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Best practices for selling social feeds on media-owned websites

Original users of the popular widget Friends2Follow weigh-in on best ways to sell social feeds as native advertising or use them to post real time editorial content

Posted 2/2/15
Running social media in-stream on the home page allows for sales of native advertising.
 

Initiative: Friends2Follow deployment

Examples of the platform: Frederick Daily News, Forsyth News, SignalSCV, ChronicalJournal.com, Albany Times-Union

Executives interviewed: Geordie Wilson, Publisher, Frederick News-Post; Vince Johnson, Forsyth News

Pulling social streams onto local media websites is increasingly popular among media agency resellers  and a recommend by LocalMediaInsider. 

First, the reasons these tools are gaining ground: Businesses addicted to using Facebook for virtually free advertising are facing the sudden realization that they now how have to pay per post to reach fans. 

Between 2012 and 2014, the organic reach of Facebook business page posts dropped to 12%, and then to 6%, according to an article in Forbes. Then, last November, the company quietly let on that as early as January 2015, the only way to reach organic fans at all would be to pay. Here are some articles on the topic to use for training and send to clients:

As local businesses increase their Facebook spend, paying to run unlimited social feeds on the high-traffic home page of local media sites via platforms like Friends2Follow is an cost-efficient alternative to  paying $40 to $100 per individual post to boost to the Facebook audience. 

While there are several tools to place social media streams on a website, the Friends2Follow tool has gained the most ground with media resellers. As a quick review, the tool is inexpensive, flexible and user-friendly to aggregate posts from muliple pages in a single stream. In minutes from the simple interface, an administrator can select the size of the widget, where it runs - in either content block or ad units - and cut and paste the embed code.

To set up muliple advertiser streams in a single unit, the user types in the social page ID from the URL, selects how many posts per hour to run, and clicks to auto publish the stream. No permissions from the Facebook page are needed. It is also possible to edit any stream, though this function is rarely used. 

In addition to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube can be included, either chronologically, in-stream or separately.  The price of the platform is $100 a month, plus $10 a feed. Users say that early issues uploading right-sized images have fixed and the latest upgrade with larger images, addition of banner ads when desired,  and other ways to style posts has been popular with advertisers. 

The Frederick News-Post, which worked initially with Friends2Follow to develop the tool, has developed some of the emerging best practices selling feeds. They integrate the service into digital agency sales packages, as "an absolutely natural extension of any social media service," said Geordie Wilson, publisher. 

They also pair Friends2Follow in packages with traditional marketplace directory sales; the social streams run client's directory page,  and are aggregated on the home page content block, which delivers roughly 10% of the 3 million site page views. 

There is a stand-alone price of $30 a week for Friends2Follow, however, in reality, these don't sell.  Success has come from selling in-feed streaming rights as a key component of the  online and services  packages for an embedded balue of $20 a week.  The Frederick News-Post has sold about 60 to 80 ofthese business packages totalling about  $350,000, including $60,000  to $80,000 of embedded value.

Blinder & Associates which has sold social feeds during sales blitzes, now recommends adding this to small business packages in the $169 a week range..

And then there are niche sales of the tool as an ad unit for individual advertisers. 

Several automotive dealers in the Frederick, Maryland market, for example, rely on YouTube videos of cars solely to boost SEO. So the Frederick News-Post sells Friends2Follow feeds inside 300x600 ad units to individual dealers to promote Youtube feeds along with Facebook posts. The pricing model uses the video CPM rate.  

"It really hit (auto dealers') sweet spot. They want to develop social media followers and leverage traffic and visibility," said Wilson.

A final way to monetize the platform is as an incentive for business "memberships" and to get signed contracts on long-term buys.  

"For advertisers who sign contracts of a substantial duration and monetary value, we offer a $99 one-time fee to become business “members,” and that membership includes a digital subscription and F2F inclusion," Wilson said.

