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Will Ad Money Follow News to Social Media?

Social networks make work more complex for traditional media companies as they compete for consumer attention particularly the coveted Millennial.  An even bigger challenge  is to find a way to monetize that attention. What strategies and tools can media companies rely upon when it comes to monetize their content at social networks? An in-depth feature story by Portada's Digital Media Correspondent Susan Kuchinskas.


Social networks make work more complex for traditional media companies as they compete for consumer attention particularly the coveted Millennial.  An even bigger challenge  is to find a way to monetize that attention. What strategies and tools can media companies rely upon when it comes to monetize their content at social networks? An in-depth feature story by Portada’s Digital Media Correspondent Susan Kuchinskas.

Adobe has a great TV spot: A marketing exec hears two hipsters chatting in the elevator about the latest cool online service. He rushes into his office and musters his troops to get busy building a presence there. Meanwhile, by the time the elevator is heading down again, the hipsters have already abandoned that network for the next new thing (watch video below). That’s the challenge for media companies as they compete for consumer attention. An even bigger challenge is finding a way to monetize that attention.

As media consumption keeps moving to social media, publishers must change with the times – especially if they want to reach younger audiences. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 61 percent of millennials got political news on Facebook in any given week, while only 37 percent watched news on TV. Half of Gen X consumers got political and government news on Facebook, versus the 39 percent of Baby Boomers who got their news from Facebook.

“Consumption has evolved. The younger generations are informed via mobile. Print publications need to adapt this new form of online dialogue,” says Nick Venezia, CEO of Social Outlier, a digital agency that builds engagement programs. To accomplish this, publishers may need to change their content models, as well. “Where do people have their eyes?” he asks rhetorically. “On their phones. On mobile. As a publisher, you want to put your message where it’s viewable in a microburst of information.”

This illustrates the problem for publishers looking to monetize their audiences on social media. In the early days of a new channel, if you’re bleeding edge and can quickly get out content, “You can be very successful, and even get some virality, because there is limited content,” says Dane Atkinson, CEO of SumAll, a provider of social media analytics. But consumers are fickle, and social media attention is such a moving target, he says, “You need to hire someone who’s 14 and lives and breathes this stuff.”

Dane Atkinson of SumAll
Dane Atkinson of SumAll

Another challenge is that for most brands – of all kinds – audiences on different social networks are quite different, according to Atkinson. “We’ve been data-digging aggressively, and we found that the overlap between a brand’s audience segments is almost nonexistent. We expected that between a brand’s email list and its Facebook following, there would be an overlap of at least 20 percent. Instead, it averages 4 percent,” he says.

This is both bad and good news for publishers. The bad news is that email and web marketing may be missing a lot of the audience potential. The good news is, as Atkinson says, “Social media is virgin territory” for monetization. (SumAll is releasing a new product, Audience Boost, to help publishers build audiences on Instagram.)

It can be done. According to the Newspaper Association of America, newspapers’ revenue from digital channels grew 3.7 percent in 2013, while revenue from “new/other” channels was 5 percent.

Jessica Richards of Socialyse
Jessica Richards of Socialyse

“From a business perspective, monetizing offsite traffic is not surprising and is to be somewhat expected considering that the avenues to which users are discovering content have completely changed. Delivering the advertiser the impressions they seek via one distribution platform is no longer scalable or as advantageous for the publisher,” says Jessica Richards, senior vice president for Socialyse, a division of Havas Media North America.

Snagging Content and Advertising

Social networks have made some big moves to snag content and advertising.

Twitter’s Project Lightning will provide curated content streams tied to live events that can be distributed beyond Twitter, according to BuzzFeed. (Check out Twitter’s recently announced new Feature Moments).

Meanwhile, Snapchat’s year-old Live Stories product has been racking up eyeballs. Ben Schwerin, Snapchat’s director of partnerships, told Re/code that they draw an average of 20 million people in 24 hours, adding that its three-day Live Story Snapchat during the Coachella festival generated 40 million unique viewers.

According to Gareth Capon, CEO of Grabyo, a company that works with media companies and sports rights holders to help them share and monetize content on social platforms,

“Project Lightning is more toward algorithmic curation, while Snapchat is more editorial curation. But with all of these platforms, it is not about archived or discoverable video, it’s about moments happening in real time. That is really different from the traditional publishing proposition.”

