The branded content market is exploding. Some estimates peg the market size for branded content at $20 billion over the next five years. When a brand partners with a publisher for a branded content campaign, the brand is buying a few things: the publisher’s storytelling expertise, its influence and thought leadership, and access to an engaged, relevant audience. Unfortunately, getting this audience to interact with branded content articles is becoming increasingly hard. Organic traffic isn’t what it used to be, and branded content specifically doesn’t get much SEO love. To combat this trend, it’s common for publishers to acquire audiences when there is a positive ROI. For editorial content, this means buying traffic for profitable audience development and subscriptions. For Branded Content, it means buying traffic as part of a bundled offering that may include acquisition as part of the cost, or may break it out as a separate line item.
Turner is taking its growing branded social video practice global.
Turner Ignite, a division of Turner’s ad-sales business that focuses on data-driven advertising, has a social video advertising product called Launchpad. Launched during CES in 2016, Launchpad is designed to help advertisers distribute sponsored videos Turner companies create — everyone from Conan O’Brien’s “Team Coco” to Great Big Story — across Turner’s social portfolio, which features 100 accounts and 793 million followers. The idea is that by using data that Turner has access to across its social accounts and merging that with social analytics vendors it has partnerships with, Turner can not only help brands create videos, but successfully distribute them across the social web.
Led by Frank Kavilanz, svp of social strategy and solutions for Turner Ignite, and a 20-person team in New York, Launchpad has done more than 160 campaigns for advertisers. The campaigns, for advertisers ranging from 21st Century Fox to Snickers, have gotten nearly 500 million video views. Now, Turner is bringing this product to its international divisions, which include Turner International and CNN International.
To do this, Turner Ignite started a training program to familiarize sales and marketing employees across its international markets — including Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia — with Launchpad. This consisted of two-day, eight-hour courses led by Leslie Koch, an HBO veteran Turner hired to be its director of social strategy and lead the international training effort.
The courses were extensive: They started by covering basic terms and features such as “dark posts” and news feeds; then information on the reach and capabilities of different social networks; followed by manuals on how to advertise on the different platforms, including a breakdown of different ad units and targeting capabilities of those units; leading to detailed discussions on the different types of data and analytics tools available within Launchpad and why they matter; and finally ending with a test run of a campaign.
It’s only after they complete the course that Turner gives salespeople access to the Launchpad product.
“When you’re a salesperson and you go into a pitch, if there’s something you’re not familiar with, you’re going to be reluctant to talk about it,” Kavilanz said. “This gives them the confidence to bring Launchpad up in conversation.”
So far, nearly 500 international sales and marketing employees have completed the course and have access to the product. Additionally, executives higher up the Turner food chain, including president David Levy and Turner Ad Sales president Donna Speciale, have completed the training course.
“You can now talk to David Levy and ask him what a dark post is; he knows this stuff,” Kavilanz said.
With the international expansion of Launchpad, Kavilanz’s team will grow to 30 strategists and data scientists by the end of the year. While the team will continue to handle campaigns once they’re live, Turner is also creating a structure where data specialists inside international divisions will remain in constant contact with the New York-based Launchpad team.
“We have identified, by region, data insights people — these are folks who go above the [eight-hour courses] — who can go deep like my team does on what all of the data means,” Kavilanz said. “They’re working closely with my team, have standing calls and function as an extension of the Launchpad team embedded within CNN International and Turner International.”
To date, Launchpad has either completed or started a dozen international campaigns, including two that Great Big Story did with All Nippon Airways and Genesis. Both campaigns involved multiple videos and are now part of broader, ongoing partnerships with the clients — a major area of focus for Turner Ignite and Launchpad.
Another major aspect of the Launchpad product: offering guarantees on 30-second views across social platforms, which roughly 70 percent of clients take advantage of, according to Kavilanz.
“We’re able to provide 30-second guarantees by country to a specific target audience — not just age and gender, but people with specific passions — and do all of that within the campaign window,” Kavilanz said. “It’s a one-Turner approach to content marketing on social, which makes it easier to transact, because you know you’re getting all of these things, whether you’re executing in the U.S. or doing something out in Paris or Hong Kong, or across all three.”
