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Solving The Publishing Industry's Biggest Problem
Could referral marketing programs signal the strategic change that the publishing industry needs?
In the last year, publishing powerhouses have sent a wave of frenzied readers in the direction of their competitors as iconic magazines like Jet Magazine, Lucky Magazine and Details shut down for good. In the midst of other indefinite mergers and layoffs, it’s safe to say that the publishing industry is still reeling from the recession’s tumultuous media landscape. Even as today’s editorial teams reach for the hottest writers and coolest social media platforms, it seems like the publishing problem may be more than content-deep.
Journalism's multimedia model requires brands to encounter a range of readers across various platforms. Will print readers notice the dwindling page count? Do digital readers prefer an infinite scroll or classic pagination? How many emails should app downloaders receive? Modern publishers are beginning to ask digital questions that just didn’t exist for traditional audiences. At the root of this discussion is a dilemma that many of today’s businesses encounter: aligning customer engagement with consumer behavior. Any media professional knows all too well that the number of clicks (or eyes) on your most-read article, may not correlate to the ever-important subscription numbers that matter to corporate sponsors. No business owner wants an audience of browsers, you need buyers to keep the business afloat. The good news is that the transformative elements of journalism are also laying the foundation for a disruptive (and effective) business model that can easily accommodate referral marketing.
Back in the day, media advertising was limited to cutting a few lines of copy to make room for ad space. As the journalism industry has expanded, so have internal teams, cross-industry capabilities, and multi-platform partnerships. Scrappy newcomers like Refinery29 have pioneered an in-house virtual reality firm and traditional publishers like Hearst have acknowledged the reach that once-niche brands like Complex Media have to offer. So what does all of this mean?
Just about every publication you read has a dedicated team of marketers who are trained to spread the word and they’re on the hunt for programs to add to their marketing stack. That’s where automated referral marketing software comes in. As readers refer publications to their friends, the customer journey becomes a little faster and much easier to monitor. By developing a clear way to link new subscribers to existing readers, referral marketing programs can provide data to help marketing teams make more sound decisions.
If we’ve learned anything from Eva Chen’s ascent from Lucky Magazine’s editor-in-chief to Instagram’s Head of Fashion Partnerships, it’s that journalists know a thing or two about social media. Some of the heavy hitters were making a name for themselves on comment boards and creating hashtags long before appearing on your favorite masthead. Buried within these cross-platform interactions is an audience of curious readers that have followed their interests (and their favorite writers) from outlet to outlet.
Through the use of unique, shareable links referral marketing can transform a simple social share into a major opportunity for media businesses. Wouldn’t you be more likely to subscribe to a publication if an enticing new article appeared on your timeline and featured a discount code or exclusive content offer from one of your friends? According to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Ambassador, 67% say they’re at least a little more likely to purchase a product after a friend or family member shared it via social media or email. Instead of wondering how your readers grew into a readership, referral marketing empowers companies to connect the dots between members of their network and encourages existing readers to refer friends.
Flipping The Subscriptions Script
Static subscriptions have gotten us far, but companies that don’t tie a tangible incentive to their brand or publication, are missing a huge opportunity to solidify long-lasting bonds with their readers. Offering readers a year of your publication for a static price may have reaped benefits in publishing’s past, but it puts a timestamp on brand interactions in a time where endless, organic actions are required. Luckily, the same technology that is empowering news teams to break stories and social teams to launch viral posts can be leveraged to connect with readers. Every click or scroll from digital readers opens a pathway for reader preferences, habits, and desires.
With a referral marketing program, brands can develop specific rewards for audience members that match their level of brand interaction and loyalty. Perhaps your longtime readers deserve a sneak peak at a new vertical the content team is working on. Maybe you want to doubly reward customers that bring in digital subscribers after you roll out a new campaign. Offering referrals to readers is a sure way to create a relationship that is measured in value instead of time.
Find Your Referrals
It’s time for media companies to inject their age-old marketing plans with something as innovating and exciting as referral marketing. The noticeable, measurable change that publishing industry is looking for must happen at the strategic level.