Why Nordic publishers lead Europe on digital

A robust digital media market heavily relies on well developed infrastructure – things like broadband penetration, high internet speed, and universal coverage.

It’s no wonder back in 2012 HBO chose the Nordics to test their first ever standalone video streaming service. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark have some of the highest percentages of households connected to the internet, and some of the highest percentages of people using internet daily within the EU. Nordics also top Eurobarometer’s surveys regarding Internet-related media consumption like watching TV online, using social networks or using Internet in general.

(In comparison, it took three more years for HBO to offer a standalone streaming video subscription in the US).

Nordic publishers have certainly benefited from their population’s high connectivity and media consumption patterns. But they also have not been passive.

Nordic newsrooms have been forerunners in taking advantage of the inevitable switch from analog and print to digital. Their strategy is no big secret: they’ve focused on speed as well as social media engagement.

Being first means eating the bacon

Newspapers have always fought to be the first to get the scoop, and in digital publishing speed is everything. The first publisher who breaks the story gets the most traffic, and as a result the most ad revenue.

Being 5 min faster on 15 stories per day, means gaining an extra million or two in ad revenue over one year.

Even for publishers with relatively small fan bases, publishing the story first means beating bigger brands in reach and engagement. That’s because online audiences no longer care who serves them the news story – as long as it’s in their social media feed. And that feed is increasingly Facebook, which in 2015 took over Google as the main traffic source for news.

The relationship between Facebook and publishers is a complicated one. Whatever you think about Facebook, since it has become the biggest channel in the Western world for publishers to reach their audiences, you simply can’t ignore it.

All criticism aside, Facebook has one big thing going for it. The social media engagement it provides comes from real people, not bots, which gives publishers a more accurate view on traffic estimation and their readers’ behaviour.

(Not a bulletproof claim, however, as the recent news showed that Facebook overestimated key video metrics for two years.)

Social media as part of the editorial process

What we’ve discovered is that publishers who are active on their own Facebook page, get more total traffic from Facebook to their site. That’s why, for example, when Finland’s biggest commercial publisher MTV3 changed their editorial strategy to focus on social media, they saw a whopping 81% traffic increase from social media within nine months.

Elsewhere in the Nordics, new publishers are also tearing down the brick wall between the editorial staff and community managers to integrate the two functions.

If you peek into a newsroom in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo or Helsinki, you are bound to find social media feeds and tools on display for all the newsdesk staff to follow and act upon. Most journalists have gone through social media training and take it seriously.

Granted, Nordic publishers are slow at adopting Live Videos – which recently started bringing the most engagement on Facebook. Most probably resources are to blame: it costs more to produce quality videos, while monetization on Live Videos is not there yet for the majority of publishers.

Almost Nearly Perfect

While Nordics have been media darlings for equality, life satisfaction, education and many other things, as Michael Booth writes – it isn’t easy being Scandinavian.

Media organisations in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland battle the same dilemmas and feel the same pressures every other newsroom in the world faces. What sets them apart – at least for now – is the ability to use the new realities of media industry to attract and engages their audiences.

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