Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz on the Future of Digital Media
This article was published as a guest post at PaidContent, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.
Media companies have collectively spent billions of dollars on content management systems. As they upgraded their offline businesses to the digital world, they turned to big enterprise systems to organize their content in an orderly digital database. And whether via internal systems or a purchased system, each piece of content knows its place, and the digital migration of media is a fait accompli.
But after so much investment in such important systems, why are media companies still miles away from a profitable model? In part, it’s because these intricately designed systems have been based on one big misunderstanding: that a media company’s most valuable asset is content.
Content is just a means to an end. The end – and media’s greatest asset – is audience.
Advertisers don’t pay to reach content – they pay to reach audience. And building an audience that will earn you advertising is only partly about content. In truth, just as much hinges on distribution. If your delightful content can’t find and catch the attention of your audience, the value of your content drops to zero. If a tree falls in a forest…
Media companies over the last 10 years have invested in an enormously expensive card catalog, while spending only pennies to bring people into the library. The big opportunity with digital media is not to organize your content closet or have efficient workflow – it’s about driving demand and building an audience using digital channels and all of the rich data that comes with them. That’s the way to use systems to multiply the topline, not just streamline the expense line.
Other industries made the leap a decade ago. The ERP category boomed as manufacturing companies’ inventory tracking systems evolved to fully manage and even stoke demand, with the realization that driving sales is far more valuable than just knowing what you’ve got in the back room.
The time has come for companies to step up from tracking data to driving results. And over the last 24 months, huge advances in technology have enabled us to not just capture, but harness, data. The next generation of CMS won’t be CMS 2.0. The technology that powers media companies going forward will be ADS: audience development systems. And it will help media companies that use it multiply their topline and improve their offering to their audience.
What does it take to add the last, most important part to your systems? Here are five steps every content manager needs to take to make the shift:
1. Manage across the many channels of distribution.
Stop thinking it’s just “the web.” Today’s web is composed of myriad channels: Google’s search index, Facebook’s news feeds, Twitter’s tweets, and YouTube’s video marketplace, not to mention pins and tumbles. Each of those channels is more than a dumping ground – it’s a pipeline that, if well optimized, can deliver compounding results for your audience. The TV networks have recognized this for decades: they carefully arrange lead-in and lead-out to maximize audience compounding. Now every content publisher has the opportunity to maximize channels this way – alas, their CMS isn’t built for that. Shift your systems to be oriented around the channels, not the asset.
2. Adjust the focus from audience to individual.
The idea of publishing once for “the audience” is absurd today. In the past, we didn’t have the ability to see the “I” in audience. Today, technology enables us to connect with individual users, and to actually get to know them. Showing the same featured article that you showed me last time I visited your home page is a waste of precious attention. Your users expect better, and you should too. A CMS that knows and exploits the differences between you and me will dramatically enhance the value of any media company’s content.
3. Use abundant user data to know what works.
Thanks to the social rewiring of the web, Big Data technology, and real-time analytics, data is available to provide feedback and allow programming on all major channels in real-time. Everyone recognizes the incredible audience-building potential of behavioral data, but most companies still don’t know how to leverage it. It’s time to measure not just what you publish, but who interacts with it – and how. Use that data to know what content works for what audience, and what audience works for what content. Personalization is the future of media – and it starts with data.
4. Make your systems look forward, not back.
The CMS model of the web is retrospective: it’s a trackling log of content, created, edited, and published once and forever, set on a URL and then forgotten. But today’s web prizes relevance – and relevance right now – above all else. Past performance should impact all your actions – in real time. Predicting, programming, and optimizing your distribution can multiply your ROI on content by many times.
5. Fully socialize your distribution.
According to comScore, audiences are spending 1 in every 5 minutes of their online lives on social networks. Social will soon surpass search to become the #1 traffic source to companies’ websites. It’s not what’s published to the web that matters, anymore – it’s what’s published to the newsfeed. A CMS built with Google in mind will soon become irrelevant, while one built to optimize social distribution can capture growth to the tune of many millions of users.
Digital distribution, when done right, can have a multiplicative effect: a great piece of content delivered to the right person at the right time in the right package is worth 10x that same content paired with the wrong (or non-existent) distribution strategy. A company that can fully incorporate social, real time, data, channels and personalization into their distribution strategy will dramatically enhance the value of their offering by developing a loyal audience relationship.
