How One Magazine’s Makeover Might Provide a Road Map to Building a Community

Much has been made of Rookie Magazine‘s decision to revamp its website. Most notably, the publication for (and largely created by) teenage girls has aimed its sights firmly on community building and audience engagement as a means of boosting both traffic and ad revenues. Let’s look at Rookie’s tactics — and how they might help point you toward your own new frontiers of success.

Keeping It Real

The beginnings of this impressive sea-change in the way publications do things can be traced back to magazine’s original vision, the product of a teenage girl named Tavi Gevinson. Gevison saw the need for a magazine that directly addressed creative, intelligent, socially-aware teenage girls — a role that gone unfilled since the demise of Sassy a generation earlier. She launched Rookie Magazine in 2012 as a collection of articles, short “Dear Diary” entries, artwork and other contributions supplied by the target audience itself — teenage girls. The site quickly took off with its intended crowd, and advertisers were immediately drawn to the purity of the readership demographics.

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A True Community

The next logical step was an upgrade to a more sophisticated web design that would make better use of marketing metrics and boost those traffic and revenue numbers even higher. This is the part of the story where you expect the reader-oriented publication to “go corporate” and transform itself into a marketing revenue machine at the cost of its core identity and charm. Instead, Gevison and company focused on changes that actually made the site more accessible, interactive and user friendly than ever before,with compromises in terms of content or appeal.

Quite the reverse, in fact — new features such as “Creative Prompts” from editors to readers are likely to result in a fresh surge of new and relevant content, not to mention a feeling of genuine ownership on the part of the audience. A new “Pen Pals” features lets readers sign up for the opportunity to connect with each other online, yielding data that is just as valuable to advertisers as the connections themselves are to readers. The tone of the new site will emphasize sharing of interesting of information rather than blatant selling.

Digital Goes Analog

While many publications look to their web presence as support for physical media revenue, Rookie has once again bucked the trend by going the opposite direction. The success of the online publication left readers clamoring for an actual ink-on-paper version. The result was the annual Rookie Yearbook, currently on its fourth edition. These collections of the most popular online content are not only a great example of how to re-purpose material for a captive audience, but they’re also a major additional revenue source, thanks to the eagerness of advertisers to reach this lucrative market in any way possible. The new website design will only feed the growth, quality and popularity of the print publication.

Rookie’s push to bring its digital presence into the analog world doesn’t stop at its hard copy publications, however. The editorial staff literally took their act on the road by getting Urban Outfitters to sponsor a 16-city event tour where readers and contributors could interact both with the staff and with each other. Book tours, and even the hosting of bands at SXSW, soon followed, with branded festivals and other events among the editors’ future goals. This kind of outreach has tremendous potential for integrating the brand with local teen communities across the U.S. This makes it even more desirable to major advertisers, both in print form and online, while reinforcing the genuine sense interpersonal communication that has made it such a hit with its audience.

All of these features and initiatives are living proof that even someone so young as Gevinson can turn the entire industry on its head by disrupting the old patterns and protocols with a fresh new approach — one that’s nevertheless based on the old-fashioned ideal of bonding with one’s target audience. Other publishers would do well to note the value of investing in their readership communities, wherever they may be found, to create new platforms for reader interaction as an enticement to advertisers. It just shows to show that sometimes even a seasoned veteran in this industry can learn from a Rookie!

How can online job boards use Rookie’s content strategies to attract traffic and become a resource to niche or local job seekers?

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