Fishing Where the Fish Are: Mags Tap Facebook, Twitter

With most magazines failing to achieve scale online, publishers are shoving aside concerns about social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and getting cozy with them to help drive traffic to their sites.

Meredith Publishing, for one, plans to use Facebook to promote two social networks for parents that it expects to launch this summer on the Web sites of Parents and Family Circle. It’s also counting on Facebook to boost traffic to, the food enthusiast social network it launched in January but which has yet to draw meaningful traffic.

By partnering with social nets, “you’re letting go a lot of the control you’ve had as a siloed site,” said Jeff Myers, vp, general manager, Meredith Corp. But “if you want people to participate in your community, you have to go where they are.”

Others have already had success piggybacking on Facebook and Twitter in the past year. Condé Nast has been partnering with Facebook for about two years, honing its strategy. It’s pretty happy with the results. About 30,000 Facebook users clicked through to Vogue’s Web site last month, resulting in 500,000 page views to the site, according to Sarah Chubb, president, Condé Nast Digital.

Pushing out its content through a bigger social media presence helped Rodale’s Women’s Health post a 32 percent lift in unique visitors to its site in May versus April and an increase of 238 percent over May 2008.

And Wenner Media’s Us Weekly has nabbed more than 75,000 fans to date on Facebook, while Twitter is now the celeb weekly’s sixth biggest outside source of traffic, said Steven Schwartz, Wenner’s chief digital officer. “It’s completely additive,” he said. “It’s about engaging them where they want to be. I don’t anticipate that we will compete with Facebook, but we have taken what it has to offer.”

Sarah Hofstetter, vp of emerging media & client strategy at 360i, a digital agency with expertise in social media, said that at a time when users are trimming the online communities they belong to, magazines are better off teaming up with existing social nets rather than trying to start their own.

“At this point, users have social networking fatigue,” said Hofstetter. “Wouldn’t it be smarter to partner with someone who already has a community? There are so many opportunities for getting content. [Magazines] can continue to generate content in print and on their Web sites and hope people will show up, or allow that to be ported, created, consumed and commented on elsewhere.”

It’s not just traffic that magazines are realizing. Chubb said Facebook yields not just visitors but also users who spend quality time. “What we’ve found is that people come and look at [us] more,” she said. “Pages per session that come from Facebook are higher than for Google. People who are driven by search engines tend to be in and out,” whereas followers of Condé brands’ Twitter feeds “are people who sought out these brands.”

Schwartz added that each Us Weekly Facebook post draws an average 100 fan responses.
Some titles are trying to leverage social nets to sell ads, too. Us Weekly has already sold one sponsorship on its Facebook page, to State Farm (it was part of a bigger deal) and has verbal commitments for more, said Schwartz. Condé Nast, meanwhile, is looking at ways to aggregate its brands’ tweets that are related to high-interest events. An advertiser might want to sponsor all such content related to Fashion Week, Chubb said.

Beyond digital revenue, Meredith even sees its social network initiatives turning back into benefits for print. On June 23 it will publish a magazine spinoff of (which itself will become part of a new online food platform that Meredith plans to announce later this summer).

What’s likely the first magazine spinoff of a social network, Mixing Bowl will draw its content from reader-submitted recipes on the site. Meredith plans to distribute 260,000 copies on newsstands, priced at $4.99, and seek ad support for a second issue in January.