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.

Social Leaderboard Update: Twitter and Pinterest Are Underdogs to Watch

After I published the Media Industry Social Leaderboard numbers for January, I realized that I haven’t spent much time talking about the other social operating systems.  While Facebook is the clear #1 traffic distributor, there is a race on for second-in-command.  Twitter holds its solid lead (with 61% of the non-Facebook social referrals); however, Pinterest has shockingly pinned the #2 spot, beating out Tumblr.

The odds may not look incredibly promising now, but Pinterest is undeniably gaining clout in certain niches – they became the top social referrer to marthastewart.com this past summer.  Tumblr, neck and neck with Pinterest at 17%, is another underdog with potential.

While these are certainly horses to keep an eye on, your bookie should remind you that Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ combined account for only 0.2% of total traffic to the Top 50, which is well below Facebook’s 6.7%.

Facebook Delivers Sharing on Steroids

This piece from Greg Clayman is the third in a series of 10 posts about the future of the media industry contained in a report titled: Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.

Q:  How does the rise of Facebook change the relationship between media and its audience?

Publishers need to embrace the social Web. They have to be where their audiences are and do what they can to make their content easy to share, and to digest across any given platform. Facebook allows media to engage with audiences in new ways, and the amount of commentary, feedback and interaction with audiences is greater than ever. Facebook also allows for a greater degree of discovery. By dramatically simplifying the ability to share anything, Facebook has hyper-charged distribution for all media products: free, paid, subscription, ad-supported; they’ve made distribution friction-free. It’s one thing to tell a friend about something you like. That’s been happening from the beginning of time. It’s quite another to “like” an article, a song, a video, etc. and be able to instantly broadcast to everybody you know.

 

Q: We’ve gone from SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to SMO (Social Media Optimization), so how will search change as the Web becomes more social?

Before the social Web, online search was entirely about looking for pages. And relevance was defined by how many influential sites were linking to a given page. This is the Google world: the link economy. Social adds an important layer to this – “What is it that the people I know and trust like?” “Where do they go?” “Who do they trust?” “What’s in their worldview?” This examination of one’s own orbit is part of what makes social media so fascinating from a search perspective, it’s a whole new dimension to explore. And one that’s clearly not lost on Google as evidenced by their recent launch of Google+.

We’re in the age of the curator. The more “infinite” the Web becomes the more difficult it is to find the media that is relevant to me. I think curators are going to be ever more important in the coming years –Mike Allen’s POLITICO Playbook and Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDEFined are two great examples who come to mind.

 

Q:  How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?

For one thing, you have to allow many-sided conversations on today’s emerging and evolving social Web. That means ceding some control in order to engage with consumers and give them the experience that they want. Sharing is the cornerstone of brand building on the social Web today.

It’s also important to have a strong editorial voice. Content aggregators, for example, might give you a tool to find just what you’re looking for.  But that specificity can lack the serendipity of stumbling on something new by following a strong editor or curator. That serendipity is important and is how we learn to trust some voices over others.

 

Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?

You have to be nimble with distribution and go where the audiences are. You also have to work very hard to engender trust and build recognition and reputation. You want people to know you and feel good about your brand so that you can move quickly to take advantage of any and all new technologies as they develop and scale. This represents future growth.

 

Greg Clayman is Publisher of The Daily. Launched by News Corporation in early 2011, The Daily is a tablet-native national news brand built from the ground up to publish original content exclusively for the iPad. Prior to joining The Daily, Clayman was executive vice president of Digital Distribution & Business Development for MTV Networks (MTVN). Before MTVN, Clayman co-founded Upoc, one of the first mobile content companies in the United States.

To download the complete report, please click here:  “Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web”

Google Search Plus Your World: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

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

I’ve been taking in Google’s recent release of “Search, plus your world” (or SPYW as the cool kids say) over the last several days, reflecting on what it means for Wetpaint and other media companies; but perhaps even more importantly, deeply understanding what it indicates about Facebook and Google themselves. As we all know by now, these most recent changes are meant to make its search more personal by up-weighting social activity in its algorithm, and using each person’s own position within their circles to determine relevance.

You might think that I would be one of the first to jump in the game with Google. After all, my company Wetpaint has been making a massive investment in distributing our content via other social channels, particularly Facebook. We’ve been seeing massive returns. And, I’ve even gone on a limb to predict that Facebook should be implementing its own Web-wide search this year.

Still, when it comes to playing Google’s social games, so far I’ve advocated staying on the sidelines of all their social venues—even their recent business pages. That’s been because even though the stadium lights are on, no one is on the field. More specifically, even though Google has 90 million registered users of the service, we see very little activity of significance among our target audience. But with its new SPYW changes, the question is: Has Google indeed forced companies’ hands?

Unfortunately, they have. And, in doing so, it marks a milestone in the changing mentality of Google. The search company’s great innovation—using the signals of the Web to best determine what the audience really wanted—has now been subverted. The company’s originally unshakable-seeming ethos of mechanistic neutrality has slowly, slowly, slowly, and now all of a sudden given way, and the new precedent is to favor its own business interests over those of the audience.

The result, like it or not, is that companies that rely on search for traffic must hear and obey loud and clear Google’s message that Google will favor those that favor it. It’s a dirty truth, and one far more chilling than the other more technical biases of its algorithm before.

