We talk to the social media team at BILD, Germany’s biggest publisher, about how they’re targeting their readers on social media, and new platforms.
As the biggest newspaper in Europe by circulation, BILD has long been a German media giant.
And they’ve long since turned their attention to digital.
As part of the Axel Springer group, BILD reach a significant portion of the German speaking world every day. As with many legacy publishers, social media, in particular Facebook, has been important in helping build their audience online. In January, NewsWhip data put BILD as one of the most engaged German sites on Facebook.
We talked to three key staff behind their success online: Head of Social Media and New Platforms Editor Andreas Rickman, Head of New Platforms Malte Goesche, and Deputy Head of Social Media Jakob Wais.
L – R: Malte Goesche, Jakob Wais and Andreas Rickmann. Credit: www.nurfotos.de
Describe the work of the social media team at BILD, and their typical day.
Andreas Rickmann (Head of Social Media & New Platforms Ed.): Over the last few months, there was a change in structure of our group. What started as a purely editorial group now includes people responsible for monetisation, strategy and data. The idea was to create a one stop shop that can solve every challenge autonomously. This is a completely new approach for our organisation and has so far been very successful.
From an editorial perspective, our daily challenge is to create or optimise content in the best possible format for each platform. The “New Platforms // Social Media” team is integrated in BILD’s workflow and conference structure, with several team members positioned in the newsroom. As a team we also discuss which content fits which platform best and how we have to process it to make it work on the different platforms.
It takes us a lot of effort and time to decide which content we want to customise for Facebook and on which pages we want to publish. Our “New Platforms // Social Media” Team also creates stories that are highly optimised for Facebook in substance and format.
Every person on the team has a clearly defined role, for example video, Facebook Publishing or trending and breaking. At the same time we have to remain nimble and able to adjust and to cover news the moment, they happen.
Bild recently launched a series of new pages covering specific subjects on Facebook. Can you explain you decided to break out the content like this?
Jakob Wais (Deputy Head of Social Media & New Platforms Ed.): When we first came to Facebook, like many other media brands we started building up a main page and several smaller pages, based on the newspaper’s structure. We had BILD News, BILD Celebrities and BILD Sports but were mostly — and successfully — focusing on our main page.
With more than 1.9 million page Likes by the end of 2015, we were reaching millions of users every week – bringing many users (back) to our website.
That strategy ignored potential for more success: BILD publishes 300 to 400 articles every day, and while some of these articles are not relevant to the audience of our main page, or even our smaller pages like sports, they might be highly relevant to a more niche audience.
Facebook’s news feed is a collection of photos, videos, links and updates that are most relevant to you and only a limited amount of space in the news feed is available to us as a publisher. In order to get the user’s attention we need to be as relevant as possible in as many ways as possible. Our distribution strategy focused on a single main page would not take advantage this dynamic.
If we wanted to keep our audience’s attention we had to adjust. If we wanted reach new users, we had to build up pages that were highly relevant to them.
In December 2015 we started by building up BILD Video, a page focusing on short news clips, because we saw Facebook users strongly engaging in that kind of content. After we were able to build up an audience around the Page, we launched another video vertical called “Futtern” to focus on short food videos and again we saw people taking huge interest manifesting in strong engagement rates and fast growth.
We also took a deep dive into our audience insights. To really understand our users, we looked at user structure, the content they were engaging with the most, when, on which devices, how they reacted etc. Whenever we found an audience around a niche topic we didn’t target yet, we evaluated opportunities and decided whether or not to launch a (niche) page.
We launched Pages like BILD Wrestling, BILD Mystery and we have launched a vertical for every single club in the Bundesliga. And by taking specific content to specific Pages we not only generated new engagement, but at the same time helped our large Pages to recover by avoiding content that wasn’t relevant enough to the majority.
At BILD we also constantly match our interests with Facebook’s. So when we saw Facebook going all in on Live, we decided to do the same. We actually used Live to build another niche topic based vertical. BILD Mallorca’s growth is completely based on live – and thanks to one very dedicated reporter on the ground.
BILD is a mass publication and our goal is to reach a broad audience, but doesn’t mean we can’t go niche as well.
Earlier this year, Bild became one of the first publishers to deliver news through Facebook Messenger. Can you explain how this worked, and what response you received? What other platforms are you experimenting with?
Malte Goesche (Head of New Platforms // Content Strategy): We at Bild have been intrigued by closed social networks for a while and wondered how we can use them to reach (new) readers. Our first tests were with WhatsApp since it is the most used social network in Germany. The tests very successful in terms of sign ups and CTR, but unfortunately Whatsapp does not provide an API.
Last fall we decided to run a couple of tests with Facebook Messenger. The startup Spectrm had a system in place that would’ve allowed us using Messenger to distribute news even without access to the official API, but Facebook liked our plans and decided to support us. Together with Spectrm we got access to the alpha version of the API that was just recently launched to the public at F8.
This enabled us to send messages out much faster and more reliably than before. No more bottlenecks or delays. The response was also very positive and the CTR is exceptional — unmatched by any other platform.
All these early tests encourage us to roll this out much wider over the summer as our readers appear to want highly personalised and immediate updates.
We have been looking at every platform that has traction in German. Some offered positive results, but are currently not scalable (e.g. WhatsApp), others have only shown mediocre results yet might deserve more tests (e.g. Tumblr, Pinterest) and others have been success stories from day one — like Messenger and Snapchat (stories account).
What are the most important metrics that you are looking for when judging the success of a piece of content on social media?
Andreas Rickmann: We do focus on our KPIs. Beyond that the most important thing is the value and credibility of our brand. We aim for a healthy and lively community that loves to engage with our content. For us that means we don’t have the ONE metric that matters. Naturally we look at reach, shares, video views but also at referral traffic and Instant Article views.
The underlying goal is always to maintain a healthy growth across all platforms. That’s why we think as a publisher you should not only focus on referral traffic and run an aggressive clickbait strategy on Facebook .
Our aspiration is to combine data driven work with a journalistic point of view paired with a unique approach for each platform.
Even for our Facebook pages, the metrics differ, and for some pages the most important metric might be growth.
Before every single Facebook post we ask ourselves: What do we want to achieve with the post? What’s our goal? And that surely depends on the content.
How are you challenging for the attention of German readers on social media? Are there challenges particular to the German media market that you need to work around?
Jakob Wais: You should always keep in mind that every brand has its very unique audience. And while it might sometimes help to look for best practices – especially on social media – you shouldn’t just copy other people’s work because the best way to get your audiences attention is to be highly relevant and keep your brand’s unique voice.
But in Germany we have to keep in mind, that especially our younger users often have data plans with just 500MB a month. While Instant Article and AMP might help solve parts of this problem it might still be advised to post videos in time slots when your audience is at home – and connected to WiFi.
How are the Bild team using NewsWhip Spike?
Jakob Wais: Over the last few years, NewsWhip Spike became very helpful to our social media and real time editors, because it provides an overall orientation of what is trending on social media right now.