Come Together: Publishers Harness the Power of Community-Based Publishing
The word "community" is used a lot in the magazine business these days. Publishers strive to generate comments on their web articles, stalk social media for followers, and worry over attendance numbers for events and webinars. These efforts are well intentioned, as active communities mean healthy subscription numbers and fertile advertising grounds. However, a strictly by-the-numbers approach to community building overlooks key aspects of being a member of any community: contributing true value, helping to solve problems, and behaving as one among peers.
By looking to publishers that have built a strong community around their brand and content, it's clear that understanding and anticipating the needs of the audience is paramount. "Everyone says they put the audience first," says UBMTech president Paul Miller. "But they don't really. They put the advertisers first." It's a mistake that Miller, head of such tech-centric sites as EE Times, Light Reading, and InformationWeek, thinks prevents publishers from creating content that draws real engagement.
Build A Content Hub Around Community Needs
One essential step in building a stronger community, as Miller emphasized above, is to become more knowledgeable about your readers and their needs. By surveying his audience, largely composed of tech and IT professionals in the engineering, software, and gaming space, Miller found that the two biggest concerns for his audience were time and the fear of becoming obsolete. "Those two things obviously conflict," says Miller. "The more time you spend keeping up to date, the less time you have to do your job, which creates time pressure. What we wanted to find out was how do those professionals try to resolve that conflict?"
Research showed much of Miller's audience seeks to address their professional concerns by learning from industry peers. His audience was also thirsty for education from industry experts. It made sense to bring those leaders together in one place where his audience could more easily learn from and engage in industry discussions.
Miller decided to revamp three of UBMTech's websites to create a more communal environment. He invited over 250 CIOs and other technology experts (many of whom already had online followings) to blog, comment, and engage with the tech community. Miller strengthened his community by making UBMTech websites the authoritative platforms that the audience needed, while at the same time giving that audience a voice to join in on the discussion.
"In our case," says Miller, "the website is not about us, it's about the industry's discussion. This is where the industry and its leaders are discussing the big issues of the day. If you want to know what your industry is talking about, you better be here."
A community-driven approach has a snowball effect, says Miller. When a story hits the right chord, it gets the community talking and asking questions, which inspires more editorial content and even greater conversation. With all those impressions generated from readers tracking the industry's conversation, it's easy to see how community-driven content pays off. Responding to its audiences' demands, UBMTech also dropped its print platform altogether in April of 2013 to focus on integrating its digital editions, web content, and events.
The strategy, which was implemented on three UBMTech websites, EE Times, Light Reading, and InformationWeek, has made a tremendous difference. Within just two and a half weeks of the revamp, InformationWeek, averaged 30,000 more pageviews a day than before the upgrade, a 23% jump. It also upped its average pageviews per visit from 1.94 to 2.16, an 11% increase.
Support Communities That Already Exist
Molly O'Keefe, publisher of Runner's World, has also made an effort to provide a platform for her community. The running world has its own celebrities and well-known personalities, and many have taken to the blogosphere to discuss the latest gear, best training methods, and big races. "These are people who are respected in their communities, who have a strong following," says O'Keefe. "If we can tap into those audiences to give them some of the Runner's World experience, then that can only help us to grow in that space."
The Runner's World experience is all about providing support to runners, not only by offering training and gear advice, but also by motivating readers to keep running and living the runner lifestyle. "We are all runners here, so we know the mindset of the runner and we know the challenges," says O'Keefe.
One challenge O'Keefe and her team sought to address was the running slump that typically happens around the holidays. From Thanksgiving to New Years and Memorial Day to Independence Day, there are very few races. Combine that with all the holiday feasting and it becomes easy for a runner to lose motivation. In order to help overcome the slump, O'Keefe's editors created Runner's Streak-a resolution Runner's World editors and readers make to run every day. It quickly became a popular hashtag on Twitter, #RWRunStreak, and acted as a rallying point on social media for runners to track consecutive running days. Even if it's just a mile, the Streak provides the spur that keeps runner's motivated, and Twitter provides the perfect platform to share one's streak and encourage fellow runners.
It's also an amazing way to generate traffic. "At the peak of Runner's Streak, we saw that 2,200 different people tweeted about it and that led to 23 million impressions on Twitter over that three-month period," says O'Keefe.
By sharing in the struggles of its audience, Runner's World was able to provide a solution that invited community discussion on its platforms. Had the magazine merely spoken from on high saying, "This is how to motivate yourself to run..." the results would have been far less dramatic.
