Media Briefing: How publishers are adjusting their Pinterest approaches

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This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

In this week’s Media Briefing, media editor Kayleigh Barber looks at how publishers are switching up their Pinterest strategies, including the ways they are making money directly and indirectly from the platform.

  • The Pinterest-publisher linchpin
  • Men still dominate news bylines at print and digital outlets
  • 3 questions with The Washington Post’s Kat Downs Mulder
  • The Athletic’s latest suitors, subscriber churn causes, Spotify’s podcast platform and more

The Pinterest-publisher linchpin

The Pinterest-publisher relationship is changing, and it’s causing some media companies to take a more serious approach to their Pinterest strategy, including figuring out how to use the platform for more than just driving traffic back to their sites.

This strategy shift is partially due to the fact that Pinterest itself is going through a period of redefinition. The company wants to keep people on its platform for longer, but despite years of trying to position itself as a visual search platform, it is still trying to shake its identity as a social media company. With the help of publishers, it is working on making those image changes happen. 

The key hits:

  • Pinterest wants to be known as a search platform that goes beyond sending people to other websites and gets them to spend money and time on its platform. 
  • Pinterest is paying publishers, in some cases, to help the platform achieve this mission.
  • Other media companies are noting this identity shift and are having to adjust their own Pinterest strategies to keep both editorial output and brand campaigns performing well. 

Per a suggestion from the platform itself, PureWow’s editorial team has “stopped thinking of Pinterest as a social platform and really started thinking of it as essentially an SEO platform,” said Jillian Quint, editor-in-chief of the Gallery Media Group-owned women’s lifestyle publication. She described Pinterest as a place where people oftentimes go specifically to find a new “low calorie burrito recipe” or find inspiration for their homes or weddings or fall wardrobe. Meanwhile, Pinterest’ head of content and creator partnerships Aya Kanai told Digiday in an email that she views the platform more “like a catalog personalized to you and your taste,” leaning into the idea that Pinterest is gearing up to be a new shopping destination. 

Both of these perceptions of Pinterest have been backed up by the launch of two new products this year: “idea pins” which debuted in May, and Pinterest TV, which was announced this week.

  • Idea pins feel almost like Pinterest’s take on Instagram Stories (or Twitter Fleets and LinkedIn Stories — R.I.P.), allowing users to post a series of up to 20 videos or photos within one pin. Only they don’t disappear after 24 hours. 
  • Pinterest TV is a new shoppable video product that gives a better opportunity for creators to sell products on the platform, a feature that has been traditionally dominated by Facebook and Google, according to Matthew Schulte, the CRO and COO of Brit + Co. 

But the actual execution of these launches have left publishers needing to adjust to potentially yet another algorithm change, starting with prioritizing the type of pins that the platform is naturally boosting. 

“We have seen static pins’ organic numbers drop over the last year,” said Schulte, adding that this original photo pin format will generate on average 1,000 to 6,000 views in the first 30 days. Idea pins, on the other hand, will easily reach more than 100,000 views for Brit + Co and have an engagement rate (like a person saving it to their board) of a couple thousand per pin. 

Based on his anecdotal observations, Schulte concluded that Pinterest “definitely changed the algorithm.” In response to a question from Digiday asking whether the company has changed its algorithm to prioritize idea pins over traditional static pins, a Pinterest spokesperson did not directly answer the question but said the platform has “been investing more in making sure this type of content also shows up in the places Pinners expect to find ideas like home feed and search.”

Asked about the platform’s efforts to retain audiences for longer periods of time, Kanai said, “We have made several advancements with shopping and creator features recently, and this continues to build on that momentum in a big way through live video.”

This change is something that Brit + Co has needed to brace its brand partners for since about 80% of all of its client campaigns have a Pinterest component to them. That means adjusting performance expectations — idea pins do not allow people to click through to external websites, so click-through rates have turned into pin-saving rates — and getting clients on board with higher production costs for creating videos and multiple photos to create a robust and engaging post. Additionally, since creators cannot yet pay to boost idea pins on the platform, like they can with static pins, the performance of these campaigns cannot be guaranteed. 

PureWow has a strong editorial strategy for Pinterest, largely because Quint sees a high crossover rate between the brands’ audience and Pinterest users, she said. The publication has a Pinterest following of more than 850,000 accounts at the time of publication, and a lot of its audience growth came after Pinterest’s changed to its algorithm. In the six months after the idea pin format was released, PureWow saw a 32% increase in impressions and a 22% increase in the number of people posting its content on Pinterest, when compared to the six months prior, Quint said. 

BDG, too, was an early adopter of the idea pins, according to Jessica Jones Studholme, svp of sales at the media company. Already since the format launched, she said it’s generated millions of impressions for BDG’s publications. 

That said, Pinterest has paid BDG in an effort to get the media company’s audience to use the platform’s new products and, in some cases, even to get them to start using Pinterest in the first place. Studholme declined to disclose exact revenue figures for this partnership.

