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Content:

MagsBC Session: Online and Social Media Display Writing

Getting Clicks: Online and Social Media Display Writing

Kim Pittaway will share the latest research on how to craft headlines and social media posts that generate clicks–and are consistent with your brand’s tone and voice.

Kim Pittaway is the executive director of the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at Dalhousie University. Kim is the former managing editor and editor-in-chief of Chatelaine magazine and has previously run the Magazine Publishing Workshop for Magazines Canada.

Kim has worked with a wide range of small Canadian magazines on editorial and online strategies, and is the recipient of several honours and awards for her work in journalism.

Kim has written for The Walrus, Maclean’s, Chatelaine, More, Canadian Living, Best Health, Homemaker’s, Reader’s Digest, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Cottage Life, and others. She has also produced radio documentaries for CBC’s The Current and Tapestry. There’s more on Kim here; also check out her website.

Content:

How to Create a Digital Strategy (That Actually Works for You) by David Topping

Photograph of David ToppingBy David Topping, Senior Manager, Product, St. Joseph Media

Too many print publications start where they should end when it comes to their digital strategy. The most important question to ask first isn’t how many articles a day to write or how to go about promoting them on social media. And it’s not whether you should launch email newsletters or apps or podcasts or Snapchat accounts. It’s why: why should you be doing any of that in the first place, and to what end? Here’s how to answer that question, and figure out everything that follows it.

1. Figure out what you care about

You probably already know what one thing matters most to your publication, it’s what has long informed your editorial strategy and it’s how you make money. Here’s what publications most often aim at, and why:

Scale
The more people, the merrier, whoever they are and whatever they do once you’ve gotten their attention. Big advertisers have long loved scale, which is a big part of why many publications focus on this target above all others.

Engagement
Whereas publications devoted to scale try to get an audience’s attention, those devoted to engagement also focus on keeping it. More sophisticated online advertisers care about this, too: some use engagement as a stand-in for credibility when it comes to deciding who to create sponsored content with and a few even pay based on how much time their ads are seen for.

Devotion
Your audience loves you, or needs you, or both. Either way, they’re loyal. If more of a publication’s revenue comes directly from their audience than their advertisers, it’s likely devotion that’s fuelling it.

2. Figure out what to measure

One of the best things about digital media is just how easy it is to collect data on how people use it. One of the worst things about digital media is just how easy it is to drown in that data. But when you know what you care about, it’s a lot easier to determine what to measure and what to ignore. You can’t care about everything, so coming up with a measurable metric that’s a good proxy for what you do care about is critical.

Here are just a few of your many options for what to focus on based on the aims outlined above. Pick a few, or just one, or find something else that works for you—but the smaller you are the fewer metrics you should choose. To measure them on websites, use an analytics tool like Google Analytics; to measure them on social networks and elsewhere, like newsletters and tablet editions, you’re usually best off relying on that service’s built-in tools.

Scale
If you care about scale, you can measure your success by means of website page views, a crude measurement that is increasingly falling out of fashion since it’s so easy to manipulate, but one that many publications are stuck with for now, since so many digital advertisers continue to use it for their campaigns. Sessions or users are better, more honest measurements of scale: sessions is the total number of visits to a website or other digital product during a given period, and users are the number of unique visitors. If you have newsletters, tablet editions or podcasts, you can measure their number of subscribers, and if you have an app, you can measure app installations. And if you’re on social media, you can measure by the number of followers you have on a given network, or by your reach there.

Engagement
If you care about engagement, you care about users taking some sort of action with your content, which can include but isn’t limited to spending time with it.

When it comes to measuring how and to what extent people take action, you could focus on social media engagement on the platforms that suit your content best—the number of people who don’t just glance at a Facebook post or tweet but do something with it, such as share it, retweet it, or Like it. (What social networks suit your content best? The more visual it is, the more important it is you’re on Instagram; the more newsy it is, the more important it is that you’re on Twitter; the more people it’s intended for, the more important it is that you’re on Facebook.) Many website tools let you see the bounce rate of a particular piece of content, which is what percentage of visitors left without looking at any other content on your site, or page depth, which measures how many pieces of content users go through per visit. For newsletters, open rates will tell you how many people opened a given campaign, and, if the newsletter links out to other content, click rate will tell you what percentage of people who either received or opened the newsletter clicked on any one of those links. And for apps, the number of active users, sometimes called active devices, will tell you how many people are actually using the app after installing it.

