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The Evolution from “Umbrella” Brands to Niche Content Communities

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This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.

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Jonathan Hunt, Vox Media’s VP of Global Marketing and Communications shared insights to building a media company and how to engage with social media in this session with Social Media Week Founder, Toby Daniels.

Why jump from one media company (Vice) to Vox?

“What attracted me to Vox Media was that, among our peers and competitor set, it was the only company that was investing in smart digital voices and pairing them with the technology needed to scale their ideas in a way that is substantive and proves you can create something with true value seen by hundreds of millions of people.”

How is Vox Media structured?

“For the unfamiliar, Vox Media is a media company with 8 different brands that are built around categories people are passionate about, such as tech, gaming and news, etc.”

“It’s much more of a long-term strategy to build audiences around a singular brand. If I were to say to you I heard about a great taco place from Eater it gives more of an authority than saying a place like Vox.food.tacos” – Hunt

Why do you think brand matters in social media so much?

“A study showed 43% of people who discovered something on social platforms couldn’t remember where it came from. But investing in building brand equity has the real ability to counteract that.”

“Whenever you look back at the different generations of media, print, radio, tv, these are eras that were built around brands and a time where people were building businesses in highly regulated environments, now we’re doing it in an era with an attention currency.”

“Now more than ever you really have to have a brand that stands for something substantive, and unique that you can’t find anywhere else.” – Hunt

How does Vox Media think about audience across portfolio brands?

“We don’t have a particular audience we’re going for. The particular thread are 18-49 year olds with higher educations who identify as being smarter and are more affluent with higher incomes.

“We don’t think of a website as a nucleus of building brands. We try to find where people are most active and build brands around that. It doesn’t have to be the website, but could be Twitter, Facebook a podcast…” – Hunt

What is your perspective on the media biz today?

“There was a recent interview with my former boss where he says there is going to be a ‘media bloodbath’ with big companies poaching and gobbling up smaller companies.”

“While that is true and that is happening, I think there are going to be a select few media companies that have built themselves around producing strong content and diversifying their media lines that survive.”

“We don’t rely on one channel to drive our revenue. I think a lot of companies are going to have to find those revenue opportunities and hedging your bets on one media channel is going to be a bad idea” – Hunt

How has Vox organized itself amidst change?

“We started as a blog if you go all the way back. It was a sports blog in Oakland. It was a journalist dismayed that no one was reporting on the Oakland A’s who was an actual fan.”

“So he started a blog and built an audience around it. That blossomed into our sports site.”

“What I’m getting at is, the way that we’ve approached building brands isn’t just focusing on one channel, but finding audiences where they exist — that might be a website, that might be a podcast, that might be a partnership — we aren’t focusing on one way of finding an audience, we go where the audience is.” – Hunt

What is your traffic from social on average?

“A lot of companies are reliant on social, but if you were going to look at our Google Analytics it’s actually even between third party, direct and social.”

“We have gotten very good at optimizing our content for the channel it’s going through.” – Hunt

How are you thinking about the threat and benefits social media offer to media groups?

“To not have a social strategy or to go all in on Facebook runs the risk you’re not seen, and if you’re not seen you aren’t relevant.”

“For us, it is one of those things where it has to make business sense at the end of the day. We are not a non-profit and we have to be very calculated in how we bring our editorial presence to market on one of these platforms.” – Hunt

What is your advice for anyone thinking about building a media business?

“Starting a media company right now is, frankly, going to be tough. You’re competing against BuzzFeed, you’re competing against us, you’re competing against Vice. That said, if you have a unique perspective then you may have a leg-up.” – Hunt

Is there any concern you could find yourself heavily reliant on Facebook?

It’s the million dollar question right, while Circuit Breaker lives almost exclusively on Facebook, it could exist elsewhere. We make sure we always have other business ventures.” – Hunt

Legacy Media versus New Media? During a time when BuzzFeed and others have built a following off of social media, old media is using subscriptions for online content. Some could argue subscriptions are more sustainable. How does Vox look at this? – Daniels

“I think to your point subscription businesses are very healthy businesses, they subsidize a lot of their digital. But this is a model they were born into with subscriptions happening. While a lot of their revenue comes from print subscriptions, that money is going toward their digital.”

“If you take cues from what they’re doing you see a lot of investment going to digital because that’s where the future business is going to be.”

This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.




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