Last time we published a Q&A, we put the spotlight on some of the people behind the Echobox product – our Data Scientists. With over 2,000 businesses using Echobox on a regular basis, we wanted to shift the focus to the opposite side of the spectrum and talk to those who use Echobox (almost) every single day: our customers.
This week, we’re delighted to speak with Anna Johnstone, Head of Social Media at HELLO! Magazine, a British publication launched in 1988 and an Echobox customer since 2019. For the past 5 years, Anna has spent most of her days handling HELLO!’s multiple social media accounts (with Echobox Social’s help) to update over 2 million followers on royal news and all things lifestyle and pop culture. Anna has led a wildly successful digital strategy, helping HELLO! become a social media powerhouse in Anglophone spaces around the world. So much so that she was recognized as one of the leading figures of the UK media industry, with the Professional Publishers Association including Anna in their 2021 cohort of 30 Under 30.
Tell us a bit about your background. What has led you to heading the social media team at HELLO! Magazine?
Anna Johnstone: I’ve always wanted to work in magazines but I always thought it might be more of a dream than an actual career path. However, I got lucky and landed an internship at Vogue. With Vogue being part of the huge Condé Nast family, I ended up in multiple roles across their titles and departments. I spent some time in the finance department, which I consider one of the most transformative roles I’ve been in. It wasn’t originally where I wanted to be, but I ended up absolutely loving it. I became obsessed with data, organization, and Excel spreadsheets. It taught me all the work that went behind creating a magazine outside of writing and editorial responsibilities.
I went on to work at Glamour magazine before it went digital first, and then became a features writer at The Sun. I thought my ultimate goal during my time at Glamour was to become Managing Editor, but it was really strategy and organization I was passionate about. Social media really mixed the two things I’d loved about my previous jobs. It demands a combination of analytical skills and spreadsheets with creativity and editorial work. Loads of people do not realize that social media is actually a very political and strategic tool for publishers.
Could you describe your role and responsibilities, and how these fit within HELLO! Magazine. What does a normal day look like for you?
Anna Johnstone: I manage a team of three people: a content producer, a video producer, and a digital designer. While everyone’s job is different, everyone in the team works together to achieve a common goal: to showcase the frontline of the brand in a positive and unique way.
We work heavily with our video production and news team. The SEO team works alongside us, although there is somewhat of a healthy competition between our teams when it comes to traffic and reader acquisition. Being a lifestyle and celebrity news magazine, there are always big exclusives and events we need to cover, so I need to be in contact with digital teams across HELLO! to discuss what we can promise and deliver on social platforms based on what’s worked in the past and what aligns with each social platform.
When it comes to our day-to-day responsibilities, my schedule depends on whether the Royal Family is out that day or not! If they’re out, we have to drop everything and focus on them for a bit. On ‘normal’ days, I handle the pitches of the video producer and work with audiovisual agencies to see what we can quickly turn into social videos for platforms like TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook. We have different accounts on each platform, so there’s strategy work that goes into figuring out what will do well based on different regions and current trends. Snapchat is a huge revenue driver for HELLO!, so I’ll spend a bit of time every day with my social media content producer to manage and edit our content for that particular platform.
Loads of people do not realize that social media is actually a very political and strategic tool for publishers.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Anna Johnstone: Our internal goalposts change often and this proves to be pretty challenging. Sometimes we’ll need to focus more on one traffic source or optimize different engagement metrics. Alternatively, when traffic does really well, we might want to target our efforts on promoting premium content to attract advertisers.
The second challenge is the constant evolution of social media apps. This is out of our hands so we have to be very reactive and, lately, it’s really kept me on my toes. When the Twitter-and-Elon-Musk debacle started, I immediately put HELLO! on Mastodon. In fact, I believe it was one of the first magazines on there. What’s more, social media platforms often make tactical algorithm changes, and they’re slowly morphing into copies of each other. Snapchat now has Spotlight, Facebook is becoming video-centric, and Instagram is increasingly starting to look like TikTok. Having to quickly adapt to these changes can be frustrating at times, but it does mean the job never gets boring.
What do you consider to be the best part of your role?
Anna Johnstone: Leading a social media team means the job is very varied and there is a lot of independence. When I wrote for The Sun, you had to churn out stories as quickly as possible. Once you were done with an article, you went straight onto the next one without much breathing room. I love that working in social media means that I have the ability to carve out my day as I want it. We’ve always got simultaneous projects going on that involve different skills. For example, we could be discussing franchise ideas for Snapchat, recording voice overs, delving deep into our analytics, and writing a story for social all in the same day.
To make a long story short: you have a finger in a lot of pies, and all the pies are fun.
My key piece of advice is to be on every social media app you can think of. I’m always surprised at how many people work in the social media space but don’t actually understand what is going on on each platform.
How has social media management evolved in the last few years?
