Breaking Down the Top 50 Magazines Use of Social Media

Last week I introduced a Benchmarking tool called the Going Digital, Getting Social Scorecard™ (GDGSS) as a way to measure how different brands were leveraging different social media tools and to try to uncover best practices. The initial study was looking at the top 50 US Magazines by circulation and looked at how successful these brands were in getting their paid subscription base to their website as well as measuring their engagement using social media platforms like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

While last week I presented the aggregate score leaders, this week I’ll break down each of the components, showing the leaders in each category.

Percent of Circulation to Website

I took data from Quantcast to identify the average monthly visitors for each site and divided that by the paid circulation for 2008 to come up with a very simple ration of monthly visitors to circulation. Not surprisingly the eight of the Top 10 at right are very news oriented with a continual feed of data: sports (ESPN, Sports Illustrated); financial markets (Money); Entertainment (People, EW) ; and general news (Newsweek, Time, US News & World Report).

ESPN and Money are actually outliers with over 6x their paid circulation coming to the website: for ESPN there relly isn’t a magazine site separate from the huge ESPN website and Money is actually CNN Money which puts its website more closely tied with the cable news network than with the print magazines on this list. Thus Entertainment Weekly and People are the true benchmarks in being able to drive traffic better than their peers, generating over three times their respective circulations to their websites.

Facebook Engagement

Over 80% of the top 50 US magazines by circulation have created a presence on Facebook (I could find no presence for Self, Money, In Style, FamilyFun, Parenting, Remedy, Field & Stream and Endless Vacation). To measure the top performers on Facebook, I looked at the number of Fans they have accumulated for the Fan Page, and rather than look at just how many status updates they posted, I looked at the engagement rate for those posts: the number of “Likes” and Comments their posts generated divided by the number of fans. This highlights publishers that are actually producing valuable and engaging content for their audience, versus those just regurgitating some bland posts from their magazine.

National Geographic and Playboy lead the group to a large extent based on the huge number of fans (Playboy leads all publishers with over 1.2 million fans, National Geographic is 2nd with just under 500,000 at the time of the study – July 14-21, 2009). Playboy made 18 posts over a week, generating nearly 21,000 consumer interactions with nearly 1,165 per post. National Geographic was more sparse in its posts (only three over the week) but generated 2.5x the response rate of Playboy (nearly 1,293 per post). Here’s a case where National Geographic could probably increase the frequency of posts and generate more customer interactions.

But big fan numbers are not the norm for these publications – only seven of the 42 titles with a Facebook presence have over 50,000 fans and the median is 4,099. Plus engagement rates are pretty mediocre, averaging only 0.36% of the fans either liking or commenting on the posts. Low engagement rates are a mix of timing (there is a lot to compete against and my previous study showed you make over half of your responses happen in the first 90 minutes after a post) and the content itself.

Some niche sites, like Birds and Blooms and VFW have paltry Facebook Fan numbers (both under 1000 fans) but their content speaks to these niches with the highest engagement rates of 2.11% and 0.88% respectively. Obviously this is no different from other media, where there is always the balance between generating fans (or page views in the example of online advertising) versus engagement rates (or click-thrus to continue the analogy).

Just like in online advertising where teams continually modify creative to maintain click-thru rates on ads, optimization for Facebook Fan Pages is equally important and requires monitoring engagement rates, identifying what kinds of content clicks with consumers, and then looking at what time of day tends to get the best response rates.

MySpace Reach

In complete contrast to Facebook, only eight of the top 50 US magazines by circulations have created a presence on MySpace, and those that have (see right) are generally younger-facing brands.

MySpace may be misunderstood and difficult for marketers to manage: people denigrate the audience, the interface is overwhelming and chaotic, the search function is difficult (try finding Rolling Stone) and there are a lot of faux brand sites that can mislead users (search for People Magazine).

That said, there is a large audience on MySpace that shouldn’t be overlooked and a couple brands like Maxim, Rolling Stone, Cosmo and Seventeen have shown they can create compelling sites.

Unlike Facebook, it’s hard to really measure engagement, so I used number of Friends as a basis for ranking the sites, where Maxim has 92,499. Rolling Stone is a natural on the music-laden MySpace platform with over 42,000 fans, but Seventeen Magazine has nearly 55,000 fans. Self and Martha Stewart Living get points for at least getting a presence on MySpace, but both have fewer than 100 friends.

Maxim and Playboy could learn a thing from each other (Maxim only has 3,811 fans on Facebook, Playboy has no presence on MySpace that I could find), while the presences of Cosmo and Seventeen seem to suggest that entertainment-focused mags (like People, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly) could better tap into this audience.

Twitter Reach

More of the top 50 magazines by circulation have a Twitter account than a Facebook presence (only these six don’t have a Twitter account that I could find: US News & World Report, FamilyFun, Woman’s Day, Remedy, Field & Stream and Endless Vacation).

To benchmark the Twitter engagement, I looked at Followers (although I tempered it by docking brands with huge Following rates, especially those with those on a 1:1 ratio) and the relative number of Tweets in a 7 day period. Again, these are admittedly poor tools in looking at engagement as ideally you’d look at click through rates (see some benchmarking I did for Zappos Tweets) or responses, but neither of these are easily identified or public. Much like Facebook, you’d want to measure and hone your content strategy to improve engagement, but for this we’re looking really at reach (how many followers you broadcast to) instead of Engagement.

At the time of this study, Time Magazine had over 1.12 million followers, Martha Stewart was next with 1.10 million. Only four other magazines have over 100,000 Twitter followers: People (966,000), InStyle (732,000), Entertainment Weekly (632,000) and Newsweek (435,000). The median number of followers for the Top 50 that had a Twitter account was 8,862 followers.

With regard to Tweet frequency, the average was about 7 tweets per day, the median was just under 5. The most prolific Tweeter was Money with 35 a day covering every blip in the financial markets. Glamour was next, with their five editors across different subjects tweeting nearly 25 times a day. And in third was Sports Illustrated, with just over 20 tweets a day.

A Start, But More to Do

I think the Going Digital, Getting Social Scorecard™ is a very rudimentary start at getting some benchmarks for marketers to compare themselves versus the competition in different industries, but there are a lot of issues that marketers and social media platforms need to address:

  • Better engagement benchmarks: As I mentioned in their respective sections above, publicly available information that helps you measure engagement from both Twitter and MySpace is hard to get. While Fan Page owners have access to aggregated engagement stats, breaking down individual posts by type classification, time and responses is an extremely manual process. For companies to really turn to these tools, social media companies need to build better ROI and analysis tools (Facebook and Omniture has started some of this, but I’m not certain if engagement factors – Likes and Comments – are aggregated).
  • The social media numbers here are incredibly small: Each of these publications have over 1.4 million paid subscribers, yet we are talking about an average 4,100 Facebook Fans and 8,800 Twitter followers. For success and scale in social media, it really is about having a brand niche and developing a content strategy that engages that audience (see my Between the Tweets analysis of Whole Foods). Magazine, which are essentially very niche content strategies, are uniquely positioned to leverage that niche socially, but…
  • Ultimately it’s your strategy, your success metrics: At the end of the day, the number of followers or fans your brand has doesn’t really make a difference. The focus has to be on defining your strategy in using these tools, defining metrics for success, and continually optimizing the channel.

One thought on “Breaking Down the Top 50 Magazines Use of Social Media”

  1. Eric –

    Good stuff. Clearly there needs to be better social engagement from these brands as their audiences are there.
    I see an opportunity for an application to monitor specific social criteria and rate performance. Looks like your post is the start of it.

    Good luck – Joe

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