The Impact of Social Channels on Traditional Publishers

2011 was definitely a big year for social media growth across all age groups, in particular the 55+ demographic took the greatest leap to be almost in line with the consensus. We can no longer claim ‘social networkers’ are a young savvy audience, we’re past new adopters and well into the mainstream. Social media platforms are becoming the modern day fabric of the internet.

(Comscore, 2011)

The rise in social media often prompts discussion of investment migration from publishers to social media platforms but misses the hard truth that social platforms are only infrastructure, big empty shells which are dependent on user interaction. People will always need experiences and content as the catalyst for social interaction. The biggest factor we need to understand from the growth of social media is how people now seek out their content, and how we can embrace the changes to our client’s benefit.


Today there’s a growing trend of consumers who rather than constantly looking for their content they want the content to come to them, and not even delivered nicely into their email account to collect, they want this within their natural user journey. They’re beginning to rely more on their respected peers to do the searching for them, vet out the uninteresting articles and recommend those they deem worth reading or watching. This behaviour is nothing new within social, we often rely on particular friends with superior knowledge for certain information; we have music obsessed friends to recommend which festivals to attend and fashionistas who’ll happily help you pick out a suitable pair of shoes for a wedding.


As this trend continues publishers will increasingly see their audience of information seekers decrease, but this pool of users will grow in importance as they’ll drive reach through the respect of their peers. It’s not such a stretch of the imagination to see a future where sites maintain constant dialogue with their news seekers, respecting their opinions more and valuing their backing in order to keep their content flowing through the mainstream.


Maintaining a healthy relationship with your audience will become a lot more about listening and less about being overbearing without catering for your audience. Within social platforms publishers and brands are not at the top of the party guestlist, so they shouldn’t act like VIPs. They need to listen and add value when appropriate, build relationships with people and get introduced to others. If you walked into a party and started shouting the same thing at everyone that walks by it wouldn’t be long before you were asked to leave.

Social vs. Search

Social network visits have overtaken search engines as the most visited online destinations, sitting currently at 15.61% of web traffic opposed to search’s 11.28%. Whilst this gives a good indication as to how popular social networks are it also paints the way for a shift in the way consumers are looking for their content. The traditional user journey would be to use a search engine to seek out desired content and pick the most relevant article which meets that need/desire, or even use search to navigate to a trusted content source rather than to type in the full url (frighteningly the most popular search terms within Google are simply to navigate to Facebook).


Ironically the editor of ‘Search Engine Journal’ has moved their weekly SEO update onto Facebook because that’s where they’re getting the most traffic . What this means for search however is that whilst traffic reduces searches will be more purposeful and therefore SEM will have greater efficiencies. Search still proves consistently to be the most cost effective revenue driver, and is often successfully implemented as a sponge, soaking up awareness generated from the rest of the media mix and converting awareness into sales. For a publisher SEM will become more about attracting the valuable content seeking influencers rather than catering for the mainstream as much. High cost per clicks may not seem so high anymore as the propensity for sharing increases to deliver large organic traffic.

How will this affect content suppliers?

We are moving away from a principle of ‘Content is king’ we can update this to ‘Noteworthy content is king’. We are moving to an infrastructure which will not tolerate substandard articles, when we rely on consumers to generate scale through sharing the content needs to be noteworthy and shareable or its journey ends. Journalists are becoming less insulated by the loyal following of their employer to generate views of their articles, they will be judged based on the quality of their product. Instances where publishers place more emphasis on churning out ill researched articles, like AOL’s alleged thirty Five minute policy will become less profitable.


A more sustainable business model will be to listen out for topics of interest within your audience and where there’s a space to add value to the conversation spend time creating content which will be highly regarded, adds value to the conversation and shared. It doesn’t even need to stop at just listening, why not personally and politely ask people what they’d like to read about?


How will this affect journalists?

Journalists are beginning to see a power shift, as they each build their own following it’s the respect they personally hold which contributes to the site traffic. For example I don’t read the English paper ‘The Telegraph’, but I do read respected journalist Henry Winter – Who happens to write for the Telegraph currently. When he tweets his articles I read them, I won’t go searching for the Telegraph to find them and if he suddenly moves to a different publisher I’ll read his articles there. Journalists are starting to become more than writers for a publisher, they’re becoming their Influencers too! When pay rises are negotiated social followings could start to be taken into account, maybe even leading to performance packages.


If this trend continues it’s not too far fetched to hear back that the reason your campaign didn’t deliver on time was because the main journo happened to have a two week holiday in Bali during your campaign dates.

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