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Re-Thinking Engagement in the Age of Distributed Content

With native/distributed content now a firm reality, publishers should once again be questioning how to measure the reach of their content

For many publishers, the advice to “go to where the audience is” is both familiar and frustrating.

They know about Facebook native, and how millennials’ news habits, and why it’s important to engage with new platforms. But sometimes, it’s hard to get a grasp on what all that means for the content itself.

At the ONA conference in Los Angeles last week, Sarah Frank, executive producer at NowThis, shared some of the key figures around the wholly distributed platform’s operation.

One figure really stood out. NowThis is now attracting over 435 million video views every month, without a regular functioning website. Many of these videos have a hard news focus, and are watched by viewers on Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and more.

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At NewsWhip, we see the rise in native content very clearly through our content discovery platform, Spike. Earlier this year, we added both Facebook and Instagram posts to the platform. There, native videos and other posts see huge ‘social velocity’, or a high degree of engagement in the stream.

 

“If You’re In, You’re In”

 

Many of the publishers that are investing and experimenting in some form of native content are not shy in talking about their experiences with it.

For some, expanding into native means jumping into Instant Articles on Facebook, or signing up for Snapchat Discover. The Washington Post recently announced that it intends to publish all of their stories directly to Facebook, once the platform allows. “We were fine with not imposing limits on the amount of content,” Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan told Recode. “We figured, if you’re in, you’re in.”

But these big plays aren’t the only ways that publishers are getting involved in native.

Business Insider, newly acquired by Axel Springer, have launched a Facebook page called ‘Insider‘, which sees them post articles and videos directly to Facebook. BuzzFeed’s BFF team creates animations, videos, graphics and more designed specifically to be viewed on Facebook, Instagram, or tumblr.

Meanwhile, First Look Media’s Reportedly recently won an award for their breaking news coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris earlier this year. Beyond a Medium account, Reportedly don’t have a website, instead posting, verifying and curating reports directly in social communities like Twitter.

The Need For A New Metric

 

With all these new movement, solely measuring the performance of on-site content when calculating reach and engagement is starting to look a little dated.

Publishers shouldn’t sell themselves short in calculating the reach of their content. With so many new distribution points, and engagement up across most platform, there’s a danger that publishers could lose sight of how far their stories can now spread, without readers ever leaving the Facebook app.

Unsurprisingly, BuzzFeed have been to the fore in unifying this measurement. As we previously mentioned on this blog, we now know that BuzzFeed are calculating their ‘traffic’ as a combination of total engagements, such as views, and clicks to their site. It’s a model that many other publishers are likely to follow suit with in the coming months.

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And how much of a difference does this new measurement make? We looked at NewsWhip data to try and figure out.

In the past 30 days, we have recorded over 19,900 articles being published to BBC.com/news. They’ve achieved significant interactions levels on Facebook: over 10m likes, 2.8m shares, and 2.6m comments. That’s a total of 15.51 million interactions.

However, when we take into account the engagement on images and videos posted to the BBC News Facebook page, the total engagement for the site expands further. Including native videos and images posted on the BBC News Facebook page brings the monthly Facebook total for BBC News up to 18.55 million. That’s an increase of 19.6% in engagement with just with 214 posts, as opposed to the near 20,000 articles that bbc.com/news has published in the last 30 days.

Further, the average engagement rate with these images an videos are far higher than interaction with links on the website. 25 times higher, over the past 30 days.

BBC-Circles

This is without even taking into account actual views of the videos, which are not accessible via Facebook’s API.

But What About…?

 

There are two big questions around the distributed model. One: where’s the money? Two: are people really engaging with this stuff, or are the platforms fudging the numbers?

The revenue question is one that dominates discussion of this area, and as of yet, there’s no easy answer. But in developing a better idea of the potential viewership of your content, both on and off-site, publishers are better placed to inform their advertisers of the reach of their brand.

By cultivating an audience in the social communities, those publishers who have figured out how to make things work natively will also be ahead of the curve when any potential partnerships pop up.

The issue of engagement is also a tricky one to navigate. Facebook says that a view counts as three seconds of an autoplay video, which many video producers probably find upsetting. But then again, engagement with content and media changes all the time. It was absurd for publishers to think of digital readers consuming their website like a newspaper, or tuning into their livestream like they would a regular TV. In the same way, the performance of content produced specifically for social has to be measured appropriately.

Of course, there will be the few who will go to the Washington Post’s Facebook page with the intention of reading the site’s entire daily output, but that’s not standard user behaviour on social.

If publishers expect to measure engagement with what they’re offering in the stream, they have to be willing to expand their focus from click-throughs and sign-ups to include measurements like social reach and engagement.

So does native content spell the end of the road for dedicated websites? Of course not. Publishers now have more ways than ever of reaching their audience, and that’s a positive thing.

Most obviously, it means employing a strong social media strategy, but that’s not the only way of reaching readers online. Many are surprised by the continuing resilience (even resurgence) of email as a distribution channel. Push notifications on mobile reach readers right in their pockets, while messaging apps are opening up a whole new way of developing communities, particularly in developing markets. Assuming that Facebook represents the entire future of content distribution is misguided.

But it is a significant part of that future. From next month, we’re updating how we measure the engagement rates for publishers on Facebook. We’ll be combining the Facebook engagement numbers with engagement on images and videos for publishers’ Facebook pages in a bid to reflect the new reality of social publishing. If you’re interested in hearing how that goes, be sure to subscribe to our blog for more.

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