Whether considered a possible threat to national security or the elitist cousin to the billion-dollar podcast industry, newer social media sites like TikTok and Clubhouse continue creating a buzz. Many publishers remain uncertain if the value of these platforms matches the work required to develop content or cultivate digital strategies to integrate them into established social media practices. Here are four ways publishers can leverage emergent social media to their advantage.
Mobile journalism revolutionized the news and media landscape a few years ago, and emergent social media is creating more opportunities for brands to continue building on that momentum. This is true, in part, for the ways these platforms enable publishers to engage younger, global audiences.
At minimum, it’s a way for publishers to creatively build brand exposure with audiences who remain non-traditional and elusive in their news consumption styles, according to digital multimedia consultant and mobile journalism trainer, Corrine Podger: “...Prioritise brand exposure over sales, at least until you understand how the platform works and whether you have a monetizable audience using it. TikTok represents a great opportunity for publishers to build a brand relationship with a new generation of digital citizens in their teens and early 20s. These audiences, according to the most recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report, are less likely to be buying newspapers or watching TV.”
Publishers like Teen Vogue and BBC forecasted these advantages, and both brands leveraged Musical.ly back before it evolved into the global phenomenon TikTok. Teen Vogue had been using this emergent iteration to connect its brand with young audiences across other platforms too, such as Instagram. Publisher brands’ ability to migrate to new spaces with digital natives and to diversify brand presence across platforms is effective with — and even expected by — Gen Z audiences.
Mobile journalism that leverages emergent social media also shows promise beyond brand exposure. Publishers may also be able to convert social media followers into subscribers. For example, both Insider and Cosmopolitan are experimenting with funnelling Clubhouse followers into paying readers: Insider is trying a free-trial subscription model for its Clubhouse followers, and Cosmopolitan is testing a Clubhouse room that pairs with published content accessible only behind a paywall, according to Digiday. The approach holds unique potential for brands using mobile journalism with combined revenue models.
A free, independent press has long been viewed as the 4th pillar of democracy, and emergent social media with more sensory and live connective dimensions than older iterations offer increasingly powerful ways for journalists to demonstrate the importance of their work globally. Mobile journalism paired with social media has already proven useful for breaking news, amplifying the voices of community journalists, and holding corrupt power to account in real-time. But emergent social media platforms dominated by young people and more dependent on digestible visual and audio content that democratizes access to activists, celebrities, traditional press, and political and business leaders could benefit the public service functions of journalism in stronger ways.
Multimedia journalist, Hannane Ferdjani, and knowledge management adviser, Nana Mgbechikwere Nwachukwu, explained to Harvard Law Today that — while many accessibility barriers still exist — the pairing of mobile journalism and social media has amplified the voices of young journalists telling censored, misrepresented or unheard stories; from Black Lives Matter in Minnesota to political uprisings in Myanmar to gender rights advocacy in Nigeria, this reality is unfolding globally:
“I think that with the African context in mind, there is a definite sense that the digital era is opening doors and opening ways for activists and witnesses of the events happening around them in communities to really take a stance and be effective in limiting oppression and fighting for their rights ... Young people have moved from taking these phones to [take] pictures for their well being for feeling good ... to using it to hold [the] government accountable.”
Some emergent social media platforms, like Clubhouse, are currently ad-free. In these spaces, influencer marketing can pair the power of individual media personalities with publisher brands for success across growing digital platforms. The ability to intelligently distribute content across emergent social media in connected ways that understand audiences as readers, listeners and viewers maximizes brand potential and audience experiences.
For example, a publisher that understands audience segments as readers, listeners and viewers could create a Clubhouse room for its respected journalists to discuss key issues with community listeners. The same publishers could also release newsroom TikTok videos of these journalists behind-the-scenes, and the journalists can post funny or interesting content on their own TikToks and Instagram Reels. In each space, the platforms can be used to attract listeners’ and viewers’ attention to branded subscriber content or individual journalists’ Substack newsletters.
