Traditional media vs social: savvy media brands combine the best of both to thrive
News publishers still rely on social media platforms for added reach. World Media Group’s CEO asks how they are leveraging their strong brand values on social to drive audiences.
Where do you get your daily news?
That’s one of the questions I ask my guests on the World Media Group’s My Media Life series. I’ve interviewed a wide range of people across the media and marketing industry — from advertising veterans to rising stars — and so far, I’ve never known anyone to acknowledge social media as their primary news source.
Perhaps the nature of the business we’re in makes people a little more discerning about their daily news, but that certainly doesn’t appear to be the wider view, especially with the under-25s.
According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2023 Digital News Report, the younger generation is far less likely to go directly to a news site or app than they are to use social media or other intermediaries. In fact, in the UK 41% of 18–24s say social media is now their main source of news, up from 18% in 2015. (43% across international markets).
The media landscape is very different for this digital-first generation. The news generated on social media often features clickbait headlines and flimsy reporting. The rise of citizen journalism, the ability to bypass traditional new sources, plus the sheer speed with which news travels now has given rise to issues around misinformation and disinformation without the extra layer of fact-checking in place.
So how can quality media brands — those whose reputation is built on in-depth reporting, vigorous fact-checking and high-quality journalism — compete?
Instead of watering down the content in a race to the bottom, I’d argue the answer lies in doing the opposite — using their brand values — trust, quality, integrity — to draw in new audiences who have an appetite for more than just snackable content.
Brand integrity comes first
Forbes has a presence across all the major social media networks and, according to Diana Colapietro, deputy social media director, their number one KPI is maintaining brand integrity.
“We’re very conscious of everything we put out and we’ve managed to turn our feeds into a very dynamic combination of business news, live coverage of Forbes proprietary events, and our enterprise journalism, which is really what makes Forbes incredible,” she says.
Forbes’ content is particularly well-aligned with LinkedIn, and they’ve worked closely with the platform to create exclusive assets that resonate with the business audience. At the time of writing, Forbes has the second largest newsletter on the platform.
Content that resonates with new audiences
They also have a huge Contributors Network, who play a large part in sharing Forbes’ content with like-minded people on social media. Interestingly, a lot of the traffic to Forbes is driven by dark social, shared via messaging apps for example.
“Along with our top-of-the-industry reporters, we have contributors creating interesting journalism in real time that gets picked up in places like Reddit or very niche Facebook groups,” Colapietro says. “We may have a contributor who knows everything there is to know about the gaming business, for example. That content can do well on our site, reach a different audience on major social media platforms, and maybe there’s a gaming affinity group on Facebook where the 20,000 most enthusiastic gamers go — that’s so valuable to any website.
“That has everything to do with having really good contributors creating content that resonates within their mediums.”
Driving the news agenda
For a news outlet like Politico, which has a loyal subscriber base, social media is a key driver for growth.
Emma Krstic, Politico‘s audience development editor for Europe, says one of the main objectives of their social media channels is to attract more people with an interest in politics from across Europe to engage with their content. They measure success in a number of different ways depending on the editorial campaign — from driving clicks and subscriptions, to growing follower numbers and generating brand awareness.
“Homing in on our newsletters and podcasts, social plays a crucial role in disseminating our editorial content, as well as generating subscribers,” says Krstic. “With a product like our Brussels, Paris or London Playbook (Politico’s briefing on what’s guiding the day in the European Union, France and UK), which drives the news agenda in several European capitals, we’ve found success by creating bespoke social images and audiograms and giving them prime slots as part of our morning social coverage.”
Politico journalists also play a large role in sharing the content they’re creating. “For all our editorial content (including that published on our Pro platform), we also look to reporters to help with distribution via social media,” Krstic says. “Many have built up large follower bases interested in their specific areas of coverage, meaning shares on their accounts have the power to tap into highly specialised audiences.”
Bespoke headlines – no clickbait
Tola Onanuga is senior editor, Business and Weekend at Insider, a digital-first media brand that has always had a strong social media presence across all the major platforms. She explains how they tailor their day-to-day coverage to appeal to the social audience.
“We have particular headlines for social media that are different from the original article because we want to zone into that audience,” she says.
However, Insider is careful not to turn headlines into clickbait. “So many people who see stories on social are not looking at where those stories are coming from. We have a responsibility to be truthful, to present things in the best way so as not to over overhype them,” Onanuga says.
“Obviously, we’re competing for attention just like every other outlet, but we have to be cautious. There’s a balance to be struck between giving them relatable, relevant content, and making sure we’re presenting it in a way that is suitable for who we want to be as a publisher. We want to be a reliable source and we want to give people the information they need at the time that they need it.”
Is Threads the future?
So where do new platforms like Threads fit into the news landscape? For Forbes’ Colapietro, Threads hasn’t been the Twitter-killer it was billed as. That said, it has provided them with the opportunity to have a more informal, playful voice on Forbes’ Threads channel.
“While we ultimately want Threads to become a fixture in our events strategy and our traffic strategy, it’s fun to be able to speak in a different tone on there,” she says.
Krstic has been monitoring the slew of new social media tools that began popping up as alternatives to X (formerly Twitter) but says none seem to have as much hype around them as Threads. She says that although it’s still in its infancy and the verdict is out on whether it will truly rival X, Politico sees it as an opportunity to expand and grow their audience on a new platform.
However, there’s a big catch: Meta hasn’t launched Threads in the European Union. This poses an issue for them in two ways: firstly, because a significant amount of Politico’s audience is in the region. And secondly, its social media team is based in Belgium, which has resulted in some access issues. Whether that will change in the near future remains to be seen, which is why they’re also looking to apps like Bluesky, which is already available in the bloc.
Giving the brand a fresh face
My feeling after talking with Forbes, Politico, Insider and other World Media Brand members is that the fear of social media channels taking over or splintering quality media brands’ audiences is vastly over-exaggerated. These savvy outlets are clearly using their social media channels as a platform to demonstrate their brand’s many facets in a fresh light to audiences who may not have otherwise considered them relevant.
As Krstic puts it: “In general, they support, and need, each other. Our social media channels serve as dissemination, engagement and growth tools for us, and our editorial and marketing teams both benefit from this.”
Belinda Barker is CEO of World Media Group, a strategic alliance of international media organisations.
Its members include The Atlantic, BBC News, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Insider, National Geographic, Politico Europe, Reuters, The New York Times Company, The Smithsonian, TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and partners Brand Metrics, Dianomi and Smartology.