2 March 2017

Why You Can’t Rely on Social media to Drive Digital Audience Growth

Why you can’t rely on social media to drive digital audience growth


Allison Wahl offers alternatives to social media for driving audience growth in the evolving digital landscape.

Digital media companies and publishers rely on content as a key way to establish their brands. They strive to get the right eyes to their content and grow both their audience and their brand.


Less and less are people likely to start their content consumption from the homepage of a site. Instead, they’re engaging with media on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat – platforms they’re already spending time on.


This makes it tricky for digital media companies and publishers. When social media platforms change their algorithms, offerings, or prices, things can get tough. It’s like trying to build a house on rented land. That’s why media companies are focusing on growing an owned audience through channels like email marketing, native apps, and podcasts.


Digital media companies and publishers can still drive audience growth in today’s changing digital landscape, here’s how:


Removing total dependence on social media platforms


There’s no doubt that Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media platforms provide ample opportunities for publishers. According to the Australian News and Media Research Centre, 52.2% of Australians get their news on social media.


Although major digital media companies have seen substantial gains in traffic from social media sites, they’ve also suffered when these platforms have changed their offerings. For example:


  • Facebook’s Instant Articles, which disrupted traffic to media sites by keeping people within the social media experience, and
  • Twitter lead generation cards served as a substantial source of subscribers, as well as traffic. But now, they’re out of the picture.


As long as digital media companies and publishers depend on social media platforms for traffic, they’ll continue to fall victim to changing products, services and algorithms.


Although social media will remain a pillar in the digital marketing landscape, companies are increasingly considering how they can own their audience instead.


Creative ways to drive audience growth

Digital media companies and publishers care deeply about their audience’s experience. They want to grow an audience, but they also want to grow the right audience.


But when algorithms shift and traffic disappears, teams can panic.


How can media companies and publishers drive audience growth while serving their readership?


Use chat bots to serve up content

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting more advanced, and chat bots are leading the charge. Many companies are using chat bots to deliver content to the right place at the right time.


For example, if someone expresses interest in certain areas in a chat window, a chat bot can promote signing up for a newsletter.


Optimise content based on where subscribers come from

Media companies and publishers who want to drive audience growth should figure out what’s already working– before they dive in. For example, if you realise that a large percentage of your traffic comes from email newsletters, then it’s worth figuring out how to get more people to subscribe.


Focusing on contextual sign ups

Marketers are becoming better at delivering the right content to the right people at exactly the right time. It’s become easier to personalise and automate based on interest, gender, location, and much more.


For example, if a someone visits BuzzFeed Food to get recipes or tips on healthy eating, they’ll be asked to sign up for a food newsletter with recipes.


Provide incentives for signing up

Email marketing gives digital media companies and publishers the opportunity to own their audience, so many are doubling down on email efforts. They’re no longer seeing it as an extension of what they offer. They’re focusing on it as its own viable channel.


But to get people to subscribe, you have to provide incentives for signing up. Here are some tactics digital media companies and publishers are using:


  • Gated content – Digital media companies and publishers create must-read content that can only be read when someone subscribes to an email newsletter or course.
  • Editor-only insights – Editors can create specific newsletters with their insights and best articles, and then sell this newsletter to readers who frequent their articles.
  • Courses and series – courses such as ’10 days of clean eating,’ encourage people to subscribe to get a sneak peek at the kinds of great content they would get by signing up — then encourage them to become full-time newsletter subscribers.


In a changing digital landscape, media companies and publishers are finding clever ways to grow their audience, specifically by focusing on channels they can own. Email marketing, native apps, and podcasts have become particularly attractive.


These teams care about growing the subscribers on their lists, but they’re also paying close attention to open rates, repeat visitors, and how many people open emails on a daily basis.


By carefully considering how to drive audience growth, media companies and publishers will thrive in a changing world.