Friday, April 22, 2016

Targeting magazine content via social media

It is a given of magazine publishing that content must be aimed at a specific readership. This enduring truth has resulted in a healthy spread of titles that cater for everyone from aspiring bass guitar players to the chief financial officers of global corporations. Everyone subscribes to this fundamental principle, including me.

But what if, in an age of multiple platforms and fragmented social media, it's not true any more?

I spent an interesting afternoon listening to students on the MA International Journalism at Cardiff University presenting their ideas for new, pure-digital, magazine concepts. One called Planet Reboot was so full of energy and ideas that it leapt out of the screen – a bit messy, slightly hard work to navigate but fizzing with life and interest and contrasting story formats. I loved the concept but my conventional magazine self found fault with the targeting – looking at the website, it was not clear whose interest this electric, ecletic content was intended to capture.

But the students responded with an interesting point – the targeting would be done on social media. They would use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media platforms to attract very specific demographic/psychographic groups to very specific stories.

Then one of my colleagues made another interesting point – the website at the heart of this concept would act as a content hub, a digital container that could hold an infinite amount of material related to Planet Reboot's mission to alert people to climate change and other environmental challenges.

We have known for the last 20-odd years that in cyberspace there is no limit on pagination but wearing the blinkers of specific targeting has limited the way magazines explore the possibilities that digital publishing offers.

The ideas in Planet Reboot apply to literally everyone on earth but a conventional magazine interpretation of it would limit both content and reach by aiming for a segment of "everyone". Weapons Of Reason, for example, is a lovely example of using the magazine form to analyse and discuss environmental issues but each iteration covers a specific problem and the project as a whole is aimed at a particular kind of reader (print oriented, solvent enough to pay £6 per issue, appreciative of the production values ...) – deliberately limited in order to increase the chances of success.

But by incorporating a core multiple-social-media (1) strategy into a digital magazine concept it becomes possible to outsource the targeting – it does not have to be built in to the central hub. The targeting can be exogamous rather than endogamous.

Of course the magazine still has to be about a particular thing – it's not a universal encyclopedia – but it can be about many different aspects of that thing and can encompass many different approaches for different audiences. If those who are brought to the content hub go on to explore it, great, if they find more content that appeals to them or which they can share with another, different, audience (perhaps their children or their parents) even better – but if they don't, their attention can be caught again through the agency of strategic layered social media targeting.

This concept might also appeal to adherents of COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere) and could have the potential to attract a wider range of advertisers – the loss of specificity might be a drawback but there would be more types of consumer to target and a lot of social media activity to draw on.

1: The concept of polymedia outlined by Madianou and Miller is useful here.

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