Why magazines are media conversation catalysts

Social media and magazines have a natural affinity: both are about communities, says Guy Consterdine, FIPP’s Research Consultant, showing evidence from Femina Group in Indonesia, MediaVest and Experian in the US, OPPA in Belgium and IPA in the UK among others. 
Magazine brands are often positioned at the very centre of communities of interest. Consequently magazine media, through all their platforms, are in a powerful position to assist marketers to interact with relevant social communities, wrapped in the positive values associated with magazine brands.
I have been examining research studies about social media, in the course of writing the second edition of FIPP’s Proof of Performance: Making the case for magazine media (or POP v2 for short), due for publication at the beginning of November. 
The evidence shows that partnering with magazine publishers can be an effective route through which marketers can achieve their social networking goals: increasing brand awareness and product knowledge, sharing early information about new products, creating promotional campaigns, raising awareness of issues, receiving vital feedback, building relationships, and generally interacting with customers.
Enthusiastic users of social media
It is clear that magazine readers all over the world are enthusiastic users of social media, from Brazil to Finland, and from Singapore to Canada. 
In Indonesia the Femina Group has conducted a study Usage of Multiple Platforms of a Magazine Brand, which asked female visitors to the group’s dozen or more websites which digital activities they were engaged in. 98% were using social media, just ahead of 94% checking emails. Femina magazine illustrates the scale by which social media can expand the audiences of a magazine brand. When gross audience contacts across all platforms are calculated (and disregarding the consideration that one tweet is not of the same value as an exposure to a print magazine), social media account for around 90% of all contacts, led by Twitter, with Facebook in second place. That is a lot of buzz created around magazine and brand content.
The nature of social communities
Underlying these social activities is the notion of communities. Our social lives revolve increasingly around extended or new communities of interest – highly involved, connected and passionate groups of people, frequently in circumstances where most members never meet other members in the flesh.
Members of communities not only share a strong attachment and commitment to the subject area. They also have a sense of belonging, relating to others in the group; they feel they can influence others if they wish to contribute, and will be influenced themselves; they expect to benefit from the sharing within the group; and they have an emotional attachment to it. This attachment to the group makes them value the opinions of other members – and that includes members’ knowledge and experiences of products and services.
In the USA, MediaVest conducted a major study of social communities, Community Explorer. Looking at eight main types of community, it found that the average member communicated personally with 15 other members; communicated frequently, with 17% doing it on a daily basis and 35% weekly; spent 4.5 hours a week engaged in the community topic; and made a point of staying up to date on the topic.
Community Explorer said “In today’s social world, where peer influence is central in the formation of brand beliefs, evaluations and ultimately purchase decisions, community is at the core of social amplification in its broadest sense.”
The survey showed that magazine brands were a strong conduit for community participation. Indeed in many communities magazine brands were the top-ranked resource, standing right at the centre of the community. 
Communities do not welcome hard selling, but if a marketer is able to feed information into the group in an acceptable way – for example as an interesting story or news item – it can be very influential. My view is that magazine media, as an “insider”, are among the most powerful channels through which marketers may be able to do this, connecting consumers to the brand in a meaningful way. Success depends on the degree to which a brand blends in with the conversations that are going on, with or without it, and this calls for a more subtle softer drip-feed approach compared with conventional advertising. Social media is not about a hard sell, it is about building relationships. That is what magazine media are so good at.
Portrait of social networking magazine readers
In the USA Experian Marketing Services has examined magazine readers’ use of social media, by analysing a number of Simmons surveys. The analysis covered six vertical market segments: automotive, entertainment, epicurean, health and fitness, home, and travel. Within each segment, magazine readers’ use of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest was studied. 
In all six vertical segments, more than half of magazine readers were users of social media. They were more likely than adults in general to follow their favourite brands on social networking sites. Heavy magazine readers were even more likely to do so.
