October 2011 Media Industry Social Leaderboard: Facebook Traffic To Publishers Down 13%

Back by popular demand is an updated ranking of the Media Industry Social Leaderboard.  As a reminder, my company and I are obsessively focused on data about the social web – so much so, that we decided to track and publish not only our own results, but those of the top 50 media companies.  This is all captured in the chart below which profiles the top 50 web publishers’ effectiveness at driving traffic from social media.

For the inquisitive among us, you’ll note that we determine the top 50 relevant web publishers; then, using data from Compete.com, we determine and chart how much of their traffic is from Facebook and Twitter.

One important note is that Facebook’s changes in its algorithms launched at F8 impacted nearly all publishers in this ranking – more on that in a moment.

But first, let’s get to the results:

Facebook Traffic Down by 13%.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the bars are lower this month. In fact, over 90% of the top 50 web publishers saw a decreased percentage of their visits coming from Facebook and Twitter in October, with the bars shortening on average by 50 basis points.

In terms of aggregate performance, if you sum the total Facebook visits for all properties, they’re down 7.1% October vs. September, and 12.8% comparing October vs. the pre-F8 August highs.  We believe this trend is the direct result of the F8 algorithm changes made in mid-September.  Savvy social publishers (ourselves included) have been battling to reclaim previous highs since the F8 changes; but by October few had recovered.  The chart below highlights the reduction in referrals from Facebook to publishers over the course of their algorithmic change.

Winners and Losers:  CBS down; People, MTV, Wetpaint up

CBS has continued to fall in social traffic composition (-3.7% September-over-August, -5.5% Octocber-over-September), moving from the top rank on the Media Industry Social Leaderboard to number 4.  Unclear what has caused this decline although one hypothesis could be an increase in either SEO or paid audience acquisition.  If you have any insight here, shoot me a note.

Closer to home, People, MTV, and Wetpaint maintained their relative rankings and have moved to the top 3 spots.  At Wetpaint, we credit our climb up the ladder to our relentless A/B testing that has allowed us to understand what our audience desires in a deep way, and inform our editors with this insight.  The result is that we are creating, packaging, and distributing the right content, at the right time and our audience has voted with clicks, likes, and shares.

Big Change For a Big Media Change Agent and a Big Publisher

Laura Lang has a proven and powerful track record as a media change agent.

As CEO of Digitas, she helped uber-marketers like Procter & Gamble and American Express move smartly into digital advertising. And she is conversant and fluid with new publishing platforms – and knows how to make them profitable.

Now, she’s been asked to lead Time Inc., and its 21 venerable titles, which include Time, People and Sports Illustrated.

Time Inc. has absolutely amazing brands with outstanding reputation, heritage, editorial staff, and customer bases; but, at the same time, the business model of magazines is structurally breaking.

What an interesting – and tantalizing – choice.

And you can’t be a media leader today, unless you’re willing to innovate on the business model itself.

Which is why Laura seems so promising.

I love the idea that at Time Inc. she’ll be able to innovate in core product, just like she did at Digitas. I also love the notion that she’ll aggressively develop new products for advertisers.

What will be new to her is the actual business of publishing – a business where Time Inc. stands stronger than almost any other player.

The central question for me is whether Time Inc. is ready for the change that a leader like Laura will want to (and need to) bring.

Indeed, Time Inc. has fundamental open questions to address when it comes to its own relevance in the digital world.

While the powerful brand of Time magazine has set the American agenda for decades, Time.com has wandered.  In the past, Fortune magazine always spoke to the most important business issues and people; but today, its online brand is less clear, with basic confusion even in its home-page address (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/). This simply muddles Fortune, Money, and CNN.

To be as successful in the next century as it’s been in the past, Time Inc. will have to adapt more fully to the digital world. That means developing new business models, as well as new attitudes toward consumers, advertisers, and the product itself. It will also require a healthy reinvigoration of key brands, an area where I think Laura may especially shine.

All of this will take nuance, to bend things without breaking them.

I’ll end the year on an optimistic note, and say that I hope Laura can finesse major innovation for this major publisher. If she can, watch out world – because very interesting and far-reaching things will happen.

Introducing the Social Leaderboard

As I have shared previously, our goal at Wetpaint is to be the leader in building media properties on the social Web.  That’s because I am seeing the web’s nature fundamentally change to become fully social. The Web Is Shrinking - Elowitz/Wetpaint

It’s not just theory – it’s data.

As I shared recently at AllThingsD.com, the social Web is capturing a dramatically increasing share of users’ attention – with internet users collectively increasing the amount of time they spend per month on Facebook by 69% over a one-year period – while usage for the entire rest of the Web, excluding Facebook, shrank by 9% over the same period.

