American Media turns to influencers for referral traffic

American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, OK! and Radar Online, is paying more attention to the Instagram-famous.

After years of getting occasional referral traffic from celebrities sharing their stories, the above titles, along with their fitness-focused sister brands, which include Men’s Fitness, are now devoting more coverage in 2018 to promoting the exploits and side hustles of internet influencers, partly to serve audience need and partly to tap into a vital, cost-effective source of mobile referral traffic.

Here’s how it works: Editors from a publisher sit down with an influencer and collaborate with them on content about one of their endeavors. Once the content is live, said influencer distributes the content through their social channels, with the publisher paying for the resulting referral traffic, at a rate lower than the going rate for Facebook traffic.

American Media stressed that all its coverage decisions will be editorially driven.

“In an audience development landscape where reach is declining, you almost throw your hands up and say, ‘Where can I reach the people I was reaching three years ago?’” said Eli Lippman, the director of digital for American Media Inc. “This is a win-win. We get the audience we want; they get access to our editorial team.”

American Media has experimented with one-off influencer partnerships for years. But over the past few months, its audience development team has been focused on creating content for influencers affiliated with Relic, a network of influencers that claims a combined digital reach of 150 million users, with 65-70 percent of it concentrated on Instagram.

Relic’s founder, Nik Richie, said the Relic network drives between 100,000 and 200,000 unique sessions per day across all of those platforms, either to publishers or brands.

Lippman declined to share specifics about how much traffic this strategy drives, saying only that it was an “enticing” amount of its referral traffic, one he intends to grow in 2018. American Media pays the influencers for distribution on a CPM basis, though it declined to offer specifics on price.

American Media pays for distribution across multiple platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. In cases when Facebook posts resonate with their intended audience, Lippman said, American Media will put a paid budget toward promoting those posts as well.

Though Instagram is the principal area of focus, members of Relic’s network also distribute to Facebook and Twitter. The arrangement is similar to one popularized many years ago, after publishers realized that the large followings that celebrities had amassed on platforms like Facebook offered an opportunity for traffic arbitrage.

Facebook has begun closing that loophole, most recently changing its branded-content guidelines in a way that prohibits Facebook page owners from accepting “anything of value” in exchange for sharing content they had no hand in creating.

Because this content involves direct participation from the influencer, both Richie and Lippman believe their arrangement isn’t subject to the guideline change. And in any case, both see more promise in Instagram, which continues to grow and features a growing population of internet-famous people eager for an opportunity to monetize their presence on the platform.

While Instagram accounts for a small sliver of global referral traffic — less than half of 1 percent, according to Parsely data — it has grown substantially as a referral traffic source over the past year. Over the past 12 months, the share of referral traffic it’s driven has more than tripled, surpassing LinkedIn, per Parsely data.

“Instagram’s the future of this market,” Richie said.

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