Reinventing the Publishing Wheel Series: The State of Social Media
From the start of this year, we have been attending various publishing summits and media events. Our aim in this is to engage in the discussions happening around the industry’s current pain points, innovations and developments. What we have found is an industry united through shared struggles and uncertainty, and a diversity in how different publishers are dealing with all the rapid changes that have taken place, even since the beginning of this year.
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring three main topics of discourse at these events; The problems they present, and the different solutions that have been brought to the table to experiment with in order to provide a better future for publishing. This week, for the first part of our series, we focus on one of the biggest struggles to be confronted since the beginning of this year: social media.
At the Digiday Publishing Summit Vail in Colorado, Ashish Patel from Group Nine Media stated that in 2015, views and reach on social media was the main KPI, whereas now understanding the social distribution, meaningful viewership and depth of engagement is what matters most. Community and interaction with readers is the name of the game when it comes to the majority of digital publisher’s incentives. Though some believe that social media is no longer a dependable source for referrals, or a safe location for their readers to navigate, the other side of the debate is that it’s how we interact with these channels that need to change.
“69/70% traffic from Facebook – Slight decrease in viewership after FB algorithm change”
Ashish Patel – Group Nine Media
One of the bigger trends we saw appear since the newsfeed algorithm changes at the beginning of this year was Facebook groups. Not a particularly new idea for some, groups target active communities within an audience such as New York Times & PBS’s “Now Read This” book club, or Condé Nast’s “Women Who Travel”. On one side of the fence, groups have been seen as something to mould and develop, with publishers like The Times of London claiming they can be used to drive subscriptions, and Outsider magazine experimenting with monetization through advertisement partnerships. On the other side of the fence, the slow growth and restricted reach of Facebook is still a pain point, and combined with the dependency trap which was created and then dismantled by the social media mogul, will stand as a reason to move sights elsewhere for a lot of publishers.
On a separate platform but in a similar mindset, using specialised Twitter accounts to grow interaction has also become a practised strategy. This navigates the issue of over-saturation of content within your main page, and delivers a personalized experience through tailored content, such as The Daily Mirror who manages a total of about 26 pages, including “Mirror Football”, “Mirror Politics” and “Mirror Weird News”. Speaking at Newsrewired and Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, The Mirror Head of Social Media, Yara Silva explains how she uses Twitter as a tester for outreach content through social channels. Since Twitter doesn’t penalise for posting the same content in different ways, after few attempts, the most engaging post on Twitter about a topic receives its other channels versions.
When speaking at Digiday Vail, Shira Kaiserman Verteramo stated “What we make from Facebook is very minimal and what we make from twitter is significant”, showing there is a strategy to garner engagement from this platform. Even with these efforts, the transient nature of Twitter means that the content being produced still gains a shorter attention span than other platforms.
Outside of this, other platforms have started to garner attention, such as Instagram, with it’s potential for interaction through Stories and live streaming, and Snapchat for it’s Discover feature. Both of these platforms are still in their early stages of collaboration with publishers, with more development needed for the relationship to produce the results both sides are looking for.
Snapchat has been suffering some criticism for being one of the top social media apps with a huge user base to tap in to, but very shaky foundations for revenue generation. The issue here has been high bounce-rates as a result of the algorithm still finding its feet, and not yet targeting users with the correct content. Instagram’s potential lies in its Stories feature, IGTV is an episodic tv-style content created specifically for the platform that starts playing as soon as you open the app, one of these being Bustle with their “Wake-Up with Bustle” series. This is seen in some publisher’s eyes as an opportunity for advertisers to invest, in the U.S Vogue and Buzzfeed took the lead producing exclusive content and at the UK Tastemade is posting daily vertical cuts of shows like “Cheap Thrills”. However, the new long-form video is being developed independently by content creators and has yet to take flight in popularity with advertisers.
Where do we go from here?
The keyword to all of this for us has been experimentation. Try fast and (if) fail fast is the mantra. When the usual structure of using social media platforms comes tumbling down, the reaction that seems to work the best is to put your fingers into a few different social platform pies and see which one works best for you. Where once it was Facebook and high reach for exposure’s sake, now the emphasis is on the individuals who are eager to engage with your content, and the different platforms they are engaging with.
Whether it’s generating specific content for Instagram, broadcasting a live stream from the bottom of the sea on twitch, or creating an online-based community where your audience members feel recognised and included, the key is engagement and creativity. In a digital environment the individual can feel quite lost, and finding a social tribe to connect with can feel like an oasis in the middle of the digital noise. If you provide that oasis, you are catering to the goal of social media platforms in the first place which seems have been lost sight of, connection.