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In an age when publishers are being forced to figure out ways to make money in the digital sphere, the Daily Beast is betting big on content marketing.

The mid-sized IAC-owned news and entertainment site eschews traditional advertising, opting instead for a data-driven approach and a global network of content creators to create tailored campaigns it knows its audience will engage with.

While being on social networks is important to the Daily Beast, its president and publisher, Mike Dyer, said its main focus is on building direct relationships with readers. It’s doing something right: The publisher boasts 22 million monthly uniques, up from eight million a few years ago.

On this week’s Digiday Podcast, Dyer spoke to Digiday’s editor-in-chief, Brian Morrissey about why it’s chosen content marketing over advertising, what approach it takes, and its success and failures on social media.

Edited highlights below:

Setting goals
Dyer isn’t as concerned about the Daily Beast’s scale as he is with maintaining and building a direct relationship with its audience; he wants readers actively choosing to go to the homepage to read or watch Daily Beast content, rather than accidentally landing on an article or video.

In the past two years the publisher has increased its direct traffic from between 23 and 25 percent of traffic to up to 44 percent. Dyer said the increase was mainly through trial and error with audience engagement on social media platforms, however a key ah-ha moment came when the business decided its focus was on how many users were being driven to the homepage from social media platforms.

“How many users from these other platforms are we converting to have a direct relationship with the Daily Beast,” Dyer said. “Whether they sign up for emails and like and follow our pages on the social platforms, or frequently seek out content on those platforms and then come back to our site. That’s the number we care about.”

Why it’s betting on content marketing
Almost all (90 percent) of Daily Beast’s campaigns are content marketing and 90 percent of revenue fits within that, Dyer said. It’s chosen to take that approach because it believes addressing a reader’s interest or solving a problem is money well spent, compared to interrupting a reader’s experience with an ad.

Using its parent company IAC’s in-house data science team, which tracks social and online data, the Daily Beast pitches campaign ideas and crafts multimedia content using a global network of content creators.

An example Dyer pointed to was a campaign for Land Rover, called Nearest Faraway place, which used data to model by city the most frequent and interesting places people liked to go.

“If we can create campaigns that connect with people’s pre-existing behaviors and their interests, they will perform better, advertisers will come back to us and users will have a better experience.” According to Dyer, it’s worked. “Our sponsored and branded content performs as well as our editorial content when we use the data science insights we have.”

Learning from Facebook Live
Like all publishers, the Daily Beast is experimenting with social platforms, in particular Facebook Live, where it’s launched two video series: Cheat Sheet and Drink Cart 

Dyer said Facebook Live is one of the publisher’s more successful trials, but it’s still very much experimenting with how and what content it delivers in the shows. For example, it was forced to change how it tackled Cheat Sheet when its initial idea of covering the top 10 stories every day didn’t gain the audience it expected. Instead, it found the audience was more responsive to an editor going deeper on one major story of the day, like the Brussels attack earlier this year, he said.

“Facebook Live is one of the bets that has actually done pretty well for us. What I like about Facebook Live is it’s a small bet, it’s easy to get immediate feedback, it’s easy to iterate from, and it’s easy to learn from.”

 

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