How to media slap your publishing model into selling audiences not inventory

To shift from selling audiences not inventory, a media slap is needed; a short, sharp hit publishers Mashable, Vox Media, USA Today, The Telegraph and more are striking to build deep and transparent audiences that also creates creed for advertisers.

Words by Jennifer Faull and Seb Joseph

If you want social success you need to have scale or be niche (for now)

Publishers cannot have their cake and eat when it comes to maintaining scale and niche audiences on social networks. Speaking at The Drum’s Media Slap event, The Telegraph’s director of digital media, Malcolm Coles, said its growth on Facebook can be split into two strategies; driving scale or becoming niche.

For the Telegraph, scale success is driven by likes, of which it has 2.17m in the UK, and how they’re used to secure engagement and shares. Coles said the key question is how many clicks each post generated. He referenced this equation: 2,170,000 x 6 per cent (reach) x 2.5 per cent (CTR) = 3,500, meaning each post generates 3,500 clicks.

Revealing the sizeable investment needed to maintain momentum in the channel he said: “We publish 72 times a day to our main Facebook page."

However, if you haven’t got scale you need to be niche, suggested Coles. He exemplified the point by comparing the same formula to Telegraph Sport and Telegraph Sport’s dedicated Arsenal FC Page.

With nearly 90,000 likes, Telegraph Sport achieves an average 142 clicks per post. Whereas, the Arsenal FC page achieves 200 clicks per post. Coles said this is because the Arsenal page is targeting an already engaged audience who has made it clear they are interesting in specific content.

For its Telegraph Sport page Coles, has targeted two million Facebook likes by end of year in order to increase the CTR. He explained he’ll do this by continuing to publish regularly.

“You can’t publish too much on Facebook,” he added, revealing it has gone from publishing every half hour to every 15 minutes, he added. “In general the more you publish the greater your reach will be.” He said the publisher has already seen a boost to engagement with the page after it made all of its journalists manually add a link to FB pages at the bottom of their stories.

Can the hunt for casual readers justify ceding some independence?

While no publisher tackled the question directly at Media Slap, the topic of hosting content directly on social networks repeatedly seeped into discussions on the day. It is emblematic of the lengths publishers feel they have to go to in order to pull more casual readers to their sites.

Jamie Mottram, director of content development at USA Today, said the publisher was still trying to “figure out” the “Facebook question” at a time when the writers for its For the Win socially driven site are being up skilled to better produce viral content.

However, he added that search was still key despite not being as “cool” as social, particularly given the changes Google has made to favour mobile-friendly sites in search results.

“It’s not all about Facebook,” he continued. The social network accounted for a quarter of its traffic last year, the same as Google.

Mottram’s observations link to the Catch-22 publishers face and are yet to have the answer to - is the looming prospect of hosting content directly on social networks and all the reach they could bring worth them potentially ceding control of valuable audience data and knowling denting traffic figures.

Publishers are in metric delirium and need to focus on those that actually matter

The ongoing narrative in publishing has been on the move away from clicks as a metric of content success. Publishers such as Vox Media, For the Win and Mashable, which all use business models baked in the ubiquity of social media, championed the introduction of measurements that can give media owner and advertiser alike a more detailed contextual view of how people are consuming content.

Paul Lomax, chief technology officer and digital product development at Dennis Publishing, said the issue has “never really been about clicks”. “It’s always been about changing perceptions,” he told The Drum during Media Slap.

“The metrics we throw around like time-based don’t really matter. The question is whether the media that [advertisers] are buying from you is changing peoples mind about product.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying it on CPM basis or buying based on the number of hours, the CPM Is a proxy for the real metric which is are you influencing people.”

USA Media’s Mottram said the publisher was making sure that its own content creators are focused on “other metrics” like social and search referrals as well as time spent on pages, emphasising a focus on those "right measures" that are going “to spark that growth over time rather than just a one time hit”.

Only when you focus on value and the customer can media transformation begin

Publishers are past asking “do we go digital” and are now faced with shaping strategies around reader consumption patterns. It is this obstacle that convinced News UK to undertake a neuroscience study last year, which in turn revealed tablet ads are as memorable as those in print.

It challenges the industry belief that because readers “flick” through a tablet faster, they do not engage or retain the information to the same extent. News UK was so impressed with the findings that it revamped its commercial offering, going from 120 different advertising sizes to six. The publisher will soon conduct the same experiments on its mobile site.

“People behave the same. There is absolutely no difference. If you read the sports section first, then you read it first in both print and tablet. They also recall exactly the same number of articles. There’s nothing to say that with that flicking you’re consuming any less,” Abba Newbery, director of advertising strategy at NewsUK.

“What we see in a tablet is that what you lose in time spent is made up for in visual stimulation,” she continued.

Mashable’s executive director for EMEA Ben Maher, said the publisher isn’t experiencing the same issues some “legacy media owners” are in their efforts to remain focused on the reader.

“We tend to recognise the user and also the situation or content placement as being more important than actually whether they’re viewing on any given device,” he added.

As publishers emerge in tact from the shift to digital, they now need to look at how to continually adapt their business model to evolve with a new generation of audience.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.