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Frenemy mine: The pros and cons

of social partnerships for online


media companies
Aram Sinnreich
This report underwitten by: Viafoura

a social report

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social


partnerships for online media companies
04/16/2013

TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2. THE UP SIDE: BENEFITS OF PARTNERING WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
a. Reach
b. Traffic
c. Relationships
d. Authentication
e. Analytics
3. THE DOWN SIDE: PAIN POINTS OF PARTNERING WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
a. Lack of control over the consumer experience
b. Consumer data and privacy
c. Platform roulette
d. Partner relations
e. Code and trust
f. Limited research and analytics
4. ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
a. Is content still king?
b. Optimal media branding
c. Build vs. buy
5. CONCLUSION
6. ABOUT VIAFOURA
Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
This PDF prepared for: neild10 (neild10@gmail.com)

7. ABOUT GIGAOM PRO


8. ABOUT ARAM SINNREICH
9. COPYRIGHT

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
This PDF prepared for: neild10 (neild10@gmail.com)

For media companies in a variety of sectors, including news, music, broadcasting, film,
games, and events, developing a coherent social media strategy is paramount to survival
in the digital age. Yet partnering with the likes of Facebook can also be a Faustian
bargain: Media companies gain a deeper knowledge of their audiences and a broader
access to them but simultaneously sacrifice the control and centrality they enjoyed in the
era of mass media. The net effect is that content providers can grow their businesses in
absolute terms but still are relegated to being tangential players in the eyes of consumers,
and subordinate in status compared to the social media giants.
This report will demonstrate how online media companies enter into these bargains, and
how they evaluate the strategic dimensions of social media. Key questions include:
What are the benefits of partnering with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Pinterest?
What are the pain points that characterize these partnerships?
What downsides are media companies willing to accept in exchange for the upsides?
The 10 executives interviewed for this report are from a range of media sectors. They
offered a fascinating glimpse into the intersection of traditional media and social media,
revealing opportunities for innovation and growth as well as a number of risks and
threats. Ultimately these interviewees described a situation of turbulence and change in
which powerful companies thrive or fail depending. Success depends on how effectively
they can predict and accommodate the ever-changing ambitions, whims, and reversals of
their social media partners, and of the millions of customers who use social media to
discover and share the content they love with others in their networks.
Despite the many benefits that accrue from working with social media partners (e.g.,
customer acquisition, retention, authentication, and analytics), the pain points are
numerous. They include:
Lack of control over the consumer experience
Consumer data and privacy issues
Unstable and frequently changing platforms
Poor partner relations
Mistrust over code

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
This PDF prepared for: neild10 (neild10@gmail.com)

Limited research and analytics

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
This PDF prepared for: neild10 (neild10@gmail.com)

The up side: Benefits of partnering with social media


Online media companies see many benefits in partnering with social media platforms
such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. When used tactically, these platforms
can serve as vital elements in broader strategies for online customer acquisition,
retention, and engagement. The primary benefits using these platforms fall under five
specific categories:
Reach
Traffic
Relationships
Authentication
Analytics

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
This PDF prepared for: neild10 (neild10@gmail.com)

