Before the mobile and social era, media brands largely relied on force of habit to build and sustain their reader and viewerships.
Newspapers and TV stations served similar content to the same readers through the same (owned) channels every day. Content was even served at the same time each day, so that consumption was a part of the viewer’s daily routine.
With an abundance of media sources from around the world, plus content from other sources like brands, football teams, bands and more all readily available, how can publishers replicate that process today? Is it even possible?
A recent Reuters Institute study, aptly titled ‘‘I saw the news on Facebook’ looks at how audiences recall the source of news found via social media and search. The study takes into account how users recall where they found a particular story (search, social, or by landing directly on a website), as well as going a step further to measure their likelihood of remembering the actual source of the information.
It turns out that accurate source recall is a legitimate concern for publishers. Here’s the key line from the report:
“Less than half could remember the name of the news brand for a particular story when coming from search or social media. Correct brand attribution was just 37% from search and 47% from social media. This compares with an attribution rate of 81% for users who arrived directly from another page on a destination website.”
So on average, less than half of the people clicking links to news stories in their social media feeds could correctly recall the actual source of the story afterwards, leading to the common scenario where someone says they saw a story ‘on Facebook’.
With many publishers pouring significant resources into creating and distributing content on social media, this is a nightmare result. Simply making up the content numbers in the mire of a social feed isn’t exactly what digital editors aim for when setting out their social media strategy. They want to be a site that readers find and return to on social media because of the quality of what they do, and not just because they were the first eye-catching link that a casual browser decided to click out of boredom.
It’s not all bad news though. There is still much to be gained for publishers pursuing a digital strategy that centres around creating content that digital readers will return to read again and again. And as a significant chunk of traffic comes via social platforms, making an effort to imprint the masthead brand in the minds of those readers makes sense.
The study found that correct attribution of publisher sources from readers who regularly used a source of news were 33 percent more likely to correctly attribute the source on social media than other brands. This indicates that social engagement can help boost the reading habits of pre-existing audiences, in the way that a daily email newsletter helps remind paywall subscribers to return to the website each day.
In a previous post on this blog, we outlined three ways that publishers can try and build a brand that readers will return to again on social media. They were:
- Maintaining consistent and strong visuals and tone: The importance of this element is made clear in the Reuters report. The authors point out an example about a story covered on Facebook by two different UK news outlets, the Mirror and the Guardian. The Mirror used a generic image and perfunctory accompanying text in their post, while the Guardian’s post used a more compelling image and explanatory text. Overall, recall from readers of Guardian content (69%) was found to be much higher than for the Mirror (27%). In concluding the study, the authors write that ‘visibility in social media and search is critical to brand recognition.’
- Be timely – post when your readers will find the most value: Instead of agonising about the frequency of your posts, focus on making sure that every post will have to compete with other elements in your audience’s news feeds.
- Offer your readers strong and unique storytelling: Giving the reader something that they feel was worth clicking to read, or watching for more than 10 seconds is what all publishers should be aiming for. To this end, keeping an eye on competitor pages and sites, and looking for the ‘white space’ in coverage around big events – the angles that no one else is covering – are ways to bring a unique element to your own coverage.
This last point is perhaps the most important for news sites. The Reuters Institute report found that hard news (as well as stranger news stories) had a higher likelihood of being sourced correctly by social media users.
The more general the coverage, the less chance your site has of being recalled correctly by readers.
There are signs that the platforms are making moves to help distinguish publisher brands for social media users. According to Mark Zuckerburg’s recent statement on allowing Facebook users subscribe to news services through the platform:
“We’re also making an update this week to help more people see where the news they read on Facebook comes from. Now when people search for an article or see one that’s trending, they’ll also see publisher logos next to the article… Eventually, our goal is to put a publisher’s logo next to every news article on Facebook so everyone can understand more about what they’re reading.”
This stress on the visual elements of branding will no doubt provide a welcome avenue of differentiation for publishers. But as we’ve seen from the study’s research, simply providing the option to subscribe won’t necessarily solve all the publishers’ needs when it comes to building subscriptions out of social media engagement.
Two fundamental principles remain for publishers navigating the social publishing ecosystem. Methods and priorities will change, but a laser-like focus on quality content and the needs of the user are the keys to long term success.