On 18 March, WideCells Group PLC (LON:WDC) shares rocketed around 40% in late-afternoon after it announced it would be changing its name to Iconic Labs PLC and establishing a new media business focused on online marketing, content and technology products.
While the swerve in direction from the stem cell researcher is undoubtedly big news, what was equally as important is its new executive team, with new chief executive, John Quinlan, and chief business officer, Liam Harrington, being brought onboard from social first publishing site UNILAD, which is currently one of the biggest news and entertainment sites in the world, with around 42mln followers on its Facebook page.
But what exactly is social first publishing and how can it help UNILAD grow into a behemoth in five years with just £200-worth of share capital?
The “added extra” of social media
Putting it simply, social first publishing is creating content designed for the platform it is consumed on, with posts on sites such as Facebook being different to video clips uploaded to YouTube or images shared on Instagram.
For example, you may need to subtitle videos that are posted on Facebook as people could be viewing them on the go, while YouTube can be used for longer videos that users will take the time to watch.
The strategy relies on understanding the intricacies of social media sites and how content is filtered through their various algorithms, with posts linked to certain trends or topics more likely to be pushed to the top of the pile than those that aren’t.
This contrasts with traditional methods where a piece of content is often modified to fit the platform it is posted on, which can sometimes fall through the cracks.
Speaking to Proactive, Quinlan says that the social first method forms a key part of the new generation of content creation, with an “added extra” being the wealth of data accumulated from a “constant feedback loop” of content going out and then receiving feedback from user activity.
This stream of data is crucial to creators as it allows them to shift their strategies to target audiences based on trends, increasing the likelihood that their posts will gain more exposure.
There is also the factor of distribution, with the simple act of posting a piece of content on a social media site granting immediate access to the site's audience rather than trying to direct them via a link to another site. This improves the user experience and encourages people to interact with the content for longer.
In the case of UNILAD, Quinlan says the site was reaching over 500mln people a month through its presence on various social media sites.
Social first publishing can also be used as a launch pad or testing ground for new content and ideas, Quinlan says.
Advertisers need experts
The attractiveness of social first publishing isn’t lost on advertisers, who are increasingly moving away from traditional platforms to target the rapidly expanding social media user base.
Given that around 2.8bn people use social media, that is a massive audience to service.
However, with such a huge web of platforms, all with their own content types and algorithms, most advertisers are likely to need specialists who can help navigate the digital landscape.
That’s where firms like Iconic Labs come in, with Quinlan saying one of the company’s unique selling points is their top team’s experience of not just helping others operate in the space but working in it themselves while at UNILAD.
“Our key skill is using social media tools for what they’re meant for, discovering new things and building brands.”
With digital advertising spend expected to increase to US$335bn in 2020 from US$270bn in 2018, expertise in social first seems set to become even more sought after.