When I authored the Professional Publishers Association’s Magazine Media Handbook back in 2007 the big emphasis was on digital migration: eyeballs were moving online and magazines were beginning to follow to capitalise on digital revenue streams.
Within the past five years however a second – more influential – wave of change has taken place, as the rise of social networking has led to media shifting from content to conversation.
According to my former employer, comScore, the Social Media usage category has in the past year overtaken both the Entertainment and News & Information categories in terms of percentage reach of the total UK online population, with a total of 41.1 million visitors in April 2012.
It also eclipses more traditional media categories in terms of basic engagement metrics, with internet users spending more time and viewing more pages on social media than the Entertainment and News & Information categories
Search has of course also played its part in this shift. Google is, in its own way, a conversational medium. You ask it questions, it makes suggestions, you select the content that suits. Even Google News, which is the closest the search giant comes to presenting you with an online morning newspaper, does not rely on the insight of an editor to determine what you read.
Between social media and search and the growing symbiosis between the two, the traditional media model, based on physical publishing, is ultimately doomed to fail because it can no longer control the distribution. And distribution is everything.
In the traditional media world the advertising model was simple. Publishers and broadcasters created quality content designed for target audiences and charged brands a premium to run their advertising around it – controlling the distribution of messaging to consumers.
For many, Facebook has come to represent the ideal gateway from the old media world into the new, replacing traditional content with conversation generated by the audiences themselves within the Facebook walls, and running advertising accordingly around it. And on the surface at least the numbers look good, with Facebook’s own research suggesting a return of $3 for every $1 spent in 70 percent of advertising campaigns and a $5 return in half of its campaigns.
This half-way house approach between the traditional ad model of serving static, targeted ads on a page, and the conversational media those pages contain, is beginning increasingly to resemble a sort of digital media platypus.
But far more interesting is the more recent research from comScore in the US, which shows that unpaid marketing messages on Facebook – using the Pages system – can have just as strong an impact as paid advertising. Users who saw unpaid marketing messages from Starbucks’ official page within a four-week period were 38 percent more likely to purchase an item from the coffee shop than those who didn’t – a control group that essentially comes down to people who have “liked” Starbucks’ page and their Facebook friends.
For publishers, the key is being able to recognise the shift from one-way publishing to conversation and adapt their publications accordingly, engaging with audiences in more intelligent ways. Brands and businesses must recognise the declining impact of traditional media content as we have come to understand it, and be prepared to potentially put marketing legwork before advertising ease, in order to run their own communications and consumer outreach independently of the traditional media model.
Jamie Gavin is MD of digital media company InPress Online.