Now Double Your Audience

Want more traffic?  In a business where more reach and engagement means more advertising revenues, every publisher wants more traffic.  So, what if you could double your traffic with no additional investment in content?

For a while, I’ve been writing about how digital media requires as much emphasis on distribution and audience development as on content; and how social networks offer the greatest opportunity to build audience.   But we just hit a new milestone that finally crosses into new territory:  proving that mastering social distribution can double your traffic.  And a model with twice as much engagement can be twice as valuable.

The milestone for us happened last month, less than 24 months since we launched our Wetpaint Entertainment property:

When you consider that the leading web publishers are getting less than 6% of their traffic from social on average, that’s some serious untapped audience potential.

July Social Leaderboard: Remarkably Flat

Results took a little while longer to compile for July:  social traffic to the Top 50 publishers on the web remains remarkably flat, with the average publisher adding only 0.2 percentage points to their social traffic composition.

What’s up with the slump?  Sure, we could all be a running a little faster, but there are signs that Facebook’s internal priorities are putting a damper on publisher progress.  Search and advertising initiatives have been getting a lot of attention in light of the post-IPO hangover, and platform initiatives seem to be taking a back seat.

 

For the Win:  Wetpaint, People, NFL!

Despite a lackluster performance overall, we did have a few sprinters on the Social Leaderboard.  CBS jumped 6 spots and added 3 percentage points to its social traffic composition to become the 4th most social publisher on the list.  People held a steady pace and was able to reclaim the #2 spot on the Social Leaderboard when NFL and MTV both stumbled and fell into 3rd and 5th place, respectively.

Wetpaint Entertainment held the top spot with a 5.7 percentage point gain that put us at 35% social.

 

Average Social Volume Gain: 110,000 Social Visitors

We’ve been measuring social performance on two metrics:  1) Social Composition (percent of traffic coming from social) and 2) Social Volume(total number of visits from social).  On the second metric, the average publisher was up just slightly this month (by 110K social visits).  The Huffington Post is still the publisher to beat on this list, and the publishers who topped the list this time are the same publishers we saw in last month’s Top Ten.

 

Details for Social Leaderboard Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

Jul

Jun

May

Name of Publisher (Owner) URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 3,756,818