Starting in January of this year, we at the Chicago Tribune started to anecdotally see a fairly significant change in our post reach.
We weren’t seeing a huge difference in post consumption or daily average reach, but we were just seeing more misses than hits. At the Tribune, we have a fairly stable and predictable audience. We had around a half million fans at the end of March and have seen slow but steady growth in the last year. Most Facebook posts fell into the 25,000 to 50,000 reach range — with a few big successes and few spectacular failures each day, usually based on the quality of the content or the quality and creativity of the share.
But starting earlier this year, we started to see far more misses. And not reaches in the low 20,000’s but 4,000 reach or 6,000 reach. Digital Editor Randi Shaffer was one of the first to notice.
Some of our data looked fairly normal. Our average daily organic reach looks volatile but familiar. We used average daily because Facebook doesn’t give you monthly.
But, our per post metrics were falling. Our average organic post reach was on the decline, but not that far off a prior low of mid-2016.
Still, averages can be strongly affected by outliers. It was our median organic post reach that was far more revealing. Yes, we were on a downward trend — and that trend put us at record lows. The middle was falling precipitously. Our median post was being seen by fewer and fewer people, organically.
To try to get a handle on the nature of the issue, I decided to download 15 months of Facebook post data — no small feat since Insights only lets you grab 500 posts at a time. Then I merged the 30 csv files and sorted the organic post data into four buckets: less than 10,000 reach, 10,001–25,000, 25,001-50,000 and 50,001+. The results literally stunned me. The number of posts that fell into the category of lowest efficacy—the ones seen by the fewest number of people — was skyrocketing.
In December of 2016, we had only 8 posts with 10,000 reach or less. In January of 2017, that had grown to 80. In February, 159. And in March, a ridiculous 242 posts were seen by fewer than 10,000 people. And while late 2016 saw record lows in that lowest quartile, that 242 is far above any prior month in our dataset. And we were seeing a steady decrease in that 25,001 to 50,000 quartile. That had gone from 248 in January 2016 to 141 in March 2017.
What did this mean? In baseball terms, we were hitting far fewer doubles and we were striking out 1 every 3 times at the plate. Four months earlier, we struck out 1 of every 90 at-bats.
And it was happening despite solid growth on our Facebook page — which, logically, would translate to increased reach.
Yet many of our posts were seeing diminished organic reach despite picking up more than 130,000 Facebook fans.
So why could this be happening? Let’s look at some of the possible factors.
Increase in post frequency
One possible explanation is that during this period we slightly increased the number of posts per day. However, the rise was quite small and doesn’t coincide with the recent trend.
We went from roughly 20 posts per day to 24 posts per day. And however small that may look per day, that number adds up over time. In this timeframe, that represented a 25 percent increase in monthly posts.
However, Facebook’s formal guidance is 24 to 48 posts per day. And we looked at the cadence of 23 other newspaper Facebook pages and determined we were in the mid- to low-end. For the last six months, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (661,551 fans) posted 74 times per day and the Houston Chronicle (385,086 fans) 58. Big thanks to Digital Editor Elizabeth Wolfe for crunching these numbers with CrowdTangle to prove our normalcy.
While it may be unlikely that frequency is our culprit, it’s a change in behavior we have to consider.
And moving ahead, this may be more of an issue. NewsWhip in its dive into three years of social data directly recommended quality over quantity in its five primary takeaways: “Post fewer but quality content that delivers value to your audience’s lives.”
Content type mix
In addition to frequency, Facebook also has its optimal content mix — 50 percent links, 25 percent video and 25 percent photos. To be honest, we don’t come close to this. But neither does any media organization comparable to the Chicago Tribune. Of those same 23 newspaper Facebook pages we looked at, most were posting majority link content types in the last 6 months. USA Today had the lowest percentage of links at 78.14% and the Sun-Times the most at 99.28%. But in general, most newspapers were sharing links on their primary Facebook page around 90% to 95% of the time. So the Tribune, at 97.2%, was slightly high but not atypical.
