Only 12% of millennials trust the media, according to the latest survey of the key demographic Harvard Institute of Politics, a level of credibility lower even than that of Wall Street and Congress.
Millennial readers, growing up consuming and making media on the internet, are increasingly sophisticated. They’re sensitive to manipulation, and conscious that publicists, now outnumbering journalists by a factor of four, influence much of the news agenda; aware the technology of image manipulation has spread from celebrity magazine covers to the selfie; and skeptical of algorithmically selected news on social media, where accurate information is crowded out by viral sensation, and escalating commercial and self-promotion.
The new challenge for traditional media institutions is that members of this generation resist the tactics that work with the passive consumers of the past. They have other sources of information: each other. These digital natives connect with each other through social media and group messages, seek out fellow spirits in forums and comments, follow celebrities directly on Youtube and Instagram, and define their identity by joining in the often geeky sub-cultures that the internet has spawned.
It is easier for them to relate to the Gawker style, which shares many of the characteristics of social media. While most news organizations hide behind an institutional style, Gawker’s writers are like readers, individuals with a personal perspective. The tone of a story—whether playful, raw or provocative—is that of communication between people.
Each community, while a forum for open debate, has developed a distinct character. Gawker’s trademark is mischief and critical thinking unburdened by professional niceties. Gizmodo mixes a cool appreciation of good design with a sense of wonder at the world around us. Lifehacker is simply helpful. Deadspinbrings independent reporting and honest humor to the online conversation about sports. Kotaku is both playful and serious and Jalopnik the most enthusiastic of our communities. And Jezebel launched a roiling conversation about how feminism and womanhood are to be defined in our era. Each brand represents a shared lifestyle, culture and identity.
The company has recruited some of the most provocative creators and influential readers in digital media. Writers such Rich Juzwiak on Gawker, Drew Magary on Deadspin and Jia Tolentino on Jezebel have become widely-known personalities; and readers also develop their own followings by contributing opinions in response to a story.
With skeptical millennials, GMG brands, and the ideas that circulate through them, have credibility — which is manifested in the data.
- Because GMG writers and creators share their generation’s values, and tone, they each attract about five times as many online readers per head as their peers at traditional media companies. Without bought traffic or gaming social media, GMG has grown steadily in audience—putting aside Facebook algorithm changes and off-site traffic growth—from 50m unique visitors globally in 2011 to 100m per month in 2015.
- In June, GMG attracted more affluent millennials in the US than Vice with a staff less than a tenth the size: 16% of 18-34 year-olds with a household income in excess of $100,000, according to comScore.
- A significant number of people are still scrolling on a GMG story when the average visitor to a publisher site has clicked away or reached the end of the page, according to Chartbeat.
- Even repeated exposure to an advertising message by a loyal and engaged audience shows significant brand lift. Nielsen studied the response of GMG readers to an advertising campaign for a software product. When exposed, readers were 21% more likely to try the new version. When exposed more than 5 times, far from burning out, they were 25% more likely to upgrade.
- People who click through to native advertising on GMG properties spend more than two minutes reading the story to which they’ve been delivered.
- An important part of the customer journey takes place in the middle of what marketers call the purchase funnel. The consumer is already engaged; this is the point at which consideration and preference are shaped. GMG readers spend longer on a page, trust the motives of writers, and have the additional reference points of diverse opinions in the conversation; as a result they are more easily persuaded.
- A product recommendation on a GMG property, when clicked on, is three times as likely to result in a purchase. These usually take the form of a module—a contextually targeted ad with a prompt to buy—immediately below an editorial reference to the product. When consumers on GMG properties click on a BUY button, more than 9% complete the transaction, compared with 3% standard on the web.
- The engagement of Gawker Media Group readers, and the trust they have in product recommendations on the sites, are proven by the results of online offers. In the last year, through promotions on Gawker properties, DreamHost has gained 4,000 new clients for website hosting, Casper has sold more than 700 mattresses, Blue Apron added 2,500 new subscribers for their food delivery service, Udemy has sold 5,000 online classes, and Waves Gear more than 11,000 items of surf gear and accessories.
Impact is magnified by the social influence of GMG readers. Says an agency executive: What’s great about the sites is that they have such a sharp point of view and such an engaged audience. If the readers like it, they’ll share it and get behind it; they have that hungry audience.
Social media has changed the way marketers value and shape consideration. The best customer may not be one who buys the most but one who best advocates for the product to the most people. And the opinions and recommendations of others—peers, experts or simply those with a point of view—usually have more credibility than a brand’s company line or official marketing efforts.
Visitors to Gawker Media Group brands are highly educated, 57% more likely than the web average to have a college or postgraduate education according to @Plan, and they have social influence — the typical reader is broadly twice as likely than the web norm to seek or post product reviews, have more than four social network profiles, and become a fan or follow a brand.
In summary, GMG’s business is defined by the credibility of the stories and recommendations, the quality and engagement of the audience, and their propensity to purchase and influence. This combination makes for a unique advertising proposition.