Reach
As online media sources interviewed for this report confirmed, the greatest strength that
social media companies bring to the table is their ability to aggregate hundreds of
millions or even billions of potential customers under a single roof. Dmitry
Shishkin, Digital Development Editor at BBC Global News noted, We absolutely need
to be where the audience is. Andrew Krucoff, Web Content Director at New York event
promoter 92nd St. Y, echoed that sentiment, saying, What Facebook brings to the table,
we cant replicate. They have the people.
This outlook directly influences the financial calculus for media companies trying to
develop their audience bases. It even undermines the relative importance of maintaining a
stand-alone destination site. Nicole Lewis, Director of Marketing for game studio
Harmonix, the company behind Rock Band and Dance Central, explains it this way: Its
easier to build a community at Facebook, because everybodys there. And its cheaper
and easier than maintaining our own website. Nor can most media companies ever hope
to develop the same kind of reach independently: According to Elizabeth Brooks, an
executive at Live Nation Labs, the social unit of the big concert promoter, Its the nature
of content ownership you cannot create your own social net because nobody has
everything. Its the same paradigm as a record label trying to be a brand. Youre not going
to drag people to the Interscope website for all music because you dont have all music.
Lewis also lamented that Facebook is constantly refreshed, and theres no way my small
company can compete with that.
Even media companies that have served as multibrand aggregators in the past bemoan
their diminished role in comparison to the brute force of a Facebook or Twitter. Referring
to Facebook, a senior executive at MTV pointed out, You cant deny the millions of
eyeballs that are trained on the site every day. Its become part of human habit to check
your feed.
Yet, for all its importance, reach isnt everything. Shishkin observed, Referrals and
quality on social media platforms are better than reach. Whats the point of having a
million followers or likes if it doesnt transcend into the actual usage of the content that
we publish? Its much more important to have a quality interaction within that
community than to actually go for numbers. This observation points directly to the next
two potential business benefits of social media: traffic and relationships.

Traffic
Social campaigns can be an effective element of the overall media mix for online media
companies seeking to develop traffic to their own destination sites. Several interviewees
Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
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specifically singled out Facebook as a crucial traffic driver. Facebook ads work. We get
the spikes from them, said Krucoff. Brian Lakamp, President of radio giant Clear
Channel Digital, which was a marquee partner for Facebooks launch of its Open Graph
platform, said, Facebook has been a meaningful source of traffic for us, both from new
and returning customers.
Yet Facebook is not the only social network that delivers significant traffic back to
destination sites. According to Shishkin, the news services Twitter feeds drive a lot more
traffic than its Facebook feeds. This is in part because the company is more sensitive
about overloading the already saturated Facebook environment with links and prompts.
Similarly, Melianthe Kines, Director of Audience Development at financial news network
SourceMedia, said that the companys LinkedIn group drive[s] a lot of traffic to our site,
and its a good place to reach out to let people know about content and events.
According to Kines, this is due to LinkedIns business-centric orientation.
Yet not all interviewees consider social media campaigns an unmitigated boon for traffic.
Lewis said, we did a big ad buy on Google that did better than our Facebook buy.
However, she admits that in terms of the social network itself, we havent had the
bandwidth to invest in it. This reflects a point several other interviewees made: What
you get out of social media traffic campaigns is proportionate to what you put in. Its not
enough just to get a mention, you need to have a comprehensive strategy to drive traffic
back to your properties, said the MTV executive.

Relationships
Several interviewees said they value social media as a platform for building direct
relationships with their customer bases. Ben Elowitz of Wetpaint pointed out that sites
like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest allow brands to develop the same kinds of
relationships with consumers that they have with one another, using the same toolset.
Though its far from ideal, he said that its vastly superior to earlier methods of online
customer acquisition. In other words, its a highly imperfect meritocracy.
Other interviewees went a step beyond the matter of traffic acquisition, describing the
establishment and brokering of relationships with and between users as one of the
primary roles for an online media company to play in the social era. We look at social
media as platforms for connecting people, and were in the business of delivering people
their passions, said Lakamp of Clear Channel. Brooks had a slightly different
interpretation of social media, describing it as a very convenient way to connect, to
create immediacy, and to create an immediate source of information and customer
service. You want people to be able to share their activity with their friends, so thats
really crucial.
Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
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Of course, the question of concrete traffic generation versus the fuzzier merits of
relationship building depends a lot on the way that a media company views its business
and its role among consumers. Lewis pointed out, We are more in the business of
branding than generating ad revenues. Given that, she said that there is little incentive to
sacrifice depth of relationship for sheer volume. Theyre not going to form some
relationship to my website, but they will like my Facebook page, and then Ill show up on
their feed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, media companies that are primarily
driven by a social or a cultural mission rather than simple revenue development also find
the relationship-building power of these services hard to pass up.

