What can media companies learn from Amazon, top social media sites about social transactions?


Selling subscriptions is an age-old game of paying careful attention to types of campaigns, the pricing of campaigns, and the response mechanisms employed. Many articles have been written about these subjects, whether it’s about selling digital subscriptions or what and where you should sell.

However, one of the most thought-provoking pieces I read recently was from fellow INMA blogger Scott Stines, who wrote about making sure you really cover the “last three feet” of a marketing campaign before you get started. I thought all of his points were excellent, but two of them really stuck out:

  • Make it easy to buy.

  • Keep it simple.

These are two pieces that are too often missing in many media companies’ arsenals.

Here at The News Tribune and The Olympian, we wanted to change this, so we implemented custom subscription pages from Newspaper Subscription Services (NSS).

These pages are tailored for each of our markets. The first step is getting a ZIP code to verify first that we can deliver, and second, that we offer the right subscription to our audience.

We have different pricing structures for two distinct portions of our market, so this was an important piece to implement. We have also worked with NSS to develop campaign-specific pages that allow users to enter a campaign code along with their ZIP code, and we can even tailor the offer to key ZIP codes if that is our intent.

This has really provided us a quick turn-key solution to make it easier for our audience to subscribe, and give them a quick way to do it.

There are also several intriguing developments coming down this avenue on the social side of purchasing. Amazon recently launched #AmazonCart, which allows its followers on Twitter to purchase items by responding to tweets and using the hashtag #AmazonCart.

I tried this with a Polaroid digital camera I saw advertised on Twitter. I replied, “@amazon Love this. So modern yet retro. #AmazonCart.” Less than 15 seconds later, the item was in my cart, ready for purchase. This kind of innovation is what makes Amazon stand out above other online retailers.

Two other online giants are also making big moves in the social purchasing area. Last week, Facebook announced it was testing a “buy” button on ads and “page” posts for select businesses in the United States.

Twitter announced it has acquired CardSpring, with a goal of bringing “in-the-moment commerce experiences to our users.” Twitter has also been reported by several users to have tested a “buy now” button in the wild, but it has not been officially released.

What these acquisitions should tell us is that it is time for publishers to begin testing purchasing ideas in the arena of social media. We have at our newspapers more than 35,000 Facebook fans and about the same number of Twitter followers. Imagine if we could quickly sell not only subscriptions, but niche products, as well.

A “buy” button on Facebook would have played nicely when we were selling our Super Hawks book in February after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, allowing our fans to buy our product without ever leaving our Facebook page.

These coming changes are most likely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social purchases. Instagram would be a prime candidate, but it doesn’t currently support link sharing within captions. Pinterest is another obvious choice and could work well with reselling digital or print reprints of a publisher’s photos.

Down the road, although not too far down, I can see social purchasing taking a step with WhatsApp and SnapChat. These social companies have to monetise their products, much as publishers do, and this is one more way to do it.

Of course, as a publisher, we do have to be sure that we are selling the right product on these engines and using the advertising tools to our advantage. Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with Sterne Agee, says: “Part of the motivation just has to be to make the whole advertising process easier, to prove the returns and the conversion rates.”

That is something we have not seen Facebook or Twitter prove yet, and it will be a necessary element for them to prove to continue getting buy-in to their advertising services.

To sum all this up, we as publishers need to just keep abreast of these changes and be willing to test these new methods of doing business. Just as these online companies are being innovative, we need to follow suit and either use these innovations, or think up some of our own.

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