Lessons Publishers Can Learn from a Lightning-Hot Political Campaign


Audience developers, especially in publishing, often look to each other to for inspiration and opportunities for imitation. We look to The New York Times and their success in growing digital subscribers or admire Netflix’s tremendous audience growth. But I’ve recently become enamored with an entirely different audience development opportunity -- politics.

Yes, that pool has been slightly tainted since we’ve all come to the realization that Cambridge Analytica used data to try and destroy our democracy, but still, hear me out.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Beto O’Rourke is running a campaign for a seat in the US Senate that is based entirely on individual donors to finance his campaign -- not unlike Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries -- and it seems to be working. Well, relying 100% on your supporters to finance your campaign requires one hell of an audience development strategy, wouldn’t you agree?

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Meet Chelsey


Twenty-First Digital is growing … again!

We are so happy to introduce our newest team member, Chelsey Shockley. As our audience strategist, she will play a critical role in developing client strategies, while also providing an additional level of effective oversight and long-term vision.

Chelsey is a New York City transplant by way of Dallas, Texas. Her professional experience includes 6 years at D Magazine, where she helped develop strategies for editorial marketing programs. Additionally, she proposed, built, and executed everything from audience acquisition campaigns, to event promotion materials—even writing blog content along the way.

Most recently, Chelsey served as chief of staff for Neuro-Insight, a consumer marketing agency that utilizes brain mapping technology to optimize campaign assets. (Ask her more about this if you ever get a chance!)

She is a self-proclaimed curiosity-driven data nerd and has a passion for understanding how people build relationships through simple everyday interactions and deep thoughtful communications.

The addition officially makes Twenty-First Digital a party of four. We all bring to the table diverse skill-sets, backgrounds, and unique perspectives. But most importantly, this exciting opportunity allows us continue to serve our clients with dedicated focus and thoughtful execution.

Say hello to Chelsey! 


metrics that matter

I love data. And I love ideas grounded in data. So much so that it can inhibit my decision-making. Kids love pinatas, you say? And you’re just saying that based ... based on ... YOUR EXPERIENCE? DOES NOT COMPUTE. (Robo-Ashley crashes to the floor.)

I like to think my reliance on data makes me a great critical thinker. Others may consider it more of a wet blanket characteristic (depends on who you ask).

Pulling numbers that don’t matter or aren’t true barometers of success is a waste of time. It’s something we see a lot with publishers. And of course, we’re even guilty of it from time-to-time. So, to give you a starting point, and to keep ourselves in check, we’ve compiled a list of metrics you should be swapping on your monthly reports.

  1. Swap Follower Counts for Reach. If you’re still touting the number of your Facebook followers verses your reach, you haven’t been paying attention, my friend. Or, as I like to say, “you’ve been Zucked.” Based on the ever-changing algorithms of major social platforms, you should know by now that your followers are not seeing every post you share. Why care about a number that doesn’t accurately reflect your brands strength and breadth? It’s helpful when you’re just launching a new brand, but for an established brand, this metric is meaningless. Instead, focus on your social reach. Bonus metric: your social referral source. Social is a dangerous master to serve, make sure you’re understanding the true impact each channel has on your web traffic.

  2. Swap Pageviews for Loyalty. I’m not suggesting you remove pageviews from your reports altogether, but I am suggesting you rethink the value you put behind your pageview metric. In a podcast I was listening to recently, I was reminded of something we already know about the internet—it favors the extreme (think: Chewbacca mom, the pregnant giraffe lady, Beyonce’s pregnancy, etc.) So, why do we continue to use pageviews as a benchmark of success? Most of us are producing substantive content on a regular basis. Seeing the number of visitors coming back to your site over a month tells us how well you are doing, compared to the page view count of a cat video you posted. Bonus metric: time on site.

