Let’s talk about social media for publishers – what should your strategy be?
There’s a love hate relationship between digital publishers and the major social platform these days – and for good reason.
Platforms pursue their interests and they’re often not well aligned with those of publishers, but for many of them social is a significant part of their traffic.
I wanted to find out what the social media best practices are for publishers these days, so I interviewed Apryl Pilloli on the Digital Media Growth Podcast to get up to speed.
Apryl is the head of innovation at Social News Desk. They provide software tools and advice to help news organizations use social media to grow traffic and revenue.
In this article I’m going to share Apryl’s advice on how you can make the most of social for your brand.
Apryl’s career has certainly been diverse – covering everything from photography to sales and marketing.
“I started when I was 15 and entered this amazing industry that I didn’t know much about. I really wanted to know more and dig into it and understand it. I wanted to learn every job there was. I worked at a local newspaper – I was a photographer, I worked with the graphic design team, with the editors, in the publishing department.”
In the last 8 years she has focused on social media for publishers specifically.
“My boss came to the team and said ‘hey social media is becoming a thing who’s going to tackle it?’. I raised my hand and said that I’d figure it out. In my career path I’ve always raised my hand to jump in.”
Apryl recently made a pivot from being in the news industry to supporting it. She felt like she didn’t have the tools to always keep up with the rapidly shifting landscape, but joining Social News Desk solved this.
Are social platforms the enemy? Or is social media for publishers still a viable strategy?
We have to keep speaking back to Facebook and tell them what journalism needs and what the people need – because sometimes that gets lost in a world where traffic and engagement at any cost drive the logic.
“I have a love hate relationship with Facebook. We have to look at them with some scepticism with everything going on around data privacy and our rights.”
It’s not all bad though.
“I like to focus on the positive and how we can take advantage of the opportunity to reach people at scale and use that audience connection. There’s never been a point in journalism before where we can have such conversations. The audience now have the ability to tell us what’s important to them and what they’re focused on. There’s a great opportunity but also we need to stay vigilant because there’s so many ways these platforms can be misused.”
What are the best ways for publishers to leverage social media?
It’s all about having a conversation, engaging readers on the platform.
“One of the best ways is to leverage the talent of the reporters that you have. Keep sharing and promoting the content but try to tap into your talent.”
Making your audience feel heard and appreciated is the key to engagement.
“Getting them to have a conversation with the audience is the next level – because audiences want to interact with people not just brands. People get engaged in the conversation when you do that.”
How does social tie in with memberships?
We know that email is a crucial tool in nurturing your audience and growing your member or subscriber base, and social can help a lot with this.
“Firstly it can help you grow your email database. Facebook and Instagram advertising is great for building databases of audiences and targeting your key audiences.”
Same thing for retaining those subscribers.
“I’ve seen over the years of testing and experimentation a great ability to find new leads for subscriptions and more importantly to retain that audience. With growing subscription fatigue among consumers it’s really important to make sure that they’re seeing and engaging with your content as they’re much more likely to retain their subscription. Social ads can work well for this.”
Facebook and Instagram also excel at finding and engaging niche audiences.
“It is very possible to find any niche audience. The platforms know people, so if you can feed them information – if you give them an audience of several hundred – they’re going to be able to find lookalikes and people very similar with paid ads and grow that audience.”
There are so many different ways to target users.
“Also people show and engage with their interests so there are so many targeting parameters. Being able to narrow into very niche audiences is really what digital marketing didn’t have the opportunity to do before – and social media has brought that.”
Apryl likes to focus on branded content aka native advertising.
Partnering with local businesses to deliver content that your audience cares about is especially a great opportunity for local news.
“If you can take journalistic principles and use it in the way to cover stories about businesses – it gives you ads in a much more engaging format. The reason why I’m passionate about it is there’s a great revenue model. There’s a lot more margin in them.”
Apryl thinks that branded content fits much better with publishers’ core skill sets.
“It’s what we’re really strong at doing in the media business and we can bring that to business for advertising opportunity. The consumer cares about that kind of content too. They want better advertising and to learn information – rather than just be sold to.”
Although subscription revenue is key, successful organizations going forward will take opportunities to create diverse revenue streams, and there’s no reason why ads and membership programs can’t coexist.
