How do you satisfy your core audience while still giving them a variety of what’s trending or relevant?
That was the question posed to a panel of social media experts representing three Hearst titles -- Esquire, Marie Claire, and Elle – during a Social Media Week New York panel earlier this month.
The panel, titled “How Hearst’s Prestige Brands Are “Doing the Internet,” featured:
- Ben Boskovich, social media editor, Esquire
- Elizabeth Brady, associate director of social strategy, Hearst Digital Media
- Rosa Heyman, social media editor, Marie Claire
- Gena Kaufman, social media director, Elle
- Kate Lewis, VP of content operations and editorial director, Hearst Digital
Here are nine strategies that can help you achieve social media success for your brand:
Social Strategy Teams
There are 22 brands at Hearst, each with a dedicated site team, and each of those teams has a dedicated social editor. There is also a brand-agnostic Social Strategy team that counsels the social editors, helping them manage their relationships with the social networks.
The Social Strategy team is a centralized resource that helps make adaptation a little easier for the editors. Adaptation is crucial because social changes every 3-6 months, if not more frequently.
“It’s such an accelerated evolution cycle for a social editor to grapple with and succeed in,” said Brady, “especially when they’re the ones in the weeds doing the day-to-day posting, pushing content out, and then also paying attention to everything that’s going on in the ecosystem.”
The Social Strategy team has developed a suite of reports they share with the teams to teach them about their audiences. Editors get alerts every day so they know which stories are getting viral traction and which ones aren’t. They also have other centralized resources, like a social media Wiki for the entire staff.
Through these reports and resources, teams are kept up-to-date on when Facebook rolls out a new algorithm update, or when Instagram announces a new feature, like multi-photo posts. If a site has a video that’s going viral on Facebook, everyone knows about it immediately and can discuss how to capitalize on it.
The Social Strategy team also provides granular statistics for the brands.
“Elle might come to us with a question on what types of beauty content are doing the best on Facebook and which types might not be worth posting,” said Brady. “We’ll dive into the data and we’ll say, ‘Food videos are working for you, but really only if they have cheese.’ Other times, it’s a little bit of detective work. We’ll notice an old post is getting a lot of engagement on Chartbeat, so we’ll investigate where that’s coming from and spread the intel from there. It helps teams understand how to prioritize things and benchmark.”
The ‘Secret Sauce’
Hearst has 126 million followers across social networks, up 39% from last year. In 2016, there were more than 50 million engagements on Facebook posts, and Facebook shares increased by 33%.
The “secret sauce” to this impressive following is that Hearst social editors spend their time using social as a tool for listening, which Boskovich calls the backbone of the social editor’s job.
“As social editors, we have a huge benefit in living and breathing in each of the social networks every single day, and that helps us bring information back to our editors,” explained Boskovich. “We know, for instance, that our Twitter audience has a more elevated, probably more educated, interest, so they’re going to want more tweets about the 10,000-word features that we’re writing. The Facebook audience, on the other hand, is more interested in snackable news and videos. I learned that just by it being a part of my life 24/7. I tell my editors, ‘Hey, that’s probably not going to go on Facebook, but I’ll send out four tweets about it because it’ll even out in the long run.”
Kaufman agrees that this is an integral part of their strategy: “We do that every day, and especially when a big event is coming up, like the Oscars. I’ll look at last year and put together a report on what our top social content was, and send that around to all the editors and say, ‘Hey, this is a way to cover this event that works.’”
Brady also does a lot of reporting on live events and can attest to the importance of listening to your audience.
“On social, it’s best practice to be speedy, to be creative, to be authentic, but there is another pillar: Just pay attention. Listen, have that observational attitude with your followers, and dig in, because there’s always something new to uncover – like a weird fandom – that your audience will be interested in. You can really tap into that and replicate successes.”
Of course, she adds, you always have to be ready to do something different in a month, “because it’s not going to last.”
Ditch the Clickbait
While using clickbait headlines might seem like an easy way to get readers to click through to articles, it doesn’t always translate into engagement.
The Elle team was originally reluctant to ditch the clickbait, worrying that if they shared too much information in their Facebook posts, readers wouldn’t be driven to the website. However, Brady and her Social Strategy team pushed Kaufman’s team to focus less on posts that drive clicks and more on engagement, posting photos and videos that will drive comments, likes and shares. They also tried to package their stories to be more shareable and less clickbait-y.
