“Like” it or not, Facebook is a phenomenon that’s not only shaking up the way people meet and interact, but also the way they discover, shop and recommend. Jo Bowman talks to publishers about how they’re going social.
With more than 30 million people in the UK alone on Facebook, the social media landscape is somewhere that all brands need to set up camp. But beyond simply being there, publishers are finding they have in social media not just another place to promote the next issue and say thanks to those who bought the last one. They have a real-time barometer of their audience, a way to reach out to new audiences, a comprehensive research tool, a sales device – and the potential for closeness with fans that’s approaching real friendship.
Publishers are not, of course, alone in seeing social media spaces as an opportunity to deepen bonds with consumers and prospects, but they do have an advantage. “They already have the three vital elements for engagement and success on social platforms,” says James Papworth, marketing director at the PPA. “They have high quality, sought-after content, they have a credible and trusted brand and they have an existing community.”
Fishing where the fish are
Just as people rob banks because that’s where the money is, publishers are using Facebook because that’s where the people are. But as James Morell, head of search, social media and affiliates at Future says, success in this space is not about just being there anymore. “It’s quite a significant traffic driver back through to our sites,” he says. While success varies hugely according to title and genre, Future drives 7 million page views in a month from Facebook – well worth having, given that website sales are usually made on the number of views a page gets. Some titles are finding audiences in markets where they don’t yet publish, allowing them to do valuable appraisals of new-market potential and brand-building.
Facebook can be a sales office for subscriptions and for branded merchandise, but most publishers see it as a more subtle process than that. “It sounds corny to say but if we can get our brands talking to people, interacting with the brand more, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Morell says. When friends share their interests, post photos and take part in discussions, it broadens and deepens the relationship a publishing brand has with its target community.
Competition for consumers’ attention is, however, fierce. As Cathy Ma, head of social media at IPC Media points out, on Facebook, brand updates are competing with a photo of a friend’s first-born. “Brands need to understand what their unique offering is and focus on delivering a user-centred social experience,” she says. Facebook for IPC is both an engagement tool for existing audiences, by enabling likes and comments, a research tool and an opportunity for audience development, reaching out to new users through fan pages and social applications. “The main difference between Facebook and our websites is that Facebook users use their real-life identity. With that data, we can create a more relevant and engaging experience for our users.”
Importance of listening
At Hearst, Rebecca Miskin, digital strategy director, agrees that the extra subs are only part of the Facebook glow; analytics are a catalyst for improvement online and in print. “It’s about listening to what’s said back to us. We can gauge the popularity of styles and trends, and we can alter future features to reflect that. I believe that analytics make us more creative because it helps us hone our efforts and become better at being ahead of the market.”
The research element of Facebook is appealing to many publishers, Papworth says. “In the ‘old days’, editorial wrote what they hoped and thought readers would like, then a month or two later checked the mail bags and circulation to get a steer on how well it was received,” he says. “The mechanics of social media platforms allow editorial to gauge reader interest in topics early on in the editorial planning process and by return allow readers to comment, contribute and even guide the editorial. Publications always listened to their readers, but now it’s like being in the room with them as well.”
Publishers say it’s vital that the voice of a brand in social media should match that of the print title it’s linked to; editorial teams are therefore being given the task of managing Facebook, along with Twitter updates and, increasingly, Pinterest, in addition to running print and online, rather than handing the job over to a centralised social media team. “People want to like a brand they understand, and understand the voice of,” says Chris Corderoy, Immediate Media’s chief technology officer, who describes social media’s importance as “massive, and it’s something we see as a major force for growth”.
The role of social media is inextricably linked to that of the website, he says, with lots of cross-pollination and linkage to move traffic between the brands’ different outlets. The fact that Google is still a major referrer for the majority of brands, and Google is only beginning to rank social media pages in addition to websites, means the role of the ‘old-fashioned’ site remains key. For advertisers, there’s value in the fact that in Facebook, consumers have opted to be on a publication’s page, so there’s an implicit welcome to partners offering something relevant – although advertising primarily remains focused on websites, with some dipping of toes in Facebook advertising. “This is not interruption marketing,” says the PPA’s Papworth. “It’s totally self-selected by the consumer … the consumer gets to hear about, and be advised on, relevant brands and products which might enhance their life, and the publication gets a contribution to the rent.” But commercial partnerships aren’t necessarily advertising as we know it.