You heard it here first: the Audience Development System will be the killer app for web companies in the next five years.
While top publishers pull 5% of traffic from social, Wetpaint breaks a record at 38%
I was pretty excited in December when Wetpaint Entertainment became the #1 social publisher on the web, but this month’s Social Leaderboard chart is like that rare but spectacular sunny day in Seattle. For the sake of modesty, I’ll explain further down the page.
Unfortunately, the sun isn’t shining on everyone. Total social traffic to the Top 50 publishers fell by 13% in April. As for social traffic as a percent of overall traffic, the average publisher lost 1.5 percentage points. In fact, 48 of the Top 50 publishers lost ground on social traffic composition this month.
Facebook’s April experiments and changes to the EdgeRank algorithm are likely to blame. Publishers who put Facebook at the center of their distribution strategy were able to rebound quickly, while others fell behind.
MTV made good on its reputation as one of the most social-savvy TV brands by breaking into the Top Five (and bumping CBS down to #7). People reclaimed the #2 spot that it ceded to NBC in March.
Three new players showed up in the Top Ten this month: welcome, The Guardian, Patch, and Yahoo!! The Guardian gets the “most improved” award for advancing from 14th place all the way up to #6.
Of course, as in The Hunger Games, we can’t all be winners on the Social Leaderboard. MLB, Break, and Us Magazine – three publishers who have consistently been in the Top Ten since January – were washed downstream in April. Us Magazine in particular is all wet: after slipping slowly from #3 to #5 to #6 over the last few months, it plummeted to #18 in April. Ouch.
Not only is Wetpaint Entertainment the #1 social publisher for the fifth month in a row, but we’re now getting 38% (a Leaderboard record) of our traffic from social. That’s more than 3x the social traffic of the second-best social performer (People), and almost 8x the average publisher (Top 50 average = 5%). All in a month where we had record reach, as well (more on that soon).
Thanks to the team for working so hard to build and execute a best-in-class social distribution strategy that’s a cut (or two or three) above the rest.
This article was published as a guest post at AllThingsD, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.
Mark Zuckerberg’s baby will be coming of age in a few days, just eight years after it was born in a Harvard dorm room. We’ve been there for the first steps, and the first missteps. But do any of us know what Facebook-all-grown-up-as-a-public-company will look like?
I have five predictions of how Facebook will be maturing in the first year after its IPO:
Facebook has become home base for users in many ways. But when it comes to search, Facebook makes you take a bus transfer at Google every time you want to leave the house.
And that’s a shame, because Google starts each search from a place of knowing almost nothing about me. When I’m taking a vacation to Bali, I’m far less interested in Google’s generic recommendations of things to do than I am in recommendations from my friends who have been there.
Facebook already knows which of my friends have been to Bali, and which restaurants and attractions they liked the best. It can even differentiate between the friend I trust for restaurant recs and the friend who always finds the best surfing spots.
There is a clear battle between Google and Facebook. But it’s not over “search vs. discovery,” as it is often framed. Rather, it’s “transaction vs. relationship” — which is why Facebook has the potential to disrupt search as we know it.
Prediction: Facebook will launch a purely social search by the end of 2012 (before tackling the whole hog in 2013).
Despite the company’s fierce ethos of consumer experience first, business concerns second, an IPO will inevitably put upward pressure on the latter. With the numbers published quarterly and the prices reset every day, Facebook will be forced to support that share price (if not for the sake of its shareholders, then at least for its employees!) by expanding its advertising revenues.
Facebook today brings in quarterly ad revenue of $872M — just a tiny fraction of Google’s $9B. But transactions are by nature pecuniary — and relationships are priceless. As a gatekeeper to nearly a billion consumer relationships, Facebook can roll out new advertising products that are far more valuable than AdWords.
The market for online brand advertising is already huge at $85B today. As soon as Facebook unlocks the potential of relationship-based advertising, the market will open up by tens of billions more.
Prediction: By Q2 2013, Facebook will have more than tripled ad revenues to $3B per quarter.
