In some form, Connecticut Magazine has existed for more than 100 years, and the current incarnation of the state’s “original lifestyle magazine” was launched about 40 years ago. An issue from the 70s or 80s isn’t strikingly different than this month’s glossy.
Based on digital momentum that came with the arrival of a verticals editor last July, coupled with a jolt of energy from Project Unbolt, the print magazine will undergo a dramatic transformation within the next couple of months.
Instead of showcasing stories assigned, edited and illustrated on a “bolted” monthly cycle, Connecticut Magazine’s pages will cascade repurposed versions of our best digital content, curated for the print audience through the prism of metrics and engagement.
From the advent of www.connecticutmag.com through last July, the status of the website had remained largely static: When a print issue was about to publish, its suite of stories would be posted online and dutifully tweeted and posted on Facebook.
While staff members were encouraged by Connecticut group editor Matt DeRienzo to create online-only content in between print magazines, via blogs and a news vertical called Connecticut Today, the effort gained little traction. Print was considered all-consuming, and the website would look the same for days, even weeks.
In the last eight months, in part through the addition of six new categories of content, including The Connecticut Table, Style & Shopping and Health & Wellness, we have transformed the site into a daily source of authoritative content about Connecticut — using social media far more vigorously than in the past to tell the world we have arrived in the 21st century.
Here are some of the steps along the way, and where we’re going from here:
New Digital Journalists
Where the magazine once had editors who focused almost exclusively on print, the staff is two new digital journalists, Kate Hartman, formerly of the Register Citizen in Torrington, and Erik Ofgang, formerly a Connecticut Magazine freelancer.
Their recent arrival will enable us to quickly push verticals to new levels of impact, through daily stories and, finally, a series of high-impact stories apportioned across different genres of content.
The new staffing will also allow us to roll out more verticals.
Before July 2013, Twitter and Facebook posts on Connecticut Magazine accounts were sporadic, and simply pointed to print content posted online. Now our Twitter feed is posting some of the fastest growth among Digital First Media properties in the Northeast — with our follower count at 13,414 and growing rapidly — and displaying vibrant daily engagement with our audience.
That’s happening not only because we tweet much more often (seven days a week), in a more conversational way and with links to more interesting content, but also because we talk to people on Twitter and Facebook, responding to comments and questions, seeking input, and saying where our digital staff is and what we’re doing.
When we did Best Restaurants: Readers’ Choice as a digital initiative for 2014 by putting the ballot online, we also engaged our audience by offering updates on voting trends online and through social media. In other words, for the first time we told our audience what was happening while it was happening and while they could still get involved.
As another engagement effort, we created a Twitter list of restaurants and all things dining in Connecticut, which we update and share regularly via social media.
For our 40 Under 40 package on high-achieving Connecticut residents, we began “reporting” the story before it was published online in a series of tweets announcing prominent individuals who had been named to the list — and then we built a Twitter list of all the honorees we could find (33 out of 40), so our audience could follow what they think, say and do.
— Connecticut Magazine (@connecticutmag) January 14, 2014
At the end of last July, for the first time ever, www.connecticutmag.com published a story in the form of an interactive map — showing the sometimes great disparity in tax bills on the exact same vehicle in different towns. The story was timed to the last day a Connecticut resident could pay motor vehicle taxes without also paying a penalty for being late.
To drive home the impact, we rolled it out in a series of tweets that contrasted the dollar amounts for the same vehicle in dissimilar municipalities, such as Waterbury and Westport.
The response was tremendous.
Last week, timed to coincide with pre-Oscars buildup, we published this story in the form of an interactive map: Meryl Streep, Oscars’ Stars and Other Celebs in Connecticut (We Map Them).
Making an Impact
One example is the impact of our stories about Chelsea Wheeler, a girl who wants to be a chef but can’t eat and needs a small bowel transplant. Our initial digital story prompted CNN to come to Connecticut to interview Chelsea (we engaged with CNN about the story on Twitter), and also prompted chefs and others to respond to the family’s need for aid.
We followed up the first story with an update about a fundraising event in February, which sold out at 500 guests, and then we attended the event in preparation for a third story, whose shape has yet to be determined.
In a series of emails and publicly at the fundraiser, the Wheeler family and its supporters attributed the overwhelming response to Chelsea’s plight ($20,000 raised at the fundraiser and some $50,000 or more raised between the initial story and the fundraiser) entirely to the work of Connecticut Magazine.
Sometimes our new impact is less dramatic but still beneficial. We’re producing more stories that have appeal beyond Connecticut, which means that stories like one on YouTube food reviewing sensation and Travel Channel “star” Daym Patterson, and another on pizza “boss” Bruno DiFabio, are getting picked up by Thunderdome and published across Digital First Media websites in other states.
Digital Strength in Numbers
Authoritative dining and restaurant stories, especially those that create hierarchies, are the biggest source of online traffic for us. To extend that brand and grow our audience, we forged a content sharing partnership with a website called CTbites, which expertly covers the dining scene in Fairfield County. We excerpt and link to their stories on places, events and trends we can’t cover ourselves, and they do the same.
The arrival of a verticals editor in July 2013, the launch of the new categories of content online and the ramped up engagement has led to an increase in traffic.
Page views for 2013 (at 2.659 million) were up 12 percent over 2012 views, while unique visitors (at 2.115 million) were up 39 percent, with those numbers reflecting the fact that it was largely one person involved in the digital push.
Momentum has been building since then as our potential audience understands that we’re now a daily digital operation.
Page views for January 2014, at 306,620, were up 29 percent over the same month a year earlier, while unique visitors were up 58 percent for January year-over-year, from 69,081 to 109,319. In a 2013-to-2012 comparison for the most recent month, February, page views were up 39 percent and unique visitors were up 76 percent.
One trend revealed by those metrics will be a crucial planning tool going forward: Connecticut Magazine’s branded features, such as Best Restaurants: Experts’ Picks, Rating the Towns and 40 Under 40, are such major drivers of traffic — when they publish and on an ongoing basis — that they have had something of a leveling effect on impact of daily verticals stories in quickly driving traffic.
The result will be a careful planning process to create more high-demand content for our audience on a more frequent basis, such as having some kind of “best” or “top 10” feature once a month, rather than a couple of times a year.
Achieving this will be made possible with the addition of the two digital journalists mentioned at the top.
Arrival of Unbolted
Unbolted is not the future for Connecticut Magazine; it’s already happening. The February issue contained a story about the aspiring chef who needs a transplant, Chelsea Wheeler; it was a revised and shortened version of the digital stories that involved very little time and no additional resources.
The April issue currently in production will have a dining story and a gourmet chocolates story that derive from published digital stories. The ratio will continue to recalibrate in favor of digital each month going forward.
New digital staff, more verticals, cascading live stories daily, high-impact stories, engagement, partnering, and using the best digital storytelling tools available will yield a Connecticut Magazine website that moves toward its goals better and faster, and a print magazine that takes on a new weightlessness in terms of time and resources—but a magazine that’s also more vibrant, authoritative and interesting than ever before.