Digital Media Changes Course As COVID-19 Rewrites Content Interests

The type of content that matters to people has completely shifted as Americans stay home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital media companies are quickly evaluating what’s doing well or falling flat and adjusting their content production strategies. They’re also figuring out how to produce video content and replace live events as their employees work from home. BuzzFeed, for example, released video content it recorded while equipping 70 employees in New York and LA with video production gear in the past week.

Overall, news publishers are seeing the biggest gains in traffic, according to Comscore. Compared to a similar week in January, total visits are up across The Atlantic (170%) NBC News (78%), The Wall Street Journal (71%), The New York Times (66%) and The Los Angeles Times (61%).

But a broad array of content is soaring, from information about how to use FaceTime and Prime Video (Dotdash’s Lifewire) to TikTok dances to learn in your living room (BuzzFeed), online workouts (Leaf Group’s Well+Good), risk management (Investopedia) and Sick, a series about infectious diseases (Group Nine Media’s Seeker).

Here’s how BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media, Leaf Group and Dotdash are changing their content plans and navigating shifting traffic during the pandemic.

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is dividing its content into three buckets: coverage of the coronavirus, quarantine and lockdown support and counterprogramming. The publisher is seeing some of its highest unique visitor numbers ever. And the coronavirus coverage, while only accounting for 20% of all posts, drove 67% of all traffic so far in March. Comscore reports total visits are up 13% last week compared to a similar week in early January.

Readers are finding BuzzFeed’s coronavirus-related articles through search queries, with some bigger stories also popping on social media, said BuzzFeed executive directors Jess Probus and Maycie Thornton Timpone.

While BuzzFeed will continue to cover the coronavirus news, Probus and Timpone expect to see rising interest in lockdown support and counterprogramming.

Some of its recent successes in “lockdown support” ranged from practical – how to homeschool children and work-from-home products – to playful, such as TikTok videos to learn dances in your spare time.

Eventually, BuzzFeed expects some of its tried-and-true article formats, including trivia, quizzes and pets content, will gain a larger share of traffic as people seek distraction from the new normal.

Group Nine Media

Similar to BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media is also embracing a mix of news, quarantine advice and counterprogramming. Social referrals are up by double digits compared to February.

Its news property, NowThis, and science brand, Seeker, are both tackling the pandemic head on. NowThis added a Q&A session to its daily Snapchat Discover story, keeping young viewers in the loop about COVID-19.

Seeker increased its health coverage, including a general look at infectious diseases, updates on the vaccine and an explainer of the coronavirus’s origins. It releases episodes across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.

Thrillist – known for its recommendations on where to go out – has pivoted to offering recommendations for food and indoor entertainment, such as TV bingeing recommendations and recipes for dirty martinis.

PopSugar is likewise focusing on live-at-home recommendations. With many gyms closed, it released its at-home paid fitness app, Active by PopSugar, early to help readers stay fit for free.

Leaf Group: Well+Good and Hunker

Two of Leaf Group’s properties, wellness site Well+Good and home site Hunker, have both seen readers orient themselves toward coronavirus-related topics.

Seventy percent of Well+Good’s top 20 stories over the past week were directly or tangentially connected to COVID-19, said Kate Spies, SVP of content, growth and brand at Leaf Group.

For example, an article about maintaining connections while social distancing was its top story, followed by healthy recipes that use shelf-stable ingredients. At-home workout videos and personal hygiene have also done well.

Hunker, a home site, saw cleaning content dominate, accounting for eight of its top 10 stories.

To round out its coverage, Hunker is identifying new reader needs.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about staying home,” said Jason Lepore, VP and GM of media.

So the Hunker team is writing new content about how to create productive home spaces and find sold-out essential items. It’s also tackling uncharted territory for how and what people need to clean.

Dotdash

With a vast array of sites to help people answer search queries, Dotdash is experiencing shifting attention firsthand.

“In this time of huge change and uncertainty, we see people's needs and their questions change in real time,” said Joetta Gobell, VP of research and insights at Dotdash.

The tanking market and falling interest rates have increased interest in some financial topics while dampening interest in others.

Interest in content about the stock market soared 343%, managing student loans grew 382% and risk management increased 281% compared to historical data, Gobell said.

People are less interested in financial topics that involve long-term planning, she noted. Investopedia and The Balance saw traffic declines in content related to hiring real estate agents (down 42%), retirement planning by decade (down 61%) and marijuana investing (down 58%). Overall, traffic has risen 21% on Investopedia over the past week.

Dotdash also saw changes in how people accessed its health and technology content.

Traffic for content about colds & flu skyrocketed 3,530%, with subtopics around handling flus in kids, for examples, doubled in traffic. Interest in yoga videos, fitness trends and strength training workouts also rose. Verywell’s overall traffic has increased 30% in the past week.

The work-from-home trend spurred research on Dotdash’s technology site Lifewire, as people figured out how to collaborate effectively with co-workers. People sought information about monitors, keyboards, FaceTime, Skype, Google Sheets and Prime Video, Gobell said, with traffic for most of these topics more than doubling in the past week.

Dotdash uses these changing traffic patterns to ensure that it’s providing relevant content to readers, Gobell said.

“For us, it's not just an interesting look at the world. It comes with a responsibility to ensure that the answers we're providing are the ones that are most needed across our readers' lives.”

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