Flipboard Claims User Curation Drives Content Sharing

Ever since Apple announced its upcoming magazine-like News app and aggregation service for iOS 9 at WDDC this month, the inventor of that format has been doing its best to act cool about it all. Flipboard founder Mike McCue snarked that the upcoming Apple News looked a lot like “something that we actually shipped five years ago.” Nah, they’re not intimidated by Apple. Not a bit.

It just so happens Flipboard has been on a charm offensive in the weeks after the Apple announcement, with an update that allows users to add personal content to their curated magazines. McCue is quite right that Flipboard started as an aggregator of news and blog content that uses social networks as the main algorithm. In recent years, however, it is being driven as much by user-curated magazines. In responding to the Apple threat, Flipboard emphasizes its social- and user-driven engine.

In trying to turn marketers’ heads away from Apple’s unreleased bright shiny object, however, the company is also arguing that sharing and curation are key to advertiser success in these environments. Flipboard released case studies last week outlining how content marketing campaigns from Intel and Merrill Lynch achieved enhanced reach through a combination of viral sharing and redistribution through user curation.



The two companies created content as part of their own branded magazines on Flipboard, a common use of the platform by brands. Via Flipboard’s new paid media “Promoted Items” product, stories from the magazines were seeded into the relevant topical channels of Flipboard news. An Intel story, “Top 6 Science Inventions You Probably Never Heard Of” went into the tech channel, while Merrill’s “The Coming Water Crisis…And What We Can Do To Solve It” ran in business feeds. Both were clearly marked as sponsored stories, with authorship attributed to the respective companies.  

The campaigns included other promoted stories, and achieved a range of CTRs of 1.5% to 9% (average of 4%). (The inventions story from Intel attracted a 8.7% CTR, while Merrill’s water story got 8.6%). But it was the earned engagement off  the paid CTR response that drove overall reach. Readers can not only share and like stories, but also “flip” them to become part of their own curated magazines. Flipboard saysit saw cases where stories were not only shared but then reshared at levels that matched the original organic shares. Up to 24% of total shares came from earned, rather than paid, reach.

Flipboard has created a FlipMarketer site collecting branded magazines and recent articles.       

Apple’s News announcement underscores an emerging tension between two schools of thought about news aggregation in the digital age. Apple and many traditional brand media like to emphasize the value of marquee media brands and human curation. The heavily edited and curated daily briefing has become an attractive style for Yahoo, Quartz, NYTimes and others. Even BuzzFeed just launched a news app last week that offers a curated at-a-glance section of top stories.

On the other hand, rivals like Flipboard, Zite, News Republic, Reddit, etc. lean more heavily, if not always exclusively, on social curation to surface the right content for a given person or on a given topic. Arguing “What is the news?” is a longstanding sport among journalists, editors and publishers. The role of bottom-up or top-down curation is as old a debate as the “yellow journalism” of the 1890s that tried to scale up newspaper circulation (mainly to increase ad reach for the new retail advertising category) with sensationalistic content.

But this tension between editor-curated and user-curated news has some advertising implications as well. If Flipboard’s claims are true, then one might argue that socially curated environments are themselves more conducive to content sharing and re-curation, an activity that includes paid and earned content marketing. On the other hand, of course editorially curated prestige media content will always claim a halo effect for advertisers. It may also try to claim that content from and within these environments are more readily shared because sharers tend to circulate prestige media content more often because it reflects well on the sharer.

Mobility escalates the importance of curation, brevity and personalization of news in new ways. As Flipboard’s initial salvo suggests, these new formats spark new conversations about the relative value of different contexts for advertisers.         

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