We love chatting with our Disqus publishers to learn about their different goals, strategies, and advice. As a publisher with a very active Disqus commenting community Man Repeller naturally stood out, and we were lucky enough to interview Hillary Nelson, their Product Manager, last month. Man Repeller is a small but mighty media company that explores a wide variety of topics including fashion, health, beauty, culture, identity, and power. During this interview, we gained some insights into the site’s success, best practices, and future goals. Many publishers face the same issues when trying to build a successful relationship with their readers: engagement, peace-keeping, and audience loyalty. Check out our interview with Hillary below 👇
S: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do at MR?
H: My name is Hillary Nelson and I’m the product manager here at MR. I oversee all of our digital content and how it’s presented to our users in any aspect, which includes the MR site proper, social media, newsletters, offsite reading experiences like AMP and Apple News and also our digital shopping site, Repeller (check it out for some seriously cool apparel), which we launched earlier this month.
S: We know that you are new to Man Repeller… what drew you to the team?
H: I’ve always loved fashion, especially fashion that feels conversational and approachable and MR checks both of those boxes. Prior to MR and my old job at New York Magazine, I was working for Conde Nast at Lucky Magazine, and they had a similar vibe too. Obviously they had a bigger staff, but everyone was warm and welcoming, and it wasn’t that Devil Wears Prada portrayed fashion world. It was a lot of senior editors coming up saying “Oh my gosh, I love your makeup, what is that highlighter?” MR has a similar vibe because it grew from being just Leandra (site founder) and her experience in fashion. She then ended up really building a brand that empowers women and gives them voices to talk about different issues or topics, showing that women can be these multifaceted creatures.
S: Last year MR published an article recognizing top commenters and asked them a few questions. Do you see yourself doing more of those highlights in the future? Do you ever take content that you see in the comments and work that into your posts?
H: For sure. That piece about highlighting our top commenters did really well and we’ve talked about doing a version of this annually. We also create a lot of content where we’ll solicit people to give us feedback or opinions on something, and then we do one or more stories in which we highlight it. For example, Harling (MR Fashion Editor), did a piece about investment styles. This was a fun piece because we didn’t solicit any feedback but actually ended up finding a story from a discussion in the comments. There were a lot of comments around how everyone’s term of investment is different (for some it’s $500, for others it’s $1500). Seeing this, we decided to reach out to community members through comments and social media and asked them to tell us about a recent investment they made and why. We angled the story around the range of investment practices and it ended up performing really well. We received great feedback in the comments too because we highlighted real people in our audience and demonstrated that we listened.
We’ve published quite a few like that. Another example is a piece we posted about how to make friends as adults; we opened up a Google Form and asked via social media and in the comments about how different people make friends as adults. A lot of the responses actually came from Disqus users on the site as well as on social media. Another fun part is that we occasionally see loyal Disqus commenters on the site make friendships through commenting to each other on MR articles and then meet up at events that we host. Our community has grown in such an interesting way; these women are not just making these secure online friendships, but they’re also meeting up with each other in person and coming to MR community events and showing others how they met through MR in the comments or on our Instagram.
S: Over the last year, there have been many changes in referral traffic, especially for digital publishers, with Facebook’s changing algorithm, Google AMP, Instant Articles, etc. How have those changes affected MR in terms of driving traffic to the site?
H: Our biggest social referral traffic is Instagram, so we’ve put a lot of thought and focus into it. Google AMP has been a little quiet. We aren’t a news site, so it’s rare for us to see big results there, but we’re starting to experiment with some more timely stories. We’re also launching on Apple News, and testing out different areas and focusing on the audiences of each platform and what best serves them. At the end of the day, we are a community-first company, so the way we talk to our audience on Instagram versus Facebook versus how we present ourselves on Apple News can be slightly different based on what we’re seeing engagement-wise, and we tweak our strategy accordingly.
S: You mentioned that Man Repeller will be partnering with Apple News. What are your main goals for MR on this platform?
H: We feel like it’s an area that’s exciting for us to try and where we could potentially stand out. I’ve worked with Apple News in the past, and I think Apple is a great partner to have on the media side, especially if you fulfill a niche audience, which MR does. We thought this would be a great partnership because there aren’t a lot of fashion brands in the Apple News space, and we think we can bring a unique voice to that audience. Because we are on the smaller side, we do a lot of custom photography; we shoot mostly in house, whether that’s our styling team or celebrity profiles. We believe working with Apple will give us the opportunity to either release exclusive content first on Apple News or enhance existing content and test out some mobile formats we wouldn’t be able to on our own site.
S: Would you say a big part of the MR audience consists of returning visitors?
H: Our breakdown is about 40% returning audience and 60% new visitors. Our goal is to continue growing the returning users, but we plan to grow in a more natural, organic way. We don’t want scale just for scale size. We want it to be the right scale for us. Being able to respond to our community is so important to us, and we don’t want to lose that because it’s what makes MR so special.
S: Do you have any specific strategies for building audience loyalty and getting those users to come back?
H: We’ve been looking especially at our mobile user experience and how we can keep people on MR longer. We’re trying to ensure that someone reading an article in one particular franchise knows there are other articles similar to this. We look at the most non-disruptive user flow to get to an article and pay attention to how people want to engage with things like slideshow versus inline images. We’re also starting to reach out to our audience to see how they would like to engage with us more.
S: What are your go-to ways to strike up a conversation or engage with your audience?
