|Having a presence and pushing content on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has been both a big opportunity and a challenge for publishers. According to a recent report from the Nielsen Company, the popularity of social media "is undeniable," and users spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networks and blog sites. Meanwhile, a survey from the Online Publishers Association says, in part, that only 23 percent of respondents indicated that they trust content from social media environments.
So, where's the balance? Why should publishers spend so much time on social media efforts?
According to Go Forward Media, the Web firm that oversees e-media strategy for several clients, including Elsevier's Public Safety group, one advantage is boosting traffic. The properties under that group (including Law Officer, JEMS and FireRescue/FirefighterNation.com) all have presences on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, as well as their own dedicated social/professional networks. According to Go Forward Media founder and CEO Dave Iannone, Facebook can account for as much as 10 to 12 percent of overall traffic at JEMS.com (which gets between 400,000 and 500,000 pageviews and more than 100,000 unique visitors, depending on "hot topics").
"That's up from 5 percent just six months ago," Iannone says. "We've had some stories shared hundreds, even over 1,000 times, using the Facebook share/recommend widgets on the site. The EMS social network, JEMS Connect, comprises about 50,000 to 80,000 page views a month included overall traffic."
Other platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are useful, he says, but don't generate nearly as much traffic as Facebook does, with nearly 200,000 "fans" across the brands. "We still have thousands of Twitter followers across the brands, and post content and retweet links multiple times a day, but typically it represents just a few percentage points of traffic.
"The days of a portal Web site where everyone in the industry feels like they ‘must go' there every day to keep up are over," he continues. "Home pages on Web sites are less and less relevant."
One way Mansueto Ventures-owned Fast Company is tapping social media, and seeing a bump in traffic from it, is something called "The Influence Project." Not a dedicated social media platform, per se, the project is more of a social experiment that encourages people to register online and to have as many people as possible click on their unique URL that is created for them when they register. The people who get the most clicks are therefore deemed the "most influential," and will have their picture featured in the November issue of the magazine (the more influential, the larger the photo, Fast Company says).
Because of the link-clicking aspect associated with the project, Fast Company has seen its traffic spike about 20 percent this month. "Over 13,000 people have registered so far," says executive digital editor Noah Robischon, "and it's growing daily."
Main Objective: Engagement
Some publishers, however, aren't seeing a dramatic jump in traffic as a result of their social media activities. For them, the real reason to maintain presences on these platforms is to build relationships and further engage their audience.
"Twitter and other social media platforms really allow an unparalleled ability for writers and reporters to interact with the people who read their work," says Hemal Jhaveri, assistant managing editor of digital and social media at Politico. The site currently utilizes Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and lets readers post stories to Digg, YahooBuzz and others. Politico, which according to Omniture averages more than 7 million unique visitors online a month, has 10,420 Facebook fans and more than 80,000 followers on Twitter.
"We want to engage with the community around our site and social media tools help us do that," says Jhaveri. "Plus, we need to be where our readers are spending time and that's on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It's not enough to just sit back and wait for them to come to us-we've got to find new ways to reach them."
"I don't think you have a media business these days unless you're everywhere your community wants you to be," says Technologizer editor Harry McCracken. Technologizer, which averages more than 300,000 uniques a month, carries almost 25,000 followers on Twitter (between @technologizer and @harrymccracken) and about 1,800 Facebook fans (which, combined, drives about 6 percent of the site's overall traffic). "Looking at page views directly attributable to social sites is the wrong way to look at this. I care less about turning pages than I do about finding committed, smart community members who form a bond with the Technologizer brand. Everywhere I go, I bump into people who tell me they first learned about Technologizer on Twitter and are now loyal fans, so I know that Twitter's positive impact on our site far outstrips anything that's easily measured."
Making Social Pay
But with editors spending so much time posting stories and engaging with their audience across social platforms (some publishers have hired dedicated social media staffers), what's the return on the investment? Some publishers wonder why they should participate in social media if they aren't generating enough traffic from it and aren't making any money from it.
Turning a profit is possible, says Go Forward Media's Iannone. "On all three of [Elsevier's Public Safety group's] social networks we're successfully selling sponsors ‘Fan Pages' that allow them to create an identity and follow right along with our universe of fans and followers, engaging users in discussions about their products and more," he says.
Iannone says that while social media revenues might not be as "blunt" as traditional advertising, it can significantly enhance existing products and drive new revenue, in addition to audience. "We're also using the reach of our social media platforms to drive new subscribers (in JEMS' case, paid subscribers specifically) as well as thousands of digital edition subscribers and hundreds of attendees to our sponsored Webcasts," he says. "They also drive new e-mail list sign-ups, new members of our own social media platforms (where we opt-in to e-mail, collect audience demographics, etc.), to our blog network (which has an ad network component) and helps showcase sponsored Fan Pages and buyer's guide companies."
"I know for a fact that I have a loyal following on Twitter and that has helped land some sponsorship deals on Technologizer," says McCracken. "Being a player on these sites helps raise Technologizer's profile with exactly the kind of people we want participating in the world of Technologizer."