“It’s not going to be just one. Having ads on our site, branded content and subscription programs are all going to be pieces of the pie!”
Localish is a good example of ABC bringing branded content in a fun way that doesn’t even seem like an ad.
“That’s ultimately how we want to sell people, in a way that brings them information that they care about and want more of.”
What are the main mistakes publishers make on Facebook?
“One thing that frustrates me is that publishers are still new to social media. Some of the smaller publishers feel like they want to give away the opportunity to be on their social channel as added value. They offer it free as part of the solution they’re giving.”
Should it be free though?
“There is a lot of value in having the advertiser be part of the conversation and your brand on social. The biggest mistake is not valuing your social enough and not leveraging that opportunity in the package to ask for more dollars.”
It’s a new medium so understanding the value and how to sell it can be challenging. Many publishers Apryl has worked with now understand the value though, and focus heavily on social content including it in every package.
What metrics spell social success?
Obviously we need to study the conversations happening around our social posts, as well as participating in them if appropriate, and shares and likes are the most simple metrics of engagement. Apryl also suggested that people tagging their friends and family is a key sign of success.
“When the content is really good people will tag their friends and say – hey check this out.”
The kind of content that works well is dependent on the genre and audience, but female-focused content often does particularly well on social media.
“One branded content piece I worked on was from a plumbing company – ‘ten things your kid shouldn’t flush down the toilet and what to do if they do’ – the mothers loved that and engaged with that really well.”
The Future of Social
We’ve seen a trend lately in the rise of private messaging as a news source, and the accompanying relative decline of Facebook. I asked Apryl’s opinion on this and what we can do to capitalise on it.
“What we’ve seen is that the trends usually start about two years before we feel the full impact in news.”
Apryl and her team are working to meet this new challenge.
“Our feeling is that messaging and one-on-one communication is very much going to take off. The future of social may be far more private than just the news feed in general. We’re spending a lot of time looking at solutions around messenger and what can be done with WhatsApp.”
What should publishers do?
“I think publishers need to be looking at that now, making small bets and testing to find what works for them. I believe that messenger can be the next email for publishers to communicate with their audience. It’s personal, gives them information in real time and it’s not nearly as competitive and polluted as many social channels right now.”
New platforms are also rising rapidly and are worth formulating a strategy for.
“We have to watch different platforms closely. I think we’ll see more and more diversity in the future. Because of how big Facebook is and the issues we’ve seen with them, I think people are going to want to diversify to other platforms. Being on TikTok and understanding how it works is important, if you’re a magazine being on Pinterest and knowing how to leverage that is going to be important.”
Again it’s all still about understanding your audience.
“Looking at where your audience is depending on your brand goals, if you’re more niche finding where that audience is, looking at that diversity is absolutely important.”
Will any of them challenge Facebook?
“I think that each of these will challenge Facebook in different ways. I’m hoping that there isn’t going to be another one that will grow as big as Facebook because we might run into the same problems, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
You may have heard that Facebook is planning to launch a News Tab feature, and looking to make deals with publishers that could be worth millions.
“It’s exciting to see that Facebook is finally starting to do deals and pay publishers for content. I have concerns though over whether Facebook can do it at scale and how its going to choose the best content to display.”
Will it help a wide range of publishers or only the big players?
“Sometimes local publishers get left out and it becomes a lot more about the nationals. I really want that local news because they’re the ones that understand the area I live in. I wonder how Facebook is going to work with the locals and choose the right content to distribute.”
Apryl’s Top Two Pieces of Advice
I asked Apryl for her top two pieces of advice for smaller publishers.
“Firstly, don’t try to do too much. It’s tempting to try every social platform out there. Start small and tackle what you can as well as you can. Pick the platforms that your audience is on – Facebook will probably be one of them – start small and focus on them!”
The second piece:
“Use data and analytics intelligently. Understand how your audience engages with content, what they respond positively to and what they aren’t engaging with. Focus on shifting the balance toward the kind of content that is doing well.”
Using the data from your social channel analytically to understand your audience better is key – so make sure you’re looking at all the right metrics.
Hopefully hearing from Apryl has given you a few ideas about how you could use social media and branded content to grow your publishing business.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Digital Media Growth Podcast for more interviews with interesting figures on the front lines of digital publishing.
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