Which newspaper is the real social media success story?
A recent report in Press Gazette revealed that The Economist had the most Facebook likes amongst UK publications and, back in March, The Wall used it as an example of a social media success story within the industry.
However, what struck me as more interesting in the research was how few Facebook likes (37,914) and Twitter followers (139,841) the Daily Mail had in comparison to its huge print circulation (1.9 million).
Most of the other publications on the list had a social media fan base that dwarfed their print readership.
We know it’s not the case the MailOnline is struggling (in fact, it’s the biggest newspaper website in the world), so what’s happening in social media?
To begin with, this demonstrates that the metrics that are easiest to measure don’t tell the whole story and, without context, any conclusions we draw from them can be highly misleading.
One of the other potentially misleading aspects of looking at this ‘like’ research in isolation is that Facebook transferred profile information to page likes over a year ago.
We’ve talked on this blog before about how people carefully construct their online personas to reflect the ‘best side’ of themselves and a significant number of those who initially liked The Economist will have added it to their interests with the aim of appearing more intelligent to their friends; underlining its aspirational status as a brand. Many users will continue to do so, without any intention of reading articles via the page (making the case for examining activity such as as what visitors were doing with stories after reading them).
Of course the problem for this particular publication is finding a way to turn these causal ‘likers’ into regular print readers or a means by which to better monetise their digital presence.
In contrast, the MailOnline appears to be more of a ‘guilty secret’; a site we open in the corner of our screens at work, or click through to “out of curiosity” (before becoming trapped in, what the Guardian likes to refer to as, the ’sidebar of shame‘).
While it may be the case that its slightly older readership is less likely to be on social networking sites (resulting in less followers and likes), it still drives a significant amount of traffic through social media.
What its success demonstrates is that the reader doesn’t have to follow a direct journey from liking the paper’s Facebook page (or following its Twitter account) to clicking through to its website. In creating stories that encourage debate, the paper has engineered a situation whereby the public themselves drive the traffic through their conversations on social media.
Whether this is outraged Guardian readers talking about a Samantha Brick article or disagreement over the latest health scare, you cannot argue that the MailOnline isn’t successful within social media simply because it doesn’t have the size of following or likes attained by other newspapers.
The danger of measuring something simply because it’s easy to measure is that you mistake the answer you get for the answer to a different question.
It may spark controversy at times but the Daily Mail, having long been successful in print, has now discovered (by understanding what the reader wants) a digital path to success through the MailOnline (recently announcing the website turned a profit for the first time in June 2012).
As James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald in 1835, once stated, the function of a newspaper “is not to instruct but to startle” – a motto the MailOnline has embraced to impressive effect.