H: We do a combination of things because our audience on the website isn’t necessarily the same audience responding on social. We publish a lot of articles where we ask people to give recommendations. For example, we ran a campaign this month asking our readers to tell us the best adult book series and we got over 150 comments on it! There was a lot of chatter between commenters which is the kind of engagement we really like to drive on-site.
S: How do you facilitate outreach? How do you obtain and use feedback from your audience to approach your future content?
H: It’s a variety of strategies from surveys that we send out in our newsletters to posts to reading through comments around topics that people naturally bring up. We go with our gut, and as long as it feels like MR, we’re willing to give it a shot and see how it goes. We fully trust our community and believe that if we ask them what they want, they will give us a very long list.
S: How does the MR team handle moderating or engaging with your audience?
H: We don’t have to moderate much, which is nice. We converse a lot, which is something that separates us and makes us sort of unique. We don’t just publish and walk away. Our team members will all jump in and respond to people in the comments. We all have little jokes and will often reply to each other in the comments. Leandra will sometimes pop in and talk about how much she likes something. Because we have fostered such a positive environment and allowed people to speak openly, we haven’t had to moderate comments as much as many other places I have been -- where you sometimes have to completely turn off comments or be concerned about what will be written. We even leave comments on for our integrated editorial sponsored content and those get overwhelmingly positive comments which is not something that usually happens for sponsored content.
S: What tips do you have for fostering positive site engagement?
H: Having worked at small, medium, and large companies in media -- and it’s definitely easier on the small side, but the most important thing is that you have to get your entire team committed to it. It’s really hard to have one person leading the charge of responding to comments and engaging the community because that one person becomes the figure that the community knows and goes to. With MR, Leandra really pushes all of us to engage and be a part of the conversation.. We believe if you can lead from the top, down and show that’s it’s important to engage with people it gets everyone excited to do it too. You really want everyone to be chiming in from time to time.
S: We noticed that Man Repeller has a subscription box in the Disqus embed to collect newsletter signups-- where would you say you’ve seen the most success for collecting emails?
H: We just put that in the Disqus embed a few weeks ago and we’ve seen quite a few submissions, which surprised me because I would’ve guessed most people who signed up through Disqus would already be on our newsletter since they seem like similarly loyal readers. Right now the Disqus embed is one of the higher performers for us because that’s where we are seeing loyal audiences and new audiences coming in to comment. It’s been a great experiment for us to see how users already on Disqus are now signing up to be even more loyal with the newsletter.
S: We believe email is a huge component of audience development. What is your objective with this feature?
H: I am very excited about email newsletters because I think they’re a space where you can be playful and really direct with people in a way you can’t always do on the web. I’ve been pushing for us to grow our newsletter and test out new engagement opportunities and different content strategies. Right now we have a weekly newsletter, and on Tuesday and Thursday, we do a more personal newsletter. For example, on Tuesday our market editor does a shopping specific newsletter where she talks about the products she’s loving with that week. On Thursdays, we do “Man Repeller Picks” which are team led and focus on “what do we like this week?” I’d like to do more campaigns like that where we get to bring out the personalities of everyone on the team. We’ve started to move towards that on social, where we give highlights to our editorial team, and they talk through the stories they loved that week. I think there’s a way that we could translate that into newsletters, which could be very interesting.
S: Going back to social, we’re interested in hearing a little more about how important social channels are for MR and what value they provide.
H: Social is very important for us. We use it not only to promote our content but also to grow and engage with communities. The MR blog initially launched as Instagram was coming to fruition, and Leandra jumped on Instagram very quickly and transformed what MR was-- from a simple style blog to a conversation about fashion and getting dressed. As much as we use social to respond and engage with our community, we also look at it to see what’s important, what’s exciting, and what’s happening now. We’ve written some stories that are direct responses to what’s happening on social media. For example, there was a viral tweet that said “name the first Meryl Streep movie that comes to mind,” and we ended up doing a piece around the post and responses. The article performed really well, and it started a conversation in our comments section about the thread of the tweet, which was very exciting for us to watch unfold. Instagram is also super important for us, and we have someone fully dedicated to it. It’s a big part of our growth, but at the same time, our community on site is also important. One of the things I’m looking at is how we can get those two communities more engaged together.
S: What would you say are MR’s biggest initiatives for the last half of 2019.
H: One of the projects we are still working on is product. The collection we have right now is our second and we’ll come out with our third in the second half of the year. We’re really trying to understand if that’s a growth area for us. We are also extending our reach across platforms that make sense for us, for example, I mentioned we are starting with Apple News soon, and that seems like a really perfect area for us right now. We’re definitely looking to grow, but we want to do so in a healthy way. We aren’t growing by millions of users every year, and that is totally fine for us because at the heart of MR is our community. We want to make sure we're always able to communicate with them. We’re also looking at speaking with users and understanding potential gaps we may have in our coverage that our audience might be interested in: entertainment, health, beauty. We examine things like, what are our key growth areas? How do we keep growing our community? At the end of the day, our goal really is to grow our audience loyalty and less to grow at scale. We want to get 50-60% of loyal users who are coming back, engaging, telling us how they feel about topics in the comments, and who trust our recommendations rather than just hitting an X million visitors per month.
We had such a blast chatting with Hillary from Man Repeller, and love hearing about different ways they engage with their audience and foster a sense of community on their site. We’re looking to host future Q&A’s with more Disqus publishers, so if you’re interested in participating please let us know in the comments section! 👇