How Magazine Media is Squeezing Revenue From Social

Direct selling and custom programs lead efforts in a period of experimentation.

ARTThe large shadow of the digital duopoly seems to darken everyone else’s prospects of profiting during the digital ad boom. But tales of Facebook’s and YouTube’s notoriously stingy approach to revenue sharing with publishers don’t tell the whole story. Many major media brands are finding creative ways to monetize social reach without waiting around for the beneficence of the social giants. We asked some of the largest publishers populating our monthly Social Media Boxscores where they have seen the most revenue growth in the past year from their platform presence, and the response was almost universal: distribution of their own direct-sold brand integrations or branded content.

It’s critical to monetize the social ecosystem beyond traffic harvesting. Jonathan Anastas, CMO at TEN: The Enthusiast Network, says his company is “leveraging our editorial credibility, passionate audience and social reach to scale the announcements, launches and accolades for auto manufacturers.” For example, TEN’s recent Demon Live event for the new Dodge Demon launch garnered 2.8 million views on Facebook, while its video of a Range Rover unveiling at the New York Auto Show captured more than 400,00 views on YouTube alone.

Another interesting social monetization strategy comes from Bonnier, in the form of short clips that run across platforms. Andrew Leisner, SVP of the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, explains how his division “used one-minute social-specific videos to substantially increase paid editorial integration for companies such as Harley-Davidson, Nissan, Suzuki and Indian. Millions of views—almost all organic—were generated from these videos, which could be played with or without sound on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”

For Hearst, the social ecosystem has become an important audience extension for the content it creates for sponsors (discussed in the April 17th issue of this newsletter). “Our branded content is created at the same levels of quality as our purely editorial content, and increasingly, we are producing it with social distribution in mind, as a great compliment to on-site distribution,” says Chief Revenue Officer Todd Haskell. “With the massive following our brands have on Facebook and Instagram, these are the natural platforms for us to monetize our footprint with branded content. Most importantly, this delivers a great experience for our readers on these platforms, and for the advertisers with whom we collaborate around these programs.”

Rodale’s Women’s Health has similarly focused on social-media revenue. “In the past year, we’ve seen great success in monetizing our social channels, specifically through the use of Facebook Live,” says National Digital Director Lindsay Nickens. And with a 58% growth in Instagram followers in the last year, “We’ve also begun to monetize partnership opportunities through Instagram Stories.”

Facebook and YouTube may remain the kings of reach, but Condé Nast singles out Snapchat as an increasingly important channel for revenue. General Manager for Digital Mark Starker says, “Snapchat’s products provide our brands a new destination for millions of users to consume custom content experiences and directly provide our marketing partners with reach against a core demographic.”

Most publishers tout extensions of their own branded content and integrations, but Rodale’s Runner’s World focuses on revenue sharing and the ability to extend the reach of their clients. “Some of the newer social tools—such as Facebook Instant Articles, Facebook Live, and Instagram Stories, in particular, have enhanced Runner’s World’s ability to expand beyond our direct business,” says Associate Publisher Paul Collins. “They’ve contributed to year-over-year revenue growth. Aligning partner objectives with an engaging viewer experience has been key to our success, creating a win for all involved—brand, advertiser and audience.”

Meanwhile in the more traditional traffic-grabbing social channels, many magazine media brands enjoyed some big engagement wins in March.

Self’s online performance continues to make the case for life after print. As its last issue faded from newsstands, the brand was on an Instagram roll, posting 1,710% growth in engagement. This comes in part through Self’s testing Instagram Stories, but the reasons may have run deeper. Editors chose this channel to highlight inspiring women through videos, such as Hijabi fitness trainer Zehra Allibhai, which drew 100,000 views. A bold image of a young double mastectomy patient sparked a massive conversation as well. Despite the addition of links in Stories, Self continues to work natively on Instagram to keep its users engaged there and exposed to the full range of content the brand carries.

For a magazine brand that caters to the proverbial 1% of highest-end consumers, duPont Registry has an outsized social audience of over 6.5 million Facebook followers and engagement activity that was second only to Food Network in our March data set. Videos of supercars and “duPont Registry Live” streams are driving engagement and word of mouth.

Bauer’s Closer is in social growth mode too, following in the footsteps of its sister pubs like InTouch and Life&Style. It led among magazines in Instagram follower growth (+13%) in March and among the top ten in Facebook engagement growth (+171%).

It will be interesting to watch this coming year whether major publishers increase focus on diversifying audience development to reduce dependence on Facebook’s forever capricious algorithms.

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