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Q&A: Programme Director, IPC Digital Tara Hamilton-Whitaker

IPC Digital Programme Director Tara Hamilton-Whitaker, spoke at our next event on 7 September: the AOP Digital Director's Forum, alongside Haymarket, Trader, Incisive and CBSi. We caught up with Tara ahead of the event to get her thoughts on the key challenges and opportunties around social media for publishers. What tools are there for tracking users and gathering data off-site, for instance - for your Facebook fans/pages, or on Twitter? At the moment we're using a combination of Omniture, Facebook Insights, Twitter and to track social media reach and referrals. We report on total fans/followers, the ratio between fans/followers and logged referrals and the ratio between posted content and referrals amongst other things. The brand teams then work with our social and analytics teams to translate this data into actionable insight. How successful has your integration of Facebook Connect been - have you seen an uplift in comments, and traffic from Facebook as a result? The majority of our core brands now have at least some degree of integration with Facebook. We've trialed Facebook's like/recommendation, login and send buttons.  We've also integrated the activity feed, like box and Login button across a number of sites, whilst finally being the first UK publisher to integrate the new Facebook comments functionality. I'd say performance has varied by brand - different demographics prefer to engage in different ways, however all have seen the biggest uplift off the back of the 'like' or 'recommendation' buttons. Second place goes to Facebook comments, which has greatly contributed to Facebook becoming one of our top domain referrers. Are there any drawbacks to using services such as Facebook Connect? Not in the grand scheme of things. The plugins are relatively simple to install and ultimately drive traffic. I suppose the challenges we do face come with: 1) educating people around how to effectively interpret this new data set and 2) keeping up with the changes within the platform itself.  With that said, we have a close working relationship with Facebook in the UK so we tend to work things out together. Finally, it's important to remember that: 3) Facebook is not for everyone. It's for a lot of people but not everyone and not in the same way. I'd urge brands to be clear about who they're targeting and what exactly they are hoping to achieve. For example, we're seeing a healthy split between people who choose to 'log in' to our sites via Facebook vs. our own SSO system - on some sites more than others. It's still all about the old adage - "know your audience" or risk alienating them. With data coming from so many different sources and third-party sites, how do you manage this, and make it usable? It's definitely an iterative process - we're still learning about how we can most effectively use Social Media to drive reach and ultimately revenue. Our Analytics and Social teams take responsibility for aggregating the data sources and distilling the top-level insight for distribution across IPC. We then have weekly/bi-weekly meetings with each of the brand teams to go through their data to refine the insight and agree next steps. We also have regular workshops where different brands come together to compare best practice and brainstorm new techniques/approaches. What, in your view, are going to be the next steps for publishers' integration and improvement of social media on their sites and other products? Wow. This is a topic that could literally be discussed for hours. Whilst at risk of sounding clichéd, I'd say that a big next step still includes truly grasping the fact that social media is more than any one successful social network. It is more than 'comments' and the 'like' button. Social media is simply a very clever and effective extension to our existing marketing toolkit. It doesn't generally make money on its own but it can make existing communities, products and sales propositions far more exciting, engaging and as a result far more valuable if applied creatively.

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