April 3, 2012

The Guardian’s ‘digital first strategy’ and its implementation of a social app in Facebook’s open graph has helped to diversify its readership, in both geography and age. But until the newspaper can find a way to monetise this influx of readers, all the brand-building in the world will not help secure its long-term future.

The Guardian Facebook App

The Guardian posted record unique visitor and page impression figures in February, which can be attributed to the ease with which Guardian stories can be shared automatically through the Facebook app to your ticker, timeline and news feed.

Six months ago, the Guardian recorded a paltry two per cent of referral traffic from Facebook. Since then it has seen a 1,400 per cent increase in referral traffic thanks to more than 8m downloads of the Facebook app since its launch five months ago.

For a few days in February, Facebook even surpassed Google as a source of referral percentage to the Guardian, although Google has since regained the lead.

With the Guardian’s strategy now proudly ‘digital first’, it won’t be long until Facebook becomes the main driver of traffic to the Guardian’s key products. 40,000 new users sign up each day and many read several stories per day. Of these active users, many also do not opt out of the default and elect to hide or remove stories from their Timeline.

The Guardian's latest TV campaign the 'Three Little Pigs', which went viral, clearly showcases their multiplatform growth strategy

The largest group of users for the Facebook Guardian app are aged between 18 and 24, a notoriously hard-to-reach demographic for news sites. Thanks to the global reach of Facebook half the app’s users come from outside the UK.

Consumption of traditional news during the day peaks rapidly in the morning, with a smaller peak again in the evening. However, Facebook is unique in that the peak time for news consumption appears to be in the afternoon.

These results from the Guardian’s Facebook app demonstrate how Facebook’s Open Graph has broadened what is available to people on the social platform, which is dramatically increasing discoverability and sharing.

Ultimately none of these impressive facts and stats highlight that the Guardian’s multiplatform digital first strategy is actually succeeding. There is no proof the newspaper is managing to monetise the unprecedented volumes of referral traffic it is generating.

All the users in the world are no use unless the Guardian can translate this into cold hard cash and ensure that its business will continue to be at the forefront of cutting-edge digital and social innovation.

The Guardian has done a fantastic job building its brand. It has harnessed the power of the internet and embraced how people’s behaviour in seeking out news content has changed with the medium.

But, with no plans to integrate a digital paywall, as according to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger “if you build a wall around your content, that is not a strategy for growth” combined with a 12 per cent year-on-year drop in advertising revenue – it is unlikely that there will be a brand to continue to grow in the future.

The question that lingers is why can’t the Guardian do both – focus on growing the brand and generate revenue from its online readership?

Maybe, because by publishing so many articles on how The Guardian would never introduce a paywall, now it is too proud to admit that it was wrong.

Follow @lexie_brown


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