Tuesday, December 01, 2009
How Spacing builds community

Community is a big buzzword these days in the media world – everyone wants to be a part of it. In the Canadian magazine landscape, one of the best examples of building community around a magazine brand is Spacing – not at all surprising, since in reality they were a community before they were a magazine. Nonetheless, they’ve done a great job building up their community in Toronto and across the country.

Matthew Blackett of Spacing was kind enough to speak to my class at Ryerson last night about the different community efforts Spacing is a part of. Here are some of the key points I took out of his talk.

There are four elements of community-building at Spacing:
• events
• merchandise
• social media
• opinion and advocacy

All of these contribute to building reader loyalty, increasing readership, making a name for the brand and creating alternative revenue streams.

• Spacing has been holding/sponsoring a variety of events since its first launch party
• In the beginning, events were a source of revenue (mainly through charging admission)
• Events are also a way for fans and staff to socialize with each other
• Beyond launch parties (for magazine issues and also for their regional blogs), Spacing hosts different events such as Toronto the Good and its editors and writers participate in various events and forums
• In 2006, Spacing hosted a mayor’s debate in Toronto that, in addition to their Spacing Votes blog, triggered quite a bit of attention from outside media

• One of Spacing’s great successes is the subway buttons they sell, which have apparently been a great source of revenue. They’ve followed them up with similar ideas such as neighbourhood buttons and streetcar T-shirts. Note that most of these don’t actually advertise the Spacing brand, but a cause/idea that Spacing believes in. They’re good for the brand even without saying Spacing on them.
• Most magazines push gift subs around Christmas. Spacing took the idea one step further and created “gift packages”: that year’s magazine issues (there are usually three) wrapped in a TTC map and packaged with additional items such as postcards. A great revenue stream, good way to introduce new readers to the magazine, plus a way to monetize leftover back issues.

Social media
• Spacing makes use of Twitter and Facebook to promote stories and the magazine as well as engage their audience
• Special subscription drives on Facebook and Twitter (e.g., special sub price for three days only) have done well
• Recently, Blackett has been promoting the cover of the new issue (it’s currently at the printer) on Twitter and Flickr – it’s had over 1,500 views and means people will be watching for it on newsstands and know what to look for. [I don't know about you, but I often have a hard time finding the specific magazine I'm looking for because I have no idea what colour that month's cover will be. This often happens with Bon Appetit.]
• Spacing also makes good use of Flickr for creating a community of photographers and photo bloggers by letting them share photos with their group and by sharing their own.

• Spacing doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a magazine with an opinion and an agenda. I think this is key in community-building: it’s hard to build a community around the idea of being inoffensive.
• One example is their ideas around the TTC: they’ve been involved in a number of debates and focus on the constructive, for example the Toronto streetcar map they’ve proposed to the TTC.
• Most recently, Spacing is involved in the debate over a local billboard tax.

Overall, I think the key here is to know who you are and stick to that idea when creating ideas for community-building. Spacing has a strong sense of identity and it’s serving them well.

- Kat Tancock
About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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