How can digital media and publishing diversify audience acquisition? Part I

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We asked the Berlin digital media and publishing community about the future of audience acquisition, and the role of diversification.

On 26 September, Bibblio hosted the second edition of the Future of Media and Publishing meetup at Impact Hub in Berlin. As part of the evening we had a panel on audience acquisition and diversification featuring a trio of audience development executives, which enabled a really informative deep dive on the subject. So deep in fact, that there was too much for one blog post! So this is Part I, with Part II to follow.

Moderator Mads Holmen from Bibblio, with panellists Deana Mrkaja from Handelsblatt, Christian Pieper from Funke Digital, and Emily Dreesen of Highsnobiety.
Moderator Mads Holmen from Bibblio, with panellists Deana Mrkaja from Handelsblatt, Christian Pieper from Funke Digital, and Emily Dreesen of Highsnobiety.

Growth or diversity? Both?

Moderating the panel was Bibblio co-founder and CEO, Mads Holmen, and he set the scene by talking about the world publishers currently inhabit. Ten years ago, 80 percent of visitors to websites came directly: now, about 80 percent of the traffic comes from Google and Facebook. With this in mind, Mads asked the panel how important is pure audience growth versus audience diversification: i.e. is the focus just on growing page views and audience numbers, or is it on finding traffic from sources other than Google and social?

Deana Mrkaja (Senior Audience Development Manager at Handelsblatt) began by noting that Handelsblatt is quite an unusual case. Handelsblatt’s audience is very loyal on the whole, so they’re less concerned about visitors being ‘tourists’ from social who will bounce after viewing one page. Their social traffic is actually very small - only a few percent, and often single digits. 20-30 percent is a pretty common figure she hears from other publishers.

Diversification is still important though, and they’re focusing on opening new channels, like Instagram. However, because of the nature of the content - hard news, often about finance and economics - LinkedIn and Xing are very important to them. Her final comment was that growth is clearly crucial, but diversification is increasingly important.

Christian Pieper (Head of Audience Development at Funke Digital) said that, these days, diversification is essential if media companies want to grow. You need to know all the sources that your audience are coming from, and how they’re behaving. Data’s not a magic bullet though - over the last few years Funke Digital has tried to identify the ‘perfect user’ for targeting purposes, and discovered that they don’t actually exist. Depending on the different user profile, they have to create different approaches and content for different platforms.

Emily Dreesen (Head of Audience Development at Highsnobiety) agreed with Christian. She said that at Highsnobiety there was particular pressure to diversify for further growth because of the decline of Facebook traffic. As well as looking to new sources for traffic, they’re looking to improve acquisition from Google, which was easier than Facebook. They’re also focusing on the most valuable users, which for them is direct traffic. Direct is also the the hardest thing to grow. The most important element in growing direct traffic is the brand, which is also what advertisers care about the most, so developing the brand is the top priority.

How important is direct traffic?

Mads followed up by asking how much of the panelists traffic is direct at the moment, and is that measured in the company as a KPI?

Emily said that direct traffic to Highsnobiety, especially on mobile, is quite low – single digits. That’s to be expected in the lifestyle field, because most people discover content from Facebook or Google. On desktop it's a bit higher, in the region of 10-15 percent. It’s going to become increasingly important as they look to diversify their revenue. They’re moving much more into ecommerce, and they see that the direct, super loyal users convert the best, so increasing direct visits is a top KPI.

Christian said that for Funke Digital 40 percent of traffic is direct – the difference with Highsnobiety is to be expected because of the news category vs lifestyle. He agreed with Emily that most of the time direct traffic is coming from desktop: nobody who's using a smartphone is typing morgenpost.de into the address bar, they're using Google News and other channels.

Which sources are providing growth?

Mads asked for a quick run down of which traffic sources had been going up and which sources had been going down?

Deana said that LinkedIn and Xing were particularly effective for them because of their niche: Handelsblatt is only really about economics and politics in Germany, so people who type in Handelsblatt.com know what they're going to get. Xing and LinkedIn are more important than Facebook and Instagram because they’re platforms suited to the topics Handelsblatt covers.

She added that people coming to their pages are often over 60 years old, so it's not the classic Instagram demographic. They’re trying to change that though. They’re looking to reach out to younger people and find new ways to translate their content into different channels to broaden its appeal. One place they’re trying to do that is on Instagram.

Curating content?

The panel were asked about whether they curate content for certain groups, e.g. young professionals in Handelsblatt’s case?

Deana said that Handelsblatt’s approach, which is one that a lot of other German media are taking too at the moment, is creating ‘clubs’ or running monthly events for specific audience groups. It's not about reaching millions of people, but gathering the people around you who will really stay loyal and be interested in the content that you’re creating. This is how you increase loyalty to your brand – by providing your audience with really targeted, relevant content.

Christian was in full agreement. He suggested that everyone was talking about the impact of data, but that to get the most out of it you have to really dig into your data to look at what interests people, and try new things on new traffic sources. He makes sure that he knows which story angles and pictures are working for different user groups: the story behind the image on Instagram is the same as the story behind the headline on their web site which interests the direct user who has been coming for ten years. You need to find the right angle for each audience.

Channel optimization?

Mads asked about the process of repackaging the content for different channels. Were the panelists using any technology to do that, or are they doing what they’ve always done, but now they’re just having to do it in ten channels?

Emily said that tried some optimization tools, e.g. translating text content into video content, but in the end they saw more success by just having a dedicated editor for each platform. Facebook pushed their Facebook Watch video platform, so they had to hire a team for that. They're now on Snapchat Discover so they’ll need to hire a team for that. In the end you still need staff for every platform - technology can’t solve that.

Deana said that technology had had more of an impact for them. They’re using different tools for different channels, e.g. Echobox for Twitter and also for Facebook, which makes their lives much easier. E.g. with Echobox you put social media posts in the queue and it will decide when the right time to post something is. This means you have more time to do other things. But, as Emily said, you still need editors for everything, and to get the most from the tools you need to use people who really understand what they're doing. Christian echoed Deana’s thoughts. Software has more and more of a role, but it’s not bringing in automation per se.

Editors as social media stars?

Mads brought up a previous Future of Media and Publishing meetup in New York, where PopSugar and Conde Nast had talked about encouraging their own editors and journalists to build their own followings on social. The panelists acknowledged that that was something that they were doing too, so Mads asked how do they deal with those editors and journalists becoming famous in their own right? Is there a fear that in some ways they're using their brand to make them more powerful? How do they manage that internally?

Emily said that a lot of Highsnobiety’s editors are really big on Instagram: one of them has 40000 followers. That person used to work freelance and then they owned the brand partnerships themselves. Now it always needs to be clear what's private and what's related to Highsnobiety. Editors can publish what they’d like privately, but they can’t take money from brands.

Also, if the editorial team is in touch with brands that the branded content team are about to close big deals with, the editorial team have to be very careful that they don't just give the brand the content for free. Their editorial content is often very product focused, and they need e.g. posts on the new Nike sneakers because that's what the audience wants, so they have to work very closely with the branded team to make sure that they don't cannibalize their deals.

That's it for Part I - keep your eyes out for Part II, coming soon!

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