What’s next for Huffington Post Quebec?

After celebrating its five-year anniversary, the media org charts a path into a more social future.

Patrick White, managing editor, stands among the staff at Huffington Post Quebec

With five years now under its belt, Huffington Post Quebec is using its anniversary to look back at the news events and shifts in media that have made it what it is. But the media business being what it is, that nostalgia doesn’t afford it time to stop and smell the roses. The media organization has a few changes coming in 2017 that will continue its fight for relevance, readership and advertising dollars.

Huffington Post Quebec’s successes have mostly come as it’s developed the ability to create content independently of the English-language mothership. For example, where branded content and sponsorships were largely sold on the backs of U.S.-made series five years ago, the Quebec team is now producing more of its own French-language work to sell against.

Branded content has taken on an increased importance in recent years, according to Rashida Jeeva, general manager, Huffington Post Canada and head of content for AOL Canada. It’s an area she expects will continue to grow in 2017. The Quebec operation published 100 unique pieces of French-language branded content last year, each one serving as a local, purpose-built execution for brands.

“There was no way an advertiser could be integrated with a program produced in the U.S. or U.K.,” Jeeva says. “With a series produced out of Canada, there was an opportunity to sit down with the advertiser and figure out how to extend [a campaign] to a local brand. We owned the assets, we could move it forward and create assets for them.”

To that end, HuffPo Quebec is bringing back one of its most popular video seriesFemmes D’action- in 2017 for a second season after seeing strong advertiser support in 2015 from Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin brand.

ComScore reports the overall site averaged 1.3 million unique visitors in 2016. Early in the year, the site reached a “tipping point,” says managing editor Patrick White, where mobile users began outnumbering desktop users. Now, more than 60% of unique visitors are accessing content through their mobile devices. (The site was averaged 747,000 mobile unique visitors, according to  Mobile Metrix three-month data from December,  up 16% year-over-year).

Facebook, in particular, is a massive traffic driver, regardless of whether readers are on desktop or their phones.

“The referral traffic from Facebook is close to 54% of our traffic… that’s the name of the game,” says White. “Facebook is a partner and we have a revenue share agreement with them.”

Instagram has also been a strong traffic source and method of engagement. “It really is the medium of the future with the younger crowd,” noting that half its readership falls below 35-years old. “Snapchat has been tougher to monetize as it’s very narrow. But in terms of branding, Instagram has been a great tool for us. We reached 10,000 fans, and we only launched 15 months ago.”

With social channels being so important, HuffPo Quebec (much like its English-language siblings) has been experimenting with its story formats in those venues. Video has taken on an increasingly important role over the last three years, says White. The company has built up its in-house videography teams, and has begun experimenting with 360-degree video.

“Ninety-five per cent of younger kids watch video with the sound off,” says White. “We’re pushing short videos with text so they can still follow the story.”

Jeeva says audience data will continue to shape how the publication packages its content. With more than half of its readership being female, the traditionally female-read lifestyle and wellness sections of the site are being combined in the months ahead.

The overall look of the site is about to get a makeover as well. In Q2 2017, the website and mobile apps will update their content management systems and recreate their experiences to more closely resemble the American publication. This will make sponsored and advertiser-integrated content more visible in those venues.