“We were hesitant to do that because you don’t see an immediate result,” said Kaufman, “but now that we’ve focused on doing that, not only has our engagement grown, but so has our social traffic.”
Social networks’ algorithms also make a case for ditching the clickbait.
With networks increasingly controlled by algorithms that might not necessarily reflect what is happening, shares – not clicks – are more important than ever.
“If you don’t have people sharing and interacting with your content, there’s a pretty good chance no one is going to see it at all,” explained Brady. “We have to be much more strategic about what we’re putting up because we need it to get surfaced, whether it’s on Facebook or Instagram. We’re always looking for a higher threshold of engagement.”
To do this, the teams basically give the story away on their social networks.
“We’re totally fine with the social editors giving it all away, whether it’s a photo or a link. If somebody just had a crazy makeover or there’s a new photo of someone, show it in the thumbnail, tell us what happened. It’s not about gaming the algorithm or nuancing something to try to trick someone to clicking in. Make it its own entity. Make it shareable so your audience is going to help you distribute it throughout. You’re almost deputizing your audience to be ambassadors for you.”
“Which is why clickbait just doesn’t work,” added Heyman, “because who’s going to share that?”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The teams work really closely together at Hearst, and while there’s a healthy dose of competition, there’s also a lot of sharing between the teams.
“When one brand finds something that works, we can all borrow it,” said Heyman. “Elle was seeing a lot of success boosting their engagement on Facebook by commenting on posts that were already doing well with additional reading links. Let’s say Selena Gomez and The Weeknd are dating and they posted about each other on Instagram. Elle has a timeline of their relationship, and by posting the timeline link in the comments section and engaging with the readers in a conversation that’s already ongoing, it can help boost engagement.”
Kaufman agreed, adding that the related-links strategy – also called “swarming” -- is something she learned from another Hearst brand, Cosmo.
“Cosmo is a brand at Hearst that does it really well,” said Kaufman. “When there’s a big topic, everyone rushes to cover the first news story. Since everyone does it, the traffic gets split among them. What we really try to do now is think, ‘We already did the quick news story. What can we do in the next hour? What’s the additional story we can do tomorrow? What’s the story we can do next week?’ We’re really taking one topic that’s working and finding different ways to keep the coverage going that feels more specific to Elle and our audience, rather than just announcing news.”
Esquire’s Boskovich shared another strategy he’s learned from the women’s brands at Hearst: Facebook Live.
“We’ve been doing a ton of Facebook Live videos,” he said. “On the videos, we talk about and reference stories. For example, every Thursday we have style lessons with myself and our senior style editor, Jonathan Evans. We talk about celebrity style and teach readers lessons from mistakes or accomplishments these men have made with their clothing. So while we referenced articles we’ve written during the broadcast, we weren’t posting them in the comments so our readers could click on it as they’re watching, so we started doing that. It’s a way for Facebook Live to generate some traffic.”
Embrace Native Content
Social best practices change quickly. What worked last year doesn’t necessarily work now. For example, native content – videos, photos or some other type of asset that is put on social first -- has become much bigger than it was.
“In years past, if a video or photo took off, it might have been a little more serendipitous,” said Brady. “Now it’s really strategic. We’re thinking more and more. For most of our brands, 30-50% or more of their daily Facebook inventory is native content, which is a huge pivot compared to a year or two ago.”
“There’s something freeing about that as an editor,” added Lewis, “because if you’re a content creator, what you really want is to make someone read your content. The advantage now is you begin to see social platforms just as a place for consumption vs. a place where you’re trying to ‘game the system’ to get something to happen.”
Use Social to Drive Traffic
One strategy Boskovich has found successful in driving website clicks from social is to take the traditional path of social-to-site and flip it backwards:
“We have our political commentary via Charles P. Pierce, who is a powerhouse, but also this enigma on the internet. Most of his traffic was coming directly from people who not only bookmark his blog but sit on it all day and refresh it and wait for a new post to come up, which is super-primitive. So when it came time to amplify his social presence, we took a backwards approach and took the comments off of his blog and at the end of the post, we started directing people to a new Facebook page we had built for him.”
That Facebook page is now one of the fastest-growing “toddler” pages (aka subpages or satellite pages) at Hearst Digital Media.
