Livingly Media Wants To Do Social Media, Mobile Better Than Traditional Media Companies

livingly 1Last year, Livingly Media’s entertainment site Zimbio attracted 1 million Facebook referrals a month. So far this year, it’s 20 million referrals a month.

“Facebook’s recent changes have been very beneficial for us,” said CEO Tony Mamone. He co-founded Zimbio Inc. (now Livingly Media) in 2006, and launched StyleBistro in 2010. In 2012, the company acquired shelter site Lonny. The sites draw millennial women, to the tune of 25 million unique visitors a month.

Going from 1 million to 20 million Facebook referrals a year wasn’t just the result of Facebook’s changing algorithms. Livingly looked at what kind of content performed well on social media and started making more of it.

“What it looks like Facebook is doing – and as a publisher you have to guess, because they’re not as communicative as other ecosystems – is that they are prioritizing posts where people click off and stay on that content for a long time,” Mamone said.

Livingly excels in those areas. “Our average session time post-click is three to four minutes. People browse 15 pages, when the average in the categories we compete in is five,” Mamone said.

Livingly gets that engagement by creating interactive content, like trivia contests and name generators. Instead of static content like a TV recap, Zimbio might offer a quiz like “Which Scandal Character Are You?” The company has found that readers share content that asks for their opinion or allows them to express themselves.

The same testing process occurs in other platforms. On Pinterest, which does particularly well for content on Lonny and StyleBistro, the company learned that increasing referrals wasn’t about creating a branded page filled with the editors’ pins. Most referral traffic came through organic pins, so the company made it easier to pin content on the page.

On Twitter, Mamone found that retweets and links don’t have much of an impact unless they come from a true influencer, someone with thousands of followers. “It’s more of a PR thing,” he said, like getting someone with a “Seinfeld”-related account to link to “Seinfeld” content produced by Zimbio.

Livingly does some amplification with social media. Facebook is “relatively price-effective and efficient.” But as a publisher, Livingly is “priced out of Pinterest and Twitter,” Mamone said . “They’re starting at a higher price point, with commerce spenders and national brand campaigns. As they roll it out, they’ll encourage more segments to participate at lower price points,” he predicted.

Livingly participates in content-recommendation engines like Taboola and Outbrain, and informally does link sharing with like-minded publishers. But Livingly does not try to earn money from placing out-links. Rather, it tends to get more incoming traffic, which costs money, rather than outbound traffic, which pays out.

“A lot of the big systems send great traffic, but you have to pay attention to do it well,” Mamone said. The company tracks the audience demographic profiles of visitors that arrive through these sources. If a site on a content-recommendation network sends Livingly lots of men, instead of millennial women , “we turn that off.”

With that monitoring in place, “we generally see pretty high-quality audiences” arriving through these sources, Mamone said, and “high engagement post-click.” Livingly will also optimize on its end, rethinking a headline that didn’t drive deep engagement.

Programmatic And Custom Advertising

About half of Livingly’s revenue comes from programmatic channels , and the other half from custom programs, like rich media or sponsored content.

“Programmatic feels like the Wild West right now,” Mamone said. “There are a lot of changes and flux as everyone figures it out.”

Most programmatic goes through Google AdX, though Livingly works with other supply-side platforms like Rubicon. Interest continues to grow in private marketplaces.

With some advertisers, Livingly will do managed tags, where both parties agree on a quantity and price, then let the campaign run without going through the full pipes involved in real-time bidding. Choosing between managed tags and a private marketplace often comes down to the advertiser’s preference, though managed tags tend to carry fewer technology fees on both ends.

For both direct and custom deals, Livingly will create custom segments for advertisers. It also optimizes campaigns based on the data advertisers pass back to them. It may shift impressions toward certain sections or audiences based on how a campaign performs.

Custom advertising programs using Livingly’s social-media-ready editorial style are also growing.

“A really deep partnership between the editorial team and brand is wildly popular right now,” Mamone said. Lonny created the quiz “What’s Your Perfect Playlist?” for speaker company Sonos, using its successful interactive-content formula to create sponsored material. The editorial content stands next to a custom skin and matching banner ads.

Livingly’s branding clients may see their content targeted to specific audience, but they tend to be less demanding about performance metrics than programmatic clients. These clients care more about interactions and viewability. Within rich media units, which contain video or slideshows, Mamone sees a shift to looking at engagement within the unit, not clickthrough off the page.

“The demand for data is predominantly on the programmatic side of the house right now,” Mamone said. “It’s clearly centered on the trading desk.”

Mobile Strategy

About 55% of the traffic on Livingly comes from mobile devices. Monetization lags behind, as it does for many publishers, but according to Mamone, it’s catching up.

The publisher designs all its content “mobile first, but not mobile only,” so even interactive content like a quiz flows smoothly on a small device. Its readers seem to notice. This year, Livingly saw time spent and pages viewed on mobile rise to be on par with desktop.

While apps get a lot of attention, and Lonny received considerable press for its iPad app launch in 2012, that’s since shifted.

“Our strategy is to embrace the mobile web,” Mamone said. “We moved away from apps where you have to subscribe and download, but [we] make it feel like an app, where it’s swipeable, even though it’s on the mobile web.”

It does pay attention to one app: Facebook. Focusing on the “mobile web browser has allowed us to grow and scale through the app that matters to us, which is Facebook. If we can get great content into Facebook , it grows our business.”

Keeping on top of the changing mobile landscape offers Livingly the opportunity to leverage its small size, which keeps it nimble. “From our perspective, we’re an independent media company, with three strong but emerging brands,” Mamone said. “Mobile provides for us an opportunity to win audiences away from traditional media brands. A lot of otherwise strong brands don’t have great experiences yet on mobile.”

Mamone’s noticed that as consumption changes, real estate like a homepage or an app matters less. “People are more interested in the specific article than following the website.” Distributing socially and through mobile apps helps Livingly keep in step with consumer behavior, and ultimately, advertiser dollars.

 

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