Customer-first approach in product, content are key to digital engagement
Conference Blog | 28 September 2021
There are many ways to address reader engagement, but a customer-first approach should be at the crux of every strategy.
The Wall Street Journal, Lee Enterprises, Ringier Group, and The Indian Express shared how they better serve readers through product and content during the INMA Digital Reader Engagement Master Class in September.
The Wall Street Journal uses e-mail to point readers to content
Getting customers to build habits is a key part of engagement and retention at The Wall Street Journal. Brianne Kennedy, associate director of engagement marketing, said understanding which role a product plays will determine which actions are used to encourage adoption. For niche products with high retention, the company takes a personalised approach.
“Our data team created a model to see what kind of action is taken and how frequently that action is taken,” Kennedy said. “We noticed there were a handful of products with low sign-up [numbers] but high retention.”
One such product is WSJ Recipes, which uses AI to search for recipes across the WSJ site. Although it didn’t have a high volume of sign-ups, it had a high percentage rate of retention. For such high-retention products, WSJ created recurring use cases to e-mail people who have signed up for a specific product as well as those whose habits have shown they might enjoy such content.
“We use RSS feeds, so we set it up once,” she said. “It goes out monthly and because it’s automated, we receive the benefits of that.”
Lee Enterprises connects with readers through newsletters
By becoming consumer-obsessed and engaging those consumers before they become subscribers, newspapers can build an important connection that will help not only convert but retain them. Ruby Allen, director of subscriber retention for U.S.-based Lee Enterprises, said an effective starting point is newsletters, which gives registered users access to many different types of content.
“It’s a great way to keep them engaged even if they’re not a subscriber,” she said. “This is the backbone of showing them what the newspaper has as far as content.”
Then it’s a matter of seeing where they are most likely to engage — and meeting them there.
“You’re going to look at several different things to help build that engagement,” Allen said. “How engaged are they on video? Do you have a podcast? Look at where they’re engaging.”
People are looking to connect with something, she said, and it’s the news media company’s job to create the kind of connections they’re looking for: “We have to find a way to connect with people on things that matter to them, whether it’s hard-hitting news or entertainment or cooking or puzzles.”
In a question and answer session, INMA’s Readers First Initiative lead Greg Piechota also touted the opportunity puzzles and games offer for publishers, but going further said it’s not just about the content offerings — the right registration strategy is critical. Publishers need to embed registration into the user journey with a very clear value exchange, he said.
“People don’t register for nothing,” Piechota said. “You need to provide some value for them and it seems for the top subscription leaders, most use newsletters.”
Registration needs to be simple, Piechota said: Just ask for an e-mail address and get all the other information later. For example, News24 in South Africa made a full-screen, call-to-action page that had people register using an e-mail, Google, or Facebook. The results were outstanding: 91% of its mobile users registered and logged in.
Ringier Group increases female engagement with AI tool
Ringier Group in Switzerland recognised an opportunity to better serve its readers through content. To combat underrepresentation of women in media, Ringier began its “EqualVoice” initiative in November of 2019. Lea Eberle, project manager and head of strategy, said EqualVoice is not only a woman's concern.
“It's about leadership. It is a matter for all of us, men and women,” she said. “It's about interacting as equals and being respectful to one another.”
EqualVoice uses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool called, “The EqualVoice-Factor,” which indicates the percentage of coverage of men and women in all articles across all publishing brands of Ringier worldwide. EqualVoice-Factor analyses the data in two ways, the “Teaser-Score” and the “Body-Score.”
Since launching the EqualVoice initiative, Ringier Group has seen an increase in female subscribers in its print and digital publications. Its tabloid newspaper, which typically housed only male subscribers, reached a 50% female readers ratio for the first time.
The Indian Express directs readers to local stories
Nandagopal Rajan, editor of new media and head of subscriptions at The Indian Express, said a 24/7 news strategy has completely changed how the company serves its readers. The team publishes about 350 stories every 24 hours. Of these, approximately 125-150 are in print, 60% of which come in during the day.
On the Indian Express Web site home page, a drop-down list to choose the reader’s city of interest is prominently displayed on both mobile and desktop. This gives the reader a localised news page where new stories are published as they break.
“The thinking behind this is because we are so big online, and the type of users we have, we already had a lot of readers coming in from these cities. But they were not really reading the stories from their city,” he said. “There was a discovery issue, which we’ve tried to fix with this.”
The “Explained” section continues to give in-depth coverage to topics that users want more information on, from science and technology to arts and sports. This responds to reader requests, of which they get close to 30 per day.
“This helps us to create community,” Rajan said. “It helps us get bearings on what readers really want. Now we have a two-way conversation.”