Magazines: From digital to community

Are magazines developing community hand-in-hand with digital?

I was reading through the media section of The Australian newspaper a few weeks ago and came across the news that magazine sales in the land of Oz continue to slide.

As a lover of magazines it’s disappointing to see this trend continue, particularly in light of all the exciting changes to media, technology and connected communities of consumers.

While I still enjoy picking up a hard copy magazine to flick through the glossy advertisements and in-depth interviews (yes, magazines actually do these), I’d be lying if I wasn’t excited by the addition of tablet technology and the potential for new content cycles.

In response to a comment I left on the facebook page of one of my favourite Aussie magazines (I’ll refrain from naming them here), I received a comment from the editor that the magazine’s iPad application was currently in production – something I was pretty wrapped to hear.

However, scrolling through the magazine’s social media and web presences, I began to question how much magazines are linking digital to community and leveraging the opportunity for increased engagement, brand exposure and sales.

At a time when sales are dropping but consumer engagement and expectation is rising, it seems to me that community and digital are two elements that must go hand-in-hand for magazines and publishers to survive.

So, what would I love to see from magazine’s to increase engagement and make me come back for more?

1. Take it offline

I recently attended a number of evenings for brands that coincidentally advertise in sport and lifestyle publications that I enjoy reading. While one was paid (a small fee of $15) and the other free – both allowed like-minded members of the brands’ communities to gather and share their passion and interests in real life – all while capturing and sharing the experience through social media and driving brand exposure. No VIPs or red carpets – just brand evangelists looking to engage more with the brand and catch a glimpse behind the product. I’d love nothing more than the publications I enjoy to do the same, and to connect me with like-minded individuals.

2. Expand and extend the content life-cycle

For me, this one applies whether you’re a weekly, fortnightly or monthly publication. As a consumer, I now see your physical product as just the start of a perpetual content life-cycle. If I follow you on Twitter, Like your facebook page, follow you on Pinterest and link back to your homepage, I’m hoping for more than a PDF version of what I’ve already read. Now, more than ever, I’m looking for the stories behind the stories, the glimpse behind-the-scenes, and the inner machinations that make the publication tick. I want to be engaged and entertained (see examples below from GQ Magazine that go behind and extend the brand). The channels and tools are already there, and in all likelihood so is the content. It’s up to you to identify and share – and not just on the day you publish the latest edition.

GQ Rules

A Day at GQ Magazine (via H&M)

3. Listen and respond

Okay, so you’ve decided to set-up your channels and commit to a content calendar to share with your community – but what about listening and responding? With an extended and expanded life-cycle comes (hopefully) added shares, comments, and engagement from your fans. Take the time and invest the effort to converse with them in this space. As someone who has tweeted, messaged and mentioned a number of publications and rarely received a response – I can tell you first-hand that there’s nothing more frustrating for a fan than not receiving a hat tip or reply after taking the effort to engage with a brand.

In a great panel session last year, Edelman Australia held a discussion regarding the future of the media, featuring (among others) Michael Short from The Age newspaper.  In discussing the transition of the newspaper from hard copy to tablet format, he described the interactivity of the tablet version at roughly 20-25 percent of what it may one day be.

In short, media (including magazines) will only become more interactive.

Whether this shift to digital and interactive emerges hand-in-hand with the focus on and development of community will be subjective for each publication – and as with all industries there will be those that lead and those that follow.

The question is, how long will the followers survive as smaller niche publications emerge and barriers to entry for publication dissolve?

Only time will tell – and it’s certainly going to be intriguing to see how different publishers and titles continue to respond to this opportunity.

As Michael reflected – there’s never been a more exciting time to be working in media.

What do you think? Do you have any favourite magazines that execute digital and community side by side in their publishing and communication efforts? What elements in particular capture your attention and encourage you to engage beyond a physical magazine or digital version? What would you like to see from magazines and media outlets more broadly to increase their community engagement?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and which publications you enjoy consuming.

Image credit: Font Shop, via Flickr, CC 2.0 

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