For time, average session duration or average time on page or screen will give you a sense of how long the average user stays with you per website or tablet-edition visit (that’s average session duration) or per any given item of content (that’s average time on page or screen). More fully featured but expensive analytics tools like Chartbeat can provide the cumulative amount of time all readers spent with any one piece of content, though there’s a crude way to do this with data most services offer for free: take the average time spent per page and multiply it by the number of page views it has.

Devotion
If you care about devotion, you could care about returning website visitors: those whose latest visit to your website wasn’t their first. The more returning visitors you have and content you publish, the more you can go even deeper, by focusing on seeing how many users returned, say, ten times over the course of a given month. If you encourage or force people to log in to view content on your website, measuring the number of active site members can tell you just how devoted those who signed up for an account are.

3. Figure out what to do

Now that you’ve decided what numbers you’ll be paying attention to, you can start putting in work you think will move those numbers—and stop putting in work you think won’t. You shouldn’t be doing anything digitally that you don’t believe is likely to affect your goals, and you shouldn’t be doing anything digitally that you can’t measure to determine to what extent it has.

What should you do, then? Here, again, the answer very much depends on what you care about and how you’re measuring it. Sometimes you will need to change the form of what you produce (its frequency, its medium, its shape and/or its distribution), and sometimes you will need to change its content (its focus, its intended audience and/or its voice); often, you will need to do both. You should start by experimenting with what you think is likeliest to work and what is easiest to do, look at the results, do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t, and then repeat. Over time, you’ll learn more, more quickly and save more and more time producing things that hit your goals faster and faster.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things you could experiment with:

If you care about scale and you’re measuring sessions or users, you could focus your energy on publishing more content than you currently do, or publishing content of interest to a greater audience. You could also make your work more legible to Google by giving pieces of content more straightforward titles, URLs and file names. If you’re measuring page views, the same strategy would work, but you can also cheat by publishing more multi-page articles and more slideshows or galleries (though you might bother your users, who’ll have every right to be annoyed). If you’re measuring newsletter or tablet edition subscribers and you have a website, you can create more places on the site where people can sign up for them, or point more prominently to the ones they can. It’s easier said than done to change the focus of an existing newsletter or tablet edition so that it’s of interest to a greater audience, or launching a new one that is, but nothing will affect subscriber numbers more. If you’re measuring social media followers, you can try publishing more content to the network(s) of your choice, and use what combination of messaging, creative and links your followers there respond to as a guide for what to do more of yourself. And if you have any sort of budget, you can run ads inexpensively on Facebook that can move pretty much any metric for scale, at least temporarily (including but not limited to app installations, Facebook or Instagram followers or reach, page views and newsletter subscribers).

If you care about engagement, and you’re measuring average time on page, you could experiment with publishing longer, more detailed content to see if it holds readers’ attentions. If it’s bounce rate that you care about, you can link to more of your own content in more noticeable ways from within more of the content you publish. If you’re measuring your newsletter open rate, most email services will let you experiment with serving different subject lines for the same campaigns to your subscribers and tell you which was more successful, a feature called A/B testing or multivariate testing. If you’re measuring your social media engagement, you can experiment with what time of day you post there, as well as how frequently you post, and, on networks that are conducive to it like Twitter (very!) and Facebook (somewhat!), how often to repost the same or similar content.

Finally, if you care about devotion and you’re measuring returning website visitors, try creating more recurring website features that keep your audience coming back. Or you could launch an email newsletter that drives people to your website (or, if you already have one, increase the frequency of your existing one, or change how you frame the content in it to get a bigger response out of your subscribers). With devotion as a goal, as is the case with scale and engagement, what you publish is often as much or more important as how you publish it, so don’t be afraid to adapt your editorial strategy as you learn more about what people respond to.

