Tag Archives: Magazine Publishers

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.

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.