NEW YORK, United States — When Clique Media Group, the Los Angeles-based publisher of Who What Wear, Byrdie and My Domaine, launched its latest property, Obsessee, in March 2016, there was no glossy website with in-depth articles, full-bleed images or endless scroll for new readers to peruse. Instead, Obsessee.com is a simple landing page that links out to 10 different social-media platforms, ranging from Snapchat to Spotify.
General interest sites should be where the audience is. Where the audience is these days is on social.
What's more, Clique Media Group has no plans to publish content on its website. While digital publishers have traditionally built websites or blogs supported by activity on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook, the growing dominance of these platforms has encouraged them to reverse that strategy and, instead, focus on publishing directly to social media apps, where young consumers increasingly spend time. “Gen Z are not [visiting] dot coms,” says Katherine Power, co-founder and chief executive of Clique Media Group. “This is a very underserved group as far as great content goes.”
Obsessee’s team of four dedicates its time to posting stories, videos and images directly to social platforms, including their own personal accounts (though they do often drive traffic back to Clique’s more traditional properties). While the distribution model may be fairly unique, so is the content. Along with fashion, beauty, home and shopping — Clique’s usual subject matter — there is a broader lifestyle focus.
“We did a ton of research on this consumer, and there’s a real interest in food and learning how to cook,” Power says. “There’s a lot of food, music, pop culture and friendship. It’s certainly different.” The publisher has also brought on social media influencers like Allure Magazine digital beauty editor Kristie Dash, who takes over the brand’s Snapchat every Sunday, where she documents her day from morning until night. “We’re putting together a really interesting roster of personalities,” Power says.
The exciting part is the idea of how we'll monetise because advertising will be 100 percent integrated.
While Snapchat is Obsessee’s fastest-growing platform, the brand also has more Tumblr followers than on any other platform. So far, it has earned 9,200 followers on Instagram; 4,100 on Pinterest; 2,400 on Facebook; 1,910 on Twitter. Still in incubation mode, the publication has yet to bring on advertisers. “We’re really just focused on building the followers, engagement, content types,” Power says. “The exciting part of it for me is the idea of how we’ll monetise it because advertising will be 100 percent integrated. Maybe one of the girls is doing a manicure using products from a beauty brand, or taking a tour of a factory to see how a handbag line gets made.”
While it may still feel like an adventurous — if not exactly risky — move, Clique Media is just one of a handful of publishers to hatch new media concepts on social media. Popular, the brainchild of Nylon co-founders Marvin Scott Jarrett and Jaclynn Jarrett, launched in early 2015 via Twitter and Instagram before rolling out a website and a print publication. The Shade Room, an online entertainment publication that the New York Times has likened to “Instagram’s TMZ,” launched via the image-sharing app before eventually introducing Facebook and Twitter accounts and, then, a website. Insider, the general interest publication spun out of popular business site Business Insider debuted via social media in September 2015. Its URL, Thisisinsider.com, is set to go live this May, having already clocked up more than 2 million Facebook followers and 22,000 Instagram followers to its name.
Sweet, a joint venture between Hearst and Snapchat, launched via the platform’s Discover feature in November 2015. Highbrow without being too pretentious, the lifestyle publication features zippy travel guides of hot spots like Mexico City and Portland, Oregon, as well as indie designer profiles and grooming guides. Sweet, too, has subsequently launched a website, which runs top stories from the app. But it's clear that each of these initiatives is focused on social media as a core publishing platform, not merely a marketing machine to drive traffic to a website.
“It’s all created with the Snapchat medium in mind, all original for Sweet,” says Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief and editorial director of Hearst Magazines Joanna Coles, who is on Snapchat’s board of directors. (The publication is under her broad purview at Hearst, where she is also editorial director of Seventeen.) Launching in partnership with Snapchat — where owning real estate on its Discover platform guarantees a certain level of exposure and promotion — has allowed Sweet to develop a more nuanced personality than what might be expected for mass distribution. “It’s hard to think of another way, certainly in old media, where you would be able to launch directly to such a big audience,” she continues. “It’s not supposed to be the most mainstream voice out there, it’s supposed to be a quirkier take.”
Nicholas Carlson, editor-in-chief of Insider, says the shift from URLs to social media is a natural parallel as readers shift from desktop PCs to mobile. According to a March 2016 report by Comscore, mobile accounts for 65 percent of the time spent on all digital media, with mobile apps alone making up 56 percent. (Only 35 percent of total time spent is on desktop.) “General interest sites should be where the audience is,” he says. “Where the audience is these days is on social.” (In February 2016, Comscore’s top 15 smartphone apps included Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Pinterest.)
But will advertisers follow? Given that experts project digital will surpass television as the biggest advertising category by 2017 (according to Interpublic Group’s Magna Global) or 2018 (says Publicis Groupe’s ZenithOptimedia), more and more of those ad dollars are bound to be targeted toward social media platforms. Just this week, it was announced that Facebook would now allow publications to post native ads on their pages outside of the platform’s ad units, something that was prohibited in the past.
While analytics on many of these platforms aren’t as easy to come by as with a traditional website, it’s often the promise of engagement that currently makes it worthwhile for a brand. “It’s a little bit of trust and sentiment analysis,” says Tony King, co-founder and chief executive of digital agency King & Partners, which played a role in the launch of Popular. “It’s more about talking in a positive way about a brand than getting a lot of likes.”
Sweet’s alliance with Snapchat has garnered the publication a captive audience, so it’s perhaps no surprise retailers including eBay and Spring have secured ad spots between stories. However, there is no way on Snapchat to click through from an ad to a URL, which makes it challenging to calculate conversion rates. “I think there’s been a change of mentality where instead of thinking, how do we get the audience to our content, it’s about where do we get the content for our audience,” King says. “Brands are understanding that they have to be quite sophisticated about this stuff.”
Perhaps the most sophisticated is Burberry, which in early April became the first luxury brand to launch an advertorial on Snapchat's Discover channel. The native ad ran for 24 hours in Discover’s first slot, promoting its latest men’s fragrance, Mr. Burberry. But King believes most brands still need to partner with editorial publications to reach the right consumer. “Burberry is the exception to the rule here,” he says. “If they go to a platform, people will follow them. There aren’t that many brands that have that sort of power across social media.”
For publishers, the old adage, “if you build it, they will come,” simply no longer applies. “The core to what we do is find great stories, and then we tell those stories in the best way possible for the platform,” says the Insider’s Carlson. “We take full advantage of the medium.”
Editor's Note: This article was revised on April 12th 2016. A previous version of this article misstated that Obsessee's Tumblr following is the highest of any Clique Media Group property. Obsessee's Tumblr has the highest followers of Obsessee platforms.