“The internet was made for niches”: WhipSmart speakers on niche publishing


By   |   June 19th, 2017   |   Reading time: 5 minutes Digital Journalism

How should publishers and brands go about looking to connect with specific interests and readerships? At WhipSmart, an panel of niche publishing experts gave their view. 

Speakers at WhipSmart, June 2017

L-R: Ashish Patel, Dan Mazei, Lucia Moses, Youyoung Lee and Steve Rubel. 

At WhipSmart, we heard from experts at brands, agencies and publishers giving their opinion on how to reach audiences as effectively as possible.

As host Lucia Moses of Digiday mentioned, ‘it used to be all about scale, scale, scale. Now new launches are taking the form of these very niche, targeted sites and brands.” Here were some of the key takeaways from the panel that featured speakers from the publishing, brand and PR spaces.

Ashish Patel, Publisher at NowThis

NowThis is a publication that has long looked to leverage social platforms to reach targeted segments of their overall audience. Ashish says that the main attraction lies in being able to make more meaningful connections with readers.

“Being everything for everybody is going to be more difficult to do. What can you bring to the conversation that’s different if your a scale-based audience?

We’re thinking of it like this: quality and unique content will win going forward, rather than a race to viral story. One editorial strategy is to own a category, and own the language around that community. Establish that you’re the best at understanding a certain audience and being able to talk to them.”

There’s three reasons that NowThis would decide to launch a new vertical, explains Ashish. The first is that there’s a clear market opportunity. The second is that there’s a sales and monetisation opportunity in that space, whether that be through launching as a brand partnership. The final reason is that the team wants to.

“If there’s a lot of passion around a topic internally, and we know we can produce a lot of content on that topic, we’ll pursue that as well.”

But Ashish says that they also have to be honest when they see that the numbers aren’t making sense, and particular brands have to end.

Dan Mazei, Head of Global Newsroom at Reebok

As a brand, Reebok are ‘most definitely’ following the niche content trend, says Dan Mazei, Head of Global Newsroom.

“From a brand perspective, we’re in a place where we’re trying to reframe our brand for most people,” says Dan, comparing the strategy to a political campaign.

“We can’t have the expectation of getting mass scale and winning the general population, if we’re not going to win at grassroots level. So the type of content we’re creating to excite the fitness enthusiasts is the stuff that keeps the engine going. The more we can nail that, the more we can own that community, the better opportunity we have to spread out and reach people on a mass scale.”

“When we built our blog, it was very much in the lens of our consumer insight for the ‘fitness generation’, or people who work out four plus times a week. It’s fairly niche, but there is a lot of room for scale, as running is the number one fitness activity that most people pursue.”

Reebok sees workouts themselves, with well-known trainers with their own audiences, as prime examples of quality content that they can offer their target audience. When considering any content, Dan says it has to fit within the ‘brand filter’ of Reebok.

Audience at WhipSmart, June 2017

The audience at the niche publishing panel at WhipSmart. 

Youyoung Lee, Director of Audience Development at Vice

Vice is still very much in growth mode, says Youyoung. The youth-oriented site, launched three new verticals in the past year, including Impact, an advocacy arm, WayPoint, a gaming channel, and Tonic, a health channel.

“I think data helps inform a lot of the choices around what the audience is engaging with. But more important than that is the storytelling we can do within those areas. With WayPoint, we felt that a lot of the great gaming content from Vice was always going to be seen as an outsider perspective within the gaming community,” explained Youyoung.

Youyoung points out that all brands associated with Vice are very particular about the types of videos that they create. “The moment we start getting readers on the page that aren’t typical Vice readers, we see the engagement levels drop.”

Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist, Edelman

Steve Rubel of Edelman gave the PR perspective on connecting advertisers with publishers through niche content. The internet was made for niches, says Steve, pointing to the examples of Google as a platform that set out to connect people with specific interests. It makes a lot of sense for publishers to do this, but there are also questions that publishers looking to go down this route should be aware of

“Some of these verticals are narrow by nature. The problem is that the advertisers want scale, and I don’t know where that goes going forward,” said Steve.

Steve also pointed to the dangers of becoming too diluted from the ‘master brand’. If the fracturing of publishing becomes too great, there’s a danger that the advertisers say they can do it for themselves. Finally, social feeds also do not lend itself to reader loyalty, meaning that publishers should pay close attention to whether they’re building a recurring, loyal readership, or simply operating on a fly-by basis.

Read More: 

An interview with Vice’s social media team

Q&A: How Reebok masters reactive storytelling for social wins

Three ways that niche publishers stand out on social media

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