3. Open Graph
Occupy Facebook! Oh wait, we already do. Or does Facebook occupy us? Facebook currently occupies 1 in 7 minutes of all time spent online.
As the locus of consumer identity, attention and relationships, Facebook has the potential to be the one true platform that links together every destination on the web.
But it’s not there yet. Open Graph was a start, but it lacks a complete and actionable vision for how publishers can connect, access data and establish relationships. Publishers don’t want bits and pieces of data that they need to analyze themselves — they want a unified schema that bridges their audiences’ online worlds and real lives.
When I buy a chicken at Whole Foods using a Facebook app’s mobile grocery coupon, Facebook can match that incoming data point with the fact that I read Cooks Illustrated and that I’ve been on an Indian food kick lately (based on my restaurant check-ins). By the time that chicken is in my reusable bag and I’m hauling it out the door, there should be chicken curry recipe suggestions on my Facebook page.
Facebook has an opportunity to turn data from the long tail of Facebook apps into real inferences about you and me that publishers and other brands on the web can actually use.
Prediction: Facebook will completely redesign their analytics offering by Q2 2013 to provide not just data but real, integrated audience insights that will guide brands’ personalization efforts.
4. Commerce and Currency
Advertising won’t be the only revenue play Facebook makes in its first year as a public company.
Digital commerce (i.e. digital goods) already represents more than $16B in market size, and is projected to grow to $36B globally by 2014. E-commerce is another $680B on top of that. Both are currently conducted by arcane means: Visa card numbers and PayPal accounts.
Why have digital payments been so slow to evolve? Because even the most trusting of us only allow a few close associates access to our most private details. Who knows me the best? My bank, my lawyer, my mother and Facebook. In fact, no one owns my identity as well as Facebook these days (sorry, Mom!). Just because Facebook doesn’t have access to my wallet yet doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.
A host of companies today (Google, Apple, Square) are trying to become your digital wallet, but Facebook holds a valuable advantage: it is already the locus of your relationships with third-party Web sites through Open Graph. While the logistics will certainly be no piece of cake, commerce is right up Facebook’s alley.
Prediction: By Q2 2013, Facebook will be presiding over $2B in transactions.
There’s nothing more core to Facebook than its user experience, and Facebook has since its birth shown a consistent healthy dissatisfaction with it no matter what the status quo.
The current timeline experience is a nice try, but it’s not quite right. Timeline solved one problem — the indigestible frequency and quantity of updates at all levels of priority — while creating several more. New Problem #1: Timeline’s intuition about what’s important is too frequently just plain wrong. And while it gives us a great retrospective on people, it does a surprisingly poor job of helping us stay up to date with them. New Problem #2: Timeline depends heavily on Open Graph widgets to summarize our lives.
The latter is both ambitious and troubling. We admire great biographers for their ability to identify and communicate the essence of a person. It’s an insult say that a Nike Fuel score algorithm can capture the “real me” in the same way.
Timeline is a v1 product. It will take significant and deep tuning over many versions to reach its full potential.
This may seem like it’s just a UI update, but it’s not. Timeline is the clearinghouse for everything that happens on Facebook. Getting Timeline right is probably the single most valuable thing Facebook can do to grow its effectiveness with users — and its revenues.
Prediction: Facebook will release the first major redesign of Timeline by the first half of 2013.
Will the precocious kid that Facebook is today grow into a smart, savvy adult? A boatload of investors and J.P. Morgan certainly seem to think so. Over the long term, it will depend on Facebook’s ability to leave its youthful single-minded focus on users behind and execute consistently against two metrics: great user experience and revenues to match.
How much social traffic did the top 50 web publishers attract in March? The results are in – and it is a mixed month.
Measuring by total visits, March was the second highest month on record for social traffic to the top publishers. The number of social (Facebook + Twitter) visits to the top 50 grew by 2.9% in March to 403 million.
Volume growth aside, social’s share of traffic to the top 50 dropped slightly, dipping by 0.3% in March. That’s because even while traffic from social grew, it didn’t grow as fast as traffic from other sources.
What gives? It’s possible that each and every one of the top publishers’ social media teams was distracted last month by March Madness and solar flares. It’s also possible that Facebook’s aggressive mobile push is putting downward pressure on this measurement (the comScore data we use for benchmarking overall site traffic doesn’t include mobile traffic, alas).
