Refinery29 aims to provide "tools not rules" to its audience

Tamar Riley, director of marketing and audience development at Refinery29, speaks to Innovation Enterprise's Simorin Pinto ahead of her presentation at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in London


Refinery29 is an online digital publishing platform focused on issues affecting women. The publishing company is said to have an international audience footprint of 550 million across its various platforms.

The company promises to offer optimistic and diverse storytelling, and points of view and reports on various topics ranging from lifestyle to commerce.

With the digital media market constantly evolving in the current data-driven age, Refinery29, which was founded 12 years ago, has grown into an active voice in the media and entertainment industry. Innovation Enterprise spoke to Refinery29 director of marketing and audience development, Tamar Riley, about the digital market and how the company aims to set itself apart from the competition.

Tamar Riley IE: Since your move from Red Bull and Groupon, what challenges did you face going into a digital platform that caters specifically for the the female digital media market?

Riley: I think it was more of a shift in opportunities rather than challenges. Looking at comparisons, each company is the leading innovator within their respective industry, and that excites me. Refinery29 has evolved its business model from a New York-based ecommerce platform into becoming the most influential voice globally within women's media today. It's evolved naturally in the digital space through innovating across content, commerce and distribution.


"To work within any digital industry I believe that you have to embrace change, to become habitual is to lose relevance. It is so important to have an agile culture where success lies within the processes not the result. Embracing that culture turns challenges on their head, here at Refinery29 we really celebrate that mindset." 

IE: How does Refinery29 set itself apart from other, similar online publications?

Riley: Competition used to be easily defined within traditional magazines but as we see more digital media owners develop their multiplatform content we find ourselves fighting for space against a much wider net of brands. However, we aim to set ourselves apart with the breadth of content we cover – I often describe it as a snapshot of a conversation with my close friends – we can touch upon the wildfire crisis in Greece, work challenges, new mascaras and relationship issues all in one swoop.

We represent our audience in their wonderful complexities as best we can, focusing on challenging convention and defying existing stereotypes.

An example which sets us apart would definitely be our visual identity. Our art team creates their own stock imagery on a regular basis on everything from periods to friendship, changing the visual language we see every day to be more inclusive and real to life. Some 80% of our readers feel like Refinery29 represents them, which is an incredible figure, but it still shows that there's work to do.

IE: Is there specific content that appeals to your readership?

Riley: We are too wide reaching to specify a type of content,we wouldn't want to ever be prescriptive and lose creativity, but we do have certain series with loyal fan bases which we develop into richer offerings. By being constantly in our analytics and in conversation with our audience, whether by our reader panel, or from social and on site communities, we can identify which specific areas to devote more time too.

Example, Rag week, a series that aims to break the taboo of talking about periods, is a great example of a content series which performed so well with our audience that we're now running it for the third year.

IE: In your opinion, what are the best techniques for content trending on social media?

Riley: I think we need to change perceptions of what success looks like on social media. It is really easy to be mesmerised by scale, which is of course a very important metric, but at Refinery29 we in turn also look to meaningful interactions, ensuring content is scaled to an engaged audience.

We analyze our success on social media not only by the defined metrics but also by user reactions, allowing us to understand our audience a little better from every post and to anticipate future reach – users don't share content, they share their emotions, and the stronger the emotion, often the further it travels.

IE: Can you share one of the most effective approaches you have implemented in order to reach your audience?

Riley: We adapt and experiment as new digital spaces launch. For example, we were fast off the mark on Snapchat Discover and one of Facebook's initial partners for it Watch product launch in the US.

Additionally, our innovation on Instagram is a great example; knowing 70% of Instagram interactions are on the go, we provide five stories at 5pm for commuters to swipe up on the top performing content of the day.

In contrast, we know our readers take more time to read in depth features from our email, tailoring our content to areas we know our audience want to commit their time, such as the refugee crisis in Greece or the first-person health stories. We are always focused on audience insight and being wherever she is.

IE: Within your time at Refinery29, what initiatives have you employed to build brand trust?

Riley: Trust is built over time with consistency of message and employing a unified focus on our mission. At Refinery29, every member of staff is aligned to our company mission to provide multiplatform content to inform, entertain and progress women.

Refinery29 celebrates individuality and aims to provide 'tools not rules' to our audience. Our audience the appreciates consistency and transparency across everything we do, which in turn we hope builds trust.

To find out more about the digital market, you can watch Tamar Riley speak at Innovation Enterprise's Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in London on October 3–4, 2018.

Book your place HERE.

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