Authentication
In addition to developing and deepening relationships with consumers, online media
companies see functional benefits in using social media platforms to enable social
features, such as comments and authentication, on their own sites. Facebook Connect
makes you happy most of the time, said Brooks. If youre building any kind of
registered user platform, its a fast, painless onboard. Even millennials and techies, who
largely dont use it, still have profiles. She also recommends using Twitter for
authentication in certain contexts, although she adds my guess would be, without hard
data, a smaller percentage of Twitter users are logged in at any given moment.
Other interviewees largely concurred with Brooks about the ease of using Facebook
Connect, although they differed when it came to the question of how exclusively it
should be relied upon. Elowitz said that Facebook is the authentication we care most
about. Its the best relationship. According to research conducted by the company,
asking a site visitor to become a Facebook fan led to an average improvement of 500
percent in that visitors lifetime value. Krucoff prefers to use a third-party platform for
authentication and comments, in part because it dovetails so well with the WordPress (see
disclosure) platform his site is built on. Even so, he said that that Facebook is still the
universal authenticator because his third-party platform accepts it.
Kines reports that although her sites currently dont use social media logins, she is
strongly considering it, especially via LinkedIn. We would really like to do it, so we
can capture their LinkedIn login and get them to join our group. Wed have a stickier
relationship with them. And whos going to remember the login to our site? We might use
Facebook and Twitter too, but LinkedIn seems the most obvious [due to the business
orientation of the site], and we also know our target audience are precluded from using
Facebook and Twitter at the office, so that makes LinkedIn more attractive.
Disclosure: Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture
capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this site, GigaOm. Om Malik,
founder of GigaOm, is also a venture partner at True.
Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
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Analytics
The fifth benefit of social media partnerships is their potential to be used as a platform for
research and analytics, with tools such as Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Twitter
Analytics, and third-party platforms ranging from Bit.ly to Omniture. One interviewee, a
business development executive for a major book publisher, said that social media trumps
traditional retailer relationships when it comes to analytics. Yet, he was careful to
emphasize that despite all the hype, its a marketing tool, and whats most important is
getting the customer back in the actual transaction.
Wetpaint tracks customers across platforms whenever possible, and finds Facebook
Connect good for this, especially for tracking from mobile to desktop and back. By
keeping track of the roughly 15 percent of the companys cross-channel traffic that
remains logged in to Connect, the company has been able to generate a staggering 10
percent click-through rate from the 50 monthly impressions each of its Facebook fans see
in their feeds within a given month. Simply tracking traffic is not enough: a media
company needs to engage in ongoing robust testing based on the data, to make a science
out of understanding what the audience will respond to.
Brooks pointed that this kind of power also brings great responsibility. You can learn an
enormous amount about a user with analytical tools. You can abuse it if youre evil, or
super-serve your user if youre not, which is what we try to do here.

The down side: Pain points of partnering with social media


Despite the many benefits of partnering with social media platforms, interviewees cited at
least as many pain points, mitigating and in some cases outweighing the up side of such
relationships. These include:
Lack of control over the consumer experience
Lack of control over consumer data
Unpredictability of platform development
Poor partner relations
The trust factor required for code integration
Limited or imperfect research and reporting tools

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Lack of control over the consumer experience


Several interviewees expressed frustration with what they viewed as an inevitable loss of
control over programming when social media companies become integral to consumer
relationships. Some of these frustrations stem from the role social platforms play in onsite authentication. If youve enabled a social onboard, youve now created a bridge
between you, the customer and the social partner, Brooks said. Youve given over some
of your relationship to that user. Thats always a qualitative question: Is this going to
affect my ability to communicate with customers, and to influence customer choice and
the customer experience? Shishkin noted that any use of social media entails a raft of
questions and concerns: We need to make sure that the page is branded properly, and
whether people actually know what theyre doing on those accounts. Each platform has
its own idiosyncrasies and these need to be addressed singly.
Other online media executives expressed concerns about their lack of control over the
content that reaches the users of social media sites themselves, especially Facebook.
Sometimes this is because third parties exert more influence than the media companies
themselves. I think theres sometimes a battleground over who gets their content placed
on Facebook, said the MTV executive. Theres no guarantee that [artists] are going to
post your content when they might have something coming from Fuse or ABC that day.
You can only hope and pray that the artists team will deliver. In other cases, Facebook
itself is to blame for usurping a media companys traditional programming power and
diverting it to market competitors. We dont even control what advertisements appear on
our own page, Lewis complained. Sometimes there are ads from rival companies!
Ultimately, the problem is that these platforms offer the illusion of control without
transparency or accountability. As Peter Sargent, Product Manager at Hulu, complained,
So much of what happens on Facebook is in a black box, and weve given up (in some
ways) trying to figure out what is going to trigger prominent activity in a users feed.
Interestingly, none of the interviewees cited the factor that has been most prominently
raised as a potential threat in the business press: lack of control over user-generated
content, especially materials of an infringing or critical nature. Apparently media
companies trust their customer bases far more than they do their social media partners.