The solar flares must have been particularly distracting to one publisher’s social team: Us Magazine continued its downward slide, falling out of the top 5 entirely this time after dropping last month from 3rd to 5th.
NBC is on a roll, climbing up another rung (after jumping two spots ahead in February) to #2 on the leaderboard. NFL also ran the ball for an impressive number of yards, moving from #9 to #5.
Wetpaint Entertainment continued to hold a definitive lead, outperforming the closest rival by 9.3 percentage points. We’re able to maintain this lead by constantly improving our proprietary social analytics and distribution system through rapid experimentation and a deep understanding of our audience. The amazing thing is that our social growth has not come at the expense of search traffic. Indeed, our search traffic has been rising as a result of our social success, and total traffic has recently hit record highs of 10 million uniques and more.
And we’re not done yet – social users are the most valuable users, and we want more.
All social networks are not created equal.
We tend to think of Twitter as some kind of Facebook Lite, but this puts us at risk of missing the fundamental differences that make each platform valuable in its own way for brands and publishers on the web.
Facebook is a hub-and-spoke social network. I share, you share, we all share with the common goal of promoting our identities within our social circles. The assumption is that we share our lives – at least as we’d like them to be seen – with our friends.
Twitter, on the other hand, is an interest amplification network. One person shares, one thousand people listen, and some retweet to thousands more. On Twitter, the basic assumption is that tweeters share their interests with their followers. And, with reverb built into the network, that followers do the same. In this asymmetrical network, ideas can spread farther and faster. And because Twitter’s connections are interest-based rather than relation-based, they transmit with far more “gain” on the signal.
But how far, and by how much?
Both Facebook and Twitter hold huge potential for publishers, and yet they are measured quite differently. When a publisher posts to Facebook, they have a pretty good idea of the impact: ~16% of a brand’s followers see a typical post. As with a radio tower, the signal is broadcast once and (while it may reflect here and there) largely travels by line of sight to its listeners.
The actual reach and impact of a tweet, though, remains nebulous and hard to quantify. It’s impossible to track how many of your Twitter followers actually read a tweet, and Twitter hasn’t offered any guidance on the norm. But above all, Twitter is hard to quantify because the real value of a tweet comes from the ripple effects it creates outside of the Twitter stream.
If Facebook acts like a broadcast tower, Twitter acts like a newswire: think about its “tune in” format and its penchant for news-breaking. More and more, journalists and bloggers are getting their news tips from Twitter and repackaging those stories for their own online readership. Which means that one little tweet (unlike a typical Facebook post) can travel a very long way.
Twitter Traffic x 20
In fact, the total impact of a tweet can be anywhere from 1-20x the direct traffic you see from that tweet. At Wetpaint, an average article gets 3% of its traffic directly referred from Twitter.com. If a particularly influential person happens to tweet about one of our stories, however, that number goes through the roof. When Grant Gustin (otherwise know as Sebastian on Glee) tweeted a link to the story “Grant Gustin has Superbowl Spirit,” Twitter’s traffic contribution shot up to 55%. The same thing happens outside of the Twitter stream when our followers pick up on a story and blog about it – we see up to 20x the typical Twitter traffic in ripple effects.
It’s all well and good when that happens, but as publishers how do we consistently effect that kind of outcome? Do we relentlessly pester celebrities and bloggers to follow us on Twitter, or amass a giant following in the hopes that some small percent will turn out to be influential?
How do you tweet for maximum ripple effect?
Creating tweets that achieve 20x their expected reach has little to do with follower counts and forced connections, and everything to do with the nuanced science of human influence. Tapping into the power of influencers in Twitter requires a granular, case-by-case, relationship-focused approach. Sound time-consuming and difficult? It is. But don’t despair – at Wetpaint we’ve been working on this for a while, and I’ll share a few of our hard-earned best practices:
1. Identify the influencers
Sounds easy enough: we all know that an Oprah is worth 1,000 Snookis, and a Snooki is worth 1,000 Elowitzes (sorry, mom!). But celebrity isn’t everything: even better than a Snooki just may be a Stelter. Brian Stelter doesn’t have the consumer name recognition of Snooki, but he’s far more influential in setting the agenda of the media and entertainment press. Influence is all about relevance – and when Brian tweets, the ripples can travel far.
