The statistics that Lewis D'Vorkin, chief product officer of Forbes Media has to share are impressive. When he first returned to Forbes in 2010, (he was previously an executive editor of the magazine from 1996 to 2000), he says less than one per cent of traffic to Forbes.com came from social sites. Now that can range from 15 to 17 per cent a month.
Search traffic has also risen, from 25 per cent to 40 per cent, and D'Vorkin says that the shifts seen in content discovery are down to the contributor model he and his team have worked to introduce over the past couple of years.
Meanwhile the number of links featured on the homepage have been halved, while click-throughs have grown by 25 to 30 per cent. And digital revenues in the first half of 2012 were up 26 per cent compared to the first half of 2011, he added.
And in the past 18 months traffic has doubled, with July seeing "another record month" for Forbes.com with 31.5m unique users.
So what is the content and delivery model supporting this growth?
- The contributor content model
The idea for the model, which D'Vorkin and his team introduced, goes back to the rise in social media and the impact this had on traffic and content creation, he says.
"It changed the nature of every single thing about the digital space."
And this was only worsened in 2008 due to the economic climate, he added. "Everything got really ugly for everybody".
Around this time D'Vorkin started his own company, True/Slant, which was "built upon a whole new strategy of how you create content with a core group of knowledgeable, talented, topic-specific journalists, authors, academics, business-leaders, people who had specific area of expertise".The notion was to build a platform, build the tools, build the infrastructure so these individuals could publish content under their own name and their own brand and build a loyal following ... and be incentivised for their successLewis D'Vorkin, chief product officer
"The notion was to build a platform, build the tools, build the infrastructure so these individuals could publish content under their own name and their own brand and build a loyal following ... and be incentivised for their success."
In June 2010, after two years, the company was acquired by Forbes.
"Forbes wanted my company, and there were four of us, to completely implement that model within the Forbes environment and add it to the core group of full-time reporters that the company had."
This meant a change to the way content was "produced, created, distributed, marketed and in many ways paid for on Forbes.com", he explained.
- Content creator pages
"We built a single page for the individually-branded content creator where that person's photo is there, their name is there, their followers are there, their Facebook Subscribe people are there, there is a bio of who they are and what their knowledge is".
Forbes gives contributors the tools to publish, programme and add multimedia and links of their choice, he added. They also moderate their own community.
"They are also responsible to share their content across the social web, and we help them with that. We built a desk, a team of people, to support content creators, support them with the tools, support them with the infrastructure, teach them, train them how to market themselves and do all these things."
- Stacks and the homepage
The design of the homepage aims to reflect the voices, or "constituencies", of the media business, including the content creators, the audience, marketers and also the social voice.
It is divided into "stacks", with each section focused on presenting content in a way which reflects the voice of each constituency.
"The top stack is what I like to call the Forbes agenda and the journalists agenda. We have 1000 content creators, we, Forbes, programme the content that we think is important in that stack. It's our choice."
The second stack is called the social stack and is based on the consumption of content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and "how it's being consumed on our site as to the conversation taking place".
"So basically that stack is programmed by the audience. It's what they're doing, not what we think they should be saying but what they're actually choosing to read themselves".
Thirdly, there is the audience stack which enables a user to "personalise the Forbes experience" with their own photo which will show what or who they are following and related posts.
D'Vorkin said this part of the homepage represents the "personal experience" that a user chooses to take through the available content, based on their interests.
The fourth stack is the voice of the marketer, and there are several more stacks below this for video and data.
- Incentivising contributors
D'Vorkin said a "very significant number of our contributor base" are "compensated by the size of their audience".They are paid a fee for every unique visitor that comes to their page, but they are paid a multiple of that amount if the user comes back a second timeLewis D'Vorkin, chief product officer
"We incentivise them that the more loyal the audience, the more they make," he said.
Loyalty is measured by how much unique visitors return, he explained. "They are paid a fee for every unique visitor that comes to their page, but they are paid a multiple of that amount if the user comes back a second time."
"You make money by generating audience, you make more money by generating repeat users in any given month to your content."
- Synchronising print and digital strategies
Awareness of the Forbes brand online means "influence spilling over to our print product" which he said has "increased its sales at the newsstand".
"We are bucking a trend that's industry wide and I do think part of it is because we're extending our brand to people by having such a large audience across the social web that's creating a large degree of awareness for everything that we do."
- Here's more from D'Vorkin on the growth of Forbes.com and the shifts in traffic sources. He also discusses the new challenges and opportunities in the digital space, such as the growth of traffic from mobile devices