  3. Swap Emails for Engagement. The number of emails you have on your mailing is not indicative of the quality of work you are doing.  The metrics that matter are open and click rates. Your open rates should validate the segmentation and the deliverability efforts you’ve worked to achieve, while your click rates reflect how interested the user is in your content. Any number that doesn’t take those into consideration isn’t telling the whole story. You can have 700,000 emails in your database, but if only 10,000 have opened an email in the past six months, you have a lot of work to do. Make sure you’re putting engagement at the top of your report, don’t bury it under the list sizes. Bonus metric: your unsubscribe rates. If your audience is fleeing, something is awry.

  4. Swap Totals for Growth. The above can all be incorporated into this last metric amendment, but let this be a gentle reminder that totals tell you very little about your audience, so don’t be beholden to them. Instead, note growth, comparisons year-to-year, and month-to-month. Focusing on totals alone will create an isolated story, helpful to no one within your organization.

Adapting these new metrics, along with the willingness to abandon reports when they truely add no value, will help us all be marketers that matter.


More Facebook Changes and Opportunities for Publishers

Facebook has been under serious scrutiny lately as more is revealed about Cambridge Analytica’s use of the social networks’ user information.  Cambridge Analytica, a third party data brokerage firm, is being held responsible for targeting political advertising on Facebook based on user data. Since the revelation, Facebook has lost stock value, many users are deleting their accounts, Mark Zuckerberg has been in closed door meetings to help determine the networks’ next moves and he will be testifying before Congress. Not to mention he’s taking shade from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, claiming that Facebook cannot possibly be putting the needs of the consumer first when the consumer is the product they are selling.

Last week, Facebook pulled back on its relationships with data brokers. I think this change could be a huge opportunity for publishers.

What Exactly Did Facebook Do?

Facebook is shutting down its Partner Categories program where brands use third-party data to deliver ads to highly specific groups of people. Partner Categories, which pulled from data aggregator partnerships with companies like Epsilon and Acxiom, allowed advertisers to target customers based on behavior that happened outside Facebook. It’s the reason you can target cat owners in the Bay Area who make more than $100,000 a year.

Where is all that data coming from? Grocery store loyalty cards, warranty purchases, you name it. Your data is auctioned off to the highest bidder and it is then used to sell products to you. And marketers are now trained to think about targeting their desired audiences in this exact fashion.

Will Facebook’s Changes Affect Ad Buyers?

This move may have accelerated publishing companies’ ability to sell hard against Facebook, especially in the categories who were relying on this data. Some news outlets have reported that some categories will be more affected than others—such as entertainment companies, retail or consumer packaged goods, and automotive. Small and local businesses are also most likely relying on Facebook advertising to reach their exact target customer.

What’s the Opportunity for Publishers?

What can publishers do? Know their audience in a way that allows them to serve up targeted segments to their clients. Ad buyers have become spoiled with a certain level of highly specific data. Are you ready to swoop in and tell your clients exactly what kind targeting YOU can provide?

Here’s how you can help clients with ad targeting:

  1. Clients will look to work with companies who are 1st party data collectors so learn how to gather first party data like crazy. Use forms, run contests, send surveys, and capture social interactions. It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is worth it. You can even monetize your efforts to gather first party data by allowing sponsors to participate in your contests.

  2. What causes your users to click? Monitor and gather user behavior to make assumptions. Is someone always looking at and clicking on your family content? Your bars content? Your content about a certain industry? This information can inform your assumptions about future user behavior. It will also help you know your audience better. Win-win.

  3. Look at appending some of this data to your files yourself. Facebook is trying to save face (pun intended) by eliminating its partnership with some of these data firms. That doesn’t mean you can’t tap into the data warehouses to learn a little more about your audience. Consider an append effort with the data companies or work with an agency who is doing that too.

Gathering data on your audience doesn’t have to be evil, just use it wisely. Use it respectfully.  Use it to improve your product and better understand your audience. Never share your audiences’ data with clients directly and certainly never share it without your audiences’ permission.

A Recap from The Information's Media Bootcamp

 Jessica Lessin and Meredith Levien at The Information's Media Business Bootcamp. 

Jessica Lessin and Meredith Levien at The Information's Media Business Bootcamp. 

