CaroneMedia and marketing professionals have a love-hate relationship with social platforms. While they deliver massive reach and the ability to hyper-target, they're fraught with issues of brand safety and toxicity. At Collision 2019--a mega-event that attracted more than 25,000 attendees from 125 countries and over 700 speakers across 15 tracks--the power of platforms arose time and again. However, sentiment and strategy seem to be shifting, with media and marketing professionals focused on fostering their own communities around positive experiences and powerful content.
As Christa Carone, president of Group Nine Media, put it, social media has become "the new pipes of distribution." However, though her portfolio of brands--Thrillist, NowThis, Seeker, and The Dodo--are all-in on social distribution, Carone notes the risk of becoming overly reliant on one channel. "I often say, 'If Facebook sneezes, we don't want to catch a cold,'" which points to the effect platforms' algorithmic adjustments can have on reach and monetization.
Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff is also bullish on platforms. In particular, he applauds the way in which they have allowed a wide range of diverse voices to be heard. However, he noted that while they offer an incredible opportunity to reach vast audiences, "you never want to be overly dependent on one platform." Bankoff also emphasized that in a market characterized by abundance, he remains "extraordinarily optimistic that the quality players will be fine."
Undoubtedly, it continues to be important to connect with audiences wherever they are, as Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios, pointed out: "We are really focused on the youngest audience, aged 13-24. We can't focus on that audience without using Instagram and Snapchat." However, she said that Viacom is not using the platforms to market the company's television content and instead "uses each platform for what it was intended."
"It is really about knowing your audience and knowing how they are spending time on your platforms. Know the audience. Know the platform." And then, she said, you have to build content strategies that are tailored to each distribution channel."
Meg Goldthwaite, CMO of NPR, reminds all content producers to "be true to your brand. If you can't authentically get on that platform and do what's right for you, don't go there. Just because there's a new platform out there, we don't go rushing towards it. When something like smart speakers presents itself, we go full force because that's true to our brand."
Given her background as a top marketer at Fidelity and Xerox, Caone also takes a brand-centric approach. She said her experience allows her tap into the marketer's perspective and consider each of her strategic decisions from both the media and marketing perspective. Carone views Group Nine's portfolio not as four media companies, but as four brands with strong equity. She described Thrillist and The Dodo as having a "manically loyal fanbase." And with Thrillist in particular, the brand is "a lifelong friend" people can rely on to recommend food, beverages, travel, and more. These intense audience relationships allow Group Nine to build diverse revenue streams.
Certainly, as The Guardian's political reporter Sabrina Siddiqui pointed out, you can't ignore social platforms. However, she said, "You have to strike a delicate balance." According to Siddiqui, The Guardian is placing greater emphasis on creating its own network through curated content that is increasingly created in direct response to reader demand and support. "We're building a much closer relationship with our audience; we're building a Guardian community."
In terms of attracting audiences (and transforming them into loyal fans), Samantha Berry, editor-in-chief of Glamour, said, "Remember that you aren't just competing for time and attention in a digital world. You have to show what you stand for--show your values. Establish what you stand for, what your values are, and who your tribe is." The result will be a highly engaged community, which--in the case of Glamour--provides a brand safe place alongside women's content.
Actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was at Collision raising funds and awareness around his collaborative media platform, HitRecord, had some particularly astute observations about the inherent limitations of platforms to foster true community. "Social-media platforms focus on attention-getting." And while brands of all types certainly want attention, "Creativity can be difficult when your incentives are all about attention."
"Sincere depth and affinity" are Gordon-Levitt's success metrics for HitRecord, for which he hopes to build a monetization model that is based upon the joy of the collaborative creative process. "The business model of giving away a product or service for free while opaquely collecting data about people to manipulate them toward the wishes of advertisers is not sound." Instead, he advocates delivering a safe, positive experience that the community will value.
Certainly, most brands seek attention to build their business. However, it's clear that creating a strong community--based upon quality content, great experiences, and shared values--empowers a successful model that can weather the uncertainties of social platforms. It also provides the basis for transparent monetization that is appropriate to the context and community.