On Aug. 30, Bustle, Elite Daily and Nylon started a month-long sweepstakes campaign called “Storm the Dorm” where the BDG publications called on their audiences to create a vision board of what their dream dorm room spaces look like using the idea pins on Pinterest. Five winners were then selected to win $1,000 in Visa gift cards with the goal being to get the publications’ combined Gen-Z audiences active on the platform, according to Studholme.

The BDG brands also used their other social media channels and websites to drive audiences to Pinterest. The company declined to disclose the number of impressions or reach it garnered through this campaign.

“We’ve definitely prioritized Pinterest as a primary platform,” said Studholme. — Kayleigh Barber

What we’ve heard

“Owning our own network allows us to cut through the noise of all the paid media being spent today. We don’t have to pay a [third-party] media company to get the word out; we are the media company, and we are able to deliver our messages with more focus and authenticity. It’s a huge competitive advantage to own the media company [versus] rent the eyeballs of the media company.”

Penn Interactive head Jon Kaplowitz on sportsbooks becoming media companies

Men still dominate news bylines at print and digital outlets

Men continue to dominate news bylines and credits across American newsrooms. Across media organizations during the first quarter, men received 65% of the news bylines and credits, while women only received 34%, according to the Women’s Media Center’s study “Divided 2021: The Media Gender Gap,” which published on Oct. 28. This is the report’s seventh edition.

Researchers at WMC, an organization focused on women and girls in media, analyzed 62,002 pieces of content from Jan. 1 through March 31 this year for 30 U.S. news outlets across four channels: print newspaper, online news, broadcast network and cable TV news and wire services.

“When you look at all the platforms combined, there was no news topic in which women dominated,” said Julie Burton, president and CEO of the Women’s Media Center. She added, “How can we possibly report and understand the perspectives, concerns, experiences and lives of over half the population if women are not allowed to be half of the storytellers?”

The main findings

  • Prime-time weekday evening news broadcasts were the most equitable: 50% of anchors and correspondents were men and 50% were women.
  • Print newspapers and wires were the least equitable, according to the research: 69% of print articles were written by men and 31% by women. When it came to wire services, 63% of pieces were written by men and 37% by women.
  • A majority of online news articles — 57% — were written by men and 43% by women.

A complete lack of parity at print outlets

None of the 14 print news organizations in the WMC study achieved gender parity in byline credits:

  • The widest gender gap was at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where men wrote 84% and women 16% of news articles.
  • The narrowest gaps were at The New York Times and The Washington Post, where men wrote 59% and women 41% of articles at both organizations.
  • At USA Today, 61% of articles were written by men and 39% by women.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s bylines are 67% by men and 33% by women.

Disparity on the digital side

The WMC study looked at seven online news sites’ bylines, too:

  • The widest gender gap was at MSNBC, where men wrote 88% of articles and women wrote 12%.
  • Women had more bylines than men at:
    • (54% women, 46% men)
    • HuffPost (54% women, 46% men)
    • Vox (50% women, 47% men and 3% nonbinary).
  • At The New York Times and The Washington Post, 56% of online articles were by men and 44% by women.
  • At the Los Angeles Times, 69% of online articles were written by men, and 31% by women.

Coverage inequalities

Men dominated coverage of the news in topics like COVID-19, race, politics and media. The biggest disparity was in election coverage (63% by men, 37% by women). Women were as likely as men to report on religion, lifestyle and leisure and social justice, according to a WMC spokesperson. — Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

10: Number of publishers that are responsible for 69% of interactions with climate change-denying content on Facebook.

455,000: Number of new digital subscriptions that The New York Times sold during the third quarter of 2021.

95%: Percentage share of subscriptions that the top 50 U.S. magazines have retained through the pandemic.

$430 million: Axios’ valuation after its latest funding round.

>80%: Percentage share of Politico’s eligible U.S. employees who support the news outlets’ unionization effort after being acquired by Axel Springer.

3 questions with The Washington Post’s Kat Downs Mulder

Late last month, Kat Downs Mulder became the first chief product officer of The Washington Post. Reporting to both the Post’s chief information officer and its top editor, Downs Mulder will push even harder to grow and change what one of America’s biggest news brands looks like. She spoke with Digiday by phone. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. — Max Willens

What’s the near- to medium-term goal for the Post as an org from a product standpoint?

I think the biggest opportunity for us is to bring really tight synergies between the news teams and the product teams. We want to move faster and experiment more. We need to be really bold in our experimentation and the way we think about organizing ourselves internally.

We’ll create products that expand the impact of our journalism. We have a lot of focus on expanding internationally. We have a lot of focus on attracting younger readers.

When you think about being bold, where do you expect that to manifest? The Post’s owned-and-operated properties? Platforms? Where are those big bets going to be made?

It’s going to be across all of it. We have to innovate on the core product. Whether it’s the beat or the way we cover things, we have to continue to push on owned and operated. That’s where most of our habits are. That’s where we get the majority of our subscribers engaged.

