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New Media Brands on Facebook and Mobile

When Facebook released its third quarter results for 2012, it derived 14% of all its revenues from mobile. Its stock price then was around $19 per share - half the original offer price of $38.23.

Two years later, when Facebook released its third quarter results for 2014, mobile made up 66% of its revenues. The stock hit a high of $80.67 - up 110% from the IPO price.

Coincidence? Not really. Facebook saw its core audience shift to smaller screens and made a concentrated effort to redefine itself as a mobile company. This effort is the reason Facebook is valued at over $200B today.

Facebook's story is emblematic of a massive challenge faced by media companies today: how do you attract and retain a mobile audience?

Facebook Owns Mobile Traffic

How large is Facebook’s mobile audience? According to Sandvine data from the second half of 2014, almost a third of mobile digital traffic in the U.S. is generated by those using the Facebook application. Compare that to the fact only 15% of U.S. mobile traffic generated is directly by mobile browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

mobile digital traffic sources
US Mobile Digital Traffic Sources from Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report 2H 2014

But that doesn't mean that media companies are missing out on mobile. What it does mean is that the Facebook mobile application is now the platform that has the largest share of audience on mobile devices.

New Media Brands That Optimize for Facebook

Given that Facebook app has a third of all US mobile web traffic, your goal as a media company is to publish your content to Facebook and do everything you possibly can to optimize it for consumption.

Which publishers have figured out how to create compelling content for Facebook?

Data from NewsWhip and Spike shows the most shared articles from various media brands. “Shared articles,” meaning a user reposted an article from one of these brands on Facebook, is one of the best indicators of audience size and actual impressions on Facebook.

most shared sites facebook
December 2014 - Top Publishers on Facebook as counted by # of shares by NewsWhip / Spike

The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have been the champions since Newswhip / Spike and other research firms started tracking how publishers fare on Facebook. Why? Jonah Peretti is a co-founder of the The Huffington Post and he figured out early on what kind of content is shared on social networks. Peretti went on to found Buzzfeed in 2006 which is also always a leader for the title of publisher with the most shared content on Facebook. Peretti told Adweek what kinds of people he likes to hire at Buzzfeed: “People who really understand how information is shared on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and other emerging platforms, because that is in some cases as important as, you know, having traditional reporting talent.”

But beyond having a hunch about what content will do well on social, Buzzfeed has built a digital platform that has deep analytics and test / target headline systems for social content distribution. You can read more about it in a 2014 Wired UK profile of Buzzfeed where Peretti exclaimed, “We are a technology company, not a media company.” The Verge also did an extensive interview with Buzzfeed about their content optimization methodology you can read here.

In the Newswhip / Spike Facebook data, you do see traditional news outlets like NBC, BBC, Fox, and The Guardian doing well along side the new media brands. These media brands have their own social syndication and analytics platforms, or leverage third party vendors, and are now to do be able to tackle the challenge of Facebook being the dominant driver of mobile traffic. The success of these outlets on social platforms also may speak to the fact that there were some big news headlines the month of December 2014, driving people to share news content.

If Jonah Peretti and the technology and teams he built at both the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are behind these publishers' success on social, then how did Playbuzz beat both of these sites in December 2014 as the top social publisher on Facebook? In 2013, the site didn’t even register in the rankings.

top facebook publishers
December 2013 - Top Publishers on Facebook as counted by # of shares by NewsWhip / Spike

Business Insider reports that Playbuzz “relies heavily on user-generated content, all of which comes in the form of lists, quizzes, and trivia.” Newswhip and Spike also took a deeper look at Playbuzz’s success.

Some argue that sites like Playbuzz, Viralnova, and Distractify are not creating high value content and are all about driving page views. These brands have been dubbed “P.R.E.A.M.” sites, which stands for “Page Views Rule Everything Around Me” a clever play on the title of a rap song called “C.R.E.A.M. - Cash Rules Everything Around Me” by the Wu-Tang Clan. Regardless, these digital media outlets should not be ignored.

EliteDaily, a media brand that bills itself as the “voice of Generation Y,” was just bought by the UK’s Daily Mail for $40-$50 million dollars. The site launched in 2012 with $60,000 of seed money from the founders. Yes, the Daily Mail bought Elite Daily in part because they have a mainly millennial demographic of over 40 million unique visitors a month. I would argue however, that Elite Daily’s dominance in mobile is what the Daily Mail is the most interested in. In past month for instance, 37 million visitors to Elite Daily came from mobile sources (measured in the following graphic in dark blue). That’s 88% of traffic being mobile.

elitedaily web traffic
Traffic to EliteDaily.com over the past year as measured by Quantcast

Currently, if you click on a Daily Mail article from within the Facebook application on your mobile device, you are taken to an App store where it asks you to download the Daily Mail app to access the article. Every time I have experienced this, I abandoned my effort to get to the Daily Mail content. To me there was not enough value in the content to justify me having to get another app on my phone. Maybe EliteDaily joining the Daily Mail team will bring a better mobile user experience to the company that’s not dependent on gating content.

New Media Brands Winning Beyond the Facebook Mobile App

Mobile traffic to media sites is not entirely through Facebook, as 15% of mobile traffic still comes from mobile browsers. So where are those users going? Here’s the latest Quantcast top 25 mobile sites by monthly unique visitors. (Note a few sites are not registered because they asked Quantcast to keep the data private). Most of the mobile web traffic that is not via Facebook goes to new media brands like the quiz focused Playbuzz, the entertainment community Wikia, and the fun slang dictionary site Urbandictionary.

quantcast top mobile sites
Quantcast Top 25 Mobile Sites - January 2015

It’s good to pay attention to this mobile traffic chart to take note new media brands that seem to come out of nowhere. For instance, I had never heard of Diply.com before seeing them appear on this chart. 78% of their traffic is mobile, and they do not have a mobile app component, which is surprising. Diply bills itself as an “oddities and wonders discovery network dedicated to showcasing the world's most creative ideas, projects and people.” From what I can tell, Diply’s team of editors is simply aggregating some of the best digital content from the internet and making it shareable. Diply launched only in July 2014 and the most up to date Quantcast numbers actually put the monthly unique visitors at over 100 million.

There are some established media brands on this mobile traffic chart: Wenner Media’s entertainment news US Weekly (usmagazine.com) and Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report, but the list tends to be dominated by media start ups on a month to month basis and not traditional media brands. It’s important to note that Turner Sports bought the sports fan oriented start up Bleacher Report in 2012 for $175 million, so it’s not a brand that was created in-house.

The New York Daily News at #17 is in the top 25 as the media brand that has refocused on national and world news and with a responsive design that makes content more consumable on mobile devices. Digiday dug deeper into the New York Daily News’ digital strategy that has them doing better in mobile.

In this post I examined how media brands are tailoring content for social platforms to reach audiences given that one third of mobile traffic is to the Facebook application. Beyond Facebook, we see that media start ups are dominating on mobile. In the next post I dig into how media companies are doing in the market for mobile apps.

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