The Secret Sauce: Hearst Experts Share 9 Strategies for Social Media Success
It seems simple enough: Satisfying your core audience while continuing to offer trending and relevant content.
A panel of social media experts with three Hearst titles — Esquire, Marie Claire, and Elle – recently tackled this subject, during a Social Media Week New York panel this month.
The panel, “How Hearst’s Prestige Brands Are ‘Doing the Internet,’” featured:
- Ben Boskovich, social media editor, Esquire
- Elizabeth Brady, associate director of social strategy, Hearst Digital Media
- Rosa Heyman, social media editor, Marie Claire
- Gena Kaufman, social media director, Elle
- Kate Lewis, VP of content operations and editorial director, Hearst Digital
Here are nine strategies that can help you achieve social media success for your brand.
1. Social Strategy Teams
There are 22 brands at Hearst, each with a dedicated site team and each team with its own social editor.
There also is a brand-agnostic Social Strategy team that counsels social editors, helping them to manage relationships with the social networks.
Social media changes every three to six months — if not more frequently — so adaptation is crucial.
“It’s such an accelerated evolution cycle for a social editor to grapple with and succeed in,” says Brady, “especially when they’re the ones in the weeds doing the day-to-day posting, pushing content out, and then also paying attention to everything that’s going on in the ecosystem.”
The Social Strategy team has developed a suite of reports they share with the teams to teach them about audience. Editors get alerts every day, so they know which stories are getting viral traction and which ones aren’t. They also have other resources, like a social media Wiki for the entire staff.
If a site has a video that’s going viral on Facebook, everyone immediately knows about it and can discuss how to capitalize on it.
The Social Strategy team also provides granular statistics for the brands.
“Elle might come to us with a question on what types of beauty content are doing the best on Facebook and which types might not be worth posting,” said Brady. “We’ll dive into the data and we’ll say, ‘Food videos are working for you, but really only if they have cheese.’ Other times, it’s a little bit of detective work.”
2. The ‘Secret Sauce’
Hearst has 126 million followers across social networks, up 39 percent from last year.
In 2016, there were more than 50 million engagements on Facebook posts, and Facebook shares increased by 33 percent.
The “secret sauce” to this following is that Hearst social editors spend their time using social as a listening tool, which Boskovich calls the backbone of the social editor’s job.
“We know, for instance, that our Twitter audience has a more elevated, probably more educated, interest, so they’re going to want more tweets about the 10,000-word features that we’re writing,” said Boskovich. “The Facebook audience, on the other hand, is more interested in snackable news and videos. I learned that just by it being a part of my life 24/7.”
Brady also does a lot of reporting on live events and can attest to the importance of listening to your audience.
“On social, it’s a best practice to be speedy, to be creative, to be authentic,” she says. “But there is another pillar: Just pay attention. Have that observational attitude with your followers, and dig in, because there’s always something new to uncover – like a weird fandom – that your audience will be interested in.”
Of course, Brady adds, you always have to be ready to do something different, “because it’s not going to last.”
3. Ditch the Clickbait
While using clickbait headlines might seem like an easy way to get readers to click through to articles, it doesn’t always translate into engagement.
Social networks’ algorithms also make a case for ditching the clickbait.
With networks increasingly controlled by algorithms, social posts might not necessarily reflect what really is happening.
Shares – not clicks – are more important than ever.
“If you don’t have people sharing and interacting with your content, there’s a pretty good chance no one is going to see it at all,” explains Brady. “We have to be much more strategic about what we’re putting up because we need it to get surfaced, whether it’s on Facebook or Instagram. We’re always looking for a higher threshold of engagement.”
To do this, the teams basically give the story away on their social networks.
“We’re totally fine with the social editors giving it all away, whether it’s a photo or a link,” says Brady. “Make it its own entity. Make it shareable so your audience is going to help you distribute it throughout.”
4. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The teams at Hearst work closely together. And while there’s a healthy dose of competition, there’s also a lot of sharing between teams.
“Elle was seeing a lot of success boosting their engagement on Facebook by commenting on posts that were already doing well with additional reading links,” says Marie Claire’s Heyman. “When one brand finds something that works, we can all borrow it,”
The related-links strategy — also called “swarming” — is something Kaufman learned from another Hearst brand, Cosmopolitan.
“When there’s a big topic, everyone rushes to cover the first news story,” Kaufman says. “Since everyone does it, the traffic gets split among them. What we really try to do now is think: ‘We already did the quick news story. What can we do in the next hour? What’s the additional story we can do tomorrow? What’s the story we can do next week?’ We’re really taking one topic that’s working and finding different ways to keep the coverage going that feels more specific to Elle and our audience, rather than just announcing news.”
Esquire’s Boskovich shared another strategy he’s learned from the women’s brands at Hearst: Facebook Live.
