Publishers turn to Facebook for community-building
Every online publisher wants to build a loyal community, but they're taking different routes to get there. Some publishers still believe they have a dedicated-enough audience to host their own communities, while others have opted to extend their communities into the social Web. Whereas a Facebook fan page was once considered a branding experiment, more media companies are tapping into the site as a community forum.
For instance, Guideposts eliminated its community forum in its recent site relaunch in favor of Facebook, where the publisher saw more activity among its readers. Rather than dedicating resources to in-house community management, Guideposts now offers a Facebook widget on its website and leverages Facebook and Twitter to foster community interaction, according to Philip Charles-Pierre, Guideposts' vice president of digital media.
Plug-ins allowing integration of Facebook on a site make it easier to promote the social networking site. Publishers such as Seventeen (recently relaunched) and Paste Magazine allow users to comment via their Facebook accounts without leaving the publication's site.
Nick Purdy, publisher at Paste, said posting articles on the site's Facebook page generates more comments than those on the website. Paste, like Guideposts, figured that if the audience wants to use Facebook, then they should too. “That’s our community ... That’s how they want to communicate. We’re not going to stand in the way of that; we’re going to make it easier," Purdy said.
Publishers may be concerned about losing advertising revenues if people are spending time on a Facebook fan page rather than generating page views on the brand's website. But many publishers have shown that a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can actualy drive more traffic while increasing engagement. The second-biggest driver of Paste's traffic (after search) is social media.
Social media creates additional opportunities for advertisers, especially because of Paste's unusual amount of Facebook engagement (205,000 magazine subscriers and 19,000 Facebook fans), Purdy said. One advertiser asked Paste to curate a mix of music to put on an the advertiser's Facebook fan page.
"We’ve made a shift in our mindset where we consider serving our advertisers with the same level of creativity as we do with our editorial," Purdy said. “Using social media is part of the tool belt that makes that possible.”
When are hosted communities worth it?
Mashable, one of the authorities on social media, actually has its own social community, MyMashable. But the hosted community "isn't something we actively promote," said Josh Catone, Mashable's features editor, in an e-mail. Instead, Mashable actively engages with its audience on many social networks, including Facebook, where the brand has nearly 250,000 fans.
Whether to host a community on your own site or on outside social networks depends on your mission, Catone said. "Utilizing and building our presence on the social networks that our readers are already active on makes the most sense for us right now," he said. "For other companies, like say Dell, who run a number of their own Web communities, where the goal is very specialized, it makes sense to keep things in house and retain complete control."
AARP is another brand that prefers to keep its community onsite. The company recently revamped its extensive community, which has about 1 million registered users. About 20 to 30 percent of those users are active in any given month, essentially becoming "content contributors," said Nataki Clarke, AARP's vice president of digital marketing.
These types of dedicated communities often sprout around niche audiences, such as Automobile magazine or the arts and crafts publisher Interweave. Elsevier's Public Safety group — which targets professionals in fire, rescue, EMS and law enforcement ― features dedicated communities in addition to integrating other social media sites, said Dave Iannone, CEO of Go Forward Media, which oversees e-media efforts in the group.
Iannone said dedicated social networks can be worthwhile in some industries in which people actively ask questions and have discussions around specific topics. Visitors on JEMS Connect, the EMS social network for JEMS.com, are active and engaged, browsing anywhere between four and 20 pages at a time, he said. JEMS.com gets 15 to 20 percent of pageviews from the JEMS Connect network, 10 percent from Facebook, and a few more percentage points from Twitter.
"All the social media, but especially the dedicated social media experience, is a 24/7 trade show," Iannone described it.
The good thing about the Web, he said, is that it's easy to test community-building across a variety of networks and gauge how the audience reacts, without breaking the bank.
Dedicated communities, however, can be a different story from an investment standpoint. Iannone has set up JEMS Connect and others through Ning, which provides a social networking site for $50 a month. Staff resources also have to be considered, though Iannone said a community doesn't necessarily require a dedicated manager. “Someone’s still the guru, but it doesn’t have to be their full-time job," he said.
In a world where users don't just go to homepages, Iannone is a proponent of trying out many social networks. “Unless you’re in some very niche professional market that’s not into the Web, you really have to put your brand wherever your audience is," Iannone said. "That’s not one place anymore.”