Through Facebook, InStyle magazine worked with Selfridges to share beauty wisdom from industry pros, celebrities and readers. Video tutorials, competitions and beauty buys of the day were all part of the offering, which spilled over into Selfridges stores, and InStyle is using the best of the advice in a special 40-page supplement to be distributed with the magazine.
One of Condé Nast’s biggest successes with social media has been with Vogue, which posts a morning Fashion Forecast on Facebook, suggesting an outfit appropriate for the weather, as well as a daily ‘Today I’m Wearing’ in which the team post images of what they’re wearing. Live coverage of awards shows have been a hit for Glamour and GQ.
Small but very engaged
Some of the most niche titles have the most engaged – if not the biggest - social media communities. The World of Cross Stitching, for instance, an Immediate Media title, has just under 8,000 Facebook likes from users who post photos of their projects and comment on and give advice on each other’s work. The Facebook site’s regular features include the 'Friday Freebie' giveaway, the fortnightly 'WIP (Work in Progress) Thursday' in which editor and readers share their work. There are links to CrossStitchTV on YouTube, and Facebook is a source of content for print, with a regular ‘First Past the Post' section featuring the first user posting a photo of a completed project from the current issue - and 'You Like', of the post receiving the most likes. At IPC, Horse and Hound has over 132,000 social media followers, tuning in for stories, images and videos, along with a Friday quiz, and co-creation activities such as creating slogans for t-shirts. Radio Times has a 15,000-strong Facebook following but is best suited to Twitter, with live tweets around programming and links back to live discussions; many Radio Times critics and cover stars interact with readers in the social media space.
“Social media has brought down the barrier of entry so that readers have become both content generators and curators, highlighting what content is relevant to them and to their connections,” says IPC’s Cathy Ma. “In fact, it’s only a matter of time before we stop talking about ‘social media’ and realise we’re just talking about the internet.” Top Gear, with 11 million likes on its Facebook page, is fuelled primarily by the TV programme but where that and the magazine, and discussions, contests, games and promotions start and stop is hard to tell.
Full time job
Social media has been a steep learning curve for businesses built around weekly and monthly deadlines that now have to relate to audiences immediately. Rebecca Miskin at Hearst recalls: “Initially, right at the beginning, we felt that you could update three times a day at specific times. That went out the window pretty quickly,” she says. The need to be more agile has led to incentives for editorial teams to post on social media, with little prizes every month for the person with the most posts and likes. Allowing open interaction with and between readers sometimes feels uncomfortable, she says. “It’s a risk, but it’s part of the magic and the beauty of it.” At Future, they’ve learnt that having attractive landing pages and trying to get people to subscribe via Facebook is not as engaging or effective as updating the timeline. “Like-gated” competitions – ones that people can only enter if they “like” a brand first – have worked well, as have beta-key giveaways, like a sneak preview of a computer game. The challenge is that Facebook is third-party space, and it can change without notice. “You’re playing in someone else’s garden and they can change the rules at any time,” says Morell.
The launch of Facebook’s Timeline a few months ago has proved a headache for some publishers who were quite happy with the old pages, thank you. Others have found they can use it to their advantage. BBC History Magazine, for instance, is a natural fit with the Timeline feature, and the brand, which has over 2,600 Facebook likes, has been making the most of the ability to adjust posts based on chronology.
Immediate’s Corderoy says the number of likes or follows a title has is far less significant than the depth of consumer engagement. “We’re working hard on dashboards for editorial teams to monitor that.” Metrics on re-tweets and comment levels, as well as Google tools, help assess what consumers are getting out of the Facebook relationship, not just how many people are there. “The return is measured from websites, because the majority of the advertising is against referral traffic,” Corderoy says. At Condé Nast, Jamie Jouning says Facebook’s own Insight tools are valuable indicators of interaction and engagement, “and that’s much more important to us than having a high number of fans who don’t actually read our content or interact with us”.
Jamie Jouning points out that all media is inherently social – it’s meant to be shared – and the lines between what we call social media and other media will continue to blur, as people access content through and within social networks. Consumers will still, as ever, be drawn not to the method of delivery but will seek out the best content, whether that’s commentary, pictures, video, gossip or a competition. “Individual social media platforms may rise and fall,” he says, “but the broader trend towards an increasingly connected social landscape won’t go away, and we want our content to be part of that broader evolving conversation.”