This kind of multi-platform, multi-look strategy would give audiences varied touch points to connect with their favorite or respected journalists in audio, visual and written digital media spaces, but it would also use each platform to offer unique content that can stand alone or in a broader digital strategy, to create widespread brand exposure, and to drive audiences to branded subscriber content from different angles. The Washington Post has successfully used this kind of model with their full-time content creator and video journalist, Dave Jorgenson, leveraging his TikTok persona to successfully drive various kinds of newsletter and newspaper subscriptions, and USA Today depends on several journalists to post regular branded TikTok content with similar objectives.
For brands that expertly leverage emergent social media, the skills can become valuable outside of more traditional revenue structures. In fact, many publishers are finding their social media mastery useful to businesses in a marketing agency model, offering social media packages to conglomerates and companies. This approach creates another potential profit stream outside advertising and subscriptions.
With this approach, however, it’s key to remember that even if the functions of different social media platforms evolve as new technologies emerge, the underlying principle that makes social media valuable to audiences, businesses and publishers alike remains the same for success: put authentic connection with people first, monetization second. Or, as What’s New in Publishing has explained, “Those who are harnessing the full potential of these [social media] platforms are those who understand that they need to think in terms of how to connect to people, and not necessarily get straight to their product (in this specific case, their content and news website). These are the ones who’ve worked to understand their audience first, and then work out ways how to successfully cater to their interests and habits.”
Whether or not learning a new platform — or broadening a digital strategy altogether — is worth it is still controversial for many publishers. This is especially true when the stability or lifespan of emergent social media is unknown. However, media website management company, Web Publisher PRO, offers that publisher content on various new platforms is about more than just presence. It’s also about building a reputation and relationship — having a layered "why":
“Encouraging your staff to participate on the Clubhouse app is another way to expand your publication’s reach. The more well-known your reporters and editors become, the more people will want to read their work and the more traffic you’ll have coming to your website. More than just increasing traffic, though, Clubhouse is really about increasing authority. Having a roster of well-known, respected writers and editors will enhance your publication’s profile, even if you aren’t using Clubhouse personally.”
When assessing emergent social media, it’s important to understand why a brand may build presence there. It’s not effective to have presence for its own sake — and sometimes not even for only one reason like brand exposure — but to understand which relationships it can cultivate, how, why and at what stages in both the journey of a publisher brand and the journey of an audience.
How does social media content fit into both the overall brand development of a media company and the news consumption journeys of audience segments interested in a brand and its journalists? Ultimately, this should be an ongoing question about the value exchange happening on each platform with each audience segment in relation to a publisher brand.
Nieman Labs explains one example of this in the evolution of Facebook and its usefulness to local media companies. “Just as Facebook as a company has shifted its focus from public posts to groups and private messaging, the newspapers have scaled back their reliance on the platform for achieving algorithmic reach and instead use it strategically to promote subscriptions, connect with targeted groups, and reach new audiences.” The key is understanding and responding effectively to the dynamism of digital media spaces — from the platforms themselves to the audiences accessing them.
Brand authority and brand exposure alone can sometimes be valuable reasons for presence on new social media platforms, but used strategically, presence can also help normalize the paid reader-publisher relationship proving so important for collecting first-party data. For example, by leveraging the influence of a memorable journalist on TikTok or Clubhouse and driving those viewers and listeners to reader subscriptions, a brand can normalize that funnel and the value of quality journalism while gaining reader trust and data. This benefits publishers’ bottom line in multiple ways and the social credibility of excellent journalism more broady.
Nieman Labs explains that journalists publishing paid content on Substack are already demonstrating the possibility of success re-training audiences: "By explicitly asserting that good journalism and commentary are worth paying for, Substack might help retrain web audiences accustomed to believing information is free ... It costs money to produce professional, ethical journalism, whether in the 1830s, the 1980s or the 2020s. Web surfing made us forget this. If Substack can help correct this misapprehension, and ensure that journalists are properly remunerated for their labor, it could help remedy our damaged news environment, which is riddled with misinformation."
For media companies just starting out on emergent social platforms, analyzing their reasons for being there, strategy for connecting content and branded experiences, and tactics on each social media site are great first steps. Here are three simple tips to help journalists and publishers leverage these emergent social media platforms more cost-efficiently and audience effectively:
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