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Seeking long-term audience engagement? Here’s how to nab audiences from social

Social media and the media

With the overall usage of social media continuing to rise, social media engagement has plateaued since it hit an all time high in Q2 of 2020, according to the latest GlobalWebIndex report. So what should audience teams do now to encourage engagement? 

Audience teams are constantly reviewing strategy and trying to improve audience growth, but what are the steps being taken to move audiences from socials onto the end goal – the news sites themselves.

At the Future of Media Technology conference, Matt Payton (head of audience, The Independent), Anna Jeys (audience and content director – new audience, Reach plc), Miki King (president, Arc XP) and Tim Pearson (chief revenue officer, LADBible Group) discussed what steps they are taking to help keep, and develop their audiences while battling regularly changing algorithms. 

Catch up on the key takeaways from the conference with our overview here.

The Golden Age of Social

With talks of the decline in Facebook referral traffic affecting drives towards news sites, does this reflect the start of the end of the social media age? Not according to Tim Pearson, who believes we are still ‘very much in the golden age of social media’.

He explained that if you look at the increased time spent on social media, particularly among Gen Z, they’re spending four hours per day there. But if you remove the use of social media as a news source for them, it’s also playing a wider role in their lives – from inspiration to search. It’s critically important to young adults, and the huge creator economy, making Gen Z the main audience target for the media industry on social media.

As a result of this, it remains essential to publishers because they must remain in the space where the audiences are. It’s where they are able to grow their brand through building online communities, and adopting active online communities that fuel referral traffic.

However,  social media platforms update their algorithms and ways of working constantly, and teams need to move at a real-time pace. Miki King said  ‘many legacy companies are still struggling with the monetisation. It’s critical to understand the value of being there: brand, driving traffic. We can’t overestimate the value of the social platforms – we need to be there. But strategies have to evolve and keep evolving’. Matt Payton touched upon the ‘frustrations everyone feels with Facebook, with X (formerly Twitter), are real,’ but emphasised that if journalists start to play the game, they will not need to rely on it. They should look for other ways to reach audiences, meaning if an algorithm changes against journalists, they will have other options to still reach the audience that are intended

Moving audiences from social to news sites

The main challenge is moving the audiences engaging with the social content over to the titles news sites and keeping them there. 

Miki spoke about how analytics help us understand what performs well and what doesn’t. This information can be used to bring traffic back to the publisher’s site. ‘Whatever friction we introduce to our site, trains the audience subconsciously. Whatever decisions we make around that experience, we can’t be wedded to forever.’ But she emphasised the need not to be focused on what may or may not be the right decisions, as this could be correct for six months into the future. 

Publishers need to ask questions surrounding the value exchange such as when to bring people to the website, when to introduce friction with a paywall, and what’s the experience like? An example of this is to look at how TikTok builds an experience that takes people from one piece of content to another – and how journalists can recreate this experience on to sites in terms of recirculation.

Matt Payton explained that journalists need data analytics to be able to build strategy to create content and a structure to move from social to site. Part of doing this is by ‘giving people stuff they want. Short clips of podcasts, for example. Look at ways of engaging people on the platform, rather than constantly trying to get them back to the website. But look at opportunities to do so: newsletters, AMAs on the site. The numbers on social are huge, and you won’t get them all. But you can get them, if you do it right, even on Instagram.’

Tim explained LADBible are ‘following the audience to where they are. The platforms are very good at surfacing what’s culturally relevant, so we stay current and up to date, and add more depth to the experience.’ 

The importance of metrics

When it comes to building a strategy for delivering content to audiences, it can be difficult to know what numbers to focus on to decide how to build and maintain audiences.

Reach has a host of different metrics which they focus on, including page views, and engagement. Anna Jeys explained their ‘Under-35 project has been a bit different, so we’ve been looking at things like social engagement and video watch time.’ The focus is on the Gen Z audience, who are dominating the social space for searching for news content on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. She spoke about how the project started as a social brand and how they are ‘building a community and a brand. We are part of a larger organisation, so we’ve been able to use the year we’ve had to review the data, and figure out what works on different platforms. We are thinking about how we can leverage different social experiences and bring people back to the site.’ Journalists have to be where the audiences are. Build a community and then give them extra value on the site behind the information received.

Matt echoed the importance of using page views, but also to view the time on a page, and completion rate. You need to consider where they go next and what the drop off is. This is important because you don’t want to lose them and make sure that they are engaged with what is on-site.

The value of LinkedIn

When talking about the types of social platforms being used for news, one site which is rarely spoken of is LinkedIn. Typically known as a business and employment-focused social media platform, it might not be a space that publishers consider. 

However, Matt pointed out that it’s a network that wants to be seen as a news source. It has an audience which has the disposable income for subscriptions, if that’s what you’re after. It’s a place you should be thinking about if you’re not already.’ According to Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute, 39% cancelled or renegotiated the price of one or more of their news subscriptions in the last year due to the cost of living crisis. This will have a knock on effect on revenue for publishers so it’s time to think about targeting audiences who can produce organic subscriptions seems plausible. 

With social strategy you can’t be platform-agnostic with social content, and it’s key to tailor content to the platform. Tim highlighted that every social platform has its nuances, and you need to address those precisely.’ Journalists in this space should think about this when starting to explore the audiences on LinkedIn, and the opportunity they have in driving views to news sites. 

Want to build your own profile on social media as a journalist? Get tips on making the most of different platforms here

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