Consumer data and privacy


If online media companies are frustrated by their lack of control over the consumer
experience at social media sites, they are equally frustrated by their loss of control over
consumer data. This data is strategically vital for several reasons, the foremost of which
is that such data are vital to many media-driven business models. Were very protective
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of our audience data, because thats where we make our money, said Kines. And were
always working to get more value out of it.
Most social media platforms share little if any of the data they collect, even when they do
so for the purpose of enabling authentication or financial transactions between a media
property and its own customer base. You dont get email addresses of people on your
own page, Lewis lamented. Are we going to get any data or behavioral stuff out of our
own transactions? Krucoff asked rhetorically. Yet, he also acknowledged that his
organization lacked the leverage to demand such concessions. Our general attitude about
Facebook is we cant get the data, so be it.
A related concern is that even when social media platforms are willing to share some of
the data they collect on behalf of media companies, that data lacks the rigor and
verifiability of data that comes straight from the source. Would you rather personalize
your site using direct knowledge of the customer, or based on what you know via
Facebook? Brooks asked. Obviously, the former. The social graph might be wrong,
likes on Facebook are random, and dont reflect much at all, except what you did to feel
cool, or because a friend did, or to unlock an incentive or reward.
Finally, the proprietary approach that social media companies take toward consumer data
has negative implications for the consumers themselves. This can set off both reputational
and regulatory alarms. I call it the creepy factor, said Brooks. Customizing can been a
boon and a service geotargeting and localization are always helpful. But knowing that
Ive got a dog and I like mac and cheese, thats where it starts to get weird. The BBCs
privacy and data protection policies actually prohibit it from using social plugins like
Facebook Connect on its sites and services. We dont want to go down the route of
deeper integration with social media sites, because we want to keep the privacy data of
our users for ourselves rather than share it with anybody else, said Shishkin. We dont
want to use the content funded by the public to be used by social media companies who
will ultimately earn money from it.