Before digital privacy became the hot topic of interest, everyone was talking about reader revenue models. Almost every publisher in the country was considering how to incorporate reader revenue plans. One of the first companies to take a firm stand on requiring payment for their content was The Information. If you aren’t familiar with the technology-based news organization, you should check them out and take a peek at their unique membership model.  

When we saw The Information was hosting a one-day “Media Business Bootcamp” in New York City with a focus on driving subscriptions and membership models, we flew to New York City ready rub elbows with folks from The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Vox Media, and more.

The day started with a presentation from Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief of The Information. She shared that a whopping 63% of ad dollars are being controlled by Google and Facebook. Lessin also explored the dozens of companies like, Spotify, Netflix, and HBO that are building products that are primarily supported by their audiences. Today, 53% of Americans are paying for news, a number we expect to grow over the next few years. 

According to Lessin, there are three rules of building a subscription model business.  

  1. Do things 10x better. Your content and your product has to be 10x better than the next.

  2. Know your customer and figure out how to be indispensable to them.

  3. Create a team with unique capabilities. In a world where content is king, content creators are emperors. (Editorial teams, take a bow.)

That’s it! Easy, right? Well, of course, a lot more goes into it. You need content distribution, technology, and audience development, too.

It’s difficult, as Lessin explained, to live in both a reader-supported and advertised-supported world, suggesting that you need to pick a North Star and stick with it. While The New York Times technically has a foot in both, Meredith Levien, COO of The New York Times, shared that they are focused on serving the reader above all else.

But how did they get there? Levien explained that in 2015 print advertising started to fall—hard. That summer, a small group sat down and set a goal of doubling reader revenue in 5 years and vowed to go "all in" on digital efforts. The company’s motto became, “make something worth paying for.”

This, in our opinion, is the model the regional and niche publishers are (and will likely have the most success) emulating. Publishers aren’t thinking about trying to rid themselves of advertising revenue. For most, it’s just not realistic. But The New York Times, albeit a different product, provides a roadmap for how to embrace the shift.

Don’t make bad ads. Make good ads. The New York Times created an entire online product for Samsung with Daily 360. The product happened to be loved by the audience. Ads don’t have to be invasive and bad. The lesson here: align with like-minded brands and create something cool.

Embrace new things. The New York Times was entirely unfamiliar with the podcast platform before launching The Daily. But now, The Daily has more listeners per day than the newspaper ever had print subscribers.

And finally, get serious about retention. The New York Times, as well as The Information, take serious measures to watch for dips in individual audience engagement. Less engagement means they have a high likelihood of churning. It’s important to focus on delivering on the benefits and promises, all while creating an incredible product. But take notice when your audience is becoming disengaged and respond accordingly.

The remainder of the day was filled with down and dirty talk on technologies, platforms, and tactical challenges and opportunities, and of course, some chit-chat with some of the coolest brands in the publishing space.

The big lesson we walked away with was that strategic and tactical audience development has never been more important. Circulation and reader revenue has the potential to grow and even surpass traditional print advertising. The reasons are simple, but the execution is tricky and almost as important as the product itself.

Be on the watch as more brands embrace reader revenue, it’s a topic that isn’t going away anytime soon.




The not-so-subtle equivalency between fashion and Facebook

While gleefully rejoicing over the demise of fast fashion as reported by Business Insider, and simultaneously researching how publishers can keep captive audiences in lieu of the post-Facebook algorithm change for this blog post, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the correlation between facilitating a quality audience and the demise of cheap clothing. On one hand you may be thinking, “what do I have against fast fashion?” Well, for starters, size “large” is a complete mirage and those cheap jeans I bought in high school somehow managed to completely disintegrate post-inaugural wash are also clogging a landfill somewhere. And on the other hand you may be thinking, "wait, what?" So, bear with me is a I draw a very thin (but high-quality!) line between the two.

