One of L2’s core beliefs is that the level of engagement reflected by an online community is equally important as the size and growth of that community. This presents a challenge to social media managers, because typically, size and engagement are inversely related. As a brand’s online community grows to encompass fanatics and enthusiasts alike, the brand’s ability to produce fresh content that appeals to everyone can quickly reach its upward limits. Consequently, fans interested in specialized content are marginalized and the overall growth rate of these communities begins to plateau.


During our examination of the magazine industry last summer, we observed an intriguing approach to social media undertaken by Sports Illustrated (Time Inc.). At the time of the study period (May-June), SI had accumulated over 100k fans on Facebook and nearly 300k followers on Twitter. However, those numbers only reflect SI’s primary accounts. When L2 examines a brand’s social media profile, we register any “sub-account” that is actively cross-promoted by the brand as part of their extended digital footprint. SI was relatively unique in that it had cultivated nearly 10 sub-accounts on each platform, many reflecting mature social media dynamics.


Four months later, we are finally able to assess whether or not this distributed approach proved effective. One key observation derived from this new data is that the growth rate of the aggregated sub-accounts exceeds the growth rate of the primary account (by 1.6x on Facebook and over 3.3x on Twitter).


By equipping secondary brands, original blogs, thematic content, and individual contributors with their own social media credentials, SI is able to avoid the generic trap summarized above, preserve engagement within targeted communities, and extend growth beyond the saturation point of the primary account. Moreover, they are able to easily observe what content performs on which platform – the Swimsuit Issue on Facebook and Peter King’s personality on Twitter – and adjust investment accordingly.


Food for thought heading into next year:

  • Average # of secondary accounts on Facebook maintained by magazine brands: 1.4
  • Average # of secondary accounts on Twitter maintained by magazine brands: 1.25

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