Google has already started infusing search with the content that’s been blessed via Google+. Do a search for “New York Times” and you’ll probably find the New York Times plus.google.com page as the second search result. Search for “Mark Zuc” and you’ll likely see Zuckerberg’s Google+ page (despite the irony) populate as an option in the Google Instant choices.

I haven’t seen this bleed over to news stories yet, but I believe that it’s coming. Soon you’ll do a search for the latest headlines and your search results will be chock full with musings from your friends and non-friends inside Google+.

Google+ may not take off as a real social network, but Google has indicated that it’s throwing its full weight behind it anyway to make the best of what it’s got. Even if consumers don’t adopt it en masse, whatever activity is present will pepper the famous algorithm’s search results.

The irony here is that Google’s pivot toward a social search belies how important that social data is. The company is putting its lock on search at risk to gain a chance at a foothold on social. But what really comes through to me is that a great social search can be a winning product—if it’s populated with the right social data. So far, Google’s is not.

The question is—if that’s what I’m after—won’t I still just go to Facebook, where all my friends actually are (and which Google has adamantly cut out of SPYW)?

While SPYW does force publishers to support Google’s social network, fortunately it will be a temporary sacrifice from publishers during this period of transition from these days of search to a socially wired world. And that forthcoming world looks increasingly like it will be wired not by Google, but by its arch-enemy Facebook. Indeed, by corrupting the quality of their search product, Google may have just opened up a clear product entry into search for their rival as well.

Google’s Nagging Media Problem

This article was featured recently as a contributed piece at Fortune.com, regarding Google’s need to manage itself through a leadership and business transition.

Since Google’s early rise, this question has consumed hordes of those watching it: Is Google a technology company or a media company? Paradoxically, Google has continuously defied the dichotomy, seeming to succeed in media precisely by maintaining that it is solely a technology company.

Can Google (GOOG) keep defying (or denying) reality?

Today’s Web is very different than yesterday. When Google was born, the basic technologies of devices, browsers, protocols, sites and apps were still in development. Now the Web is much more meaningful and mature: it links real people to the other people and things they care about in a socially connected environment. The question is, where and how does Google fit in to this new digital eco-system?

It’s important to note that Google’s world view is dominated by a utilitarian ethos, as though its product is mere software created just to provide the quickest route from point A to point B, or, in the case of search, from Q to A. For Google’s flagship, search, this made for a perfect match with an ideal user experience. It also provided a competitive advantage over other products, which forced people to enter simple questions into complicated experiences. In this way, Google became an accidental media company, answering queries with utilitarian search results and basic classified ads.

But the DNA that has made Google successful in search has made it more difficult for the company to excel in the next, more social, phase of digital media. Digital publishing isn’t a service or function; it’s all about immersing people in rich and rewarding experiences that make them want to linger and then keep coming back for more. The social Web values human connection and experience, not just functionality or speed. And that difference has led to Google’s multiple false starts — Buzz, Wave and Orkut — as well as its current attempt, Google+.

The sad truth about Google is that at its core, in culture and technology, the company’s history is one of pathetic indifference to audience experiences; instead, it’s wed to the almighty algorithm.

That’s why I chuckled a bit after reading a recent the back and forth between TechCrunch and Monday Note. First, TechCrunch reported on the $50 million raised by Flipboard — the hot iPad application that searches RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook or Flickr and aggregates the results in a neat customized book-like layout. Why, asked TechCrunch, would an iPad application start-up need $50 million?

Well, said Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, because maybe Google will launch an attack. Monday Note responded by putting Google’s Flipboard threat in a very rational perspective. Google, explained Monday Note, doesn’t really have the creative culture or experiential mind-set to develop its own version of Flipboard. The reasons?

  • Google’s services “will remain stuck forever in its current Arctic look and feel.”
  • “Inserting ads in a delicate Flipboard-like interface will require more fine tuning than what the powerful by-the-bulk Google system currently provides.”
  • “Flipboard’s attention to execution is way more Apple-like than Google-like.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Monday Note, which also called Flipboard “THE product any big media company or, better, any group of media companies, should have invented.”

It’s regrettable, but based on its history at least, Google doesn’t seem destined to become one of those media companies anytime soon. And the reason is that the very nature of media — building a relationship with audiences by providing them with experiences worth returning for — is that experiences need to be valued based on more than function alone.

As anyone knows from a wonderful dinner at a great restaurant, atmosphere matters. But in search, utility has been the name of the game, and Google’s success here seems to be leading it into a posture and position that is more and more protective of its home field – and more wedded than ever to its utilitarian approach. The more Google tries to support its search empire, the more it will fail in the rest of its media efforts .

On the other hand, if Google wants to succeed in a new era of personalized media, it needs to start by recognizing the human element, beyond the algorithm. It’s no coincidence that the competitors that are rapidly building market value today — like Apple (AAPL), Facebook, Twitter, and even Flipboard — are doing so with tremendous attention to the human factor. As the Web turns more social, Google needs to abandon its historical disregard for the human touch.

With Google+, it appears that Google is showing the first signs of doing so. Its Circles interface, and its approach to Hangouts, indicate that Larry Page and Vic Gundotra are beginning the change in priority. Its proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which manufacturers hardware for consumers, adds another set of similar questions. But it remains to be seen whether the change will metastasize: can Google change its company’s DNA to value the human above the machine?

After all, in this increasingly social Web, the connections that Google needs to make are not between question and answer, but between people and their desires. And that has been the formula that has always worked in media.