The growth of social media as a news and information source for many consumers comes with its share of threats and opportunities, Sarah Marshall, who leads audience development for Condé Nast, told participants at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress. Marshall discussed how social media platforms pose challenges to various revenue streams of publishers.

Condé Nast operates in 11 markets (the USA is the largest) and in nine languages. Its vast stable of brands includes titles such as Vogue, Glamour, GQ, Wired and Vanity Fair.

Its Vogue title used to receive a lot of visibility during events like the Met Gala. However, that has changed with alterations in search algorithms, Marshall explained.

Publishers have also been losing traffic from Meta’s news ban.

“Facebook’s pivot is really pushing into Reels. It doesn’t want to send us traffic anymore. News is far too problematic for Meta,” Marshall said.

With the “reject all” button on consent banners, opt-out rates for Condé Nast increased from 20% to 30% overnight. This makes it more difficult to monetise or track visitors to website. Features such as “one-click unsubscribe” in various email programmes have also exacerbated the issue.

“We’ve got so many headwinds. We’re creating all these audiences, and we’re all feeling great about these metrics, but not about the revenue,” Marshall said.

Increasing monetisation by fine-tuning engagement

As people spend more time on their phones and consuming content from social platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, Marshall said publishers need to fine tune their strategies to maximise audience engagement and revenue generation.

For example, a Pew report last year found that 82% of American adults use YouTube. For Facebook, the number is 68%; for Instagram, it’s 46%; and for TikTok, it’s 31%.

“It’s an opportunity for monetisation,” she said. “Condé Nast is part of an alpha programme with TikTok. And we’re able to monetise it.”

In doing so, they are not only engaging millions of people around the world but also monetising it. Ultimately, distinctive journalism is a central to driving traffic to homepages and apps, ensuring direct control over that traffic.

Practical approaches for improving audience relationships

Marshall highlighted some key practical actions that Condé Nast has implemented in its newsrooms.

Focus on audience trends: Apart from analytics, it’s always important to listen to the audience. Condé Nast’s consumer insights team keeps future audiences in mind to design audience experiences.
Measure direct relationship audiences: Gather information about homepage, authenticated or logged-in users, paying subscribers, monthly active users within apps, newsletter referrals, inbox reads, open rates, and more. For instance, Condé Nast’s direct traffic comes from branded search, The New Yorker crossword, The New Yorker books review and more, which is measured for metrics.
Creating pathways: Decluttering the sites and removing any barriers to make it clear to people how they can progress to the next stage. For example, Condé Nast combined multiple newsletters into one flagship newsletter to declutter subscribers’ inboxes while providing them with all necessary information in one email. “We wanted to help users declutter their inbox because otherwise, people were disengaging or unsubscribing. We focused on those unsubscribes and we learned a lot from them,” Marshall said.
Audience journey: This often begins with a consent/cookie banner. For Vogue, Condé Nast deployed an editor to write the top half of the cookie banner to inform the audience about the data usage. The publisher A/B tested it in different markets. “We can only move the needle probably about 10 percentage points, but it’s still worth doing. If we can increase the acceptance rate even slightly, we can increase revenue,” Marshall said.
Newsletters: Condé Nast recognised that newsletters would be a crucial part of its business and decided an overhaul them. They created guiding principles for their newsletters that could be streamlined for 65 different teams across 9 languages. They also addressed the lack of coordination between marketing and CRM teams.

Revamping newsletters to focus on flagships, personalisation

As part of its newsletter overhaul, Condé Nast started with list consolidation. Bon Appétit, a food brand from Condé Nast, ended up with loads of emails in its subscribers’ inboxes, stemming from several newsletters.

“What we wanted to do was to get brands to invest in the flagship,” Marshall said, adding, “So Bon Appétit went from having several different newsletters to just one flagship newsletter.”

This strategy helped declutter the inbox. Marshall noted that subscribers loved the newsletters so much that they were concerned about unsubscribing from any of them.

Personalisation was another key focus area for the newsletters, designed with both paying and non-paying subscribers in mind. Roughly 20% of the total subscribers pay for the content. The publisher aimed to make the newsletter special by offering bonus content directly within the inbox.

“We wanted to grow the quality audiences and create new functionality to facilitate easy newsletter sign-ups,” Marshall said. “Additionally, instead of merely presenting products, we aimed to editorialise them further, explaining to people why they should purchase a particular item.”


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