Social is the most strategic medium for our industry.  And yet we haven’t established how to track our collective progress.

So, I’d like to introduce to you the first industry effort to do so.  I’ve released it this week, so that we can all compare ourselves with other top publishers and see our individual and collective progress.

Below you’ll find the “Media Industry Social Leaderboard”, a scoreboard and chart that was developed by tabulating the top 50 media publishers, based on monthly unique visitors, and then determining which were best at generating traffic from Facebook and Twitter.  Of course, I’ve included Wetpaint Entertainment on the list because we are so committed to social that we are going to make our progress public.  (And it doesn’t hurt that we are already significantly better at reaching audiences on these two key social platforms than many major media brands such as The New York Times, The Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, TMZ and others.  My mother should finally be proud!)

This Month’s Findings

This month, we found that MTV’s website leads the pack with 14.3% of its traffic from Facebook and Twitter, indicating the shareability of their content (especially video, which is inherently more viral), and the heavily socialized audience they serve – not to mention their great execution.  In fact, MTV beat average performance by a factor of two, and were one of only four out of the top 50 that were in the double digits.  Sadly, over half of the Web’s top 50 had less than 4% of their traffic from social, making them menial performers on the medium.


Social Success Could Triple Your Audience’s Value

Lest you think that MTV’s 14.3% is anything to sneeze at, we dug a bit deeper to look at the true value of social.  Beyond the boost to audience attraction, we also looked at audience retention.  Measuring the visit frequency to each of the publishers (excluding the portals), we found a striking correlation to their sociability.  The performers above median in social saw an average of more than five times as many “addicts” (visitors who come 30+ times per month) as a proportion of their audience, according to data from Quantcast, compared to those below the median; and they saw a corresponding reduction in their “passers-by” (visitors who come only once) by 16 percentage points.  These patterns map overall into more than three times the visit frequency per audience member overall for these top performers.  That’s three times the value per unique.

A Leading Indicator of Long-Term Success

One thing is clear from the growth trends of the social web:  Those publishers that figure out how to capture and maintain a leadership position in social will win over the next decade.  For Wetpaint, it’s a critical strategy for us to be a leader among the media industry.  Which would make my mother very proud.

Speaking of which, in this debut month, my company Wetpaint came in #4, bested only by MTV, People, and ESPN.  Not bad for a debut… we’ll be #1 within six months.

For those interested, detailed rankings of all Top 50 are included below.

Rank Name of Publisher (Owner) URL Monthly Uniques % from Social
1 MTV mtv.com 17,101,841 14.3%
2 ESPN espn.com 33,242,207 13.7%
3 People people.com 12,671,101 13.2%
4 Wetpaint Entertainment wetpaint.com 2,532,044 12.4%
5 TMZ tmz.com 14,575,713 8.8%
6 Yahoo yahoo.com 172,269,418 8.6%
7 Patch (Aol) patch.com 10,610,327 8.6%
8 Major League Baseball mlb.com 15,552,415 7.9%
9 Aol aol.com 51,659,415 7.7%
10 Discovery Channel discovery.com 11,170,738 6.7%
11 Break Media break.com 9,166,220 6.3%
12 IGN (News Corp) ign.com 10,112,530 6.1%
13 Us Weekly usmagazine.com 10,970,162 5.9%
14 CNN cnn.com 56,595,377 5.3%
15 FOX News (News Corp) foxnews.com 26,900,038 5.0%
16 BBC News bbc.co.uk 14,863,384 4.8%
17 MSN msn.com 115,933,138 4.6%
18 Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) nick.com 10,716,354 4.6%
19 The New York Times nytimes.com 33,034,269 4.4%
20 MailOnline dailymail.co.uk 15,747,179 4.4%
21 IMDB (Amazon.com) imdb.com 39,778,499 4.4%
22 CBS Local cbslocal.com 11,039,512 4.4%
23 TIME time.com 10,024,132 4.2%
24 Cartoon Network (Turner) cartoonnetwork.com 10,794,764 4.2%
25 The Washington Post washingtonpost.com 17,818,260 4.1%
26 New York Daily News nydailynews.com 9,931,052 3.9%
27 The Guardian guardian.co.uk 10,283,648 3.8%
28 CBS News cbsnews.com 12,144,917 3.7%
29 Food Networks (Scripps) foodnetwork.com 14,324,933 3.5%
30 Allrecipes (Readers Digest) allrecipes.com 17,986,031 3.4%
31 The Huffington Post huffingtonpost.com 36,701,275 3.3%
32 TODAY / MSN (NBC/Microsoft) today.com 23,323,684 3.3%
33 Los Angeles Times (Tribune) latimes.com 18,618,265 3.2%
34 WebMD webmd.com 12,048,444 2.6%
35 The Wall Street Journal wsj.com 16,643,499 2.5%
36 Forbes forbes.com 12,356,124 2.4%
37 FOX Sports foxsports.com 18,346,185 2.2%
38 USA Today / Gannett usatoday.com 16,979,964 2.2%
39 Reuters reuters.com 12,726,776 2.2%
40 ABC News abcnews.com 19,876,129 2.1%
41 CNET (CBS Interactive) cnet.com 27,602,379 2.1%
42 Sports Illustrated (Time Inc.) si.com 9,304,012 2.1%
43 LIVESTRONG / (Demand Media) livestrong.com 9,650,128 2.0%
44 MSNBC Digital Network msnbc.com 44,198,985 1.9%
45 About.com / NY Times about.com 36,978,618 1.4%
46 Bloomberg bloomberg.com 10,592,480 1.4%
47 Mayo Clinic mayoclinic.com 10,944,436 1.1%
48 eHow (Demand Media) ehow.com 48,624,976 1.0%
49 ThePostGame thepostgame.com 12,017,913 0.9%
50 CNN Money cnnmoney.com 16,643,785 N/A