Platform roulette
Another pain point is the difficulty, risk, and expenditure required to keep up with an
ever-changing set of social media platforms. Part of the problem is that even the
established social media titans are always tweaking their algorithms while introducing
new features and retiring older, less popular ones. Facebook is constantly changing its
algorithms, said Shishkin. Its becoming harder and harder to penetrate and make our
content visible to our followers. Krucoff elaborated a bit on this problem: The
frustration is, theyre always just changing stuff. Everything from the way their tabs are
presented to their markup language to the way things show up in feeds. So its often, oh,
theres something we used to be able to do, and now we cant do it any more.
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One executive compared Facebook to an awkward teenager that hasnt yet figured out
what it wants to be when it grows up. And like a teenager, the company frequently
requires those closest to it to support it unquestioningly as it lurches from plan to plan.
Facebook is unstable, the executive said. When they announce something new, you
have to be willing to commit a lot of resources to benefit and participate, but you dont
know if six months later its even going to exist or not. The executive cited Facebooks
social reader platform as a specific example. As a result of this instability, were
working on shifting sands. Youve got to have the stomach for it, and to see you work get
washed away when the time comes, too.
Facebook is hardly the only social media company whose growing pains can amount to
headaches for its partners. Kines said that her company had undertaken significant efforts
to partner with LinkedIn on a recent supergroup initiative, only to see the social media
company shelve the plan after SourceMedia had already gone through the trouble of
bringing its own customer base to the table.
A related problem for media companies is the challenge of keeping track of which social
media platforms are ascendant and which ones are on their way out. Additionally, there is
the associated challenge of measuring and tracking customers and campaigns across these
multiple, ever-changing platforms. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are relevant for
almost every category of media, said Elowitz. Pinterest is not. This newer, photooriented social network has caused confusion and uncertainty for other interviewees as
well. We have hundreds of Pinterest boards, but how do you possibly know if its doing
any good? asked the book- publishing executive. Other emerging networks can be
puzzling as well. Google Plus how invested do we need to be in that? asked Krucoff.
Ultimately, businesses must hedge their bets and try to allocate scarce resources across
these platforms as intelligently as possible. This requires a certain agnosticism of social
media, as Brooks calls it. While this can undermine the depth of a media companys
commitment to a given social platform, it can also mitigate potential risks associated with
that platforms failure. I dont see Facebook disappearing anytime soon, said Lakamp.
However, on a daily basis, were evaluating every forum that consumers are moving to.
As more platforms emerge, we will continue to innovate with them. And while not all
companies have Clear Channels resources, recurring assessments of social media
partnerships are common among media companies. For instance, Shishkin said its being
evaluated on a yearly basis which social media accounts to include, and which to
downgrade within our social media sharing tool, as well as which regional social media
platforms to include in the mix.

Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies
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Partner relations
Media executives are not always sanguine about the nature of their partnerships with
social media companies. Brooks openly doubts whether the term even applies: Theyre
not really a partner. Its a service that weaves itself infinitely through your whole
consumer experience, and to extricate yourself would be very difficult. On the other
hand, Clear Channels Lakamp said of Facebook, We remain very enthusiastic about
having developed a close partnership.
Either way, many interviewees complained that Facebook and its ilk often behave more
like competitors than enablers. Elowitz remarked, Ive seen a very big shift of them to
put their own resources on monetization since the IPO. Yet he considers this a shortterm problem because until Facebook can make money itself, it cant be expected to
help other companies to do the same. Long term, he told me, Facebook needs to help
others make money too.
For all its vaunted ability to deliver traffic back to partner sites, several interviewees said
theyre unhappy with the level of traffic that Facebook currently delivers to them.
Losing traffic is a concern. We dont want the conversations happening off our site,
especially with Facebook, said Kines. Similarly, Shishkin said, Its very important for
us to drive traffic back to our destination sites. We really would like to make sure that this
loyalty to the brand is happening on our sites themselves, rather than on Facebook or
other social platforms.
Other interviewees complained that Facebook lacks the partner-comes-first attitude youd
expect from a more service-oriented company. Facebook doesnt return phone calls,
one executive said. Theyre not a sophisticated ecosystem player yet. Theyre not staffed
to attend to the needs of their partners. Krucoff complained that theres a lot of weird
stuff in the sites Terms of Service (TOS) for instance the requirement that contests
be run through a third party, which increases costs and complexity. Yet he marks this up
to the cost of doing business. Lewis made similar complaints and came to a similar
conclusion: Were small enough that we just accept the Facebook end-user license
agreement (EULA), so we knew what were getting into in the beginning.

