Social media has changed the way websites work. The humble homepage was once the most important part of any web presence, but these days, the traffic that comes in sideways from Twitter and Facebook swamps most hompepage metrics.

Social media has also transformed the way people get their news. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, more that 60 percent of American Twitter and Facebook users now see their social platforms as a source for news outside what’s happening with their family and friends.

Rather than see the disruption driven by social media as a problem for publishers, Jeroen Zanen and Edwin Kuipers, co-founders of Dutch technology firm Crowdynews, see a real opportunity.

Improving audience retention

​Headquartered in Groningen, The Netherlands, Crowdynews is using algorithms based on computational linguistics and artificial intelligence to curate social content on the publisher’s page, turning social media from a simple traffic driver into a tool for improving audience retention rates with the potential to generate revenue.

The technology monitors social media feeds, collecting and ranking relevant posts, filtering against rules custom to the news organization, and publishing the results in realtime through an embedded widget.

The fully-automated feed displays bite-sized social media content next to news stories, adding value to traditional editorial content with live social perspective.

“The crowd perspective and citizen journalism has become critical to the breaking news cycle, as we’ve seen in stories like the Hong Kong protests, unrest in the Ukraine and the Arab Spring,” says Zanen. “We help newspapers capture the reactions of the people on the ground in real-time.”

The firm started out using only Twitter as its social media source, but now allows customers to curate content from eight different social media platforms. “Integrating social media properly will add to engagement figures,” says Kuipers, explaining that a carefully curated stream of social content lies at the heart of that integration.

“Look at the New York Times homepage,” says Zanen. “There’s lots of lively content to get people to the site, but even the New York Times can’t refresh their content every five minutes,” he explains. “They manage it maybe every hour or so, but publishers want to engage the audience all the time.”

Hybrid publishing

Crowdynews solves that problem by gathering and filtering relevant social media content and posting it in realtime on published pages next to related stories, augmenting owned content with social media sources such as Twitter, Facebook,YouTube, Instagram and Vimeo.

The result is a hybrid publishing model that brings together two mediums, combining the reliability of trusted traditional publishing brands with the ‘mass appeal’ of social content. “People still look at specific sites, go to specific URLs, the Washington Post for politics for example,” says Kuipers.

The engagement levels of these brand-loyal people are high, up to 5 times higher than they would be if they were coming in directly from social media. Kuipers says engagement is lower with audiences arriving cold from social media because they have left a dynamic social enviromnment to come to a relatively flat published environment.

“Coming to a published page from social media is like getting in to a cold bath; give the audience a Facebook style experience and you’re making the water warm,” he says. “By helping publishers socialise their environment, we’re creating the experience that people expect.”

The Crowdynews social feed currently focuses on the topic being reported, not responses to a specific article, but the firm is looking at how it can use its approach to add value to article commenting.

“Commenting, as we know it now, is surprisingly unsocial,” says Zanen. “We are working on a commenting function, but we will demand a social element, where people can only comment if they agree that their comment can be shared on Twitter and Facebook.”

Zanen sees audiences engaging with content on social platforms, but also sees some publishers who want to retain a level of independence. “Not all publishers want all their content slapped on Facebook,” he says, “They want to remain autonomous and socialising web pages – creating a similar experience as you have on Facebook with family and friends making recommendations – helps restore that autonomy.”

Alsongide greater control of their content and improved engagement, Crowdynews introduces a new route to monetisation. Keeping readers engaged means more revenues, but there is also the opportunity of a direct revenue share from advertising placed in the Crowdynews widget.

If a publisher doesn’t want ads, they can pay a license fee based on the number of page views. Unsurprisingly, as media organisations try to counter slowing print revenues and develop new digital revenue streams, most clients go for the ad-supported option. “About 95 percent of publishers go for the potential of the revenue share,” says Kuipers.