2. Take a look around
Once you’ve identified the influencers most relevant to your audience, it may suddenly become apparent that they’re, well, a bit inaccessible. If Lady Gaga happens to be your target, then it’s time to get creative. Who are the influencers of your influencer?
Every person’s interests are shaped and guided by the people around them. You might read an article about silent retreats after your yoga teacher mentions her recent stint at St. Benedict’s, and you might start reading PandoDaily when your best friend launches a tech startup. Highly influential people are no different – they pick up interests and news from their sister, their friends, and if they’re really doing well, their driver. If Gaga retweets her barista, pursue a relationship with him. And if the barista often retweets his mom, see if she might be interested in what you have to say.
3. Court sincerely
Once you’ve made a list of all the friends you want to make, start earning their friendship. Relationships – whether digital or IRL – can’t be faked. But they can be stoked. Comment on their posts, offer them resources, and genuinely engage with them. Just like in life, once you have a friendship, you can make asks from time to time. And – again just like in the offline world – I’ve found that it’s always best to lead with giving for a while before even thinking about what I’ll get in return.
It’s not an overnight process. Earning influence is just as hard in Twitter as it is in real life. That’s because Twitter is a network of people, not a technology.
These are just a few basics for starters. At Wetpaint we’ve gotten this down to a science: we have analytical frameworks for identifying influence surround rings and continuous A/B testing to optimize every interaction. But it all always comes back to real people building real relationships based on real interests. In the end, even with all that technology to help us, I think it’s the real personal nature of relationships that have helped us be so successful with our audience. And that’s what inspires our audience to honor us with ripple effects by passing on our content to their own friends.
10 million monthly users – Wetpaint Entertainment hit this milestone in March, only 18 months out of the gate. For a little context (and bragging rights): according to Quantcast, The Huffington Post took more than 3 years to build an audience that size.
We hit the 10 million mark in such a short time by using a super-secret and complex formula that I’ll share with you today:
1. Know deeply what our audience loves.
2. Give them the very best of it every moment of every day.
Sounds simple, right? But executing on those principles took a ton of data and a great team. And a willingness to take the risk and bet that this paradigm shift toward digital and social is not only the best way to deliver on the formula above, but also the only way forward for media.
While other publishers were looking at digital as a death sentence, we recognized it as a gift: an opportunity to know our audience far better than anyone ever before. So we took our secret formula (see above), along with our social media expertise, and built the best audience insights system on the planet.
Our proprietary distribution technology did a lot of the heavy lifting, too. Once we knew what the audience wanted, we fed those insights into a distribution system that publishes straight to the newsfeed, and voila: 10 million users and social engagement that far outshines any other major media property.
We couldn’t have done it without best-in-class content, of course. Knowing exactly what our audience wants helps our editorial team create and curate content that delights beyond audience expectations. We know what TV shows, celebrities, news events and themes resonate with our users. That content, delivered in the right way and at the right time, begets strong relationships: our 1.9 million Facebook fans see us 38 times per month (38! on average!) and look forward to Wetpaint posts in their newsfeeds.
I knew we were onto something when we started building our platform around audience insights and social distribution, but the speed at which we’ve developed our audience has been surprising even to me.
Congratulations to my team at Wetpaint on achieving every media company’s dream: outstanding content, strong engagement from a big audience, and technology that lets us do it all an order of magnitude better than anyone else.
I feel like a lot of my posts lately have been beating the social drum, so I need to clarify my perspective. Social isn’t just a fad. It isn’t just a channel, or an alternate distribution medium.
It’s actually turning into the new ether. As in “need it to breathe.” And while it’s not actually all about friends, it absolutely is about connecting to your audience.
Case in point: according to Compete, in February Wetpaint Entertainment received more traffic from Facebook than from Google. Hey, I told you it was gonna happen. It’s because social has provided a medium for data and connection that lets us deeply relate to our audience. Increasingly, other publishers are finding the same – The Guardian most recently joined the club.