That said, embracing what’s new and embracing experimentation is essential. A lot of it will be off-platform. We have a fantastic TikTok team, we’re investing in that, we’re growing that team. We’re heavily invested in Instagram. We’re really exploring whatever new features come out of either of those apps; we have Peloton for the Washington Post.

There’s also a cultural aspect to innovation. You don’t really know what’s going to be a flash in the pan and what’s going to be persistent and long term. You have to place a lot of bets. I do think it’s important that what we learn off-platform — maybe it’s Discord, maybe it’s a live-stream partnership, maybe it’s creating an exclusive podcast — hopefully those things can be brought back to the core product.

What’s top of mind for you when it comes to innovating internally? Is it more about analytics? Tools that allow reporters to experiment more?

Innovation is something you have to foster on a multitude of levels. First is making teams more cross-functional. That is a huge part of the innovation culture we’re building. We created 41 new jobs for editors with different skill sets. Some of those people are senior visual editors. enterprise visual journalism; service journalism positions, audience strategy positions; part of it is cross-pollinating the skillsets.

We are also thinking about specific things we can do, and one of them is innovation in formats. Whether it’s doing more with vertical video, or more personality-driven experiences, or allowing reporters to go live, either on social platforms or on O&O, doing more with texting, those are all things we’re very interested in doing.

Analytics is a big part of it too. We already have a very accessible analytics culture, but making that information more actionable is something we’re focusing on and building into our tools and trying to do more around. Empowerment is critical for an organization of our size.

What we’ve covered

Billboard looks to sponsored TikTok strategy to help it become a more consumer-facing brand:

  • The Penske Media Corporation-owned publication has rolled out a singing competition on TikTok that is sponsored by Samsung.
  • The competition is part of Billboard’s recent audience development strategy push to create more consumer-facing programs.

Read more about Billboard here.

A majority of publishers now sell products directly to their audiences:

  • In a Digiday survey of more than 80 publisher professionals, 54% said they make at least some revenue by selling products directly to their audiences.
  • Advertising was the most common revenue stream among the survey respondents.

Read more about publishers’ direct revenue products here.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel talks about how Vox Media’s tech publication has and hasn’t changed after 10 years:

  • The Verge has largely stuck to its original editorial vision of covering tech and the culture surrounding it and that it surrounds.
  • The publication has recently expanded with a connected TV app, subscription product and a live in-person event.

Listen to the latest Digiday Podcast episode here.

Amazon tiptoes toward building another podcast brand:

  • This month Amazon will premiere a new original weekly podcast centered around country music.
  • The company has released roughly a dozen original podcasts since launching its podcast operation in 2020.

Read more about Amazon’s podcast push here.

Sportsbooks are spending millions on media deals, but publishers should hedge their bets:

  • Sportsbooks have been spending millions of dollars with media companies to accrue customers in the U.S.
  • However, media companies should beware of sportsbooks becoming media companies themselves and looming consolidation undercutting this revenue source.

Read more about sportsbooks’ media strategies here.

What we’re reading

Who’s looking to buy The Athletic now:
After unsuccessful bids to reportedly sell to The New York Times and Axios, The Athletic is now receiving acquisition bids from DraftKings and FanDuel, according to The Information. The Athletic’s sale situation seems emblematic of two trends in the media industry: a resurgent wave of consolidation as publishers have weathered the worst of the pandemic and a flood of interest among sports betting companies in the media industry.

Why people unsubscribe from news publishers:
Nieman Lab polled more than 500 of its readers to ask why they have canceled their subscriptions to some news outlets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest cause of cancelation is money, though the underlying reasons range from pressure on personal subscription budgets to promotional periods expiring. Other factors were largely content-dependent: people not wanting to support publications they didn’t agree with or to pay for articles they didn’t feel were worth the money.

Why an independent journalist quit Substack to join The Atlantic’s newsletter program:
Six months after leaving The New York Times to start a Substack newsletter, tech journalist Charlie Warzel is departing the newsletter platform to return to working for a publisher (sort of). Warzel is among the nine journalists that are joining The Atlantic’s new newsletter program. In a post announcing his move, Warzel explained why he’s leaving Substack for The Atlantic. The gist is that he ended up making less money on his own than he did while working at the Times. But there’s more nuance to it than that, which seems to boil down to not consistently putting out pieces that people would have needed to and been willing to pay for.

How Spotify is building its podcast platform:
Spotify wants to become the YouTube of podcasting, according to Bloomberg. The streaming music service seems to be following the digital video platforms’ playbook by opening up to a wider array of podcast creators and rolling out an ad network to make money from those podcasts. More recently, it’s expanding into video podcasts, which have been popping up on YouTube for years. As Spotify looks to replicate YouTube within the realm of podcasting, what will be worth watching for is how it will manage the associated content moderation challenges.

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