A different use of Friends2Follow is to house editorial streams. All the writers at the News-Post have their own Twitter accounts, so they can stream them into one feed on the platform "exposing that real time information," Wilson said. 

For election night coverage, the news team pulled in  10 to 20 Facebook streams from local candidates as free real-time content for election night coverage. 

"Because candidates are turning to social media as the first place they thank supporters or announce their wins and losses, it was very timely information," Wilson said.

"It's a really rapid deployment. We can have an idea put together with a few good sources right away."

Here's a look at one configuration of advertiser feeds melded with news feeds in a two column block: 

 

Wilson told us that the social stack upgrade that allows banner ads and large images in-feed is especially popular and generated about five requests from advertisers in its first month.

The Forsyth News also uses the platform with a slightly different approach. They simply upsell unlimited posting on the home page Friends2Follow stream for $100 a month.

Vince Johnson, Publisher, Forsyth News, says the company considered pulling their own news posts out of the platform, but that advertisers liked placing their post with real news. 

About 20 or so advertisers are running now, and Johnson says "they almost never drop off."

"Personally, I wouldn't spend money to distribute (the newspaper's content) on Facebook. Facebook does a good job but I think this is a better value."

Here is a list of best practices in use by different media around the country: 

Sell as part of packages. As mentioned above, a common method is to include a specific number of posts as a value-add for advertisers on contract or as part of a package. A company that posts five times a week is probably already paying $50 to $100 to boost those, so five posts reaching 50,000 impressions sizzles with real quantifiable value. The ability to sell unlimited posts with big home page traffic becomes a very competitive option. 

Sell a limited number of unlimited posts. While the Forsythe News sells an unlimited number of unlimited posts on its' home page, the ChronicalJournal.com in Canada charges $250 a month for an unlimited number of posts, to  a limited number of advertisers, creating scarcity and a wait list.

Either way, the unlimited posts have been exceptionally popular.

"You are rewarding them to do what they are supposed to do... have good interaction with their customers."

Sell in-stream with news as a form of native advertising. The posts gain more value in stream with news.  So one strategy is to make the format look more similar to a breaking news stream on links,  by renaming the feed "Social Media News" instead of "Friends2Follow" and removing the large images social stack so popular with most newspapers we talked to.  While these ad prominence to posts,  they  only fit two to three in the image/post items in a 300x600 area. Here's what a more streamlined feed looks at on ChronicleJournal.com: 



Create separate widgets and advertiser streams for individual advertisers. An upgrade allows administrators to "style" the posts, including the additional banner ads at the top of any channel or individual advertiser post. There can also be separate streams for channels, such as auto, real estate, dining or clubs. 

Scroll messages horizontally through a leaderboard.

Add managed social posting as a service. About 1/3 of the advertiser posts in the widgets are managed directly by local media resellers.

Use a minimum of 50,000 page views for an aggregated stream.  The CTR of .14% companywide is greater than the the national average of .05% for untargeted banner ads, however, a large enough volumn of traffic will ensure that advertisers will see hundreds of clicks. 

Use the hot leads feature to identify both heavy social posters, and heavy social posters with few fans. The latest bell and whistle on Friends2Follow is a pin-map of top Facebook page posters in their area to use as a leads sheet:




....followed by a list of Hot Leads:

Note how easy it is to find a company with a discrepancy between the number of posts and the number of fans. Johnson says he plans to use this screen to identify heavily posting companies that need more reach.

"(The merchant) can post and in real-time it shows up on our home page. They think that is incredible," Johnson said. "The first time they see it they are amazed and never want to go off of it. If they have a hair-brained idea they can throw it out there and reach an audience."

The MediaExecsTech detailed Friends2Follow listing and contact information is available here

Many thanks to Geordie Wilson and Vince Johnson for sharing their expertise.

Geordie Wilson                                       Vince Johnson
                                         

Publisher at Frederick News-Post       Publisher at Forsyth County News

Frederick, Maryland                                Greater Atlanta Area

 
friends2follow, social, facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube, native

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