Paid Social & Email (12/14–5/15)

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How I helped boost traffic for the Reader’s travel section by 25% and Facebook likes by 12% (2–7/15) via paid social & email contest promotion and social media strategy.


Content & SEO strategy: improve traffic & audience engagement with a contest promotion to drive publication of relevant content – articles on closer-to-home weekend destinations
Business: attract new writing talent to the weekly San Diego newspaper’s unique open-submissions travel section (100% of content from readers)
Social media: boost Reader site visibility using social “word-of-mouth” strategies and paid social

The Way Forward

December 2014: I’d managed Travel content and social media since 2009 in limited part-time work – a “side project” gig I’d been able to help with given a family connection to the San Diego Reader.

The travel section of a newspaper is never its most popular; in print, it’s usually buried somewhere towards the back. And most alternative weeklies & media sites don’t even bother. The obvious reason for this: travel articles, while they might inspire adventures to far-flung destinations, just don’t impact us as online-media users on a daily basis.

Still, travel content is fun to work with, and I was happy to help out with social media (pictured), and on the CMS side managing & publishing with an eye on SEO and diversifying content – even creating interactive guides using the curation tool Storify.

But after a few years of doing the work and seeing the section grow, I saw opportunity to make the Travel section a little more relevant to a local readership by encouraging article submissions that your average site visitor would be prompted to click on because they were actually more useful, more “bookmark”-worthy, and more likely to lead to repeat traffic. In other words, weekend getaway article content where the typical reader could get to the destination in less than 4-5 hours. No need for expensive airfare.

January–March 2015: So in January, I came up with a Getaway Contest promotion to encourage visits, attract more locally focused travel stories, and spotlight the paper’s unique open-submissions content.

We used a combination of email promotion, Reader print & digital ads (pictured), and social media paid ads to attract publicity, with the grand prize a Southwest Airlines travel voucher.

The sheer variety of contest submissions was impressive, and certainly deciding the winners wasn’t easy – but another challenge was how to take advantage of the increase in attention to not just boost site traffic temporarily, but grow audience organically. I decided to use email and social as a “word-of-mouth” tool so winners had an easy way to publicize their published article themselves. By sharing a Facebook or Twitter post from Reader Travel, for example, 1) there was exponential potential for likes/retweets and views, 2) we could factor the social signals into awarding prizes, and 3) it was more about them, not us.

The results in terms of traffic and engagement:

1) Pre-contest promotion (2-3/15): +29.7% traffic over previous two months
2) Contest publication (4-5/15): +31.0% traffic over previous two months
3) Post-contest (6-7/15): sustained +25.0% increase over pre-contest (12/14-1/15) traffic
4) +12% increase in Facebook page likes via social promotion (4-5/15)

Fast-forward about a year, and I don’t have nearly as much time as I once did for a project like this. The Travel section’s still averaging 1-2 travel articles per week. I think the biggest takeaway is that we’ve continued to get great Weekend Getaway stories that are as a rule our most-clicked travel content.

Would I try this type of social media strategy again, using a contest as a promotional tool? Overall the Reader has no lack of engaging content, in my opinion.

BUT… for other sites and future projects, I could see contests working from an off-page SEO perspective (e.g., improve link-building via more engaged blog traffic).