Publishers no longer see social media platforms as traffic engines

Media companies mainly viewed social media platforms as important channels to drive traffic to their websites and apps by promoting and distributing their content. But the influx of social media platforms and video formats entering the scene has forced publishers to weigh how to deal with these readers: create an audience that stays on the platform – or send them back to their owned properties. and leveraged, according to conversations with audience development and social leaders at Bustle Digital Group, Vice Media Group and The Washington Post.

“We want to generate traffic. [But] not all platforms are natural traffic engines,” said Washington Post deputy social media director Travis Lyles. “We don’t expect a platform like Instagram to send a ton of people to our website, but we see platforms like Instagram as natural brand builders and places where we can really interact with an audience that doesn’t really interact with us in other places.”

Traffic generator or brand creator?

The Washington Post’s social team classifies platforms into two categories when determining how to invest in social platforms: those that drive traffic (typically, platforms that prioritize news links, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and those that build its brand, Lyles said. .

At Vice Media Group, social media platforms are key to reaching its target audience of 18-35 year olds who do not visit Vice websites. The original vertical video is created specifically for TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram.

“We are not trying to refer [audiences] back somewhere,” said Katie Drummond, senior vice president of global news and global editor at Vice. “We’re trying to give them tailored coverage for this platform that will reach them on this platform. We don’t assume they will switch from TikTok to the website. We assume they will move from our TikTok to the next TikTok.

Advertiser interest in sponsored and personalized videos created for TikTok and Instagram Reels has increased over the past six months as Vice is “really continuing that sponsored and personalized model for these vertical platforms,” ​​Drummond said anecdotally. , declining to provide numbers to support this claim. Vice News recently did a custom series with Robinhood for TikTok, for example.

For BDG, followers on Facebook and Instagram account for 60% of the company’s total social followers, said Wesley Bonner, social and audience development manager at BDG. Facebook is the biggest on-site traffic driver for BDG and accounted for 18% of overall traffic in February, Bonner said, citing internal figures.

“Continuing to use this platform for traffic is of utmost importance in our strategy,” Bonner said. Facebook advertising products are also the top-selling social advertising products for BDG, such as link posts to branded articles and videos..

However, the next most social growth is happening on Instagram, as the company recently started producing more original photographs and videos created by its network of over 100 social creators.

“A Facebook user is very used to scrolling through the feed, seeing an article link, clicking it, reading it, and coming back to Facebook. An Instagram user doesn’t really want to do that the same way, or at least the majority of them don’t,” Bonner said. While users click the link in bio or links in stickers and stories on Instagram, “these are just slightly bigger hurdles than Facebook, where you just click the link on the post. “, Bonner said.

How Publishers Balance Social Media Resources

Creating a vertical video isn’t cheap. Publishers do much of this work with relatively small teams, executives said.

Bonner oversees a “very lean” team of 10 people. “It’s always a prioritization of resources…Resources are not unlimited. We are still a publisher that strives to be profitable. It carries over to content creation and every team we have,” he said.

The Washington Post has about 16 people on its social team, which is divided into two sub-teams: its Instagram team and its “core social” team, which focuses on all other platforms. The Instagram team, founded by Lyles in 2021, has just under 10 people, including social editors, a video producer, designers, and a copy editor. Although the TikTok team collaborates with the Post’s social team, it lives within the Post’s larger video team. Video journalist David Jorgenson was part of the video team when he started creating the Post’s first TikToks in 2019.

Vice has cross-platform teams for each Vice brand that act as “pods” within the newsroom to promote stories on social platforms and create and curate original vertical video with Vice journalists, Drummond said. But due to Vice’s efforts in original video production, fewer resources are spent on producing content for the website.

“We earn less for the website than before,” Drummond said. “We’re just trying to make fewer, smarter bets on the website, which then allows us to have the resources and the brain space to think, ‘How can we take this report and make it work on a platform? different form where we’re not necessarily trying to drive the audience back to the site? »

For example, vice-journalist Emily Green was on the ground in the Darien Gap and recently wrote a story for the Vice News site as well as created a video for TikTokDrummond said.

The “meat” of a BDG-produced social video is usually repackaged and shared across different platforms, altering details such as text or each platform’s native fonts, Bonner said.

“We have to do it that way. Video is expensive. We want to be fair to the creators we pay to create content. We can’t pay platform-by-platform, platform-by-platform and maintain the same scale and volume that we need to operate 80+ social channels,” Bonner said.

But what about publishers’ age-old concerns about investing too many resources and money into a platform they don’t own?

“Even the platform that benefits us today, we should be skeptical about tomorrow. The downside of social media in general is that they don’t belong to us. We’re playing a game that we don’t control in a way,” Lyles said. “When something [new] emerges, we look at it and you say… Does that make sense [to invest in], given the size of the team? Would it be worth it, in terms of ROI, for someone to even dedicate part of their day to this? »

However, Drummond is confident in Vice’s investment in vertical video, regardless of which platforms go up and down. Going forward, Vice plans to experiment with more live streams, longer docu-style videos, and cover more current events on TikTok, as its role as a search engine for the news to grow (he tested it with a recent news video of an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States, which now has over 308,000 views).

“Platforms may change, but vertical video and smartphone consumption aren’t going anywhere,” Drummond said.

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