The already fading interest in the “Yanny vs. Laurel” debate to which we were all subjected a week ago lends further credence to the idea that social media’s one universal truth is: “What works today, won’t tomorrow.”
The same fate potentially awaits magazines trying to draw interest to their social feeds. Due to changing tastes and tweaks to algorithms, a social media editor’s job is one of constant experimentation and adaptation, whether it’s switching strategies or trying new platforms all in hopes of reaching a new, wider audience or further engaging a thriving community. Most importantly, content can’t come off as dated.
To understand how magazines manage social presences and keep them fresh, we spoke with three editors that handle social media, one from Esquire, another from This Old House, and a third from the coffee industry B2B title Roast. The general philosophy was consistent for all three: while some ideas might not work, you can’t have astounding successes without readapting day after day.
Esquire embraces Snapchat
Longform journalism isn’t supposed to perform well on social. That’s the theory, at least, but not one that Esquire.com managing editor Ben Boskovich adheres to.
Prior to taking on the managing editor role, Boskovich served as Esquire’s social media editor. Two years ago, he had the opportunity to provide content to Snapchat Discover when it first launched. He had seen some early successes, but one story in particular shifted his view of the platform. On the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, he reposted a story detailing one person’s escape from the World Trade Center towers. Accompanying the piece was a new conversation with a 15 year-old who was born on that fateful day. Neither pieces are read in a flash, yet the post was among Esquire’s greatest Snapchat success stories, says Boskovich.
Now, Esquire’s feed attracts around 1.5 million viewers, according to Boskovich, drawing in eyeballs from the 13-to-20 year-olds that proliferate on the platform. It’s not all long-form, and there are plenty of celebrity interviews and tips. Unlike other platforms, though, Snapchat doesn’t offer users an easy way to leave. Despite all of the views it can garner for publishers, it leads to zero direct clicks. That doesn’t change Esquire’s commitment to Snapchat, with Boskovich viewing it as a “great opportunity to reach the next generation of Esquire readers.”
This experimentation is a constant at Esquire. With Facebook algorithm changes or community desires shifting daily, it’s on Boskovich and social media editor Elena Hilton to adjust on the fly. If ice cream suddenly becomes a trending topic, “we need to find the most Esquire way to run ice cream,” added Boskovich.
The team studies traffic and engagement numbers to determine what works and what falls flat. But the job has moved from justification to one of tactics. So if one type of content suffers, then it’s moving onto the type of content that works. They’re not all successes, like Esquire’s Pinterest efforts, which never took sail, but that’s OK.
“The minute we stop trying to experiment, we’re going to fall behind,” says Boskovich.
This Old House’s social media strategy often cuts against the grain.
Pinterest has become its number one resource for social referrals to its website, and what works isn’t the beautiful, staged imagery of clean-cut projects, with bright, airy lighting. Instead, for many years, the best performing image that site editor Tabitha Sukhai had pinned was one depicting a bearded woodworker sanding an old wooden table. It’s dark, aged and counter to mainstream best practices on Pinterest. But it connects with Sukhai’s community.
Over 11 years with the brand combined, Sukhai started many of This Old House‘s channels on various platforms, and as social became more prominent, she began to see it it as a way to beta test new opportunities.
TOH runs a Tumblr page where it targets younger users who aren’t the traditional viewers or readers. Instead, “This Old Apartment” offers tips for sprucing up the rental. In 2012, Sukhai started to post tips about renovating the first home, which performed well on the Tumblr page. This early success led to a new franchise, The Snug, in 2015, focused on first-time homebuyers. When Time Inc. sold TOH in 2016, The Snug remained [editor’s note: The Snug has since become a part of Real Simple, which has since become a part of Meredith Corp.], so TOH launched a new stand-alone, House.one, in February.
“There’s a lot to be said for using free social platforms as a test environment for potential audiences,” Sukhai tells Folio:.
Among TOH’s other social platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are used for engagement, talking with readers and even raising funds for charity. Combined, the platforms account for about 15-percent of ThisOldHouse.com’s traffic.
One thing social performance requires is content, and lots of it. How then, do you use social effectively when there’s only a limited amount of content available to non-subscribers? That’s the challenge digital content manager Lily Kubota faces as she tries to revamp the social feeds for Roast.
The solution she’s found: Cross-posting community content. Roast targets the coffee roasting industry. While Kubota’s main goal is to reach those brewers that will subscribe to the publication, there’s also a whole swath of coffee aficionados that follow the caffeinated quaffs just as closely as industry insiders. This gives her the opportunity to interact and share their content, which allows Roast to remain in the daily conversations that insiders have. Plus, it helps that advertisers notice the engagement.
Roast currently uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, in particular, has been challenging. She finds that posts about coffee’s health benefits do well, but it’s a balance since she can’t use too much of the same content and it doesn’t necessarily bring in a potential subscriber. Twitter, on the other hand, gives Kubota more freedom, since she can post more often and live share during conferences.
Kubota is realistic about the social goals, though. While she believes interactions will result in increased subscriptions and appeal to advertisers, social media isn’t a sales tool. That’s why she looks at content holistically, weighing interactions, clicks and shares, determining what types of posts performed best.
To grow the magazine, “it’s not just going to trade shows and handing out print magazines anymore,” she says.
Instead, it’s about daily conversations, and making sure Roast is a part of them