Code and trust


In February 2013, a Facebook Connect glitch brought down some of the biggest sites
on the web, including CNN, NBC News, and the Huffington Post. For roughly half an
hour, the millions of visitors who tried to access these sites were redirected to a Facebook
error page. Considering that 50 million web pages and 10 million apps currently rely on
the Connect platform, this episode raised some significant concerns among a great many
Facebook users and content partners.
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Kines noted that the Connect outage points to a consistent hurdle when it comes to trust.
Specifically, its the trust required by both media companies and their customers when
social platforms broker the relationships between the two. Therefore, Kins noted that
before her company commits to integrating social media code into its website, [we] have
to make sure that the user experience isnt impacted. Ive seen sites where you register
with Facebook, then you have two more screens before you can actually register [for the
site]. Things are popping up and youre not sure what youre typing your password into.
So theres a trust factor. Similarly, Shishkin said that if youre integrating third-party
code into our code base, you want to make sure its gone through a rigorous testing
process. This is crucial: If something goes wrong with a piece of code on one BBC site it
could potentially damage another one.
In addition to questions of technological reliability and consumer trust is the
uncomfortable issue of how far a media company is willing to trust the social media
platform itself, which may be subject to either intentional or unintentional system failures
and outages. Brooks said one of the threats is that overreliance on code may lead to
obsolescence. Even worse, she worries what would happen if somebody at Facebook
decided to go rogue. They could literally flip a switch and everybody using Facebook
Connect would default to Facebook. The idea of the sudden, automatic redirect thats
terrifying. Ultimately, she fears that such absolute power must absolutely corrupt, like
the plot of a fantasy novel. Facebook is one platform to rule them all, she quipped,
comparing the technology to the ultimate tool of power in J. R. R. Tolkiens Lord of the
Rings trilogy.

Limited research and analytics


Although several interviewees specifically cited research and analytics as one of the
benefits of working with social media platforms, others expressed frustration with the
costs and limitations of these platforms, as well as the added costs and logistics required
to augment them with third-party tools. The traffic analysis tools are primitive, so you
end up having to buy after-market products that do much more than you need and cost
much more than you can afford, said Lewis. Inside Facebook, those tools are shallow.
You end up going to a [third-party analytics tool called] Wildfire, which costs $40,000
per month, or throwing a lot of people at it, which costs even more. If youre a small or
mid-sized company, it doesnt make sense, because they dont have scalable solutions.
Facebook, because theyre making money off of me, they should add those services for
free. Google is much better, but Twitter is the worst. They dont even have as many CMS
tools as Facebook.
Sargent offered similar complaints. Facebook Insights offers very basic data, but the
data tool is extremely buggy. Weve often gone back to them and asked them to dig into
something odd we see in the data. And they are often as surprised as we are. Its gotten so
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bad that weve decided to build out our own internal reporting to completely replace what
we get from Facebook. The other motivation for this move was to hedge the companys
bets by distancing itself from the Facebook platform and moving toward social platform
agnosticism. In his words, the home-brewed reporting tools will support our future
integration with Twitter, which offers nothing in the way of data insights.

Additional considerations
In addition to the many benefits and pain points regarding social media platforms some
additional considerations emerged from interviews. These considerations fall into three
categories: the role of media companies in the social era, optimal branding strategy in a
social environment, and the benefits of building versus buying social functionality.

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Is content still king?


As Bill Gates famously declared in 1996, at the outset of the digital revolution, Content
is king, suggesting that those who succeed will propel the internet forward as a
marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products a marketplace of content. Yet many of
the media executives interviewed for this report raised concerns that nearly two decades
later, in the era of social media, the power and importance of their own sector is waning.
The job of media has shifted from inform me to fill up my time, said Elowitz. And
social is the go-to app for that. This poses a conundrum for companies that traditionally
think of themselves as content providers. Looking forward, do you decide that the value
of content is just gone, and who you are is no longer relevant? asked the book publisher.
Or do you say the challenge is now to find a way to prove that content still matters? For
a company like Harmonix, which has always been focused more on retail than
advertising-supported distribution, the rise of social media has simply shifted its
marketing strategy away from content production and toward relationship building.
What were not in the business of any more is building out a site with a lot of content
and functionality, said Lewis. Were putting more and more on our Facebook page, and
less and less on the website.
It certainly doesnt help that the social media platforms themselves seem only marginally
dedicated to media programming. Facebook is not really interested in content, the book
executive told me. Everybody in the content world wants it to be something its not.
Content owners want it to be a media channel because it moves them away from Google,
Amazon and Apple and enables direct relationships with consumers, but though it
holds out the promise of a holy grail, its a company thats not really interested in that.
Other media executives seem more comfortable with this scenario. I dont believe in
online any more, said Brooks. I think of it as stories that exist on multiple platforms
and in the social ecosystem. Its more of a positive than a negative, because accepting
loss of control of content and conversation is part of creating content and conversation.
Of course, she acknowledged that this fundamentally alters the business model for any
company in the media space. The second your content is unleashed from a destination,
the nature of monetization changes dramatically.