And given that our content mix hasn’t changed substantially in the last 15 months, this would have to be a somewhat remote possibility.
Still, NewsWhip reported last year that links were seeing less engagement even as video was on the rise, however artificial. And we’re posting mostly links.
Facebook Instant Articles
Another factor could be our lack of Instant Article adoption. Our parent company has been circumspect in regards to Instant Articles. We’ve been testing Instant Articles, but we have yet to deploy them in Chicago. Given the changes announced last month, giving publishers a bit more control, I’m hopeful this will change.
But again, since we’ve not changed posting formats, this would seem an unlikely factor … unless the algorithm changed.
So what about that Facebook algorithm …
What I inevitably come back to is that something changed on Facebook’s side of the equation.
Given that I hope the Tribune passes muster for “authentic,” let’s focus on the second half. What exact signals are being used to determine what “timely” means? It purports to favor topics that are being discussed in real time.
For example, if your favorite soccer team just won a game, we might show you posts about the game higher up in News Feed because people are talking about it more broadly on Facebook.
So exactly how much reach lift is conferred by dovetailing with Facebook-defined trending topics? Conversely, does this punish topics not being discussed? Or did the Facebook real-time algorithm become more like Instagram’s, prioritizing content based on the volume of immediate comments, shares, likes and reactions—and squelching posts that are initially ignored? That could be “timely.”
So here we are. The data show that we are having the fewest number of our most successful posts and the most of our least successful at a time when our strategy hasn’t significantly changed and our fans have grown.
So, is anyone else experiencing this situation, and if so, does anyone know why and how to compensate? Because if 1 of 3 Facebook posts isn’t going to be surfaced by the algorithm to a significant degree, that would change how we play the game.
After the first piece, I received a lot of nice comments, the great folks at MediaShift republished the piece and I even got a chance to ramble on about headlines to the awesome staff at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. As an aside, I now have a pretty slick Google Slides version of my thoughts on this topic!
But as I continued to talk about headlines, I kept finding new and better case studies. So what follows really is more of an addendum to the first post, a final notebook dump of sorts, where we at the Chicago Tribune took digitally deficient headlines and really focused on drawing out the compelling aspects.
As before, in all of these examples, we at least doubled realtime homepage engagement (click-through rate) after we made the change. We based this on Chartbeat’s heads-up display. So if 50 people were clicking on a headline before, at least 100 were after. Visually, that looks like this …
But this is only one measuring stick. More compelling heds are more sharable on social as well.
Why the before-after format? While every story’s unique, I think there’s more to be learned from studying empirically successful headlines than in just reading tips and theories. Plus, as I said, I already wrote that. So, I hope there’s a little added value in these 13 new examples.
This one is particularly galling in that that headline is vague, a pun and also dead wrong, as the story specifically says they’re NOT falling down.
After, part 1:
After, part 2:
More H/T’s to my great Tribune team, including Jeff Cercone, Kyle Betts and Aly Brumback and Alex Parker.
Over half of brands (52%) consider conversions to be the most important metric to determine whether a piece of content was successful. By comparison, only 13.3% of publishers find conversions a useful benchmark of success, favoring instead time-on-page (50%), pageviews (45%), and social sharing (41.7%).
These metrics highlight a difference in the goals of the two kinds of organizations. In general, publishers are more concerned with users reading or viewing their content. For brands, content aligns with the overall strategy of driving customers to a product.
However, publishers might be able to take a page out of brands’ playbook when it comes to conversions, particularly for implementing and tracking monetization.
Our research done in partnership with Digiday’s CUSTOM studio underscores that publishing professionals often find themselves thinking from two perspectives. When it comes to paid efforts, editors also need to consider more traditionally business-side concerns.
“I’m the editor of a subscription-based video recipe app. I have a website; I want conversions. So on some level, how do we get people into the product and get them to subscribe? This is the fundamental metric of anything we do.” —study participant
Measuring conversions could help publishers serve these business-side concerns without making sacrifices to editorial strategy.
Defining Conversions in the Context of Content
Content marketers in particular are no stranger to conversions. A conversion happens when a visitor to a website takes a desired action. That action can be any number of things—filling out a form, downloading content, subscribing to a newsletter, or making a purchase.