“It was a way to capitalize on an already super-loyal captive audience and send them backwards to social,” explained Boskovich. “And now we have a huge social audience on his Facebook page that are loyal and go back to the site.”
Brady said Hearst has experimented quite a bit with toddler pages at Hearst, but shared two caveats for those considering using them:
First, you need to have a lot of native content – video, etc. -- to help spike growth of the page. If you don’t have the content, “you’re really going to be struggling,” said Brady. “It can’t just be a links page.”
You also want to make sure you’re attracting new people who might not already be connected with the flagship.
“If you’re going to be funneling a lot of effort into this secondary page, you really want to make sure those people aren’t likely to already be liking your main page, or you might as well put that effort on your main page and grow that one,” explained Brady. “You really want the audiences to be different, but tracing back to your same source.”
Standing out With Video
Video is another strategy at Elle that has paid off.
“Video was a really small portion of my job when we started, and now it’s everything,” said Kaufman, whose team has increased their Facebook video views by 2,000% in the last year.
To achieve that impressive increase, they’ve diversified their sources – and adjusted their thinking:
“We have a video team that shoots and produces original video, which really helped grow one of our toddler pages. We do as much video as we can. We even turned our Street Style photographer into a videographer, instead of just having snaps of people at Fashion Week in their outfits. He’s putting a GoPro on his camera so that we can get these videos of what it’s like to be on the Street Style scene at Fashion Week, which has been a really cool new way to cover that and another source of more video all the time.”
At first, it was hard for the teams, who were used to thinking of stories in words and pictures, to embrace video.
“There’s a real temptation for us to structure videos exactly the way we do stories: here’s what happened, beginning, middle and end,” said Kaufman. “We still do that with news stories that turn into videos, and that works, but we’re really trying to think about videos as telling their own story in their own way or supplementing stories on the website.”
One thing the Elle team has done successfully is to use short Getty video clips to push traffic to their articles.
“The Oscars just happened, so say we want to do a story on Emma Stone. We’ll grab a little video of her and post it on FB with a caption that describes what the story is,” explained Kaufman. “So in a sea of identical headlines, the video stands out and ultimately gets more people to click into your story than just having the same photo everyone else has.”
Esquire’s Boskovich has also experimented with video to great results. Esquire editors were originally opposed to seeing their 1,000-word story become a one-and-a-half-minute video, but they saw how it helped give readers a snackable version of the story, which translated into more eyeballs on the article.
Another benefit of using videos on social is that it can be a good way to experiment with and test out new topics:
“We posted a video for Justin Trudeau’s birthday on ‘15 times Justin Trudeau made you fall in love with him,’ and it took off,” said Heyman. “It was crazy. We’ve never covered Justin Trudeau before and our audience was obsessed with him.”
The response to the video led Marie Claire to start covering Justin Trudeau more.
“Now we cover his every single move,” said Heyman,” and it does really well for us. It was cool to see that. It wasn’t something that we planned on devoting resources to or writing a story about.”
Battle of the Brands
One of the challenges of a company like Hearst that has various brands under its umbrella is how to differentiate the brands for their audiences. It’s especially tricky with women’s brands, whose audiences are largely interested in the same topics.
“There are so many great women’s brands at Hearst, and the audiences are largely interested in the same topics, but I do think they have really distinct voices and distinct audiences, so we try to think of it as covering the same topics in a more specific way,” said Kaufman.
For example, the Harper’s Bazaar reader is a little more artsy and high end than the Elle reader. So if Harper’s is doing a story on “10 investment bags to buy” that the Elle reader would not necessarily be able to afford, Elle might cover it as: “This is the cheapest place you can buy a Louis Vuitton bag right now.”
“We try to cover it in a way that it’s the same topic, but a slightly different angle,” said Kaufman.
Boskovich agreed, adding that readers go to specific brands for their voice: “Our competitors are writing the same things as we are. If we don’t give them a reason to care about what Esquire has to say and why that’s unique, they can go anywhere and get that.”
Figure out what the audience is interested in and how to talk about it so readers feel like they’ve been given something special and that emotionally connects to them in some way.
Let the Platform Lead You
When it comes to growing, Brady suggests letting the platforms lead you a little bit.
With new features emerging every day, be ready to experiment and dive in and try new things, like 360 video and vertical video. People will pay attention to you and will be really excited to see you offering something fresh, new and visually compelling.