Elle’s Beckham success offers Twitter hope for magazines

David Beckham is Elle's first solo male cover star

Whether you have him semi-naked and wet, or hand on head pouting, Elle’s July issue featuring David Beckham out now is set to cause ripples beyond the magazine’s core female readership.

Its industry significance lies not in the fact it’s the fashion monthly’s first solo male cover star, although that was enough to ensure excited media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, with ITV’s Daybreak and ABC’s Good Morning America leading the charge; but rather in what the Hearst editorial team did before the magazine even hit the newsstands.

Led by editor-in-chief Lorraine Candy, the Beckham issue represents the magazine’s most concerted foray yet into harnessing social media.

The premise is simple enough, Elle is seeking to better leverage its cover-shoots, traditionally the most time-consuming and expensive outlay for any monthly glossy and still its best promotional tool.

By providing behind-the-scenes news, photos and video from the Beckham shoot in Los Angeles via its twitter feed @Elleuk (310,000+ followers), and its Facebook page (200,000+ fans), Elle is hoping to ultimately boost copy sales.

Lorraine Candy speaking at PPA's Publishing+

Speaking at the PPA Publishing+ conference last month, Candy explained how the strategic approach to social media has been led by senior editorial people, dismissing the idea that just anyone can do it.

“Actually you have to be a journalist,” she said. “You have to know what information to put out there, you need to create conversation, you need to ask questions, you need to be very mindful and thoughtful of the tone you use in Twitter. It can’t just go out.”

The magazine first trialled its social activity with its Kristen Stewart issue a month earlier, reported to have doubled the magazine’s subscriptions for one day. According to Candy, the trick lies in not simply giving all the unique content away, but rather layering it as part of a wider promotional agenda.

“We don’t want to completely open the doors, but just to create exclusive content and have a little bit of the door opening,” she said.

A teaser 10 second video was made available on Elle’s site, with a longer full-length video for subscribers-only going live when the issue hit the newsstands last week (30 May). Users were invited to submit their own questions for Beckham, but had to buy the magazine to know if their question made the cut.

Followers were also urged to subscribe by 16 May to receive the limited edition cover and access to the full-length exclusive video of the Beckham shoot. Meanwhile, the first 50 subscribers received Beckham’s £25 scent The Essence.

A new way to drive copy sales

Candy described the response, which was tracked around the world through analytics, as “fascinating”, adding: “I think it’s a slightly different way of looking at driving to subscribe and driving to the newsstand.

“I was able to talk to my readers, really, really quickly, which in the history of my 25 years working in magazines, I’ve never been able to do before.”

Page impressions on ElleUk.com were up 664% on the day of the Beckham shoot, and the exclusive video was viewed more than 6,000 times within the first 24 hours. During the shoot, Elle tracked a 116% increase in global users from Facebook and Twitter, generating 21,898 page views.

Elle's Facebook stats

The post on Facebook.com/ElleUk has been ‘liked’ more than over 22,638 times and received a staggering 11,000 comments.

The editor-in-chief credits the social media activity with offering a better way of targeting potential readers than the usual ruse of coverage in the national press, which also requires her to give away valuable content to another publisher.

Beckham, the former Manchester United and England football player, is set to be among the stars of London 2012 when he represents Team GB this summer, and Elle stands to benefit.

“We’ve got the Olympics right up until the end of August and we’ve got exclusive content every time someone types in David Beckham,” said Candy.

It’s early days, but the 43-year-old editor believes there could be a future commercial model for publishers based around creating bespoke projects, where publishers utilise the real-time reach of social media.

She offered: “We need to be in their lives every minute of the day, otherwise print never will survive. We are driving to print from different journeys, and there are commercial bits along that path that we haven’t even begun to utilise yet.”

In words the wider industry will find reassuring, Candy references an old-fashioned sound-bite as one of her key social media learnings to-date, “content is still king”. Candy said: “I think there is an element that says there is some kind of dark art around social media and digital, and you can only work in it if you are trained. That’s not true.

“If you’re a good journalist, and you always adhere to the mantra that content is king, social media is just a new way for us to get that content out.”

Hearst’s experimentation comes amid ongoing uncertainty about how journalists should best use Twitter. A recent poll by Portland found the number of tweets posted by UK journalists fell for the first time by almost 25% in the first three months of 2012 – 80,000 fewer than the previous quarter.

The drop can be attributed to many of those operating in traditional media outlets scaling back their use of the platform, presumably in favour of holding content for more traditional/commercial outlets.

It’s early days, but Elle’s latest foray and the opportunities for professional publishers are promising. The editor admits future explorations could even include expanding the quintessential fashion brand beyond its traditional remit.

“Digital gives us that opportunity,” said Candy. “The edit is what we do. Everyone’s a reporter now. Everyone is reporting what’s going on around the world, but the edit is what we own.”

Follow me on Twitter: @DurraniMix