Why publishers should look to brands for inspiration

Much has been said about brands acting as publishers, but what can publishers learn from brands?

By Ross Brown, senior vice president: brand strategy and content, PMK•BNC

With Facebook's new focus on meaningful interactions significantly impacting traffic from the platform to publishers, there's a lot that can be taken from a brand-focused approach to social content.

This year Facebook went back to its roots, tweaking its algorithm to focus on content that promoted ‘meaningful interactions’. This change meant that users would see more posts from friends and family, less from publishers and brands.

Publishers, who have historically used Facebook as a platform to distribute content and generate traffic, were hit hardest. Brands, whose focus was more on storytelling, building loyalty and creating an engaged community, suffered less – especially those with significant media budgets directed at social.

So with declining traffic referrals, is it still worth publishers investing in social media?

Well, it remains a key driver for news. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, more smartphone users access their news in bed than on the commute to work and 33% of all 18-24 year-olds say social media is their main source of news; more than online news sites, 31%, and more than TV and print combined (20%).

Clearly, there is an appetite for content with perceived social value but this puts a new spotlight on expectations and tactics – and here, we can learn from a brand-style approach.

Is the algorithm, rather than content, king?

On social media the algorithm, not the content, is king. Brands don’t just understand this, they embrace it, developing super-agile teams and mindset that think nothing of tearing up a three-month long content calendar if the environment they are playing in suddenly changes.

Publishers however, by their very nature, attempt to set, rather than follow, the agenda. But in order to survive on social, they need to keep testing, learning and adapting, and be brave enough to completely shift their focus if content predicted to perform well, inexplicably struggles.

It might feel rash, but it’s a wasted investment to keep plugging something on social that doesn’t capture attention.

Influencer relationships vs. ‘interview with cover star’

Although the biggest, Facebook isn’t the only platform to consider.

Instagram, with its limitations on links, doesn't feel like a natural home for news publishers. However, this is the age of the thumb scroll and the reason why Instagram is so successful: It captures the zeitgeist perfectly, and as such brands (25 million of them) are investing in the platform.

Those using the platform need to adopt an image-driven approach; the likes of John Lewis, ASOS and Channel 4 have shown how an Instagram strategy can be effective in meeting business objectives.

Publishers should also be continually exploring opportunities for collaboration. With such a close, mutually beneficial existence between traditional publishers and celebrities, they have the perfect platform to build influencer-brand relationships over the ‘interview with cover star’ model, offering more opportunity for more creative input across all tiers of publication.

The tactics that have been used to generate traffic to publisher content in the past have sometimes been a little unscrupulous - we’ve seen reputable publications chasing engagement in ways that are inauthentic to their audiences with contentious editorial promoted with clickbait-style headlines.

Brands were less susceptible to this; they didn’t need to worry about click throughs given their social profiles were more focused on loyalty and brand preference.

Publishers need to accept that they might not be on social media purely for those traffic numbers – focus on creating content that adds value to the reader, that informs and educates without asking for anything in return. Even if they don’t click through this time, this will earn respect and importantly, trust.

 

This article does not express the views of Reuters. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

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