Source: Wetpaint.com analysis, comScore, Compete.com.

People StyleWatch: Print Magazine Learns Five Lessons From Digital Media

People StyleWatchDespite the significant economic pressure they are under, it’s all too rare to see a print magazine let go of tradition and embrace a new model.  So I was delighted to find that at least one Time Inc. magazine is doing just that.

Stephanie Clifford’s article about People StyleWatch in the New York Times last week shows what happens when offline executives adopt a digital mindset.  Clifford points to a number of things that Susan Kaufman, People StyleWatch’s editor, is doing well, and notes the results:  8.6% circulation growth in the second half of 2009 and 130% growth in ad pages in the first quarter, easily besting a shrinking industry.

Although I wouldn’t call it top-tier journalism (does “Find Your Perfect T-Shirt Bra!” really merit an exclamation point?), People StyleWatch replaces an elitist, artistic view of its subject with a pragmatic appreciation of what their audience likes.  It’s a habit learned online and applied offline.

Here are five lessons from online media that the publication is successfully bringing to print:

  1. The text is brief.  Photo-heavy pages with short captions work.  They make for easy scanning, moreover it’s a fashion shopping magazine; ultimately readers care more about the products than a writer’s description of them.  Ironically, although the content is brief, it is resulting in 93 minutes average engagement, with each easily consumable section leading to the next.
  2. The content is advertiser-friendly.  Any web site that is ad-sponsored knows how important it is to create “context” and targeting for advertisers in order to add value and charge higher rates.   Shopping is one of those brilliant subject choices where advertising is content and vice-versa.  It is analogous to paid search online: because searchers are often looking for businesses, their click throughs and effective CPMs are far above internet average.  Moreover, People StyleWatch is open to creating pseudo-editorial sections with featured retailers (such as the recently announced JCPenney partnership).
  3. They offer exclusive discounts. Consumers love to get a deal, and coupon / discount web services (including the recently hyped group-coupon genre) are very popular with women online.   People StyleWatch goes beyond the celebrity watching and fashion trends to become part of their readers’ lives, changing the value proposition from just entertainment to a great way to get more for less.  In so doing, they are enhancing the reader’s experience.
  4. There is a clear call to action.  Most of the products include not only pricing information, but web sites, 800 numbers, and in some cases, text messaging options for buying information.   This is beneficial for both readers and advertisers.
  5. Content costs are low. Some of the most successful online properties such as Facebook, YouTube, and Yelp rely primarily on user-generated content.  Successful online publications like The Huffington Post regularly feature guest bloggers.    Traditional high-cost content is increasingly difficult to support profitably with advertising given the fragmentation of media consumption in recent years.  People StyleWatch features lower cost content, with research consisting of quick calls to publicists or product marketers, and images from paparazzi or retailers rather than expensive celebrity photo shoots.

This is more than just flexing editorial styles to meet the expectations of web-addicted younger readers.   The magazine is embracing a new business model with lower costs and more attractive content for advertisers that allows it to grow in an otherwise contracting space.  They are hitting on one of the key success factors for Publishing 2.0, namely an adaptive business model.  Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore, who has led the People brand for more than a decade in various roles, no doubt is taking notice.

Regardless of your personal opinions of the content, the results – in both readership and profitability – are hard to dispute.