Making The Economist social

The Economist newspaper plans to acquire 500,000 fans on Facebook and 750,000 followers on Twitter within six months, says the FT, calling it another sign that traditional publishers are looking to social media as a substantial source of web traffic and new readers.

The Financial Times’ report says that users of The Economist’s website will soon be able to log in to the site and make comments using their Facebook identity, through Facebook Connect. The website will also take on features similar to social networks, allowing readers to create profile pages and earn a reputation through other users’ recommendations of their comments on the site.

The Economist is one of two mainstream media that I pay to access the content (the other I subscribe to is the FT) and it’s very interesting to see how the print and online publication is evolving and broadening its appeal to build connections with people specifically via social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

The FT says that Economist publisher Ben Edwards hopes that Facebook will help his site acquire new readers and develop a "deeper level of engagement" with existing ones.

[…] "We have a mission online of being the foremost destination for global discussion and debate, which is a social proposition," Mr Edwards told the Financial Times. Making Economist.com more social is "the core of our strategy", he said.

[…] About 180,000 people have joined its official "fan page" on Facebook. A marketing budget of "tens of thousands of pounds" will be allocated to help boost those figures to meet its targets.

[…] The Economist will also be "a lot more active" on Twitter, which will be a "full-time job", Mr Edwards said. "That shows the importance we place on it as a source of traffic," he said.

This looks like an entirely different model to the ‘stick everything behind a subscriber firewall with little or nothing for free’ approach being advocated by other mainstream media such as News International (The Times, Sunday Times, etc) and The Guardian.

Who will win out? The Economist with its more social and engaging approach, or the others’ with their more hard-nosed pay-for-everything system?

The former has my vote.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Charles

    I predict that using Facebook to log in and make comments won’t be as ‘engaging’ as they think. When you post a comment logged in as a Facebook user, you have the option to not ‘post to my wall’. I don’t have hard data on this, but the way I (and most people in my social graph) use Facebook, we wouldn’t post these comments to our walls. Our family and most of our RL friends may have little interest in our thoughts on an article in the Economist. Twitter on the other hand…

    • neville

      A good point, Charles, one I imagine The Economist is thinking about. If they make it easy for you to decide what to do when in Facebook, they’ll have a winner.

  2. karl long

    The economist has an amazing opportunity here, they have a treasure trove of content. I hope they start doing something with their audio which IMHO is one of their most underutilized assets. Not many people know that the whole of the economist is available in audio but as a monolithic audio file, imagine that broken down with notes :)

    BTW this article prompted me to try and send a note to Ben at the Economist via LinkedIn which led to this open letter:
    http://experiencecurve.com/archives/an-open-letter-to-ben-edwards-at-the-economist-and-why-linkedin-fails

    Hope your enjoying the holidays :)

    • neville

      Thanks, Karl, not enjoying the holidays yet: that starts on Thursday afternoon. :)

      Agree re audio. I listen to the Economist’s podcast aka audio edition when I get a chance. I love that it’s separate files so you can choose what you want. It’s great for car journeys.

      Good points you’ve written re LinkedIn and it being ‘anti-social.’ Wonder what LinkedIn would have to say about that.

  3. Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    I agree with many of my friends that the Economists take on events is much too predictable — but the reporting is nonetheless great (especially if you take the bias with a grain of salt).

    Besides the exhaustive news gathering (so-called content) the economist utilizes a domain name that employs the wisdom of the language — darned economists seem to understand a thing or two about technology’s impact on economic welfare! ;D

    BTW: if they were really smart they would acquire “economy” (from Moody’s), not a bunch of twits! ;D

  4. Bobbie

    “This looks like an entirely different model to the ‘stick everything behind a subscriber firewall with little or nothing for free’ approach being advocated by… News International and The Guardian.”

    Well, firstly the Guardian’s advocating no such thing. And secondly Murdoch seems to be building a freemium model, where some content is free and some is paid-for. That’s pretty much the same as the FT and Economist.

    While I’m glad the Economist is setting targets for itself, I’m also sort of confused why it’s particularly newsworthy (aside from, well, it being the Economist). Surely hitting targets is more interesting than setting them? Let’s check back in six months and see where things are at.

    (vested interest, I am the Guardian’s technology correspondent)

  5. Bill Seitz

    But isn’t the vast majority of their editorial content going to stay behind the paywall? So I’m not seeing a huge difference between the core offering here and with the other players to compare them to… (Of course, that assumes that one’s comments would be informed by actually reading the underlying non-free article first…)

  6. Dave Briggs

    Of course, the Economist has tried to do web based innovation before, with Project Red Stripe, which was interesting but not a success by anyone’s measure. It will be interesting to see what lessons have been learned for this time around!

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