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Friday, January 21, 2011

For Publishers, Who Are the Gatekeepers of Social Media?

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For Publishers, Who Are the Gatekeepers of Social Media?

Ten years ago, as the prospect of monetizing Web sites started becoming a reality for publishers, different departments butted heads over prime real estate: editorial wanted it for content; sales wanted it for advertising; marketing wanted it for promotion.

Today, as the emphasis shifts away from publishers serving their audience on their own Web domain into places that are daily destinations (such as Twitter and Facebook), publishers are again faced with the question of who controls what (and it's even more important today because social media offers the chance to directly engage with--or alienate--your audience).

That was a key debate at MPA's Social Media conference yesterday. "Should all stakeholders be given the capability to tweet?" asked Matthew Milner, vice president of social media at Hearst, and moderator of a session called Who Controls Social Media at Your Magazine Brand? "And is the ultimate stakeholder necessarily editorial, or marketing, or could it even be the technology department, which may ultimately own the cost of social media?"

For Time Inc., social media is very much an editorial enterprise (last fall, a survey by The Wrap found that five of the 10 magazines with the most Twitter followers were Time Inc. brands). The publisher even maintains a team dedicated to fine-tuning Twitter captions. "Social platforms can be remade in your own image," said Jim Frederick, managing editor of and executive editor of Time.

Still, the ultimate objective is to drive engagement and audience response, and at many organizations marketing has led the way and can offer lessons for editorial. "Editors, whether they want to admit it or not, are there to get people to click, to engage, to buy the magazine," said Patricia Cesaire, director of digital PR and marketing at Black Enterprise. "Twitter is ultimately an editorial product but business development and marketing have led the charge with educating editorial," said Frederick.

With 4 million fans, National Geographic is the third-largest media brand on Facebook but no longer gives advertising access to the wall, because there are audience ramifications with every move, according to vice president of social media Robert Michael Murray. "Just putting a Facebook ‘like' button on a Web page is huge-it systematically categorizes pages for future search. How do you take people along that progression? As publishers we can't just approach social media like other companies such as Zappos, where half the staff is on social media offering customer service."

While most organizations have editors posting on Facebook and Twitter directly, many are shifting toward dedicated social media editors or strategists. One editor (associate editor Jared Keller) handles most of The Atlantic's social media efforts and while much of the brand's recent success is attributed to becoming a "digital-first publisher," magazine articles and archives drive some of the best response online and some of its most prominent talent--including members of its "dream team of bloggers"--aren't exactly social media-friendly, including Andrew Sullivan, who doesn't use Twitter, and another prominent blogger who refuses to enable the comments function on his posts.

Rodale encourages employees to be social on their own (the company will be hosting training seminars in the near future), but direct access to the audience should be limited depending on the publisher's strategy, according to Sasha Smith, executive director of creative services. "Everyone should understand social media, no one goes around bragging, ‘I don't know how to use Microsoft Word,'" she said.

Panelists said that every social media interaction should have a defined purpose, from driving content to driving magazine subscriptions and publishers should give the audience the chance to interact, rather than just force content on them. Also be aware of audience overload--Fitness, which is prepping to launch a cover contest on Facebook next month, tries not to push anything out more than twice per week.


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