Lloyd's List grabbed twitter's shipping news pole position; here's their formula...
By Ryan Skinner (email)
I talked with informa's Head of Digital Mark Warner (essentially, the guy behind Lloyd's List's twitter feed, among other things) about how Lloyd's List dived into twitter, why they did it and what they're achieving.
Warner went to Lloyd's List fresh out of Plymouth with a degree in shipping. His path through one of the world's biggest B2B shipping publishers took him to the Lloyd's List web-site around 2000. From about that time, Warner and Lloyd's List began to launch new channels in to the newspaper's stories.
B2B publishing, print and online
"You have these void spaces between the editorial, marketing and sales departments, but they all play off each other. I wanted to drive more traffic to the web-site and up-sell it. We needed to get more traffic and convert that into subscriptions and advertisers.
"We started looking at search engine optimization and google and thought: 'What can we do as a B2B publisher to improve our performance?'" He lists three factors: 1) content (no problem for Lloyd's List), 2) reputation (inbound links, also a strength) and 3) visibility. It was this final area that he sought to strengthen.
"Web development is what you might call the fourth silo of a news organization (along with editorial, marketing and sales). They've traditionally been seen as techy people; they fix things and such. I became a de facto go-between of these four silos, in order to ramp up our visibility and web-site traffic," says Warner.
In 2000, Lloyd's List launched its email bulletins, sending its news in digital format to any and all who want it. In 2004, it made the jump to an RSS feed, syndicating its content for the blogosphere and search engines.
"Twitter is, of course, another platform for content. We've been monitoring organizations like the Association of Online Publishers and other B2B publishers to see what they do. Reed Business had been quite successful building communities around its publications, and last year they told us that they saw twitter as a valuable source of incoming traffic," says Warner.
Lloyd's List hits twitter
From September 2008, when Lloyd's List began seriously following twitter, it took only a few months before it joined itself, which happened in January this year.
"I guess twitter went mainstream in March this year, so we were just in front of the curve. Prior to this, only a few determined individuals like James Tweed and John Conrad were all you found of shipping on twitter. Journal of Commerce, TradeWinds and Fairplay quickly followed in to twitter," says Warner.
At Lloyd's List, twittering has remained under the purview of Warner's team in digital, and tweets have come straight from the Lloyd's List RSS feed. "We figured out pretty fast that we needed to do more to push this and engage debate. That means retweeting content and trying to get comment. Debate and discussion hasn't been forthcoming, but you see it coming now," he says.
The twitter account is gaining a life of its own; Warner explains that around 10 queries or problem issues related to Lloyd's List services have come in via the twitter feed. It's been used for events as well. And, of course, they are going to market Lloyd's List increasingly through the twitter feed.
What concrete results has Lloyd's List seen from the twitter feed? Warner confirms that the twitter feed is officially the fourth largest channel for inbound traffic (presumably behind print subscribers, web subscribers and email subscribers). "We get 1500 or more visitors a month from twitter without taking visitors using twitter-related applications into account. All told, we're probably talking about 3-4000 visitors a month. These we hope to push to the email bulletin, and, of course, then as paying subscribers," says Warner.
Journalists and twitter
Editorial's take on Lloyd's List twitter has been mixed. Two months ago, Lloyd's List's editorial system moved to a web-first set-up. That is, news is published online as soon as it's ready, rather than waiting for the print edition. Thus many readers may stumble over a story on the twitter feed before they see it in the morning edition. I asked Warner if the online readers would have a parasitic effect on the print edition.
"We have seen a marked increase in digital advertising, even during a market slump. And there's no question that print circulation has stalled a bit. But this is not a matter of moving advertisers over from the print edition to the web. The two [online and print editions] can have a good effect on one another," says Warner.
Only a few of Lloyd's List's journalists use twitter, and these sporadically. Warner feels like the company's magazine writers have seized twitter more enthusiastically than the deadline-pressed journalists for the daily. "We've done some training, and Lloyd's List's editor will begin using twitter now. Also, responsibility for the twitter feed is being transferred over to the editorial department now, which will have some effect."
Of twitter applications, Warner singles out tweetdeck for praise. He says that the newsroom used twitterfall occasionally; this allowed reporters to watch a real-time feed of twitter comments around hot topics. "This was useful during the Maersk Alabama incident, but otherwise there's just not enough volume of comment yet," says Warner.
Asked whether he feels like Lloyd's List's management supports use of twitter, Warner answers yes. "They know what it is. They dont' want to give away too much content, but they care about bringing in traffic and converting it into revenue. If we can do that, then this will get more and more attention."