After compiling a list of the top UK publications on Facebook, Press Gazette spoke to the top three titles in terms of ‘likes’ to find out the secrets behind their success.
The Economist’s communities editor Mark Johnson admitted a large part of The Economist’s success comes down to people’s pride in reading the title.
“Readers like letting people know that they read it and they really like to recommend it to their friends,” he told Press Gazette.
“And that’s one of the reasons it’s worked so well – because people like to badge themselves as Economist readers. Social media is a really good place for that.”
Johnson claims the fact The Economist, which has nearly 1.2m Facebook ‘likes’, is not a breaking news organisation has helped succeed on social media.
“There are a lot of people out there on Twitter, a lot of people and companies, telling you what’s just happened. Something breaks and there’s eight people telling you ‘BREAKING’.
“But there aren’t many people that will talk about things going on behind the news. Telling you – this is the background to the story and this is why it’s happening.
“So I think, as in the news industry generally, we are the type of company that can step back and say, ‘this is what’s really going on’, not just the latest thing but why it matters and why you should care.
“And that’s as valuable for us on social media as it is on the newsstand.”
Alongside its Facebook presence, The Economist also is popular on Twitter, Google+ (with more than 2m followers on each) and a number of other social media sites.
The Economist team makes an effort to try everything, analyse it and then continue to use it if it works well.
Johnson says: “This rigour is an important reason that we’ve been fairly successful. It’s this analytical approach that we have.
“We’re not just throwing mud at the wall – or, we are throwing mud at the wall, but then we have a look at the data and then see what comes out of that.”
Johnson’s colleague Dave Humber, The Economist’s social media manager, adds: “Everything we do is really carefully measured. So when you see things on our social media sites, there’s a reason that’s gone up at that time.
“Everything’s been carefully tested and measured to make sure we get the maximum impact.”
Asked whether the aim of social media growth was, ultimately, to increase print circulation, Humber says: “That is one of our objectives, yes, along with digital conversions, driving engagement and socialising our content more broadly.
“The Economist now has a million-odd people on Facebook – and that’s taken us three and a bit years.
“Whereas The Economist’s circulation took us more than a hundred years and we’re now at just under 1.6 million.
“So the reach thing is key for us because it’s allowing so many more people to interact with our content.”
“It’s about breaking down all those barriers where people think The Economist is a stuffy magazine that has no resonance with them.
It’s only when they interact with it that they realise this.
“The key things for us are awareness and reach. The page views are the key value for the business. The circulation is further down the funnel.”
Second in the list is The Sun, which two years ago had just 6,000 followers, less than one per cent of what it has today.
Digital editor Derek Brown says: “In the past an agency were responsible for updating our Facebook pages over sport and news.
“We took that back into the newsroom and made it the responsibility of one of the journalists working that day to post interesting topics for discussion.
“Quite soon we saw the number of comments under each story rise from a handful to 20 or so. Now we can get around 1,000 comments on any story we post on Facebook.”
Despite having the second most ‘liked’ Facebook page on Press Gazette’s list, The Sun’s main Twitter page has the second lowest following in the top ten. Brown makes it clear that Facebook takes priority.
“I realised that, while it was important to pursue more followers on Twitter, the bulk of our readers were probably more used to spending time with Facebook.
We really focused on growing that number,” he says. “I see Facebook performing a different role than Twitter.
Facebook is all about the discussion and the debate, getting feedback from your readers and seeing how they feel about the issues of the day.”
Asked how he feels Facebook interaction affects print sales, he says: “I think we’ve all moved on from the idea that the internet is cannibalising our print products.
“If people are going to be using Facebook to talk about the issues of the day I’d rather they were doing it on The Sun’s page rather than someone else’s.”
Third in Press Gazette’s list was FHM magazine, which has just over than 600,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook.
And James Carson, head of digital marketing at Bauer Magazines, believes Facebook use may well have an impact on the magazine’s circulation.
“I think Facebook complements the magazine – it probably does help it sell,” he says.
“It certainly helps the website traffic and I think if we didn’t do it we would see some suffering from the fan base.
“And the fact that we have such a big fan base means that the demand is there.”