The flexibility of what constitutes a conversion simultaneously lends an advantage and presents complications. With a multitude of choices, how do you know what exactly to measure—especially operating as a publisher, not necessarily as a marketer? In addition, marketers have long dealt with the issue of “attribution modeling,” or, how do you know what exactly caused that conversion?
Defining what constitutes a conversion in the context of goals is key. As one brand participant says, “It’s [about] understanding what’s the business objective, the marketing objective. What are the behavioral outcomes that you want to see from the audience based on those objectives? A lot of my job is really level setting and resetting goals.”
A #MetricShift chat hosted by MediaShift pinpointed conversions as an underrated metric. Jason Alcorn predicted publishers will begin to pay more attention to “conversion to known user” in the near future, with subscribers as one example.
The Telegraph has focused its strategy on driving subscriptions. Digiday reports that the newspaper has seen an increase in subscriptions since instituting a paywall.
“The number of new people signing up to subscribe to The Telegraph on any given day has grown 300 percent since the newspaper put 20 percent of its content behind a hard paywall last November.” —Digiday
Previously, subscriptions strategy was more separate from editorial strategy, but now, “The Telegraph’s editors get full ownership of what content is commissioned for Premium and what is made available for open access.” Editors analyze audience data to make these decisions and to understand which articles are driving subscriptions. Measuring conversions in this way unites business and editorial goals, rather than setting them apart, or even seeing them as at odds with one another.
Set Goals, Measure Success, and “Repurpose the Hell Out of It”
The real takeaway publishers can learn from brands when it comes to conversions is the necessity of defining goals and deciding what success is from the outset. Publishers may find that discussing what qualifies as a conversion for their team can lead to a more unified overall strategy.
Survey responses suggest that conversions aren’t necessarily top-of-mind for publishers at the organization level. Publishers are only asked to predict or report conversions 5% of the time.
However, as in the example of The Telegraph, there’s interesting potential when teams restructure around the common goal of conversions.
“It’s sort of a chicken and egg discussion. If the question is what’s the best metric, you have to lay out what the goal of the particular piece of content is before you can say, ‘Here’s how it should be measured.’” —brand-side study participant
And once you set a goal, measure, and find what works—according to a brand marketer—you “repurpose the hell out of it…trying to recreate that effect.”
Curious how the way your team uses analytics compares to that of other publishers and brands? Read the full Digiday report to get a sense of how the industry’s approach to data analytics is evolving.
The Drum is a business publication that has come of age in the digital era. From its roots as a publisher of regional and UK marketing news it is now a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe with 1.2 million unique users per month.
Much of its success has been predicated on knowing what its readers want—from breaking news stories to in-depth analysis of the hottest topics, and an early emphasis on quality digital journalism that would resonate with marketers globally.
As a publication that has long championed the growing strategic role of data for brands and marketers for understanding audiences, new product development and as a communications tool, it was inevitable that The Drum itself would want a data-driven solution for a digital future.
The Drum homepage
Analytics has become a crucial part of The Drum’s journalism as it informs and steers the publication’s understanding of what its audience wants to read. Here are three ways The Drum applies content analytics to their strategy.
News Strategy: “Reaffirming Gut Instincts”
News editor Seb Joseph says: “While a lot of how we shape our content is based on the expertise of our reporters, having Parse.ly has been great at reaffirming the gut instincts we have.”
Whether it is working out what type of headlines work best or getting better at understanding peak windows for the team to push traffic out in the day, having real-time feedback allows Joseph to focus more on the finer parts of the editorial strategy.
One recent example was an article about footballer Paul Pogba moving to Manchester United. An earlier, well-read story had cited adidas’ involvement in the move so the team knew that it would be popular. “However,” adds Joseph, “the platform helped us realise just how big it had been for us as a traffic generator—we were able to tweak our editorial agenda for the day to follow up on that initial story.”
Simply put, the news desk is able to be much more immediate, strategic and measured in its approach to reacting to popular stories on the site. Very often the team will expand on a story when audience engagement is high by either looking for another angle, or increasingly building video into a story.
