Strategies can be easily thrown off balance by the distraction of what feels like an endless stream of glossy new products, startups and tech. Success in publishing requires focus; allocating resource to channels that offer genuine value to the business and the audience, and being strong enough to say no to the others.
At the end of 2018, Media Voices interviewed Claus Enevoldsen, Head of Growth & Product Marketing at Flipboard. Flipboard tends to offer genuine value to many of our clients and given its startling growth this year – Flipboard now ranks just behind Google News and Twitter for publisher referral traffic – we’ve collated the key points from the conversation.
What is Flipboard?
Flipboard is a news and social media aggregation tool. It presents content from online publications, photo sharing platforms and more in a magazine-influenced format which allows users to ‘flip’ through stories easily.
Enevoldsen describes Flipboard as a “curation platform where people come to consume quality content”. Their mission, he says, is to “inform and inspire the world.” Flipboard’s audience use the app both to consume fast-moving news and dive more deeply into their personal interests. Stories are catalogued in ‘magazines’ that users create or follow: hubs for the kind of content they regularly read – you could create your own cycling magazine, follow another user’s magazine about music or simply follow publications you love. Flipboard is an ad-supported platform with contextual advertisements, and Enevoldsen claims they have twice the ad recall of other platforms.
Why is it worth our time?
Flipboard now boasts 145 million engaged monthly users. This doesn’t appear to be a vanity metric: Enevoldsen states that “the only way that you’re really part of that number is if you have actively opened…and engaged with Flipboard in any given month”.
Enevoldsen claims that Flipboard works on a ‘publisher first’ basis – that “Flipboard won’t succeed if publishers don’t succeed”. It’s a platform-agnostic service, preloaded on Samsung devices and it directs traffic straight to publishers’ sites, allowing them to monetise that traffic in their own environment.
2018 marked a period of rapid growth which Enevoldsen attributes to:
A quality experience. “In this world today, it’s a world of fake news, of dubious sources, and…people are really looking for this…high quality content haven”. Flipboard aims to work only with quality publishers. Their editorial teams will look to a website to confirm queries like ‘does this website have bylines?’, ‘does this website issue corrections?’. Their technical teams will vet websites for red flags such as an abundance of ad pop-ups or slow loading pages.
A shift in collective mindset. Users are beginning to become more conscious of the time they spend on their phones and Flipboard aims for ‘time well spent’, in which users can reach quality content quickly and easily.
A combination of user experience, strong algorithms and human curation. Enevoldsen describes Flipboard as “a technology company with media values”, combining a machine learning team with 25-30 editors who ensure algorithms don’t “run amok”. In the Politics section, for instance, Flipboard’s editors curate content from the left, the right and the centre equally, aiming to prevent the algorithm from funnelling one political alignment to a given user.
Earlier this year, Flipboard conducted a mindset study with Kantar Millward Brown, studying over 2,000 smartphone users in the US and the UK to track motivations for opening social and news apps. Flipboard was compared to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and “…over-indexed dramatically on the motivation to invest in yourself”. Enevoldsen believes that people come to Flipboard to better themselves. “There’s a direct correlation between that, and then spending more time with the articles, and that’s something that the publishers really value.”
Recently, we at Mathematics were lucky enough to have a chat with Jessica Elsey, Flipboard’s UK News Editor. Jess handles publisher on-boarding and day-to-day editorial management; working with publications and helping them experience every potential benefit that Flipboard has to offer. Flipboard works with over 4000 publishers, content creators and blogs – 250 of which are specific to the UK – and welcome the opportunity to introduce new publishers to the platform. Here’s what Jess had to say.
Isn’t Flipboard’s content curation algorithm-led?
The vast majority is, but one crucial thing that Jess and her team assemble by hand is Flipboard’s daily ‘10 For Today’ email roundup, a round-up of Flipboard’s favourite articles of the day.
I’m looking at today’s, and I can see ‘Is the beauty industry doing enough to tackle plastic pollution?’ on The Independent directly above The Atlantic’s ‘Growing Up in a House Full of Perfect Dogs’. It’s super varied, and quality is the only criterion. Music publishers: I’ve seen list features included, too.
Flipboard has dedicated ‘news teams’ in the UK and the US whose job it is to decide which news is featured in Flipboard. Once a story that covers a certain event is chosen, these news teams consult Flipboard’s partnered publishers to try to find coverage of the same story with an alternative angle. This human side to curation aims to uphold no political bias.
So what can publishers do to get the most out of Flipboard?
If a publisher wants their content on Flipboard, they must be aware that Flipboard only accepts RSS feeds. Bigger publications should submit multiple RSS feeds to Flipboard, grouped according to topic. Here’s British GQ’s Culture page, which serves as a great example. Users tend to follow Flipboard Magazines that focus on their interests, rather than specific publications.
In fact, the number of followers on a publisher’s Flipboard profile no longer correlate with success on the platform – historically, Flipboard didn’t have the topic system, so users would follow profiles. Now, though, most traffic is driven through topic feeds.
Flipboard’s team can add Magazines as a recommended source on a selected topic if they feel they offer something unique, and subsequently valuable to a user.
If you want to pitch Flipboard’s editorial team content for 10 For Today, a recommended source, or anything else in mind, there’s an email address for that. The team are always welcoming and receptive to pitches.
What types of content do best on Flipboard?
If you want an exhaustive list of the top 50 most popular topics in the UK from the last four weeks, brace yourself, because here it is:
Celebrity News (UK)
English Premier League
Personal Finance (UK)
Don’t forget: while these are the most popular topics on Flipboard, they’re also the most populous!
Is there anything else I should be aware of?
If you notice a significant traffic spike, it’s likely come from a push notification.
Publishers are notified via email when their content is picked up by curators. This email is sent once the feature is live, not in advance of being featured.
What does the future look like for Flipboard?
Enevoldsen states that Flipboard is already a global platform, with 20% of the audience in the US and 80% in the rest of the world. Historically, the US has been the primary focus, but Europe is now a priority – “we have a dedicated team in Europe, in the UK, that are actively engaging both with advertisers and publishers”.
Parse.ly currently tracks Flipboard as accounting for 1.8% of publishers’ referral traffic, putting them just behind Google News and Twitter. We’re personally seeing relatively regular traffic spikes from Flipboard and while this traffic isn’t yet as valuable for driving loyalty as, say, newsletter traffic or Google News traffic, it’s still of a good quality for the majority of our publishers.
With that in mind, we’d recommend sending that first pitch to Jess and her team, if you haven’t done so already. Introducing and familiarising yourself preemptively will help you get a leg-up on the competition, before Flipboard proliferates further this side of the Atlantic.
Traffic from Flipboard clicks through directly to publisher sites, so you’re able to court audiences within your environment, segment the audience and analyse behaviour to drive them from casual visitor to brand lover. Fast page speed is imperative as it’s so easy for the user to jump back into the app and find another result. Lastly, intrusive ads are a big no-no; Flipboard requests no ads on “100% of the first visible page”.
Flipboard face significant competition from Apple News, but being platform agnostic and publisher focused gives them significant differentiation.
Listen to Enevoldsen’s full interview here. Find out more about the ever-brilliant Media Voices here.