SFGate and HuffPost Aim for Social Media Monetization

News organizations appear to be paying more and more attention to social media as a possible way of improving monetization of their Web sites. Sites like SFGate and The Huffington Post believe their efforts will pay off.

SFGate said last week that using Facebook Connect has led to a sharp increase in pageviews originating from Facebook.com since implementing the app in January. The free-to-the-public Connect app lets users sign in to third-party sites with their Facebook accounts, and when they post a comment at a particular site, it automatically surfaces at their Facebook page for friends to view. The comments can also appear via viewers’ Facebook newsfeed, which gets displayed to their friends on the social media site.

The online publication, which started its Facebook account in early 2008, said that it saw a 1,597 percent year-over-year growth during July for pageviews coming from the social media site, while last month’s numbers also revealed a 397 percent spike when compared to June. According to Johanna Hoadley, senior project manager and social media producer for SFGate, the online arm of Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle, the site’s monthly unique visitors hit 13 million in July — up from the 12 million it averaged in early winter. Hearst reportedly considered shutting down or selling the financially-troubled Chronicle earlier this year.

“The news industry as a whole is taking a good hard look at how we are monetizing our product,” Hoadley said. “And social media, I personally think, is going to be a core part of how we are going to keep readers engaged. And then we just need to figure out how it works from a business perspective. And we are working on it.”

The site integrated Facebook Connect into a system offered by Pluck, part of Demand Media, in December. The system places Facebook Connect into SFGate’s platform, while doing heavier lifting by integrating other features for the news org’s online community.

Hoadley said the Facebook results of recent months led the site to begin targeting Twitter users recently. Since then, registered SFGate members who tweet have had the same set of capabilities as Facebook users, along with an extra feature posting their latest tweets automatically on their SFGate profiles.

“The larger our audience, the more diverse our audience, the better we are able to deliver people that will be interested in [our advertisers’] products,” Hoadley said. “Our traffic growth has continued throughout this year, even as financial times have gotten tough.”

SFGate isn’t the only publication making social media noise recently. Earlier this month, The Huffington Post launched “HuffPost Social News,” a ramped-up version of the way the site has been using Facebook Connect this year. The site now allows readers to create a personalized social-networking-like page on HuffingtonPost.com. James Smith, chief revenue officer at The Huffington Post said the move will increase online conversations between users of both sites, allowing advertisers to better target an often politically-minded audience.

“It’s going to allow marketers to get closer to a smart conversation,” Smith said. “From what we understand, we think that marketers are asking, ‘How can we become part of the party?’ This will allow them more access and insight into the types of conversations their potential consumers are having.”

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