What strategy will work for you? You can’t know that yet, and you shouldn’t expect to be able to: publications and their audiences vary widely, and so, necessarily, does what succeeds for them. Now, though, you should be in a much better position to discover what works best for your publication, and your audience. All that’s left is to start. Magazines Canada


David Topping is the Senior Manager of Product at St. Joseph Media, which owns Toronto Life and FASHION, among other titles, where he leads digital product development and management for all of the company’s editorial brands, as well as the clients of its custom content wing, Strategic Content Labs. In his career in Canadian media, largely in digital leadership roles, he’s launched successful products, built fledgling outlets into powerhouses, and turned decades-old legacy brands towards their digital futures. He’s worked at everything from flush start-ups to poor but punchy up-and-comers, and his work has been regularly recognized as the best of its kind in the country, including at the National Magazine Awards, where he’s won five.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Content:

Chatelaine: Canvassing for Content

For more than 80 years, Chatelaine has established itself as one of Canada’s most trusted brands by speaking to and with women about the best of style, home, food, health and real life. In keeping with this mandate, the magazine decided to commission major national surveys to get further insights into the minds and hearts of women across the country, aged 35 to 45. From these surveys, Chatelaine published two ambitious multimedia packages called “This is 40(ish)”—one in 2016 and the other in 2017. In 2018, as the #MeToo movement captivated the world, Chatelaine chose to focus on Canadian men and launched another survey—this time aimed at 25- to 65-year-old men. The resulting package, titled “The Man Survey,” revealed men’s thoughts on everything from masculinity to feminism, to sex, love, relationships and their role in the movement.

Survey: 45 questions; 1,000 people. Spinoff: Multimedia packaged content.

WHAT THEY DID

For each of their three surveys, Chatelaine worked with Abacus Data, an Ottawa-based polling, public opinion and market research firm.

“We asked ourselves what we would really want to know if we could ask anything,” says Lianne George, Chatelaine‘s Editor-in-Chief. The team then whittled down the list to about 45 questions and Abacus put these in front of 1,000 people across Canada. From the participants’ answers, the magazine spun off print pieces, multiple video series and social assets to support the surveys.

Having this multi-pronged approach gives Chatelaine an opportunity to “delve into conversations inspired by the results,” explained George. “This is actually the fun part, where you get to mine the findings for stand-out stats that lend themselves to deeper exploration via an article or video, for example.”

While Chatelaine‘s process started with defining what kind of content they wanted to produce, the team acknowledged they would need to remain flexible. “We had a sense of what we wanted to do when we started, but certainly the execution was informed by the most interesting results,” says George.

Finding balance: time x process

HOW THEY DID IT

Chatelaine has a staff of 24; George estimates about half worked on the survey series when factoring in all the stages of content creation. It was no small or quick feat. To wit: the team worked to conceptualize the project, commission the survey, write the questions, parse results, assign content, produce video, shoot portraits, write, edit, design, plan social strategy and finally, publish. From start to finish, each package took about six months to complete.

Given the many moving parts, managing the timeline could have been a concern. But for George, it was a matter of allocating a generous planning period and sticking to a strict workback schedule.

Challenge: Making sure context and intent of participants' words are not lost in the editing process.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

“One of our biggest challenges was ensuring we captured a representative collection of voices—both in responses to the survey and in our video series, where we teased out some of the most provocative questions,” says George. She stresses that it was crucial that the context and true intent of participants’ words were not lost in the process of editing hours of footage into minutes-long videos.

She also points to how highlighting surprising facts can garner much attention. “In our first iteration, what struck us was the stat that only 32% of women self-identified as feminists,” she states. “By publishing this, we were able to catch the attention of major influencers like Lena Dunham and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”

According to George, 2017 was very successful from a traffic and engagement perspective. They created social media content that had major organic reach; designed a popular, cheeky and downloadable emoji set (including yogurt, a bottle of wine and some comfy, high-waisted underwear); and their hashtag, #ThisIs40ish, trended #1 in Canada on launch day. “It was one of our top stories of the year in terms of unique views and social engagement.”

When it comes to #TheManSurvey of 2018, Chatelaine was able to help nudge forward an important conversation about how certain gender expectations and attitudes shape the experiences of Canadian men and women.

Having established great success with the surveys over the past three years, Chatelaine is already planning another for 2019.

George says: Surveys are great for getting to know your audience. And they generate a lot of relevant story ideas, too!