And then, there’s Facebook. This fall, Facebook began sharing revenue from ads shown alongside videos with the videos’ creators, YouTube-style.


The New York Times, NBC News and The Atlantic are among the publishers that have agreed to publish stories directly into Facebook in its new Instant Articles program. Facebook positioned Instant Articles as a publishing tool to enable faster loading of stories within news feeds. But Facebook also can sell ads against publishers’ articles. At launch, publishers will keep 100 percent of revenue from ads they’ve sold and 70 percent if Facebook sells the ad, according to The Australian.

Christophe Jammet of DDG
Christophe Jammet of DDG

Christophe Jammet, director of social media and mobile at DDG, a consultancy that works with Fortune 500 companies, thinks Instant Articles may be a good alternative to ad-cluttered news websites. “The standardized Facebook news feed has lots of rules and standards for where ads can be implemented,” he says. “It’s a cleaner interface and will be more consumable.”

The potential downside for publishers, he adds, is that their content could become dissociated from their brand. “It’s a question of identity. You’re making money and taking advantage of this huge user base, but it’s not on your property. I think you will see a split in publishers who are okay with that and those who have a problem with it.”

Made for Monetization

While many social platforms, including Twitter and Snapchat, are figuring out ad models years after launch, other services have built in advertising capabilities. A case in point is Versy, a chat app that lets Latin American mobile users – on both smartphones and feature phones — build communities around content, as well as follow channels created by other users and Versy content partners.

Those content partners include Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Universal Music, Warner Music, Grupo Acir, MixFM’s La Estación and Terra. They can take advantage of channel sponsorship packages, whereby a specific content is brought to users by the brand, as well as promoted chat posts. The latter are specifically targeted promotional posts inserted into channels or conversations.

Maren Coleman of Myriad Group
Maren Coleman of Myriad Group

“The value in Versy is an engaged user base that is filtered by relevance. If someone chooses to follow a channel around an artist or sports personality, and it has a similar audience to a brand’s, it’s much easier to find relevance in that channel,” says Maren Coleman,  until recently vice president of marketing at Myriad Group, maker of the Versy chat app that was formerly known as MSNGR.

Coleman notes that Latin American audiences are highly social and love to share. On the chat app, more often than not, the sharing is one-to-many, that is, one person shares a piece of content to members of one of her groups. “More often than not, it’s one to many, not one to one. That allows that content’s visibility to grow much faster,” she says.

Ads on Versy can help publishers increase revenue by expanding their user base, according to Coleman. For example, she says has more than 120,000 followers on its Versy channel, compared to 42,000 Twitter followers. “”It’s another channel and broadens their visibility,” she says.

Check out: How Social Advertising is becoming huge in Latin America.

Grabyo is a real-time social video platform that lets media companies, broadcasters, rights holders and celebrities distribute social video assets. The video can be live feeds; on-demand video; or archived video assets. We work with media companies, broadcasters and rights holders. For example, Wimbledon’s digital team edited clips and instantaneously sent them out to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as publishing them on the brand website and mobile apps. It also worked with La Liga, the Spanish professional soccer association.

In addition to distribution, Grabyo provides monetization. Brand placements are typically sold as sponsorships, according to Capon, although some social networks, such as Twitter Amplify, insert preroll advertisements. As with Facebook, media companies working with Grabyo can sell the ads themselves or allow the network to sell them. In addition, some rights holders use Grabyo to promote and drive traffic to revenue-generating sites, he says. “You get a huge spike in engagement when you share video in real time.”

Young Cannibals

“Opportunities for monetization exist across all platforms,” Capon says, and the recent spate of ad product announcements indicates that there’s more to come. He says, “This space is still incredibly new and growing fast.”

Which makes it tricky. While leveraging Facebook’s ad network may be more efficient than selling and managing these ads internally, Jammet warns that publishers that move content with advertising to social media could be cannibalizing ad sales on their own sites. He suggests that publications might take a blended approach instead. “There might be really captivating stories or easily consumable content that they might put through the Facebook product but only as an enticement to drive people to their web properties.”

Of course, if social media consumption continues its upward trend, they won’t have a choice.

This article was published in the Q4 2015 print issue of Portada.

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