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The Three Phases of ‘Social’ Usage by Media Companies

At our recent discussion at IBC about the challenges of monetizing content through social media, Claude London of BBC Worldwide identified three evolutionary phases media companies go through with social media and their branded content.   (BTW: if you haven’t already heard the recording of this event, including Alex Balfour’s presentation on how the London 2012 Olympics is using social media, click here).

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been explored Claude’s concepts with various media execs in the digital media space, and have generally received a “yep, that’s what we did” response.  Given the general consensus, here are the three phases media companies go through:

Phase 1 – “Social” as Communications

Business justification:  It’s cheap

Objective:  It’s cheap; do we need another reason?

Given the “free” or low-cost nature of many social channels, many brands get into social simply because of the price point.  There generally is not a holistic strategy or business objective beyond following the crowd, or even because the boss heard about this <Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc> thing.

This is the Wild West of social with little centralization or corporate standards.  There is also wide variability in the type of editorial content pushed out via the channel.

Phase 2 – Promotional Vehicle

Business justification: Engaging a broad audience to make them aware of our content

Objective: Identify and recruit fans of our content.  While there are some brands that “listen” or engage audiences in a dialogue, there is usually a push or one-way mentality to the engagement.

After some period of letting the interns drive the social strategy, the media company wakes up and realizes they have several thousand followers on Facebook or Twitter… the light bulb goes on when they realize how effective social can be in attracting and engaging audiences (and it’s cheap!).

At this point, they put more rigor around their efforts often:

  • dedicating staff
  • formalizing and centralizing some social media processes/standards and
  • starting an editorial process for identifying what content to push out to audiences

Social efforts and teams are usually still decentralized, and the focus is on growing audience reach.

It’s at this point – when social starts becoming its own channel, and requiring some level of investment – that some media companies begin to outsource to outside vendors/agencies/experts.  How much the company outsources is a good predictor if they’ll progress to the next stage or not.  As Claude pointed out in his original comments “social media is as much content as it is marketing. Content is what we [the media company] do.  Don’t outsource that.”

As Claude and others have recognized, entertainment content and brands distributed in social channels take on a life as their own as valuable audience experience.  Companies that view social as just another promotional channel don’t recognize the value they’re leaving on the table by not making social and their digital content strategy one-and-the-same.

I’m not advocating that media companies should ONLY be social on sites they control – after all, it’s critical that media companies go where audience lives.  Media companies should just have a strategy about when they’re using social channels for promotion vs a social entertainment experience that they’re trying to monetize.

Phase 3 – Relationship and Monetization Platform

Business justification: Audience want to interact with, and around my brands… why shouldn’t I build a longer-term, valuable relationship with them – one that I can monetize

Objective: Build brand value, and revenue

Few media companies have made the leap into this last phase, although many in the last 6-12 months are starting to make this transition.

Whether they’ve outsourced or not, in this phase media companies realize they have been giving away their three most valuable assets to 3rd parties:

1.       Premium content

2.       their brand and

3.       the data about the audience (or in other words, the direct relationship with consumers)

They look to remedy this situation by exerting more control over their content and brands to make sure they are realizing some of the value being created on these high-value, social entertainment experiences.  To achieve this, media companies begin to centralize staff and activities to realize economies / efficiencies of scale.  They also tend to adopt a portfolio approach to their social channels, segmenting them by them by the experience or value they add at each stage of a consumer’s engagement with that brand or content.

The actual monetization of content is highly dependent on what is appropriate for that brand, audience and the social channel in which the experience is happening.  Experimenting with what monetization efforts work with what social channels and audiences is the new Wild West.

I’d like to hear your perspectives on this. What phase is your company in?  What do you think  are the critical factors or items for a company to move from one phase to another?  Are there any companies doing a great job at monetizing content in the social channel?

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3 Comments.


  1. Our company work on the phase “Social” as Communications We are growing to next phase also in future too..I like your thoughts.Try to continue such type of stuff..

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  2. thank you it is nice article useful to all keep posting…

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  3. Monetisation of social media – especially Facebook – will not be successful until media organisations are allow to sell third party adverts on their pages and use the data collected by their pages to sell those adverts.

    Once those two issues are addressed, you’ll see a huge increase in the innovation that media companies are able to invest into social media. For now though, they are little more than link farms.

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