35.0%

5.7%

2

4

2

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,512,843

10.3%

-0.1%

3

2

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 5,054,004

10.3%

-1.6%

4

10

6

CBS CBS.COM

                 5,255,065

9.1%

2.9%

5

3

3

MTV MTV.COM

                 9,743,751

9.1%

-1.7%

6

5

7

TMZ TMZ.COM

               13,350,933

8.5%

-0.2%

7

6

4

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 6,545,231

7.3%

-1.2%

8

7

8

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             148,433,777

7.2%

-0.1%

9

12

28

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 7,850,359

7.2%

1.3%

10

8

10

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,203,530

6.9%

0.0%

11

9

9

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,476,566

6.5%

-0.1%

12

11

11

Aol AOL.COM

               46,783,960

6.2%

0.0%

13

13

15

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 6,392,260

5.9%

0.4%

14

14

14

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 6,160,054

5.3%

-0.1%

15

15

16

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,773,566

5.2%

-0.1%

16

18

20

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               26,898,357

5.1%

0.3%

17

21

13

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

                 9,416,222

5.0%

0.5%

18

16

19

CNN CNN.COM

               43,781,596

4.9%

0.0%

19

17

18

MSN MSN.COM

               92,238,832

4.9%

0.0%

20

34

30

FORBES FORBES.COM

               11,280,333

4.8%

1.5%

21

20

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               13,046,671

4.7%

0.2%

22

26

24

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 4,940,584

4.5%

0.8%

23

19

17

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 7,563,554

4.4%

-0.3%

24

23

22

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               38,522,868

4.2%

0.1%

25

29

26

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               25,357,128

4.1%

0.5%

26

22

21

TIME TIME.COM

                 7,710,128

4.0%

-0.2%

27

24

12

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 9,043,234

3.8%

-0.1%

28

32

32

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

               10,580,640

3.7%

0.3%

29

28

25

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,076,403

3.7%

0.0%

30

33

27

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               11,952,616

3.6%

0.2%

31

27

35

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 9,178,171

3.5%

-0.2%

32

31

31

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,636,527

3.5%

0.0%

33

30

33

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

               10,319,657

3.4%

-0.2%

34

35

38

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               15,454,530

3.4%

0.2%

35

25

29

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               11,964,397

3.1%

-0.6%

36

37

34

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               14,706,293

3.0%

0.3%

37

36

36

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 9,284,076

2.7%

-0.3%

38

38

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,631,777

2.6%

0.1%

39

40

40

Reuters REUTERS.COM

               10,594,538

2.3%

0.3%

40

41

39

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               18,774,614

2.1%

0.1%

41

39

41

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               21,971,854

2.1%

0.0%

42

43

43

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,876,301

1.8%

0.0%

43

42

42

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,282,989

1.8%

0.0%

44

44

44

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 6,344,855

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

45

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,539,164

1.7%

0.1%

46

45

46

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,717,095

1.5%

-0.1%

47

47

48

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               15,249,509

1.1%

-0.1%

48

48

49

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               50,908,931

1.1%

0.0%

49

49

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

                 6,096,594

1.1%

-0.1%

50

50

50

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

                 9,860,926

0.8%

-0.1%

51

51

51

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               51,587,708

0.8%

0.0%

Look Out, Twitter: Pinterest on Your Tail

Most websites get the biggest slice of their traffic pie from Google; and Facebook is the most frequent #2.  But the other social networks are starting to be significant to some sites.

Now, let’s see how they stack up in terms of driving traffic.   As part of the Media Industry Social Leaderboard, we’ve been keeping tabs.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Facebook still massively outweighs its social brethren in total impact, making up 97% of social traffic to the top 50.  But in today’s world of meteoric rises and rapid falls, one of the players lurking in the other 3% (Twitter, Pinterest or Google+) could turn out to be the behemoth of tomorrow.

Twitter is definitively the #2 social referrer for publishers, but its share is declining – it grew by a lackluster 1% from February to May.  Meanwhile, Pinterest is emerging as a formidable competitor:  their last three months were just pinsane with 210% growth.  If they continue on that trajectory, they’ll be bigger than Twitter as a traffic referrer by summer’s end.

Will that happen?  Is Pinterest already edging out Twitter as we speak?  Stay tuned for next month’s Social Leaderboard results.

Search and Social: How The Two Will Soon Become One

This article was published as a guest post at TechCrunch, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

Bing and Google each recently unveiled its own new search interface, designed to better intuit your intent and help you get to the one best answer more efficiently.  And they’ve made it ever more clear that search is heading straight for a merger with social.

The changes are smart.  Google’s knowledge graph is useful – when I search for certain things, I just want a cheat sheet.  What is Faraday’s Law, again?  What exactly is a geoduck?

But Bing’s new feature – “people who might know” – is even smarter.  This is the first major attempt at a merger of search and social – unless you count Search Plus Your World, which I don’t – and this is undeniably the way we’re headed.  There’s a lot of information on the internet, but getting the right info from the right person is still a huge, and mostly unsolved, undertaking.  Nobody knows the answers better than, well, somebody who knows the answers.  And so much the better if it’s someone I trust. (Thank you, Jeff, for the Singapore recommendations!)  The fundamental insight is that when I ask a question, there are lots of ways to help me find the best answer.  If you don’t have it, point me in the direction of someone who does.  Don’t make me ask the same question in a million permutations and sift through a list of 20 possible right answers every time.

What’s more interesting is that this is the biggest step forward we’ve seen since search results started looking 12 years ago the way they still do today (just with more images and toolbars now – exactly what Google got rid of back then!).

Stagnation followed by the springtime of innovation is probably the surest sign that a major disruption is imminent.  (And if that weren’t enough, just think of how much Facebook’s stock price would rise if they captured even a small share in search.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the endgame?  In 10 years, I’ll still need recipes for dinner.  And recommendations for hotels in a new vacation spot.  And to find something to do on the weekend.  I know how I would make these decisions today, but how will I make them in 2022?

The true merger of social and search will look nothing like the search we know today.  I don’t even think we’ll call it “search.”

The social search of tomorrow will be more like a combination of a whip-smart personal assistant and an intuitive, considerate significant other.  But one who’s exponentially more efficient and who doesn’t mind being woken up at 3am.  (I’m lucky, but not THAT lucky!)