The dashboard is also helping shape the overall editorial themes of the online publication with weekly and monthly reporting being used to flag the interest (or otherwise) of the wider themes the publication covers.
“News is becoming so commoditised now that we’re constantly trying to add value to everything we do.” —Seb Joseph
The platform is easy to use and available to all, but to really emphasise the importance of the real-time data from the site, there is an overview screen now placed above the news desk. This visibility is helping reporters engage more and enables Joseph to direct the team with more certainty of a good result.
The Drum overview screen in the Parse.ly dashboard
As a result of being able to see immediately which stories were doing well, and when, The Drum made the decision to rearrange its content teams to capitalise on peak time and engagement.
Now, from the publication’s Glasgow hub, there are teams of three reporters who start shifts at differing times. One shift starts at 7am to hit the morning traffic spike with mobile and tablet-friendly content, and the next starts at 2pm GMT to do the same for its growing US audience. Short, snappy ‘need-to-know’ articles work best at these commuter-peak times.
Features Strategy: How Data Insights Help Identify Content Lifecycles
The Drum magazine is published fortnightly in the UK, with a quarterly US print edition. Both are dominated by longer-length articles including features, sponsored content, columns and thought leadership pieces across its pages.
Katie McQuater, Magazine Editor, The Drum
Features are published both online and in the print edition, so the insights that come from the Parse.ly platform not only influence what appears online but also in the distributed magazine. It has, says features editor Katie McQuater, changed the way the team plans its long-form content wherever it appears.
Here is where Parse.ly’s suite of metrics filters comes into its own: rather than simply looking at page view numbers McQuater focuses more on the number of engaged minutes and average time spent on the piece.
She also looks regularly at the most popular tags, which helps her decide how feature content should be tagged on the site and to identify which content themes are attracting an engaged audience. For instance, topics such as programmatic advertising, data and social media influence are of perennial influence to readers.
Editor Stephen Lepitak concurs. He says the analytics allow the editors to understand which writers are best connecting with The Drum’s audience and to pinpoint content that might not immediately reach a mass audience, but might be longer-form or long-tail, slowly bringing in readers over a period of time.
Commercial Editorial Strategy: Popular Pieces and Partnerships
Editors can plan content for specific dates and events and witness whether or not the audience finds it to be of interest, and learn what needs follow-up. Commercial teams can then sell advertising around content they know will be popular when running similar pieces in the future.
The Drum also has a content marketing arm, The Drum Works. Proving the worth of such evergreen content is increasingly key when partnering with companies on commercial content—be it long-form articles, videos, white papers or bespoke research.
The Drum’s ‘Everything You Need to Know About…’ series
Data shows that many of The Drum’s most popular content marketing initiatives have been in serial form, such as its popular ‘Everything You Need to Know About…’ strand, which takes marketers through all the basics of a particular topic over a series of weeks via short-form videos supported by feature articles and social media activity. Content can be optimised and reoptimised to fit the brief.
Says The Drum managing director Andy Oakes: “We are much more able to advise clients on content marketing strategy as we have a much better idea about content consumption as a whole.”
Oakes adds that in-house marketing has been improved with insights such as that awards stories were rarely read widely unless they contained a brand example.
The Drum, Today and Tomorrow
Data and analytics are shaping the way The Drum addresses its audience but, critically, not dominating it, as Lepitak points out.
“Despite knowing how to follow audience figures, we also retain journalistic independence to follow stories or content that we believe that our readership should be aware of—whether those stories are likely to be read widely or not.”
Analytics give everyone in the newsroom from the journalists to commercial and the management team a holistic view of performance, from the individual to the overall; respecting what the reader wants to read without forgetting The Drum’s ethos.
It is about delivering a better (long term) product for the audience The Drum serves in a commercially viable way. It is why, when The Drum overhauled its website earlier this year, Parse.ly’s analytics played such an important part—by giving everyone involved a far better view of the way that content is consumed.
Has your digital media organization made changes based on data and analytics? If you’d like to share a success story about your team on the Parse.ly blog, contact us.