Anna Johnstone: Publishers have been tightening their belts at the same time that social media has become more and more relevant for publishers. In this context, you’re trying to expand and multiply your presence with limited resources. Thankfully, some platforms have made it easy for the media industry. As I mentioned before, Snapchat has really put a spotlight on content creators and publishers.
New platforms like TikTok – or even BeReal – have changed the way people interact with social media. Right when you think you know what a platform is used for and how audiences behave on them, the algorithm or interface suddenly changes. Echobox makes the traffic part of the job so easy, so thankfully I don’t actually have to think about it that much!
However, as much as I love social media, the last few years have really put a spotlight on the dark side of social media. It can be toxic and we really need to tread carefully. We don’t want HELLO! to be on apps that are unsafe for a younger audience or putting out hate speech. I have to monitor our Instagram comments, which can be really difficult and disheartening. With certain celebrities, I even have to turn them off completely.
To what extent have the data and insights you’ve generated informed HELLO!’s editorial strategy?
Anna Johnstone: Platforms like Google Analytics, Chartbeat, and Echobox are essential when you’re in social media management. Goalposts are always changing so there are new things I sometimes need to find old data and archived content for. With the Oscars for example, we’ll look into what kind of article drove the top impressions and click through rates the previous year to try and replicate that for the current one.
I find A/B testing to be crucial for both our team and other digital teams. To give you an example, a lot of our work is centered around the Royal Family, so we use software to understand the best royal titles to use. For Kate Middleton, we’ll use A/B testing data to figure out if readers respond more to “Princess Kate” or “Princess of Wales”. We also frequently use the Echobox A/B testing functionality for our headlines, and this allows me to categorically decide what we should or shouldn’t be doing. When we write stories about a celebrity’s home, we now know that we should be starting our headline with the word “Inside” rather than “See Inside”. That’s the sort of data our SEO and website engagement teams can use.
Our data and insights mean we can also say no to pitches from other departments. We’ll get requests for certain stories, and we can immediately judge that certain content will not work for a specific platform or that our social audiences won’t engage with them.
Leading a social media team means the job is very varied and there is a lot of independence. You have a finger in a lot of pies, and all the pies are fun.
What will you focus on the most for social media in 2023?
Anna Johnstone: I have three things in mind.
First, the Queen’s Jubilee back in June was a huge success: we got 40,000 new Instagram followers in just a month. We want to build on that and showcase how great HELLO! is at producing positive and fun news.
Second, we’ve recently launched a HELLO! Facebook page dedicated to North American audiences. We’ll work extra hard to build a loyal audience base and create more content for this segment. While Americans love Royal Family content, we need to stay sensitive to cultural and lifestyle differences.
Finally, since implementing Echobox in 2019, our average social traffic has consistently improved every single year. I’m really striving to end 2023 with a similar trajectory.
There’s a lot of talk surrounding the coming of age of Gen Z, their disengagement from “traditional media” and their unique social media practices. How do you think HELLO! will attract and retain these younger readers? Are you already gearing your social media strategy towards this demographic?
Anna Johnstone: Personally, I think Gen Z is cool, intelligent, socially-conscious, and they care about each other. I truly think that’s what HELLO! is and should be all about.
Our current audience base is older but we’re fiercely trying to attract a younger base.
We want to maintain our very strong brand identity but we’re slowly shifting our focus onto younger celebrities. We also adapt to the younger generations’ media consumption habits. We were one of the first – if not the first – British magazines on TikTok, and we keep a really rigid posting schedule for that platform. HELLO! is not a traditional Gen Z media source but we’ve got four times the amount of followers than publications that focus on a younger audience.
I use TikTok a lot so I understand its appeal. The search function is as good, if not better, than Google’s, and I find it more interesting than Instagram. We often try videos on there first and this strategy allows us to understand what Gen Z likes and dislikes. If a certain video does well on TikTok, we’ll try it on other platforms like Instagram. Perhaps surprisingly, the Royal Family always performs well with that demographic!
Publishers have been tightening their belts at the same time that social media has become more and more relevant for publishers. In this context, you’re trying to expand and multiply your presence with limited resources.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in social media management? What resources (such as blogs, podcasts or newsletters) would you recommend?
Anna Johnstone: The Digiday newsletter is free to subscribe to, and it’s really amazing for media and publishing news.
I’d encourage anyone interested in social media management to follow Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram (@Mosseri). He creates really interesting videos about changes and upcoming updates to the app.
One book I really recommend is Contagious, by Jonah Berger. It explains why some ideas take off and go viral, and why some fail – and it’s just a good read overall.
Finally, my key piece of advice is just to be on every social media app you can think of. I’m always surprised at how many people work in the social media space but don’t actually understand what is going on on each platform. How are you expected to keep up with trends and understand the user experience? It’s a big red flag if you’re not on the main platforms.
If there was a new social media app launching tomorrow, I would get HELLO! on it immediately. I’d sign HELLO! up, get a logo and connect it to our website as soon as possible. You have to move fast if you want to stay relevant.