How Farm Journal Used Personalized Data to Turn Social Media Into a Six-Figure Business

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Every publisher uses social media but few are actually making money on it. During a recent Connectiv Digital Media Council meeting, Farm Journal’s VP of digital sales, Jim Arnold, showed how the company was able to turn its data into action and actually monetize social media.  “We’ve seen the future of digital, and from product delivery to sales strategy, it’s all about data,” he said.


Personalization starts with unique data and there are many ways to get it. “Third party data is available and it’s getting smarter all the time,” said Arnold. “Luckily, there are still plenty of holes. You can look me up on some of these systems and it says I’m a 25-year-old female with do-it-yourself behavior. I’m not any of those. But personas will get smarter and cleaner and the line between algorithms and our own first party data is going to blur even more.”

Behavior inferences can be culled by observing activity on your digital products. “Relevant behavior can be gleaned from anywhere but endemic sites like ours have a huge advantage, but only if we can turn that data into action quickly,” said Arnold. “Your customers have been talking to you since you first built a site, you need to make sure that you’re listening.”

Publishers can create content alignments by finding marketing niches across their portfolios, then pooling audiences on their sites. “You want to build a wall facing your competition so that you can be the strongest partner for the marketers and the audience that they want to reach,” said Arnold.

But don’t rule out data sharing with other sources in your market. “The more data sets that come together, the better they are,” said Arnold. “Look around your industry—we’ve done it by buying data sets that we didn’t have. All those options can be scary. But the best first step to move from fear to front-runner is to ask what data can I take advantage of right now?”

Social media success in B2B is quality of audience, not quantity of audience. Farm Journal was able to use the specific audience profiles in its databases to create personas that could fill in the blanks that advertisers were trying to reach, rather than just reach out to its existing social audience, which may or may not include influencers and qualified buyers. “We know our people well, we have 1.6 million e-mails, we have tons of traffic,” said Arnold. “Once you have that, you can find them on social media. The beauty is it's zero waste—you’re only targeting the people that you want to target.”

But social media can also be a boon for publishers who don’t have strong data sets yet. “The social tools that you’re given to find lookalikes of who you’re targeting gives you scale you that weren’t able to see before,” said Arnold.    

A few years ago, Farm Journal was struggling to find prospects in the Southwest. “Our data was weaker than we wanted it to be,” said Arnold. “But we knew what cattlemen look like, so we put up 50,000 names of known cattle guys in our data base and found a million lookalikes on Facebook and we marketed to those folks. We were able to bring in a substantial Southwest quadrant of cattleman that we didn’t know.”

While efficient, Arnold warns that kind of cultivation requires patience.  “It wasn’t fast growth, fast growth came was when we bought a competitor and assimilated their data,” he added. “But that’s one way you can take a small data set and scale it."

Marketing automation is a term used a lot, particularly with email. But it can also be used for social media, although Arnold says it’s still a little “clunky” in that regard. Publishers can pick different categories of users (site visitors, social fans, known emails, lookalikes), and present a new message to encourage a desired action (clicking, commenting, downloading). “The goal is to use your messaging to drive a desired result, then keep bring them back,” said Arnold.

Social targeting is still a work in progress--Arnold said that Farm Journal still struggles to get people to download mobile apps via social prompts and that getting people to “like” websites today is a challenge. But in two years, this type of social targeting has created a new business category and a six-figure revenue stream for Farm Journal, according to Arnold.

Farm Journal now has 1.6 million records that it can target, compared to 100,000 actual fans. And metrics for specific actions continue to improve (such as 1.03 percent click-to-site last month).  

“Before this audience matching ability, we were using our own fans,” Arnold said. “And now Facebook is touting that you can use fans of competing sites. But the people who follow you or your competitors are rabid fans, not necessarily qualified buyers. One of the fans of Farm Journal is my mom. She lives in Dallas, there are no cattle around. Why should marketers have to target my mom? They shouldn’t. The beauty of this is that there’s no waste.”

To hear the full discussion, including how Farm Journal was able to use personalized data to optimize email newsletters, mobile messaging and on-site and off-site campaigns, click here

Matt Matt Kinsman is vice president of content + programming at Connectiv, the only association focused on the integrated b-to-b model—including publications, events, digital media, marketing services and business information. Prior to joining Connectiv's predecessor American Business Media in 2011, Kinsman was executive editor of Folio:, the leading information provider for the magazine industry.