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How Bleacher Report pivoted from Facebook to Instagram

CEO Dave Finocchio says Snapchat is interesting, too — but Instagram is where Bleacher Report is making money.

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Recent posts from Bleacher Report’s popular “House of Highlights” Instagram account Instagram / House of Highlights

Facebook’s recently announced changes to its News Feed has many publishers gnashing their teeth, afraid that when the social media giant de-emphasizes news, it will destabilize their businesses.

But Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio says he’s not worried. His 12-year-old sports media company started finding alternatives to the News Feed years ago.

“Our traffic from Facebook, in terms of referrals back to Bleacher Report, peaked in January 2015,” Finocchio said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “Our traffic today from Facebook — even though Bleacher Report is much, much larger than it was in January 2015 overall — our traffic from Facebook is a fraction of what it was at the peak. I’m talking like 15, 20 percent of what it was.”

“On the flip side, our Instagram audience has blown up to a proportion we never imagined possible,” he added.

Finocchio said Bleacher Report has found three successful forms of advertising on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook: Branded content (which is sometimes called native advertising); sponsored shows; and, for a “select group” of brands, Bleacher Report will distribute their commercials, TV-style, and disclose that it has been paid to do so.

The engagement rate of posts on Instagram — meaning “Likes” or comments on videos — is way higher than it is on Facebook, Finocchio said. He pointed to House of Highlights, a Bleacher Report-owned account with more than eight million followers, which has an engagement rate of “3 or 4 percent.”

“Bleacher Report’s is about 3 percent, so House of Highlights is a little higher, but those are high for industry standards,” Finocchio said. “On Facebook, our engagement rate will be like two-tenths of 1 percent [and] that’s above the industry standard. You’re talking about a user base that’s 15 to 20 times more engaged on Instagram than Facebook.”

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On the new podcast, Finocchio also talked about how Bleacher Report has used other platforms, including Snapchat, to get its content in front of users who don’t visit the website. Snap is in the process of its own redesign, but doesn’t currently have the same reach as Instagram — repeated studies have shown that messaging, not consuming media, is the most popular activity in the app.

“What I like about it from a business standpoint is it’s a highly concentrated audience of teenagers,” Finocchio said about Snapchat. “Teenagers’ sports interests, like the stories they care about, don’t always come through in the data from our own website or Instagram or on other platforms where the audiences are more diluted.”

“Last summer, we did not plan to go that big on the Mayweather-McGregor fight,” he added. “But on Snap, every time we did something about it was just blowing up. The data came back showing that over and over and over again, so we ended up greenlighting a bunch of really creative projects — animated projects, Claymation projects — we did a bunch of really cool stuff for that fight, and it crushed!”

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