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

According to George, the foundation for the multi-year project’s success came from working with the right polling firm.

“You’ll want to partner with someone you trust and who understands your editorial mandate,” she says. “Abacus really understood the value in what we were trying to do and helped us position our questions effectively without changing the editorial nature of the language we were using.”

She is also confident in Chatelaine‘s investment in these surveys. “They’re a great way to get to know your audience and generate a lot of relevant story ideas in one go!”

Read Chatelaine‘s survey content for 2016, 2017 and 2018.


This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Content:

Fashion Magazine: In Motion

With a young, ambitious, agile and innovative team, Fashion magazine prides itself on testing out ideas and content plans based on the most immediate information and data available.

“Our chief strategy is to be adaptive!” says Noreen Flanagan, Editor-in-Chief of the St. Joseph Media title. “As everyone knows, print magazines and publishing as an industry are radically different than they were a few years ago and it remains persistently unpredictable. That means we constantly have to be both proactive and reactive; we’re constantly refining our goals and tactics.”

So, part of Fashion‘s strategic plans include video, an unique opportunity for the mag to create original, stylish, visually arresting and entertaining content that can be both separate from the magazine and/or a complement to it.

Snackable, shareable, social: The right content for the right audience.

WHAT THEY DO

As a brand, Fashion is all about high-quality content—whether that’s a fabulous photo shoot or an interview with an A-list celebrity—and Flanagan believes video is one of the best methods to tell these stories.

It’s the right format for these types of content, she says, because it allows for shareable and snackable cross-platform marketing, which connects well with the magazine’s audience who tend to be younger, mobile and more social.

It’s the front-row seat to all the things the Fashion girl (or guy—30% of their online audience is male) already loves—fashion, beauty, celebrity, lifestyle. It’s the equivalent of an all-access pass and leads to intimate connection with the audience that might be impossible with static pages and online copy.

To make those connections, Fashion uses video wherever they think it makes sense.

“We are meeting our audience wherever they are. We post videos on all our platforms—YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.” In addition, they add video to their hub property, fashionmagazine.com, completing the loop.

42% increase in video views on fashionmagazine.com; 70K views on original produced videos on Instagram; 2M video views on Facebook; 500% increase in shares on YouTube.

HOW THEY DO IT

Flanagan says the title is always looking to diversify and innovate with their digital ecosystem. They were one of the first publications to leverage guerilla-style Facebook Live videos which grew quickly in popularity. It gained enough traction that Fashion was able to monetize them.

“More recently we’ve been experimenting with live cover video shoots, 360० video, as well as video push via Instagram Stories and Instagram Live.”

With this agile approach, Fashion has reaped the benefits:

  • Year over year, they saw a 42% increase in video views on fashionmagazine.com
  • On Facebook in 2016, they had 1.4 million video views. The following year, that number increased to 2 million, a 70% increase.
  • On YouTube, “likes” have increased by 81% year over year; shares increased more than 500%; subscriber numbers rose by 40%; and comments increased by more than 260%.
  • On Instagram, original produced videos generated on average 70 thousand views.

Challenge: Keeping up to the shifting landscape. Solution: Pivoting the strategy to address change.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

The challenge with producing video is being able to keep up to the constantly shifting social landscape. The key to Fashion‘s success, says Flanagan, is the team’s ability to pivot their video strategy to match what they see in the wild. For example, when Facebook recently changed its algorithm to prioritize live video and interactive engagement, Fashion made it their focus.

“We have big ambitions in the digital video space and are making significant investments, including hiring a full-time, in-house video editor to help us continue to produce rich, high-quality content. In future, we would love to develop different channels and franchises and we’re interested in experimenting with long-form, scripted or even an original series.”

Flanagan says: "Do video. A third of the time people spend online is dedicated to watching videos. It's clear the medium isn't going away."

ADVICE TO OTHERS

Flanagan’s advice for other magazines who are thinking of trying video? “Just do it!”

She says it’s ideal if you’re able to bring on a dedicated staff member with expertise in video production. For magazines who don’t have the ability to do so, then leveling up skills for all staff members is the next best option. Even learning a simple program like Videoshop can be the difference between producing cool video clips or mediocre content.


This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)