The best part is that these gains in social aren’t coming at the expense of other channels – our overall traffic (including our search traffic) continues to climb. Social signals have a huge impact on search rankings, and so it makes sense that our social success would drive audience growth outside of social, too.
For the last several years, many a publisher’s greatest fear has been that they’ll lose favor with Google. Afraid that any shift in strategy from SEO to social will lead to a precipitous fall from Google grace and a drop in traffic, they monitor the search rankings daily to see if the gods are pleased.
But ironically, it turns out that an investment in social is the best SEO there is.
This article was published as a guest post at AllThingsD, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.
A few weeks ago, Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin and I sparred at the Rebooting Media Live event in New York. With an audience of top digital and media executives, I shared the results my company is getting from social — that social users are more than 2.5 times as valuable as users from search. Lewis surprised me by saying that when it comes to behavior on the Forbes Web site, he is seeing the opposite.
With all due respect to Lewis, who is one of the greatest innovators in media, I left realizing that there are different ideas of what “social” can mean on the Web, and that not everyone knows where the gold lies. Putting the whole picture together, there are four different models for social that, despite sharing the same name, are completely different concepts.
Social = Viral Hit
For those on the marketing and advertising side especially, the word “social” often means that you or your client are jealous of someone else’s success. Viral hits are largely based on breakthrough creative, though great distribution is an often-forgotten second factor. Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for the next Old Spice guy? Of course, these kinds of hits are easy to ask for and hard to achieve. And if you do achieve it, you’ll need another viral hit to bring your audience back again.
Verdict: Good luck!
Social = 1,000,000 Fans
Here, the theory goes that social means getting lots of fans, and then something magical is supposed to happen. Like the boys’ adventure with the “South Park” underpants gnomes, it usually ends up with a lot of time and money spent, a big collection achieved, and a big question mark over “what now?” It doesn’t matter how low your cost per fan was, if the value per fan is near-zero. It’s not the size of the fan base that matters — it’s what you do with it.
Verdict: Bad strategy.
Social = Comments
Another concept of “social” is that it’s a medium for conversation. With programs like @ComcastCares, brands have used this approach to shape their brand images and reputations — and it has worked. On the publishing side, the Huffington Post and other publishers have succeeded in using social engagement to drive deep participation and connection among an inner circle of its audience. Hosting a conversation certainly builds a relationship. A “Like,” comment, or share from a user can all get you more exposure on the margin, but, as Lewis noted on our panel, the friends who come that way don’t stay very long and don’t come back much. They came for their friends, not for your Web site. That’s why, even though engagement strategies are great for your core audience, they won’t single-handedly drive the large, loyal audience we all crave.
Verdict: Smart, but it’s not enough.
Social = Lasting Relationship
A lasting relationship with an audience is the holy grail of every brand online. In fact, it has made Amazon the most valuable e-commerce company on earth, and it’s made Disney and the NFL valuable over decades. But what some haven’t realized yet is that the most valuable mode of social is in keeping these relationships connected.
Do you have any idea how valuable a “Like” is? Any seventh-grader goes all atwitter when his crush says, “I like you.” It’s permission to see someone more, get to know them better, and talk to them all the time — not just once, but every day. If you are doing it right, a “Like” or a “Follow” begins a two-way relationship: One where your audience is asking for programming from you every day, week and month; and giving you their interest data about what works and what doesn’t. With that relationship, you can choose what content you create, and when and how you share it. That relationship isn’t once-and-done — it’s ongoing.
And data from our experience shows that it translates into a million visits a week from our fan base — almost one visit for every fan, not to mention dozens more impressions right in their home page, the Facebook news feed. Done right, social can already drive more traffic than search, making a new top venue to recruit, and more importantly, retain an audience.
More and more, I talk to marketers and publishers who have hundreds of thousands or millions of fans and followers, and yet have no idea what to do with them. They haven’t realized that they have subscribers at the ready, waiting for great content and experiences — the currency of their relationship.
Nor do they understand the tremendous value of those subscribers: If you give your friends what they are after, they’ll keep coming back for more, and they’ll bring their friends. This is exactly how companies like Groupon and Zynga have reinvented their categories and created businesses worth billions of dollars in the process.
Verdict: There is nothing more powerful than a lasting relationship.