The motivations for following a brand show the benefits the readers were anticipating. Among heavy magazine readers, 67% said they friend brands to get coupons and discounts; 42% to get product information including previews; 13% to get better customer service. These proportions varied by market segment. For instance, travel magazine readers popularly followed a brand to get sneak previews of products, and early warning of reduced prices. Automotive magazine readers were more likely to follow brands to get previews of new models, notice of discounts, and other product information.
Not surprisingly, in all six verticals the magazine readers were much more likely to friend magazines than were adults in general. Receiving content from their favourite magazines via their news feed was a popular choice.
Magazine readers are conversation catalysts
In the UK an analysis of the IPA’s TouchPoints survey has confirmed that magazine readers are “conversation catalysts” – defined as people with a large social network who regularly give recommendations in multiple product categories. This is especially true of online magazine readers.
The audiences of online and offline media were compared with all adults in terms of the proportion of the audience who qualified as conversation catalysts. Online users of magazine content had almost twice the proportion of conversation catalysts as all adults, and far outscored all other online media, and indeed all offline media. 
Another aspect of TouchPoints which struck me was the information about mood. The IPA commented “In a communication landscape where we are rapidly moving from an interruption to an engagement model, mood is becoming a key consideration in media planning”.
The survey’s e-diary asked respondents to record their mood during each half-hour. Cross-analysing mood against media usage revealed that “heavy and medium newspaper and magazine users tend to be the happiest people”! I suspect that for magazine readers it’s that typical personal me-time moment that makes the reading so happy and enjoyable.
Bad mood is dominated by heavy and medium mobile phone users. Overall, the analysis indicated that “people are at their happiest when they have actively chosen to undertake an activity, such as reading a publication.” Magazines are, above all, the medium where users exercise choice most comprehensively.
Digital conversations are stimulated by premium content websites
When consumers look for websites serving their interests they find that the most stimulating websites are the “premium content” sites – those that provide original content and have great authority on the subject – such as magazine publishers’ sites. Premium content websites induce markedly more electronic sharing than non-premium content sites.
Two months ago in the UK, IPC Media (now renamed Time Inc) released a study called Digital Conversations which compared users of IPC’s own websites with users of non-premium websites who were interested in the same topics. Users of the premium entertainment websites were 77% more likely than non-premium site users to recommend to others music, film and entertainment content. For fashion and beauty websites the figure was 62% more likely to make recommendations, and for IPC’s websites in general it was 49%.
A Belgian survey also compared premium content websites with social media as generators of online conversations. The Online Professional Publishers Association (OPPA) have published their Brand Buzz Survey among the Belgian online adult population.
It established that 9 out of 10 online visitors talk about brands regularly. These conversations are prompted by (in order of importance) purchases or purchase experience; an advertisement; online content; and other sources. When a conversation is inspired by an advertisement, the principal contributor is print magazines and newspapers (36%), followed at a distance by TV (19%), content websites (17%), and email (12%). Other sources, including social media, account for less than 8% each.
Among the brand conversations which take place online one location is prominent: content websites, used in 58% of the conversations. Social media only rank second, used in 40% of conversations. Commenting on this, OPPA said “Sites where content is written by journalists create reasons for consumers to talk about brands and create buzz”, allowing marketers to reach highly engaged targets through advertising in a premium environment.
What is said in these online conversations? Among regular users of content sites, 90% talk about new products before or after purchase; 89% initiate or contribute to conversations about brands; and 51% recommend brands often or very often. These conversations cover all stages of the purchase decision-making process.
Included among the content sites’ visitors are opinion leaders who are always willing to give advice and share their brand experiences, making them brand ambassadors for the brands they support.
POP v2 launch webinar
Join me on Tuesday 4 November at 3pm GMT/London for the POP v2 launch webinar when myself and Esther Braspenning, FIPP Research chairman and media knowledge manager, The Ppress in Belgium, will present more on social media and digital conversations in POP v2 – alongside nine other chapters on print magazines, digital editions, publisher websites, and proof in many forms of the high return on investment delivered to advertisers by magazine media. 

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