Benchmarking: Top Magazines Using the Going Digital, Getting Social Scorecard

As traditional publishers like Meredith, Time Inc and others watch newspapers die off left and right, the challenge is trying to stay relevant and reaching users who are increasingly shifting their consumption online. Many big publishers are dipping their toes into social media as a way to engage their users and I wanted to introduce the Going Digital and Getting Social Scorecard™ (GDGSS) to create some benchmarks and identify best practices.

Methodology

These metrics are a very crude start, but allow us to at least compare brands and understanding who is doing better than others. To start, I took the top 50 published titles based on paid and verified circulation for 2008 as reported by Magazine Publishers of America, excluding titles that are part of membership dues (like AARP and AAA). For this group, I looked at four key measurements:

  • Percent of Circulation that turns to Unique Monthly Visitors to their website: measuring how well you can duplicate the offline audience to an online audience (monthly unique as measured by Quantcast)
  • Facebook engagement: relative ranking of number of Fans to a Fan Page plus average number of interactions with items posted by the publisher to look at engagement
  • MySpace engagement: relative number of friends and comments.
  • Twitter engagement: relative number of Followers and number of Tweets over a seven day period

Companies were awarded up to 5 points for each measure and aggregated to get an aggregate GDGSS total. Ultimately a magazine is going to measure success based on how much these measure drive unique visitors, page (and thus ad) views and ultimately subscriptions. Thus weighting each of these evenly has its flaws, especially since none of the measures directly translates into the ad views and subscription numbers we desire (that is the work of back-end analytics tracking the ROI of each of the traffic sources). Let’s take a look at the top twenty companies by their GDGSS score:

Top Twenty Going Digital and Getting Social Scorecard Magazine Titles

Rnk Title 2008 Circ % Circ to Web Score FB Score MySp Score Twitter Score GDGSS Score
1 Time Magazine 3.37 mil 3.04 2.98 0.00 5.00 11.03
2 Entertainment Weekly 4.03 mil 1.11 1.40 0.00 5.00 10.14
3 US Weekly 1.90 mil 0.09 4.99 0.00 5.00 10.08
4 Money 1.93 mil 5.00 0.00 0.00 5.00 10.00
5 People 3.75 mil 3.82 0.92 0.00 5.00 9.74
6 Newsweek 2.72 mil 3.25 1.40 0.00 5.00 9.65
7 Playboy 2.66 mil 0.93 5.00 0.00 3.64 9.56
8 Rolling Stone 1.46 mil 1.25 0.83 3.69 3.05 8.81
9 National Geographic 5.06 mil 0.87 5.00 1.00 1.76 8.63
10 Cosmopolitan 2.93 mil 0.53 4.32 2.56 0.57 7.98
11 Martha Stewart Living 2.03 mil 0.96 1.40 0.50 5.00 7.85
12 ESPN the Magazine 2.05 mil 5.00 2.00 0.00 0.58 7.58
13 Seventeen 2.03 mil 0.70 3.26 2.00 1.34 7.31
14 Maxim 2.53 mil 1.03 0.50 5.00 0.11 6.64
15 Sports Illustrated 3.24 mil 3.01 0.50 0.00 3.13 6.64
16 Glamour 2.32 mil 0.46 1.46 0.00 4.47 6.40
17 InStyle 1.79 mil 0.80 0.00 0.00 5.00 5.80
18 O, The Oprah Mag 2.38 mil 1.31 0.80 0.00 2.66 4.77
19 Birds & Blooms 1.52 mil 0.09 3.74 0.00 3.74 4.08
20 TV Guide 3.27 mil 0.76 0.93 0.00 2.21 3.89

Many of the big guns (in terms of circulation) did not score highly. In fact, eight of the top ten in circulation in 2008 didn’t make the Top Twenty Going Digital, Getting Social Scorecard, including Readers Digest (#1, 8.3 mil circ, 1.69 GDGSS), Better Homes and Gardens (#2, 7.65 mil circ, 2.98 GDGSS), Good Housekeeping (#4, 4.68 mil circ, 0.92 GDGSS), Family Circle (#5, 3.9 mil circ, 1.00 GDGSS), Woman’s Day (#6, 3.9 mil circ, 1.05 GDGSS) and Ladies Home Journal (#7, 3.84 mil circ, 2.96 GDGSS).

Still, National Geographic, #4 overall with over 5 million in circulation, made the Top Ten and got contributions from all four categories. But this may have everything to do with the content (a continual flow of science news and content which has more potential for breaking news than the traditional housewife-focused fare) and demographics (skewing to the 34-50 age brackets whereas many of the top mags skew much older). If anything, the Top Twenty for the most part suggests that companies that have a solid feed of news and breaking items have an easier time of expanding digitally and socially.

That said, even in the Top Twenty GDGSS Magazines, only three scored more than half of the 20 total possible points. The top seven actually have no contribution form or presence to speak of on MySpace, and only 25% seem to have any presence, yet you would think sites like US Weekly and People could figure out a way to work well within that environment. MySpace was by far the most difficult to measure and identify metrics, but I’ll break that down as well as the average number of Fans and Responses for Facebook and the number of Followers and Tweets in another post next week.

Let me know your thoughts on the metrics, how to potentially improve them, and what you think this means for the top publishers.

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