Optimal media branding


Another question that media companies are grappling with as they develop their social
media strategies is branding. The specific question is, Should media companies with
dozens or hundreds of different brands try to aggregate their customer bases under single
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umbrella profiles on Facebook and Twitter or should they target their social offerings to
smaller, but more numerous and dedicated audiences?
One of the main challenges of targeting is that it remains highly resource-intensive.
Publishers like SourceMedia and 92Y.org maintain a broad range of highly differentiated
points of social media presence, and this requires significant human resources. Kines said
that SourceMedia has actually retrained all of its journalists and editors to maintain their
own brands and followings on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to engage with their
communities in addition to simply filing their stories. People initially balked because
they thought it would be time consuming and because it seemed like the marketing
departments job, she said. But theyve been able to bring about a cultural shift: This is
what journalists do now.
A more targeted approach to social media branding also typically requires media
companies to invest in the licenses and expertise required for tools like SocialFlow,
HootSuite, and Salesforces Radian6. Yet when used intelligently, these investments can
actually net positive in terms of measurable impact and engagement. Shishkin said that
SocialFlow has been doing real wonders for us in terms of optimizing our social media
posting. Similarly, Krucoff said that even factoring in the cost of training brand
managers to use software tools to maintain the companys 20 Facebook pages and dozens
of other social media initiatives, the targeting strategy has represented a net positive in
terms of followers and quality of followers.

Build vs. buy


The final consideration that emerged from interviews with media executives is the
question of whether and when social media functionality should be developed in-house
versus acquiring it from a third party. There was no consensus on this subject, and the
pros and cons included all of the factors I have already cited in this report. Some
companies like BBC, due largely to concerns about privacy, security and quality, opt to
build as much of the technology as possible. Almost everything we do is bespoke and
done in-house, said Shishkin. Its not often that we use third-party solutions, which has
both advantages and disadvantages.
On the other hand, Brooks said that, for many big media companies, it would be
foolhardy to build your own when it comes to something social, simply because you
dont have everything your customer wants. Yet she acknowledges that there are other,
more targeted media companies like the New York Times and Spotify that, due to the
depth of their customer relationships, are better off owning it, period. Youre better off
onboarding with a name and email than with Facebook Connect. In these cases,
companies can either build their tools in-house like the BBC or license them from a
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private label technology provider. In the final analysis, Brooks said, its a numbers
game. Can I get more people, more information, and have a more seamless interface?

Conclusion
The media industry has undergone several rapid changes in the internet era, stemming
from the digitalization of programming, the transformation of advertising and retail, and
the growth of user-generated content. But perhaps the greatest change of all has come
with the rise of social media. Services like Facebook and Twitter, which now boast
billions of users worldwide, have redefined the relationship between content providers
and audience members. They have also spurred both innovation and disruption in
traditional media economies.
For online media companies, social platforms like Facebook and Twitter bring many
opportunities as well as risks. An intelligent and proactive social media strategy can
expand a brands reach, deliver unprecedented traffic to a media property, and deepen
relationships with audience members, increasing the lifetime value of those customer
relationships. Social media platforms also provide some useful functions, such as
authentication and analytics, that can help make media companies better at serving and
monetizing their customer bases.
Yet these benefits often come at a cost. The more heavily a media company relies upon a
social media platform the more it relinquishes control over the customer experience, and
the less control it may exercise over the data yielded by those customers. This potentially
dilutes brand affinities and undermines consumer trust.
The hothouse environment in which both established and upstart social media platforms
continually vie to deliver the latest, greatest technology, often while sacrificing last years
(or last months) innovation, can work both to media companies benefit and to their
detriment. While its a boon to be continually presented with newer and better ways to
exploit customer relationships, its also a significant drain on resources to keep abreast of
the latest developments. And it is a continuing challenge to apportion scarce resources
across diverse platforms with maximal efficiency and effectiveness.
As a result of these and other factors, online media companies tend to be wary of their
partnerships with social media services and platforms. The more cautious among them
will often resist adopting innovations until the period of greatest risk (and potential
reward) has already passed.
What should your companys social media strategy entail? Should you partner with a
Facebook or a Twitter, leverage a third-party platform, or build a solution in-house? The
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answers to these questions rest on a number of factors: How important is it to drive traffic
back to your own web destination? Do your revenues come predominantly from
advertising or consumer expenditures? Are you equipped to use consumer insight data in
a way that will optimize your business practices? How well can you afford to risk
investing in a project that may be obsolete a year from now? How vital is consumer
privacy to your corporate philosophy? In the final analysis, you must address the second
set of questions before you attempt to address the first.
Below, is a basic decision table, derived from the findings in this report, with sample
values for the industries represented by our interviewees. Weigh each pro against each
con on a scale from 1 (not very important) to 3 (very important). Take into account the
additional considerations: Can you afford to build or buy? How many brands do you
need to support? While this table is hardly a crystal ball, its a good tool for getting the
conversation started.
Green: Benefit
Red: Cost
Yellow: Neutral