Let’s put on our future-goggles and imagine how a fully social, personal-data-powered search would change our day-to-day:

Proactive:  It’s Tuesday night and I’m hungry.  Luckily, my mobile knows that I just got a CSA box containing sweet potatoes (Full Circle Farm’s Facebook integration), and that I tend to eat at home on Tuesdays (according to my historical pattern of check-ins).  It also knows that it’s cold and raining outside.  Before I’ve gotten around to opening a cookbook or the Epicurious app, my mobile pushes me a sweet potato soup recipe that my certified-foodie friend raved about on Facebook last week.

Personal:  Arrive at the Sao Paulo airport and search on my mobile for the city’s public transit map.  My device knows that I’ve never been there (even though I bought a phrase book on Amazon last week), and it also knows (from scanning TripAdvisor comments about Sao Paulo buses) that the public transit is impossible to navigate for newcomers.  While the map is loading, a message appears gently encouraging me to consider a rental car instead – there happens to be a great deal on an Audi (my favorite(!) as noted on Facebook) at the rental counter 10 feet away.  Talk about targeting!

Social:  Florence and the Machine is touring in New York, and I’m dying to go see them.  I called the usual suspects, and they’re out of town during the concert.  The only thing worse than not going is going alone.  But who else do I know who loves them like I do?  That’s a lay-up for a socially powered search if ever there was one.  Two words:  “Jason Hirschhorn”.  Is that so hard?

There are a hundred other decisions that would be made immeasurably easier with the help of a really good personal assistant – one who knows your schedule and your preferences (and the schedule and preferences of your friends and family); one who has excellent research skills and can track down the appropriate expert on any issue.  (But no, I’m sure it still won’t replace Larisa.)

Most of us don’t have personal assistants.  But we have left a heck of a trail of our interests, associates, habits, and dislikes.  It will take some algorithm to turn that trail of behavioral and social data – combined with the wisdom of topical experts and the vast repository of information that is the internet – into a set of smart, personalized answers for you and me.  But that’s why Google and Facebook and Apple hire engineers with such big brains.

And, surprise!, the better they understand our brains (read: intent, context, and relationships) the better the match they can serve up to an advertiser.  And that means an outrageously good search not only retains audience better, but would improve ad rates.

We’re on the verge of shifting from a search model in which the user is still doing all of the heavy lifting to one where powerful algorithms enable our devices to anticipate our needs and do most of the sifting and evaluating for us.  In the meantime, though, we’re stuck in a “hairball of complexity” (to borrow Adam Richardson’s TV industry analogy) while the industry struggles to find the way from A to B.

The key is in having software that recognizes us as whole people. (And isn’t that exactly the promise of social?)  Now search is undergoing a massive transformation from receiving input in the form of queries – each independent and atomic – to understanding its input in the form of people, who have personal history, context, and relationships.  That means delivering the right result depends on who is asking.  Which is sooooo true.  I don’t like the same music as my teenage niece, and she doesn’t like the same restaurants I do.  Why should we both get the same search results?

Apple’s Siri is certainly the closest, at least in spirit, to the eventual reincarnation of search as personal assistant, even as its true capability has far to go.  The voice-activated question-and-answer experience is light years ahead of the long list of links on a page that still defines search on Google and Bing.  But the trick that remains is to gather, combine and analyze data from myriad sources – social interactions, behavioral data, expert opinions – and deliver it back to the user in a way that makes decision-making more efficient than most of us can imagine.

With all of that time I used to spend inefficiently making decisions suddenly freed up, what will I do?  I’ve been meaning to plan a trip to Sao Paulo….

Social Leaderboard in April: New Heights

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.

Mostly Cloudy

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.

Who’s Weathering the Storm?

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.

And Who’s Outperforming the Rest by 3X?

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.

What to Expect When Facebook Is Expecting: Five Predictions for Facebook’s First Public Year

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:

1. Search

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).

2. Advertising

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.

5. Timeline

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.

Social Leaderboard: March Results

How much social traffic did the top 50 web publishers attract in March?  The results are in – and it is a mixed month.

More Social Traffic

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.

But a Smaller Piece of the Pie

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 Contenders:  NBC climbs, Us Magazine falls, and Wetpaint stays on top

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.