“Smart repackaging” and "content swarming" are the main ways that Hearst UK’s titles are trying to reach a greater audience - and it’s working, according to Betsy Fast. Betsy, who recently moved from Hearst US to become Executive Director of Digital Editorial Strategy at Hearst UK, shared her insights from the stage on day two of the 41st FIPP World Congress (11 October).
Betsy began by highlighting the ways in which the role of digital editor has changed over time, so that it has multi-platform multitasking at its core.
Hearst UK has centralised many of its digital processes, so that its structure stands as such:
“Our editors know intimately who the reader is and where they want to read and consume this content,” explained Betsy. They then decide what the content will look like: is it appropriate for a longer piece? Or will a fleeting moment do?
Betsy showcased some impressive statistics from her time at the UK branch of Hearst. The company has achieved 109 million video views, 17 million monthly unique users, and one million Snap subscribers. Since applying best practices from the US to the UK, they’ve seen impressive growth, such as the Harper’s Bazaar title growing by 300 per cent year on year.
“We’re hitting the nail on the head with what our readers want,” she added.
Betsy talked about the strategy of “smart repackaging” which repurposes a story for different platforms in sometimes surprisingly simple ways, with very good results.
For example, the headline “10 surprising facts you didn’t know about flying” on the Cosmopolitan website was visited by 8,700 unique users. When it was repackaged to “The one thing you should never drink on a plane”, this went up to 65,000 unique users, and up to 91,000 when altered to “Flight attendants cringe hard when passengers do this one thing”.
What Betsy has learned is that a simple change of headline, or adding a GIF and a short, witty caption, can sometimes be enough to boost popular content to where it should be.
Another method they have been using at Hearst UK, said Betsy, is known as “content-swarming”. “We like to swarm content that we know resonates with our audience,” she added. For example, their content about the hugely popular TV show Love Island, which was on every night for several weeks, reached 1.7 million people as the show progressed.
“We also found that video performed better than expected on Snapchat,” added Betsy. “Typically it doesn’t do well - but we added opinion poll functionality which brought in one million uniques, which is remarkable for Snapchat.”
She explained how they also invited one of the best-loved Love Island guests to come in for an Instagram Story, which was very successful. Now a legitimate source of driving traffic to the site, Instagram Stories should be utilised - along with Facebook Live, Snapchat video, and polls - as ways of reaching an audience. “Sometimes we just make things directly into video, if that’s how we think our audience wants to engage with it,” Betsy added.
Betsy emphasised that Hearst UK doesn’t wish to be a clickbait factory - but that when there’s a pop cultural phenomenon, such as Love Island, it’s worthwhile being on board with it. She explained how she challenged Esquire’s editors to come up with ways of interacting with Love Island and other popular culture, despite their initial reluctance.
One of the resulting videos, “It’s time to end the style atrocity of the super skinny jean”, clocked up 36,000 views, showing that indeed this was something that Esquire’s audience wanted to see and engage with. “Look for touchpoints, for pillars that resonate with your audience,” Betsy advised. “Think beyond what you think you know about them.”
Another example is the extreme rise in popularity of gin in the UK. Hearst UK tried to harness that with many different forms of content relating to the drink, achieving stats such as 5.3 million views on a gin cheesecake video recipe.
Betsy ended by highlighting that audience growth isn’t everything - and in fact Cosmopolitan UK ventured into politics during the snap 2017 UK General Election, thinking it wouldn’t prove that popular with their audience. Yet pieces such as “Labour’s 2017 policies explained” and video explainers reached huge numbers of people. A Snapchat Discover election-only edition with a feminist angle - women are less likely to vote than men - had 6.53 million views and massive engagement. “Is it just a coincidence that more young people than ever voted in that election?” said Betsy. “I like to think not!”
An audience question prompted a discussion about whether Hearst UK has any reverse data to show that all this cross-platform content this has translated into revenue. “We’re not directly tracking whether a Love Island piece of content is generating more subscriptions to Cosmo,” answered Betsy. “Of course this is something publishers are always interested in, but you have to really own and nurture the relationships with digital readers. You want to not blast them with content they’re not looking for. We try to create a happy medium without making it the first reason someone would come to the site.”
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