Bring a Community To Life
Bisnow is a publisher of hyperlocal news for commercial real estate developers and investors, and the creator of over 250 live events. Before Bisnow's launch in 2005, a natural community already existed within the commercial real estate segment, but generally speaking professionals didn't know one another beyond a strict business standpoint. Plus, says Bisnow president Ryan Begelman, the industry news at large was bland and focused solely on business trends and market data.
Bisnow flipped the script by focusing on the industry movers and shakers, creating a more colorful and engaging reader experience. And to stave off boredom, Bisnow inserts plenty of humor into its articles. "We have full-time humorists who edit every piece of copy that goes out," says Begelman, "They are actually comedians part-time at night and their full-time job is at Bisnow."
This playful approach has helped this 9-year-old new media company quickly gallop to the forefront of B2B publications serving the commercial real estate sector. Bisnow publications boast over half a million subscribers who regularly engage in Bisnow content and events.
Begelman and team mobilized the community by applying a hyperlocal focus to commercial real estate, reporting on local players and delivering news to readers in that area. This was a big change from other industry outlets, which only followed national companies and trends. "Our audience knew a big developer's name, but it didn't know that same developer vacations in Nantucket, coaches his son's basketball team, and is a huge advocate for children with autism. Humanizing that local business figure allows our readers to connect to the content and industry players on a much deeper level."
Bisnow quickly became a hub of its industry despite operating in a competitive sector. "At the end of the day the community is made up of humans and at some point in their day they usually take their tie off and let their hair down a bit," says Begelman. "You can appeal to that in your editorial and in your live events. If you can do that, I think you'll find that you will get a huge response, probably more so than you would from being formal."
Come Together at a Live Event
The publishers we spoke to for this article spoke of live events as the culmination of the community building process. The conversations occurring online-on Twitter and Instagram, forums and blogs-are continued in the real world, and the bonds that emerge are strengthened.
Runner's World's biggest gathering is the Runner's World Half Marathon. It's a festival-like race held in the magazine's backyard, Bethlehem, PA. Publisher Molly O'Keefe describes the race as a place where the magazine's content and the digital, communal atmosphere all collide. The race is the apex for the Runner's World brand and cements community bonds.
"We really showcase the brand in a way where the readers can interact with it," says O'Keefe, "Attendees get to meet their heroes, the runners to whom they look for great information and advice, we bring in great speakers, and we try to have the runners engaged with the brand the entire weekend."
Editors have a chance to meet and interact with their readers. Attendees can pose on a mock cover of the magazine. Runners can attend seminars and learn about the best running techniques. A proven success, the Half Marathon is on its third year, and in June Runner's World hopes to add a new racing event to its repertoire, the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon and Festival.
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In 1999 diving enthusiast magazine Sport Diver entered a mutual partnership with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). As the official publication of the PADI Diving Society, Sport Diver has access to PADI's massive database of new and existing certified divers. In return PADI taps into Sport Diver's audience, leverages its content, and furthers its mission to keep divers diving.
Like Runner's World, Sport Diver also connects with its readers through events, but these tend to be smaller, more intimate gatherings. These consist of small diving excursions that allow editors and PADI Diving Society members to dive together and form strong relationships. "We generally bring together Sport Diver staff members, magazine subscribers, and a dive destination that provides great diving," says Sport Diver publisher Bonnie Borkin. "They have a lot of fun together. It really forms very strong bonds between the divers and helps them stay very connected to the sport. A lot of the these trips that we support attract repeat customers every year because they really start to have that affinity for the group."
Dive trip participants enjoy great travel and diving destinations, learn new techniques, and some view this Sport Diver-branded experience as highlights of their diving careers.
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Events are also huge for Bisnow, bringing together the leaders in the commercial real estate industry to connect more deeply and find ways to work together. Most of these events are, like its publications, hyperlocal. Events tend to have around 150 attendees and discuss issues pertinent to that particular commercial real estate community.
The unique Bisnow branding comes through in these events as well. Bisnow indicates the inspiration behind the events on its website: "Advertisers express wanting to attend commercial real estate events that don't make them want to jump off a bridge."
Bisnow president Ryan Begelman further explains: "One of the biggest things we're working on right now is our series of Escape retreats which are gatherings for top commercial real estate developers and investors. It's kind of like the TEDx conference meets commercial real estate. We expose them to content that is unusual, ideas that help improve them on a personal level, like how to improve their relationship with their children and their spouse. It's not about real estate."
Bisnow events are an extension of the brand: happenings that put the company's colorful content and authority to the forefront while providing necessary services, networking, and education to the community. Plus, it keeps Bisnow top-of-mind by creating experiences attendees won't soon forget.
"At Escape we provide events that take these 55-year-old guys and drop them into indoor skydiving and jet-packing. They'll talk about that more for the next 20 years than a dull trade show."