For better or worse, the rise of social media has demanded that media companies
fundamentally rethink their core value propositions and business strategies, and
reimagine themselves as elements of a larger media ecology than the one they once
dominated. Even broadcasting behemoths like Clear Channel and Viacom are now
dwarfed by Facebook, both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of their ability to set
the conditions by which consumers connect with the information and services that matter
most to them. As this market continues to develop, the winners and losers wont be
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determined by who has the best content, or even who has the most robust distribution
infrastructure, but rather by their ability to negotiate an optimal relationship with
consumers and social media platforms. Doing so will maximize the value of scarce
content, technology, and human resources across a broad and ever-shifting range of social
channels.

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About Viafoura
Viafoura is the leading audience engagement and monetization platform for large media
companies. The companys software-as-a-service platform helps clients to increase
audience engagement, capture valuable user data and deliver smarter, data-driven
monetization strategies. Clients include Hearst Media, France 24, Bell Media, Discovery
Channel, Gatehouse Media, and other top-tier media brands. To learn more,
visit www.viafoura.com.
Note: The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of Aram Sinnreich and/
or GigaOM Research. Viafoura underwrote this report but the final determination of
content remained at all times with Mr. Sinnreich and/or GigaOM Research.

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About GigaOM Pro


GigaOM Pro gives you insider access to expert industry insights on emerging markets.
Focused on delivering highly relevant and timely research to the people who need it
most, our analysis, reports, and original research come from the most respected voices in
the industry. Whether youre beginning to learn about a new market or are an industry
insider, GigaOM Pro addresses the need for relevant, illuminating insights into the
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About Aram Sinnreich


Dr. Aram Sinnreich is an author, professor, and consultant covering the media and
entertainment industries, with a special focus on music. He currently serves as Assistant
Professor at Rutgers Universitys department of Journalism and Media Studies, where he
focuses on new media, cyberliberties, and popular culture, and is Managing Partner of
Radar Research, a media and technology consultancy he co-founded in 2004. He has
written about music and the media industry for publications including The New York
Times, Billboard, Wired News, Truthdig, and American Quarterly. His first book, Mashed
Up: Music, Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture, was published in 2010 by
University of Massachusetts Press, and his forthcoming book, The Piracy Crusade, will
be published later this year. He has spoken at hundreds of academic conferences, industry
events, and university classes around the globe, from Berlin to Tokyo to Barcelona. He
has also served as an expert witness in several high-profile court cases, including the
2005 Supreme Court file sharing suit MGM v. Grokster. Sinnreich holds a Ph.D. in
Communication from the Annenberg School at University of Southern California.

Giga Omni Media 2013. "Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for
online media companies" is a trademark of Giga Omni Media. For permission to
reproduce this report, please contact research-sales@gigaom.com.

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