Newsday transforms COVID text alerts to general breaking news alerts
Ideas Blog | 02 March 2023
When we launched Newsday’s SMS texting service focused on COVID-19 in May 2020, our primary goal was to inform our audience about the pandemic’s impact on our area through daily SMS texts.
One year later, the pandemic impacted our lives differently, and we realised our text message strategy had to shift, too. So we overhauled our texting campaign, which led us to exceed one of our primary goals: driving digital subscribers.
In early 2021 — as vaccines started rolling out — we saw big jumps in our number of text subscribers. During January, we grew from 2,700 text subscribers to 6,000. Subscribers came to us with questions about coronavirus cases, COVID-19 restrictions in public, and most notably, the chaotic vaccine rollout.
They texted panicked pleas to help find a vaccine appointment, and we tried reading and responding to almost all of the 150 messages we received. We even wrote stories after hearing from texters, including a step-by-step guide for how to find a vaccine appointment that became the top-performing Newsday article of the year.
A few months later, new COVID-19 cases started to wane, vaccines were widely available, we had fewer coronavirus stories to text out, and the world was opening up to a kind of new normal. At least one texter asked us for texts on other topics, so we re-evaluated our strategy.
Working with our vendor, Subtext, we discussed a transition of our coronavirus texts campaign to become a place for general breaking news. We would change the focus to text our audience about other topics, such as breaking weather news, stories about schools, and major crime stories — and of course, we’d continue to text about the coronavirus.
We knew this transition would not be seamless. We built a strong community of texters who relied on us solely for pandemic news, and the virus was still very much among us. We didn’t want to lose our large audience, but we did want to reach new people who may prefer getting texts about local news versus checking our Web site, app, or newsletters.
We also wanted to be transparent with our audience about the shift. So we sent a text to let them know we had an important update about our text messages, detailing the other topics they would get texts about and assuring them that we would continue to tell them about the impact of the virus in their communities.
A time of transition
We lost about 155 people from our roughly 6,500 subscribers after sending the transition text. However, we also heard from people who were excited about the change, saying they looked forward to getting our texts and thanking us for the updates.
After we made the switch, we were selective about the news we decided to text and the frequency — we didn’t want to inundate people with texts for every breaking news event. And, we paid attention to the types of messages that generated conversation and included links that people engaged with.
Later, we experimented with texting lighter content to our audience, such as things to do on the weekends and restaurants to visit from our lifestyle team. We noticed many enjoyed getting those texts heading into the weekend, but some did not. We created a segment so people who wanted lifestyle content could opt into it. The segment now includes about 300 people.
While the changes came with challenges, they did help us achieve our goals. We wanted to reach 100 people who are becoming digital Newsday subscribers by receiving our text messages in 2021. By the end of the year, we exceeded that goal and hit 115 (plus another 30 from people reading our text message sign-up page). Sixty-two of those conversions resulted after we broadened our focus to general breaking news. We now have more than 6,600 active texting subscribers.
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