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Why Time Out isn’t scared to share data with Facebook (it’s all about audience profiling)

Facebook has unnerved many publishers with a flurry of products that suggest it wants to snare traffic from their sites but for Time Out the social network is a chance to better understand the value of data.

Defining the global publisher by site traffic is “very limiting”, said Time Out's campaign marketing manager, Fern Atkinson. “We’re a lot more broader and expansive than that”, a dictum it has adopted to keep up with the Buzzfeeds of the world that believe they need to be everywhere their audience is rather than trying to pull them into channels they don’t want to be in.

“Our work with Facebook is about getting people involved with the brand and building a community rather than just being involved with the site,” said Atkinson. The tie-up is best summed up by Time Out sharing its data with the social network to build a deeper understanding of its audiences’ core interests.

Readers logged into Time Out via their social media profiles are grouped into segments using Intent HQ’s ad tool. The publisher then asks Facebook to go out and find people that look like these key groups it’s identified in order to serve targeted ads promoting the latest content. The approach was tested across four UK cities in which Time Out wanted to expand its reach and further ads are planned following strong results.

The publisher declined to share exact details but clicks per pound on the ads were “drastically” higher at five times higher than the global Facebook average of 2.4, it claimed. Click throughs were also up, with the sharper targeting of audiences across the four cities better than the average Facebook click through rates.

Time Out considers distribution to be as important as the content it creates, a belief brought about by its switch from being largely ad-funded to being driven by ecommerce sales. And while it’s still too early to say whether the transition has been successful, the publisher is working with Facebook, in spite of wider industry fears due to the social network's desite for readers to read publishers’ content within its own walled garden in order to quicken plans for more personalised Time Out content.

“The data enabled us to speak to those people who are most likely to be interested in becoming long-term users of the site,” said Atkinson. “We’re keen to cross pollinate those insights and data to all the other data sources that we have to make sure we get a really clear and informed view of who we’re speaking to.”

Some publishers are concerned that their peers are selling out to technology firms like Facebook and Google in order to chase traffic. It’s an ongoing debate with newspapers and magazines arguing the business merits of sharing content with these types of companies gainst the possibility of making it widely available via their platforms. This tension is less pronounced among magazines, which traditionally do not chase casual readers as much as their newspaper counterparts and so are not as much pressure to use social media solely to get their content read by more people.

“Traffic is important and we get a lot of traffic to our site but there are other elements that make Time Out what it is; whether that’s what people are sharing or how they’re discovering content that’s going to inspire them to explore their cities,” said Atkinson.

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