Last month's Software & Information Industry Summit in New York featured appeals to publishers to pursue new media, social networking and mobile as avenues to relevancy and revenue.
“Social media and mobile are central to our strategy,” said Eric Baumes, chief technology officer for The Economist's online editions, at the annual conference sponsored by the Software & Information Industry Association. He said avid subscriber interest helped drive The Economist's foray into social media.
“When we first went into the social space, we found there was a community of about 50,000 of our readers who already had assembled themselves into a social group,” he said. “So when we came into it, we asked them about what they would like to see. They were most interested in special offers that made being connected with us unique.”
Social media also enhances content development, Baumes said. “We publish 90 to 100 articles in print weekly, and another 100 articles online every week,” he said. “But our readers contribute more than 1,000 pieces of content a day, which gives us scale we could only achieve otherwise by increasing editorial staff.”
Customer advocacy is another benefit of social media, Baumes said. “We have 800,000 fans on Facebook and more than 1 million Twitter followers, and the traffic coming from social is approaching 10% of our overall site traffic,” he said.
While The Economist has a metered pay model for viewing its online content, Baumes said it offers free access—a “loophole,” he termed it—to readers who link from social sites. The reasoning: Viewers from these sources are more engaged and more likely to become online subscribers, he said.
Mobile marketing also is taking on a larger role at The Economist. Baumes said 10% to 20% of the publication's online traffic comes from mobile devices. The company is working to optimize its sites for mobile viewing, so “bouncing out is becoming unusual,” he said.
Social media and mobile are also advancing rapidly at the Financial Times.
“[With social media], you can encourage engagement and also track it,” Elissa Tomasetti, VP-marketing and global audience development at the Financial Times, said at the SIIA event. “You can determine with inexpensive software systems what subject matters are hot. This is creating opportunities for both editors and publishers.”
Tomasetti said mobile is the largest external source of Financial Times subscriptions and generates 20% of its page views. “The great news is mobile viewers are two-and-a-half times more likely to spend money with our advertisers,” she said.
“We look at the retail model all the time,” she said. “We want to own the relationship with the customer, and to do that we've launched a Web app that adheres to the same model as our desktop model. We're behaving like a retailer here, and it's really working.”
In another session at the SIIA conference, Paul Wojcik, chairman of Bloomberg BNA, said a general lack of trust in content, whether online or offline, is endemic today.
“Content has been transformed from being king to being a commodity and then back to at least being part of the royal family,” Wojcik said. “People generally have stopped believing in what they hear. Media bashing today is a nondenominational national pastime.”
Wojcik said this mistrust will remain a key reality for both publishers and content marketers this year and beyond.
“It's the reality we have to deal with,” he said. “Winning and maintaining trust is the defining challenge for the content business in the years ahead.