Move Over, Unicorns: Here Comes Social-First Publishers

Thought Leadership

Gil Bar-Tur
5 min read

This article first appeared on MediaPost

In the tech world, we love to watch the unicorns, those rare (i.e., nearly mythical) privately held startups valued at more than $1 billion. But there is a new type of publisher that should command more urgent attention from anyone who cares about the future of digital media.

This emergent group is made mostly of social publishers, often with an entertainment focus, which have amassed millions of followers on social channels while maintaining much smaller followings on their directly operated properties.

These publishers aren’t influencers as we’ve come to know them, but a new kind of publishing brand with audiences that are large, decentralized, and fiercely loyal. To date, these publishers — entities like AuntyAcid, UNILAD, Topix, and others — have existed within social channels, following audiences across platforms as their names gain weight.

Unfortunately many of the environments that nurtured their rise to prominence are becoming more demanding. Diversification to new, emerging platforms will be vital to their livelihood and long-term viability.

As recently as three years ago, achieving and maintaining organic reach on social channels seemed a relatively straightforward and predictable exercise, provided your content — anything from photo-based memes to thought-provoking social commentary — kept pace with your audience’s expectations.

But regardless of the quality of your content these days, organic reach on social channels is no longer guaranteed. Any such publisher who lived through the Facebook algorithm change of January 2018 — which aimed to show more posts from friends and family and less public content — can attest to this fact.

This has caused many to doubt the future of this new class of publishers that have built their businesses within social and grown quickly through these channels.

I am more optimistic. There are plenty of reasons to believe these companies have the DNA not only to survive, but to thrive in today’s new publishing environment. That is, provided they make one critical adaptation.

Most of these companies have only recently started to consider the prospect of organizing and monetizing their own online properties. Such a transition may not come naturally to them. Building and running a website — not to mention driving traffic to it — represents a heavy and often costly lift. Nevertheless, it’s a path that some of the most forward-looking social publishers have decided to take — and they are seeing compelling results in the form of loyal and profitable new audiences.

This is where the inherently adaptable skills of social-first publishers can position them for long-term success. Adaptability across social channels has enabled this impressive creature to thrive in recent years, but as its native social habitats shrink, the real question becomes whether its nimble and adaptable toolset will be capable of survival on the open web. I think it will. As with any stage of evolution, one thing is certain: The future will belong to the fittest and most adaptive. And if nothing else, this breed of publishers is exactly that.

Gil Bar-Tur
Online publishing enthusiast, UX geek, and data science nerd. Combining all three of these brought Gil to start PubPlus: a platform allowing publishers to deep-dive into specific segments of information and extract insights in order to take action in real-time. He is also a self-confessed foodie with years of experience in restaurant selection.
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