe value of the site also includes market research, education a repository of specialized information. Access to experts,and an increase in the knowledge base. “Content is the new standards and best practices, plus the ability to easilyadvertising,” said Saunders, pointing out that both users and network with others, are essential. In other words, it needssponsors can benefit from a trusted source of information. to be a compelling business emphasis on the Big Guys Magazines have a head Start on Social Media Penton Media follows an open approach to social Despite the examples above, magazines, like manymedia, adding LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other other businesses, are underutilizing social media.platforms to its long-standing online community forums At the 2011 American Magazine Conference, NYUfor such titles as Windows IT Pro. Engagement via Twitter Professor Scott Galloway chided publishers for theirincludes frequent sponsor-involved “live chat” sessions, “uninspired” Facebook strategies, pointing out thatutilizing hashtags to specify subjects of interest. Peg Miller, capital allocation for social media is too low for mostMarket Leader for the publisher’s Technology Group, magazines, given the medium’s market potential. Thisalso indicated that discount codes and VIP event codes is not unique to publishers. A recent study found thatshared via social media were having a positive impact on less than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies are onmarketing and registration for Penton events. Facebook. Small businesses are only slightly more likely Miller noted that social media is still in the early stages of (63 percent) to have a social media footprint, and oftenadoption at Penton, but that the company has already seen have no clear cut social media roles, responsibilities, orits effectiveness in increasing search engine rankings, and structure for expansion.increasing overall Web traffic. In general, social media tends Fortunately, when it comes to social media, magazinesto work best when done in concert with Penton’s overall are in a better position—at least in theory—thanengagement strategy, she indicated. This includes all aspects other businesses. By definition, consumer and tradeof the company’s value as a trusted information source. magazines are an “opt in” medium, designed to appeal Typical social media devices, such as polls and user 5
  6. 6. to a particular demographic or interest group. Content outside one’s editorial domain, which is unsettling, to beand reader engagement are second nature to any sure. However, the creativity and teamwork that madecompetent editorial team—as is the way reader feedback traditional publishing successful are the same tools thatis respected and used. Social media puts this interaction are working in this new arena. Benefits to the Brand increased Web traffic An overwhelming number of publishers interviewed reported significant increases in Web traffic—to both paid and free content sites—as the direct, measurable result of social media campaigns. This will undoubtedly affect advertising CPM positively, although those we interviewed declined to be more specific. Associated with increases in Web traffic are early successes with e-commerce tie-ins. A well-designed social campaign, balancing engaging content with relevant offers, has resulted in measurable e-commerce sales increases. Multi-channel integration Although social is often associated with consumers who rely less on print and other traditional channels, the publishers we interviewed agreed that social has not caused the cannibalization of those channels. In fact, when implemented creatively, social actually adds to the overall increase in brand following. Magazines with a coherent, integrated multi-channel strat- egy should welcome social as one of many opportunities to grow. increased Magazine and advertiser Brand awareness Most of the magazines we interviewed reported a high level of engagement with and loyalty to the magazine brand, as well as that of sponsors or advertisers. For consumer titles, the engagement was expressed in terms of the brand’s value as a source of entertaining or interesting content worthy of sharing with others. Business title brand awareness was usually expressed in terms of its value as an information source. new Formats for advertisers Building on the point above, publishers are also finding ways to integrate their advertisers with their social media strategies. increased readership and Subscribers with incentives and Special content Enticing offers and exclusive content—readable or viewable only via a Facebook “like” or similar mechanism—are proving to be the means of growing a magazine’s social media audience. The viral nature of the medium has proven to be a relatively low-cost means of reaching new audiences—provided that the content is considered worthy of sharing with users’ private networks. (Poorly-chosen or intrusive content runs the risk of alienating potential followers or, worse still, inviting ridicule.) enhanced editorial content Few of the publishers we interviewed have used social media as a primary content creation vehicle, via Wikis or other means. However, several are using vehicles like surveys and polls to elicit responses about various topics and to generate and inspire future topics. In addition, the intense loyalty or passion for a subject typical of social media users, combined with the self-selective nature of the medium, means that savvy editors are taking social feedback very seriously. Having such an intimate connection with readers has, in many cases, resulted in a more focused, relevant editorial product. Brought to you by FoLio: and min 6