What Publishers Can Learn from Influencer Marketing
Many legacy publishers are struggling for the same reasons that traditional, non-digitally native retailers did when DTC brands like Bonobos, Casper, and Warby Parker emerged. Look at the old guard of retailers – JCPenney, Macy’s, and Sears – and you’ll notice a similar trend between them and more traditional media brands: a focus on scale, rather than the customer. This loss of focus has had repercussions, such as plummeting stocks and store closures.
Like big-box retailers, publishers were late to the game when it came to personalization – and some are still lagging behind. With the multitude of options available to consumers today, publishers need to take a leaf out of the influencer marketing playbook and deliver personalized, relevant experiences to readers to stand out in the crowd.
Influencer marketing is flourishing because consumers relate more to the individuals they follow on social media than they can to a brand. Marketers and publishers are increasingly tapping into the army of content-creating influencers to communicate with targeted audiences and expand their reach. In a 2019 survey by Mediakix, 89% of marketers said “ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels,” and 65% said they plan to increase their budgets for this sector in 2019. Another recent survey found 34% of daily U.S. Instagram users purchased a product due to an influencer’s recommendation.
With a look at influencer marketing strategies, below are three ways media companies can connect with readers and get more personal.
Influencer marketing has shown time and again that targeting your communications to niche audiences can drive higher ROI than more traditional marketing tactics. For example, StitchFix partnered with body positivity influencer Sarah Tripp to promote their styling service to a specific consumer, driving engagement with her followers and expanding StitchFix’s customer base. Although micro and nano influencers have a smaller audience than celebrity influencers, their followers are typically far more responsive.
When employing your own niche strategy, consider branching out with specific vertical-targeted newsletters and publications. For example, HousingWire identified four target segments of the mortgage and real estate industry and then launched newsletters geared toward each. The Athletic’s strategy of providing sports content on both the national and local level, with industry-leading local reporters, has also proven to be effective. Through niche content, your audience will feel a closer connection to each piece and be more engaged, rather than cherry-picking for what they want to read.
Publishers should also segment across platforms – podcasts, social media, and microsites – to give each niche multiple forums for engaging with content. The New York Times segments on social media using vertical handles (for Books, Sports, Travel, etc.), and sports network Overtime has separate accounts for each of its channels. It’s far easier to capitalize on a highly engaged community than on a generalized audience that doesn’t feel heard.
When brands turn to influencer marketing, they are doing so because influencers bring a highly relevant and engaged audience with them. Fans trust their favorite influencers' opinions and know that the content they are producing will be relevant to them. While this is not a one-to-one level of personalization, the content feels personalized.
Similarly, publishers can drive reader loyalty by directing readers to content that's relevant to them. The New York Times, for example, uses both a person’s reading history and geographic location – at the state and country level – to drive personalized content recommendations. Hearst Newspapers uses Google Cloud Natural Language API to increase the speed and accuracy of content classification in order to direct personalized content to readers. Whether through Google Cloud or internal systems, media companies are turning to data to engage readers: 70% of publishers say they are currently personalizing the content they deliver.
If you’re lost on where to start, consider creating newsletters tailored to a specific reader’s interests like Axios does with their multitude of daily and weekly newsletters, or like previously mentioned HousingWire. If you’re experimenting with paywalls, try building flexible ones that adjust based on reader behavior or likelihood of subscribing, like The Wall Street Journal. With more and more publishers adopting some form of paywall, prioritizing and implementing personalization can show your readers that you care about their preferences and value their time, thereby increasing your odds of converting them to paying customers.
In the early days of influencer marketing, the Kardashians and other celebrities became synonymous with the term “influencer.” However, your readers can feel when something isn’t authentic or feels out of place. Look no further than Kendall Jenner and the backlash she received from her Pepsi commercial in 2017, or the confusion that was caused when Ariana Grande, a vegan, promoted a non-vegan drink at Starbucks. Examples like these, and countless others, have brought about a shift in the industry, with companies like Unilever leading the charge to increase transparency and trust in influencer marketing.
How does this relate back to publishers? Clickbait. Trying to drive readers to click on articles based solely on the headline or a pictured celebrity. I get it – the more clicks you have, the more impressions and ad dollars you can make. What happens, however, when the reader clicks that article and the content there within has no relation to the headline, or the depth of coverage isn’t what was expected? You’ve just lost a reader. With the pivot to subscriptions and reader revenue over advertising, publishers can’t afford to mislead their audience with clickbait anymore.
What publishers should be doing is creating a better relationship with their readers. As publications like The New York Times and The Guardian have shown, if your readers trust that you will deliver them quality, relevant content and give them a say, they can be your best revenue stream – whether that is through subscriptions, podcasts, contributions, or e-commerce. Your readers and consumers are your most important audience, not advertisers.