In 2012, it was a head-scratcher. In 2013, it was a phenomenon. In 2014, it’s a fact of life. Social media is the single most important traffic driver for digital media companies. That is, a plurality (and, in some cases, a majority) of visits to a website come as a result of clicking on a post in their social stream on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere. Buzzfeed, the most-referenced example of this, gets 75% of its 150 million unique visitors from social media. But it’s not just quizzes and cat videos that drive traffic on social. Even global business site, Quartz, also sees 50% of its traffic from social referrers (disclosure: I work for Atlantic Media, owner of Quartz).
Media companies who are a bit further down the curve are now putting into place more aggressive social media strategies aimed at growing their audiences and increasing revenue. Having been a part of implementing social strategies for both B2C and B2B media companies, I thought I’d share a few things that have helped us succeed:
- Establish clear goals and metrics: What are you trying to do? Increase traffic? Increase revenue? Deepen Engagement? Make decisions about resources, budget, and strategy easier by creating and internally publicizing your “north star” goal. Decide what the most appropriate metrics are for tracking that goal.
- Ensure you have the technology to measure your success: Legacy analytics platforms (think: Omniture & Google Analytics) can provide some basic data on referrers and their impact on your traffic, but don’t be afraid to pursue partnerships with startups trying to measure social impact directly. We’ve worked with SimpleReach and SailThru, among others.
- Don’t be afraid of paid: Paying to promote your content on social media is no longer frowned upon by mainstream digital media companies, but be hyperaware of ROI. Start by understanding what your viral post threshold is (100k PVs? 1 million PVs?). Then, set up analytics to alert your editorial team when a post pops on social so you can pay to boost it. Measure your results and decide what network(s) give you the highest return. In short, paid works best for exposing what’s already popular on social media to more people who would be interested in that post.
- Treat social traffic differently: Readers who come from social media behave differently than those who read your newsletters, browse your homepage, and download your apps. A large percentage of social traffic bounces (exits the site) after consuming the original article that brought them to the site from their social network. Think carefully about your goals and leverage technology. Are you trying to maximize revenue per user? Then perhaps you could ad additional ad units to the page template for those coming from social media. Are you trying to grow your database? Then maybe you should trigger an email capture fly-in or ask the reader to download your app.
- Pay attention: No matter what, keep a close eye elsewhere in the industry and, more importantly, what social networks have in their product pipelines. For example, Facebook recently announced it will soon offer publishers the ability to host their content on the platform in exchange for revenue share. This could be a game changer, but only for those who are savvy enough to understand how to approach it.