We’re back with the Media Industry Social Leaderboard, fresh off the presses with February results. For any newcomers, the Social Leaderboard is a ranking of the top 50 media publishers by their effectiveness at driving traffic from Facebook and Twitter.
From January to February, social traffic composition was flat, with the average staying at 7%. The gap between Facebook and Google traffic coming in to the Top 50, which had been rapidly closing since November, froze in February with Google holding on to its 30% lead for one more month.
Only four publishers in the top 10 improved their social traffic scores this month: NBC (+1.5%) took third place by trading places with Us Magazine (the biggest loser in the top 10 with -3%, now at #5). Break (+2%) and TMZ (+0.5%) leapfrogged the pack of MTV, NFL and MLB, pushing those three back to #8, 9 and 10.
But the biggest mover and shaker was Wetpaint Entertainment. Wetpaint took an even more decisive lead by adding 7% to social traffic composition since January, vaulting it into the elite group of publishers who, based on Compete data, receive more traffic from Facebook than from Google (in good company with People, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Fox Sports, and The Post Game).
With 29% of traffic coming from social, Wetpaint is outperforming its closest competitor by nearly 2x. Is this a data aberration? Some kind of leap year phenomenon?
Let me fill you in on the story behind the 29%: over the last two years, we took a gamble by building a new platform for social media distribution. It wasn’t a sure bet, and not many other publishers were doing it, but we had seen compelling evidence that social was the only way forward for the media industry.
We threw all of our time and talent at the problem, building up a fan base while developing and testing and refining new strategies for delivering content through social channels. We collected tons of data in real time about the preferences of our fans, and then we leveraged that insight to personalize and program their newsfeeds.
Today, the rest of the media industry is just starting to figure out the value of winning fans and courting likes. But because of our early investment, we’re already two steps ahead – we’re focusing on what to do with our 1.7 million fans. We’re delivering over 1,000 posts a week, each one targeted for the right fan with the right content at the right time.
And it’s starting to pay off.
Last week I shared how most publishers are realizing just a fraction of their potential audience because they lack a social distribution strategy, and showed which topics are most likely to be shared by connected audiences.
But is topic the only aspect of content that influences sharing? Could articles with topics as disparate as gardening and bull fighting share some other characteristic that would make them both go viral?
The Journal of Marketing Research published the study What Makes Online Content Viral? in 2011 to appease inquiring minds. Researchers analyzed 7,000 New York Times articles over 2 months to determine what factors made an article more likely to earn a place on the Times’ “most-emailed” list.
But wait a minute…are the factors that predict email sharing the same as those that predict Facebook or Twitter sharing? Here’s where we run into the difference between broadcasting and “narrowcasting.” Remember that purple rash I mentioned last week? I’ll email that WebMD article to my significant other (anxiety! practical value!) but I most certainly won’t tweet about it.
I looked again at the Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2011 to see which of the study’s findings held up on the social networking stage.
Sound familiar? It mirrors the formula for success that Nieman Lab found Buzzfeed using to achieve record results. And, notably, practical value, the #2 driver of email virality, falls all the way down to the bottom of the list on Facebook.
In social network sharing, emotion is king. As Jonah Lehrer of Wired puts it:
“We don’t want to share facts – we want to share feelings. Because people have a deep need to share their emotions, there will always be an insatiable demand for funny baby videos, angry political rants and Justin Bieber songs.”
Before you go and replace all of your content with funny baby videos and Justin Bieber songs, remember that this isn’t about sacrificing the integrity of content for traffic. It doesn’t work that way. This is about engaging readers on the most important axis of all: the axis of significance. Emotional content helps us connect with friends online in a deeper way than a how-to video might.
But what if you’re a publisher of practical content? No need to despair:
“The future is going to be about combining informational content with social and emotional content,” says Jonah Peretti (founder of Buzzfeed).
We all have a powerful emotional drive to live a great life, and getting there means knowing how to be healthy, how to fix a leaky faucet and how to maintain successful relationships. Oprah’s tagline “Live Your Best Life” is a beautiful example – no one is better at linking home décor and health advice to something far greater and more aspirational. Publishers in the midst of developing a social distribution strategy (especially those of us not lucky enough to traffic in Bieber songs) will be wise to follow her lead.