An In Depth Look At CNBC International's Digital Publishing Strategy

We spoke with Cristy Garratt, Head of Digital Video & Social Media at CNBC International


Cristy Garratt is the Head of Digital Video & Social Media at CNBC International, based in the leading business and financial news network’s London headquarters.

Cristy is responsible for the network’s original digital video content and social media channels, managing a team of multimedia journalists, graphic designers, camera operators and social media producers in London and Singapore. She has been with CNBC since 2015 and has since launched new digital video series such Life Hacks Live and CNBC Explains and has overseen triple-digit growth for its social channels.

Prior to CNBC, Cristy worked at ITN Productions and at WTOL 11 in Ohio. Cristy holds a BSc in Journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University, where she served as president of the university’s chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Ahead of her presentation at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this June 26 - 27 in London, we sat down with Cristy to discuss CNBC's digital publishing strategy, from how the giant approaches the fake news problem to GDPR. 

In the era of social media and algorithms, how do you ensure your digital distribution strategy is robust and not solely reliant on social traffic?

CNBC’s traffic has always come from a diversified portfolio of places, whether it is from our homepage, search or social. So it takes a lot more than an algorithm shift to shake us up. In fact, we’ve grown aggressively on digital over the last year. In 2017, we surpassed our target to exceed 10 million monthly international visitors by 2020; and March was one of CNBC International’s best months ever.

Does that mean we ignore social media platforms? Absolutely not. There are a lot of people sitting on the platforms, and they provide an excellent venue to reach existing and new audiences. Our social audience grew by 132% last year – and it is already up by more than 20% since the start of this year. We’re particularly excited about YouTube right now, where we’ve already grown our YouTube subscribers by more than 100% this year, and are close to reaching 100,000 subscribers.

We’ll continue to keep our portfolio diverse, and focus on the one thing we can control – making great content. We actually listen to our viewers and take on board their suggestions for episodes of our longest running digital series, ‘CNBC Explains’ and ‘CNBC Reports.’ We believe quality journalism and these kinds of interactions build loyalty to our brand and people, and that transcends any platform.

How are you maintaining content integrity in an environment filled with fake news and click-bait?

Our integrity is everything. In an era of supposed fake news and click-bait, we do everything we can to make sure our reporting is accurate and lives up to the expectations we promised the reader in our headlines.

Our longest-running digital video series ‘CNBC Explains’ often takes on hefty, complicated topics, and we undertake a number of measures to make sure we’re creating an accurate and digestible video for our viewers.

We interview multiple experts for every piece, and run through at least two rounds of fact checking before publication. If something does slip through the cracks, we make an effort to personally respond to comments and issue a correction. It’s the way news has been done for decades, and there’s no reason digital shouldn’t follow the same standards as print and television.

Have you discovered any surprisingly successful platforms for reader engagement, how do you strategise for continued platform growth?

An exciting platform we’ve had a bit of a breakthrough on is Instagram. We tried various strategies on it in the early days, and were finding it really difficult to engage people around business and economic news on such a visual platform.

Last year, however, we found a strategy that worked for us. We started building custom infographics, quote graphics and one-minute adaptions of our best videos. This and an increased use of Instagram Stories gave our growth and engagement a boost, allowing us to grow by nearly 140% last year. At a recent Instagram workshop, we learned we were the second fastest growing large publisher account in Europe.

Instagram Stories have given our anchors and reporters a great venue to strip back the gloss of television and bring the stories they’re telling to our audience on air to our younger, aspirational audience online. People seem to connect with that authenticity, which means we’ve been seeing lots of comments in our inbox and plenty of votes in our polls.

Find out more from Cristy, along with digital publishing leaders from companies like BBC, HuffPost, The Telegraph, The Economist, MirrorOnline, Quartz, Buzzsumo, and many more, at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this June 26 - 27 in London. To register your interest, click here.

GDPR comes into full effect in a matter of weeks - what effect can you see it having on digital publishing as an industry?

GDPR is set to change the data collection landscape significantly and will hinder publisher’s attempts to implement personalisation strategies to boost their engagement and traffic. Instead, publishers will have to use other metrics to guide their strategies and really drill down into what works for them and why.

Do you handle content strategy in isolation or as part of the wider customer experience?

I’d like to think my content strategy sits neatly within the larger goals of the organization. We have segmented our audience into two major categories – the ‘influential’ and the ‘aspirational.’ The ‘influential’ is the CNBC audience you’re likely familiar with – C-suite executives, world leaders, traders and those who have already made it in life.

Then, there is the ‘aspirational’ audience, which is where my team and our strategies come in. We know that the people who will be holding these influential positions in the future aren’t watching cable news the way their predecessors were. So instead of hoping they’ll suddenly pick up the remote when they become CEO, we’re catering to them now with educational and entertaining content that serve as the building blocks they need to make their way up the ranks or start their own business.

When deciding whether to commission a new digital series, I always keep this audience in mind. I never want someone to watch one of our videos and think ‘well, that was a waste of time.’ Whether it be explaining concepts behind the headlines or providing career advice, I want our audience to be better off because they consumed our content.

What tools/software do you find most useful to measure audience engagement?

I use a number of tools to measure audience engagement. However, the ones I find most useful are Parsely for, Spredfast for longer-term social analytics and Crowdtangle and Spike by Newswhip to monitor what’s happening across the board in the moment.

What success have you seen from branching out into multimedia content production?

It’s a really exciting time for our industry. We’re no longer confined by one format, which means we can tell stories in the format that best suits it – whether that be video, text, audio or something else.

I’ve already discussed the enormous success we’ve seen from producing videos made specifically for the digital audience. We more than doubled our digital video views between 2016 and 2017 – and we’re on pace to do that and more this year.

One series I haven’t touched on yet is our Facebook Live show, #LifeHacksLive. In it, we bring on the world’s biggest names in business and allow our audience to seek career advice from them in a fun, game-show style format. It’s interactive and fills a big gap. We’re giving our audience access to a mentorship session with huge successes in their industries, and it’s available to everyone - no matter whom they know, where they live or how much money they have.

I’ve also recently taken over leading our efforts on Amazon’s Alexa for international markets, and we’re already seeing success on the platform in our early days. Audio is an exciting arena for us, and we’re looking forward to getting more involved over the next year.

How has your consumer changed in the last 5 years and what effect is this having on your business strategy?

CNBC’s traditional audience are what we categorise as the influential, the people who’ve made it: CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs from some of the biggest companies on the planet. Although they still make up the core of our audience, we’ve also seen a diversification in our audience demographics.

We have grown our core audience base by producing different content and disseminating it on other digital platforms. This has resulted in more ‘aspirational’ viewers coming to CNBC for their news. These are senior managers and people climbing the ladder that are coming to CNBC to help them get ahead.

What can the audience expect to take away from your session at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit?

Fingers crossed, the audience will learn more about how CNBC have engaged a new, younger ‘aspirational’ audience. This includes how we’ve used video across social platforms; targeted audiences on platforms that already exist; and how to generate ROI through effective storytelling. I’m really looking forward to the session and to hearing from the audience about their own experiences and the challenges they face.

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