Businesses thought we would settle with crap ... and sometimes we did. Not too far unlike our acceptance of cheap apparel, publishers and brands accepted the poor quality audience Facebook was delivering. We thought we were okay with jeans that would last a month or a fleeting audience just there for a controversial headline. We thought we could accept a shirt too trendy for more than one night or a troll we explained away as a loyal commenter. But just as we knew that it was time to hang up what was left of our ill-fitting, shitty jeans, we knew it was time to hang up our faux audience. Sure, maybe Facebook had to create this revelation for us, but ultimately it was we, the consumer, putting the pressure on Facebook to do better. The consumer wasn’t okay with bots and bait or spies and trolls, particularly when it came to conflating our political system. And just as trends fade, and mediums change, our universal cry for value has seemingly always won out. Gone are the metrics of time spent, enter the era of time well spent. So, where should publishers go for a captive audience now that quality reigns supreme?

In light of Facebook’s change, other platforms are stepping in. Keep a close eye on platforms like Reddit, NextDoor and Google AMP. As reported by Digiday, Reddit has both “intrigued and confounded publishers for years. With their new profile pages and relaxed content sharing rules, the platform primed for audience interaction, could provide a new space for authentic audience interaction.” And while NextDoor doesn’t have an existing program for publishers, there partnership with the Washington Post could be a sign of what’s to come. And let’s not forget Google AMP, who has been looking to improve publisher relations even before the Facebook algorithm change.

Consider your existing outlets. In the past year, large publishers have doubled-down on newsletter efforts. This year Quartz plans to churn out multiple newsletters dedicated to events and is staffing accordingly based on the high engagement they are seeing and The New York Times discovered their newsletter subscribers are twice as likely to become print subscribers. While the use of newsletters isn’t a new development, getting them to the front of company consciousness is. At some point, newsletters became an internal obligation filled with lackluster stories, not high-quality product extensions designed for community building.

So, while perhaps your brand is still quaking from the Facebook change, check your closet and see what items have survived all these years, and maybe then you’ll realize you’re fine without it.

Welcome the Newest Addition to the Team

Join us as we welcome Lauren Frappier to the Twenty-First Digital team. As our digital marketing manager, her efforts and energy will help us improve our performance and scalability as we grow.   

Lauren comes to us from the University of Oklahoma. There, she helped guide the university’s strategic communication tactics, writing news releases, statements, and speeches for OU’s president and executive officers. 

Previously in the city-regional magazine world, Lauren worked at D Magazine from 2013-2016. As research editor, she coordinated the publication’s in-house professional service lists like, Best Doctors, Lawyers, Dentists, Realtors—and nearly 20 more. 

Additionally, she worked under D CEOD Magazine’s award-winning business publication, as an associate editor. There, she launched the inaugural Dallas 500, an annual ancillary pub that features personal interviews from 500 of the most powerful executives in Dallas/Fort Worth. This unique, never-been-done-before publication has proven to be a success among publishers, advertisers, and readers alike.

A Dallas native, Lauren graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied journalism and public relations. She currently resides in Norman, Oklahoma, where her husband is attending the University of Oklahoma College of Law, however the two visit their home state every chance they get.   

The latest update from Facebook and Instagram is going to affect publishers... again.

Facebook rocked our world a few weeks ago when it announced plans to cut back on publisher content inside its news feed, but the changes Facebook quietly made to its branded content guidelines last month have the potential to impact more than just traffic. 

According to the new guidelines, which are scheduled to go into effect on March 1, page owners are not permitted to accept “anything of value” in exchange for sharing content that they did not have a hand in creating through their pages. 

Translation: You cannot sell posts on your Facebook pages any longer if you are linking to content you did not create. 

Now, how are Facebook and Instagram going to enforce this? It claims it will rely on a system developed to detect the difference between content shared by a publisher organically versus content shared with the likelihood of a financial arrangement.  

If you aren't currently selling posts on your Facebook or Instagram account, and do not plan to, this does not affect you. Keep calm and carry on. But if you are, it would be wise to consider the potential consequences of non-compliance, which initially include warnings from Facebook, but can ultimately lead to having your page shut down. 

Facebook and Google are certainly making it their business how publishers can monetize their audiences, which despite being done in the name of user experience, certainly has the ability to affect the bottom line.