That's what a number of audience developers are banking on, which has led to a rash of head-scratching around the desks of business media audience-development departments: How can social media be used to gain and retain an audience?
Bobit Business Media has had some success with social media, especially with its Police and Nails publications, according to Desiree Bennett Forsyth, senior audience marketing manager at Bobit.
Bobit began its social-media efforts last summer when it created Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and Twitter feeds for its publications. Bobit saw an upsurge in traffic for its social media toward the end of last year.
When it comes to Facebook, she said, the first step is drawing as many fans to your page as possible. “To advertise on Facebook is very cheap right now; you can target your audience by the information in people's profiles,” she said.
Deb Walsh, the director of audience development at Tabor Communications, a digital-only publisher, said her company has a social media-sharing widget that it places at the end of each online story so readers can post the content to their favorite sites, whether it is Facebook, Digg, Technorati or MySpace. Tabor also has an RSS feed to post content to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. “I monitor all the social networks and apply posts and links manually as well to keep everything as socially relevant as possible,” she said. “It's a great way to connect one-on-one with readers.” Currently, Twitter is the company's most popular social media site.
Joe Pierce, chief digital officer at ad agency Doe-Anderson, also recommends that audience developers be “absolutely relentless in ... efforts to sign up, fan or follow at every touch point.” He said his company does everything it can to make those tasks as easy as possible.
Pierce noted that it is important to fine- tune the messages put up on social media sites. “We always ask for a call to action that helps us achieve a specific business goal, and we subscribe to the mantra "Be brief. Be brilliant. Be gone!' ” he said.
Whatever else audience developers do, Walsh recommends they do everything they can to stay on top of what's happening in the social media world. “These skills are now more often than not required, rather than "nice to have' due to the digital evolution within the media industry,” she said.
Forsyth has found that making her Facebook pages interactive helped to create a community that returns often. Polls are extremely popular on her Facebook pages. “You can set them up on the page or you can push them to your members, and people take them and pass around the results,” she said.
She also recommends that the company Facebook page isn't just set up with a direct content feed from the Web site. “That will overwhelm people and they will just not look at your page anymore,” she said. “It is much better to manually do it and put only the most relevant content up. And everything should link back to your home page.”
One unexpected benefit of creating such a thing as a Facebook page is that search engines might notice it more than your Web site; sometimes it will appear higher in Google's search results.
Nails and Police have about 4,000 fans each on their Facebook pages. When the Nails page was at 2,500, Forsyth's team created a contest to get people to help them achieve 3,000 members. Each person who listed the magazine in their Facebook status update would be registered to win a prize. “We got to the desired number in no time,” Forsyth said.