SOCIAL NETWORKING

06.08.11

Newsweek Readers Play 'Guess the Cover' on Facebook

Two days before this week’s Newsweek hit newsstands, the magazine asked its readers on Facebook to guess the contents of the cover. Brian Ries on how the experiment played out.

For a few thousand fans of Newsweek’s various social-media properties (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter), Saturday morning on the Internet brought a mysterious polished black shoe, a wrinkled white sock, and one leg of a man’s black dress pants—hiked too far up the shin. The image was a clue; a small, context-less fraction of the magazine’s cover, which this week (some say controversially) features a rendition of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s head on the body of a cast member from The Book of Mormon on Broadway. The design was sent through our inbox late Friday night. The cover wouldn’t make its debut until Sunday’s morning TV shows, so why not give the savviest of our readers the chance to scoop the magazine?

So alongside the photo was the name of the game: “Can you guess our cover story?”

The first Facebook readers were thrilled when they thought they had it nailed—that black shoe/white sock combination was unmistakable. Plus, the King of Pop had died June 25, 2009, so we are nearing on that two-year anniversary. That would make a sensible Newsweek cover! “MJ?” guessed one. “Michael Jackson?” guessed another. “Looks like MJ to me,” ventured a third. But then came a voice of reason: “Not enough glitter on those socks to be MJ,” Renée G. wrote, before adding her own guess. “Glee?” A similar line of questioning came through on Tumblr.

The first “winner”—and we use that term loosely—came through nine minutes after we posted the fraction of the cover. “Originally,” typed Anthony Ha, “my guess was this: http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/.”

That was close enough for us. We weren’t expecting the perfect guess (“It’s a cast member from the Book of Mormon except instead of his head it’s Mitt Romney’s because it’s the Mormon Moment!”)—even as something close to that came from a Tumblr reader later that weekend. (The answer: “Mitt Romney! Because he’s Mormon! And so is that musical!”)

mormon-live-chat-coppins
Photo Illustration by Newsweek; Susan Walsh / AP (head); Frank Ockenfels (body)

“The only reason that I know of the play is because Comedy Central is kind enough to let people living outside of the States view Comedy Central programs,” said Anthony Haggard, a longtime Newsweek fan and student living in Poland, when reached over Facebook. (His profile photo features a scene from the network’s South Park.) “So I’ve seen the advertisements for the play on South Park episodes streamed from their website.”

Something close came from a Tumblr reader later that weekend: “Mitt Romney! Because he’s Mormon! And so is that musical!”

We reached out to the Tumblr user too to peek inside her thought process but have yet to get a response.

It was a fun experiment. But you’re likely wondering, what’s the point? The initial Newsweek post garnered more than 70,000 News Feed impressions—the number of times the post has been seen on our wall and in the News Feeds of our fans. More than 80 readers registered a guess, even if more than half guessed some variation of Michael Jackson—that’s solid, meaningful engagement for all of us. But most important, it made unveiling the cover a tad more fun.

And then there’s Anthony, the student and member of the U.S. Army who was first to guess the Broadway reference, for whom it was a homecoming—of sorts. “It’s been more or less four years since I’ve seen a current Newsweek,” he told me, citing four years living abroad and a commitment to the Army as a fair alibi.

“I’ve also just learned that I can get Newsweek outside of the States,” he later added, “so I’m going to try to get a subscription once I know my new address.”

Who said Facebook can’t be used to sell magazines?