“We’ve been doing a ton of Facebook Live videos,” he says. To generate traffic, they are now referencing related articles in the comments section, so that readers can click while watching.
5. Embrace Native Content
Social best practices quickly change. What worked last year doesn’t necessarily work now.
For example, native content – videos, photos or some other type of asset that is put on social first — has become much bigger than before.
“In years past, if a video or photo took off, it might have been a little more serendipitous,” says Brady. “Now it’s really strategic. For most of our brands, 30 to 50 percent or more of their daily Facebook inventory is native content, which is a huge pivot compared to a year or two ago.”
“There’s something freeing about that as an editor,” Lewis adds, “because if you’re a content creator, what you really want is to make someone read your content. The advantage now is you begin to see social platforms just as a place for consumption versus a place where you’re trying to ‘game the system’ to get something to happen.”
6. Use Social to Drive Traffic
One strategy Esquire’s Boskovich has found successful in driving site clicks from social is to flip the traditional approach on its head.
“We have our political commentary via Charles P. Pierce, who is a powerhouse, but also this enigma on the internet,” says Boskovich. “Most of his traffic was coming directly from people who not only bookmark his blog, but sit on it all day and refresh it and wait for a new post to come up, which is super-primitive.”
So, when it came time to amplify his social presence, Esquire took a backward approach and took the comments off of his blog, Boskovich said. At the end of the post, Esquire directed people to a new Facebook page built for Pierce.
That Facebook page now is one of the fastest-growing “toddler” pages (aka subpages or satellite pages) at Hearst Digital Media.
“It was a way to capitalize on an already super-loyal captive audience and send them backwards to social,” explained Boskovich. “And now we have a huge social audience on his Facebook page that are loyal and go back to the site.”
Brady said Hearst has experimented quite a bit with toddler pages, but shared two caveats for those considering using them.
First, you need to have a lot of native content, like video, to help spike growth of the page. If you don’t have the content, you’re going to struggle, says Brady.
“It can’t just be a links page,” Brady said.
You also want to make sure you’re attracting new people who might not already be connected with the flagship.
“If you’re going to be funneling a lot of effort into this secondary page, you really want to make sure those people aren’t likely to already be liking your main page, or you might as well put that effort on your main page and grow that one,” explains Brady. “You really want the audiences to be different, but tracing back to your same source.”
7. Standing Out With Video
Video is another strategy for Elle that has paid off.
“Video was a really small portion of my job when we started, and now it’s everything,” says Kaufman, whose team has increased its Facebook video views by 2,000 percent in the last year.
To achieve that increase, Elle has diversified its sources – and adjusted its thinking.
Elle has a video team that shoots and produces original video. It also turns its Street Style photographer into a videographer, who is soon adding a GoPro to his equipment list.
But, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment.
“There’s a real temptation for us to structure videos exactly the way we do stories: here’s what happened, beginning, middle and end,” says Kaufman. “We’re really trying to think about videos as telling their own story in their own way.”
Esquire’s editors had to warm up to the change, too. The team originally was opposed to seeing its 1,000-word stories condensed into one-and-a-half-minute videos. But, the team saw how it helped give readers a snackable version of the story, translating into more eyeballs on articles.
Another benefit of using videos on social is that it can be a good way to experiment with and test new topics.
Marie Claire, for example, posted a video for Justin Trudeau’s birthday.
“It wasn’t something that we planned on devoting resources to or writing a story about,” says Heyman. “It took off. Now we cover his every single move, and it does really well for us.”
8. Battle of the Brands
One of the challenges of a company like Hearst that has various brands under its umbrella is how to differentiate the brands for their audiences.
It’s especially tricky with women’s brands, whose audiences largely are interested in the same topics.
“There are so many great women’s brands at Hearst, and the audiences are largely interested in the same topics, but I do think they have really distinct voices and distinct audiences, so we try to think of it as covering the same topics in a more specific way,” said Kaufman.
For example, the Harper’s Bazaar reader is a little more artsy and high-end than the Elle reader. So if Harper’s Bazaar is doing a story on “10 investment bags to buy,” Elle might cover it as: “This is the cheapest place you can buy a Louis Vuitton bag right now.”
Boskovich agreed, adding that readers go to specific brands for their voice. “If we don’t give [readers] a reason to care about what Esquire has to say and why that’s unique, they can go anywhere and get that,” he says.
It’s important to understand what the audience is interested in and how to talk about it, so readers connect emotionally.
9. Let the Platform Lead You
When it comes to growing, Brady suggests letting the platforms lead you a little bit.
With new features emerging every day, be ready to experiment and dive in and try new things, like 360 video and vertical video.
People will pay attention to you and will be really excited to see you offering something fresh, new, and visually compelling.
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Maria Perez is director of audience website operations at PR Newswire. She loves cupcakes, crossword puzzles and her dog Toody, though not necessarily in that order. Follow her on Twitter at @themariaperez.