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Interview: Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media, Kiplinger.com

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How do you grow an online community for what traditionally has been an offline brand? How do you choose which social platforms to be active on, and how do you measure and make sense of it all?

These are some of the questions we asked Doug Harbrecht, director of new media for Kiplinger.com, the fastest growing Web site in the investing/personal finance magazine space.

Harbrecht joined Kiplinger in 2006 from BusinessWeek Online, where he was executive editor and prior to that, senior editor and online news editor.

Your title is Director of New Media for Kiplinger.com. What exactly does that entail? Take us through a typical day.

Essentially I’m responsible for all things digital and online for Kiplinger.com.


That includes organizing and bringing content to the website, working with the magazine and closely with Kiplinger editors to showcase our editors digitally.

It involves strategy, and under that rubric is also business development.

Our managing editor does the day to day part of the editorial process. Our business manager does budgeting and fiscal stuff. My primary role is to make sure we are growing and presenting what we do in the best possible way.

Tell us a bit about Kiplinger.com’s social media efforts to date.

We have very active social media efforts going on. We’re on Twitter, we have a Facebook page. We work regularly with Digg and Reddit to feature interesting content. We’re up to 1,500 Facebook fans and 6,000 Twitter followers. Our feeds on those platforms are purely content. We don’t do contests, sweepstakes or anything like that.

What is Kiplinger.com doing to “measure” its new media efforts? What are you measuring, and why?

What we’re seeing is that Facebook is more of a driver to content on our website than Twitter. Twitter for us is more getting our name out there, being part of conversations taking place. In terms of traffic to site, Facebook does a better job.

We’re watching unique visitors. We want to grow a community on our own Website. We had a great January, where we equaled our May 2008 record of 2.1 million unique visitors.

What we’re trying to create is a community built around the core ethics and values of Kiplinger. We are unusual in our category – if you look at other personal finance magazines like Smart Money, or business magazines like Fortune, Forbes or BusinessWeek, maybe Forbes is the closest thing to what we are.

We stand for prudent investing — don’t just hit home runs, think about long term investing, and smart use of credit cards, the best values and ethics of thinking about money.

I always think of the film “It’s A Wonderful Life” where they say the richest person in town is the one who knows it’s not the money per se, it’s what the money can do for you and how you can turn your money into making world a better place.

How do you choose which social networks and sites to establish a presence on?

Well for example, we saw what was happening with Twitter last year. It was one of those instances where we had to be involved. Mobile applications is another space where clearly something is happening — we don’t know what it is yet.

We don’t have a lot of money to spend here. We’re more of a niche magazine for affluent readers, who may want to make their money last in retirement, etc. We tend to look out there for folks who most meet our criteria. We’re not going to Tweet every story. When our best college values story come out, we’ll put it out. That is something we’d certainly Tweet. We do cast the net widely, but are looking for people who share our values.

It’s a combination of critical mass and reaching the right audience. It’s tricky.

How should PR pros be pitching Kiplinger reporters? What kinds of “new media” do you find to be most helpful in pitches?

What we want to hear about is the content itself and how is it a good fit with what we do. With news events we will look for a distinct angle. For example, when Dick Cheney was Vice President he released his financial disclosure forms, and he had a lot of mutual funds on there. We have preeminent mutual fund experts, so we can analyze what his investment means to others.

We look to PR to recognize our distinct brand, and not bring the same pitch as they would bring to everybody. Bring us something specific for our audience.

What is Kiplinger’s online content strategy in terms of pay walls?

We have a mix of open and paid content. Most of the site is free. We sell digital versions of all of our letters.

Unfortunately virtually all efforts to charge for content online have failed and they’re still failing. The New York Times said, ‘we’re going to start charging, but we’re going to do it next year.’

Most publishers are queasy about how we can do it, because people are used to getting content for free. Should publications charge for content? Yes. Most will to survive, but the challenge is how do we charge for content without affecting ad revenues?

We are looking closely at paid models. We’re looking at those areas where our company is unique and where our essential, trusted, fiercely independent advice is something people will pay for. The question is how much can we charge? How much additional value can we offer? I don’t know yet but I’m confident we’ll figure it out.

You were previously at BusinessWeek for 20 years. What do you make of the changes Bloomberg has made to the publication since acquiring it?

I thought their recent interview with President Obama was pretty good. They got a rise out of the White House, which was critical of the way Obama was quoted on executive compensation.

I thought there was some news in that interview, and it was conducted by three Bloomberg folks, plus the new editor of the magazine. There were no old BusinessWeek reporters in that meeting.

I think the interesting question is if they are they going to use this venerated BusinessWeek publication to reach a larger, broader audience and build the brand or are they going to use the magazine now in order to sell more Bloomberg terminals. In other words, get those business folks who don’t have terminal and use it as way to market to those folks.

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