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Monetising Content in the Age of Social Media

By Jennie Kitchin

Monetising Content in the Age of Social Media

The Aquent London Publishing team recently hosted the next event in our Dine & Discuss roundtable series which was chaired by the Daily Mail's own Head of UX, Julie Kennedy. Amongst the representatives, they had Bosola Ajenifuja from ESI Media, Kelvin Lee from Thomson Reuters, Dean Murphy and Glenn Fisher from Agora and other big UK publishing companies. They came together for an evening of food and conversation, to discuss the challenges of monetising content in the social media age.

In a recent Reuters Institute global survey of 130 leading Editors, CEOs and Digital Leaders, it was found that 22% were more worried about online revenues than last year. More content is now coming from social platforms than ever before, and this is a concern for all of our roundtable attendees. The big three social platforms - Apple, Google and Facebook - now have a large stake in the publishing environment and are seen as a frenemy to most media companies. In the social media age, readers follow audiences rather than looking for specific content, making it essential for publishers to work in conjunction with the social platforms dominating the market and develop new ways of distributing and monetising their content.

The transition to digital content

The legacy of print publication has been declining for several years and continues to do so. Print subscriptions are expensive whereas the majority of online content is now free and is therefore far more popular. The market is saturated with this easily accessible type of content, making it incredibly difficult for publishers, whose biggest source of revenue is subscriptions, to effectively monetise their product. Our attendees agreed that it is the quality of the content that is most important, customers are more likely to pay for an expert opinion piece that they cannot get anywhere else than for news that they can get for free elsewhere.

Another effective way of monetising content has historically been though paid sponsorship. This is still the case with digital but it does create further challenges. In the print space there are clear parameters between editorial and advertorial content but with digitial the process is far more fluid and if articles aren’t labelled correctly they could affect the integrity of the brand. If the client is trying to advertise their company rather than represent it then there could be a negative effect on the editorial aspects of the publication, so ensuring you produce strong quality content is key.

Promoting content through social media

With social platforms beginning to dominate the content space, it is becoming crucial for publishers to use them as an opportunity to push their own articles out to readers. The younger generation are digital natives and they focus more on their friends, social circles and influencers than they do brands. The majority of readers are now on mobile and in-app environments are the easiest way for them to consume commercial content, being far more responsive than mobile web. This means that social platforms that collate and distribute information are making it incredibly difficult for publisher’s content to be found by audiences, unless you use them to your advantage and publish content through them. Our attendees advised distributing content through as many different channels as possible.

Using social to drive referral traffic and support ad revenue can be very effective as long as you ensure the correct content is being positioned on the right platforms, you must be agile in order to keep up with the constant changes. It can also be challenging to track ROI with this strategy as social platforms are less open to sharing their data and results. However, there are many ways of measuring success and our attendees agreed that on social the key metric is engagement rather than direct revenue, meaning that when planning a social campaign you can look at impressions, shareability and audience discussion as measurable KPIs.

The importance of your homepage

According to an insider report, the New York Times have seen more than a 50% decrease in traffic to their home page in the last two years. However, they still get good hits and engagement on their individual articles which is most likely down to their social sharing campaigns. We asked our attendees if they thought that the social media age means the end of the traditional homepage. Interestingly, they disagreed and advised that the homepage is still the face of your brand and should still be the place where prospective customers start their buying journey. The legacy of the newspaper frontpage has evolved to become the website homepage and it is the place to host branding, logins and registration forms. To effectively monetise your homepage you must have a solid content strategy designed to direct readers towards a paid model. The aim of your website should be to collect customer information so that you can promote your free content to them, the majority of people will only pay for a subscription after they’ve received several free articles. It’s important to look at how people value news and content and what they will be willing to pay for.

Bundling is a good way to increase subscriptions. You could look at combining print and digital offerings or providing a giveaway or gift. Including an events membership with your subscription is a great way to engage your audience or try partnering with other companies to create joint subscriptions or product trials. Personalisation is also very popular in the digital age so being able to offer a personalised homepage to subscribers could increase your signup rate and make the homepage relevant again.

The future of video and virtual reality

All of our roundtable attendees agreed that their current strategies include more video content and for every text based article created they are also designing a page to host video. Attention spans of audiences is degrading and video is a quick and easy way to consume content. The main challenge publishing teams face with producing video is the assumption that it is time consuming and that you may not have the existing resources available to you in order to create a polished product. There is a consensus that video is an expensive and difficult discipline to master. However, our attendees feel this is a misconception. The technology and platforms needed to create video are already available with mobile devices and social platforms such as Facebook Live. You could spend a lot of time and money creating a video and have audiences turn off after a few seconds. Your video doesn’t need to be professional if the content is insightful. Quality content doesn’t refer to the production but rather having the right people talking about the right thing at the right time.

VR is also becoming more mainstream, although as a publisher it is still difficult to get approval to experiment with a format that is still very much in it’s infancy. Currently, VR does involve a lot of work and expense for what can be a very niche audience. However, Goldman Sachs have predicted that VR will be an $80 billion market by 2025, so it’s important to have a strong strategy in place now if you don’t want to be left behind!

Let us know in the comments how the social media age has affected your team and if you are interested in attending our next Publishing Dine & Discuss event, please contact Priya Nepoleon at

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