We have focused on bringing people back to our owned and operated platforms. This makes sense as this is where we have more control and this is where we monetise. But research shows younger generations, particularly Gen Z, spend a lot of time on social media platforms and little to no time on ours.
The report goes on to say that each week:
78% of 18- to 24-year-olds access news via aggregators, search engines, and social media.
40% of that age group uses TikTok.
15% saying they use TikTok to find, discuss, or share news.
So, what if we invested in the distributed platforms to meet these younger audiences where they are?
We still don’t know if native digital generations will have more of a propensity to pay for news as they get older and have more of a need or desire for news as they become more active citizens — paying more taxes, buying houses, looking at education for their kids (all the fun things that adulthood brings!).
It’s a bet. If we invest in our brands on other platforms now, will it pay off as those people get older and have a greater propensity (we think) to subscribe?
The investment doesn’t necessarily need to be huge, but it does need to be real. And we need to understand that there is likely to be little to no short-term revenue on those platforms — this is a long-term play for most of us.
My colleague Ioana Straeter and I were talking about the interview with Rachel Richardson. Ioana told me the interview confirmed her observations during lectures she gave with students between 20-26 years old. Ioana was lecturing in Germany and told me the No. 1 source of news — which was for most of them the only source of news — was watching “Tagesschau” on Instagram.
Tagesschau is the public TV evening news programme, an institution in Germany. The students couldn’t tell her why they chose this to follow. Her guess is that there is some kind of conditioning: They grew up with their parents and grandparents watching Tagesschau on TV every evening at eight. This generation has taken part of that habit, just with more flexibility on timing and via Instagram and other channels, not TV.
If we truly want to make this investment, we can’t just repurpose content for other platforms. It needs to be native. TikTok is different than Instagram Reels, which are different than YouTube, which is different than video elsewhere. Each platform has its own nuances that we need to recognise, and this means hiring accordingly.
Also, younger people want the news in a very different way than we are used to. It’s not just format, it’s the style of content. There is much data that shows this generation wants more facts and raw information so they can determine what to make of it.
Frankly, it’s not easy to have a good overview of all platforms. Riske Betten, head of product at Mediahuis NL, pointed out to me that we are in the business of publishing and distributing — but these are two very different roles. Product tries to bridge, but we also expect editorial leaders to manage this on a day-to-day level.
Maybe we need to take a “pit stop” between the two to determine what should be published where (on or off platform) and in which mediums. Laura Hertzfeld recently argued that every newsroom should have a matchmaker (or perhaps we think of it as a brand advocate) to help look at content to figure out what formats could best be used and where it should be distributed.
Product and Data Summit 2.0: November 3-17
We’ve announced the first speakers for the INMA Product and Data Summit 2.0 and are super excited about it. Come and hear Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of AI and Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum; Helen Hewitt, head of design operations at WSJ; José Meroño, former head of data at Prisa; Julian Delany, chief technology officer/data and digital at News Corp Australia; and many more smart people sharing their wisdom at the intersection of product and data.
Onboarding for active personalisation: a case study
I just spent some time with Nicole Dingess, vice president/product, design, and UX, at Gannett to get an update on the work she and her team are doing around the UX for personalisation.
They saw stronger audience and engagement numbers over the past three months due to personalised experiences such as the “For Subscriber” module, which saw daily engagement from non-subscribers jump from 2.5k per day to as high as 12.5k, highlighting the app’s ability to increase engagement through personalisation of both what content users see and how they interact with it.
So it’s no wonder they wanted to double down and figure out how they can get more people choosing their preferences.
Before we start, hats off to Nicole and anyone at Gannett working on centralised features because this encompasses 200+ titles and, as we know, you can never please everyone. However, I think she and the team will come pretty close because of it. Not only does she have internal stakeholders throwing questions and comments, but she had a thoughtful answer to everything I threw at her (and I love asking questions).
We focused the conversation on two parts:
- Onboarding to get people to select what they are interested in at the moment of subscription.
- User prompts afterwards further along the journey.
Although we know active personalisation increases engagement, getting readers to give their preferences in the first place is tough.
In an ideal world, you will already know a little about your customer: What was the article that tipped them over to subscribe? What topics have they been interested in to date? But sometimes you won’t or it’s simply not a priority to build this into v1 of your onboarding. For the sake of this post, I’m going to shelve that thought for a later discussion.
There are three forms of follows within active personalisation Gannett is looking at:
Having two to three categories for users to pick from is fairly standard (look at examples from Medium, Substack, Spotify, and more here).
Of course, not every user is going to go through this flow when they subscribe. Some just want to get to the content. And they want it now so it’s important to give them the option to skip for now. This doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it, but you have to be mindful of what the user wants at any given time. And if they have just paid for access to something specific, their mindset may not be in the right place to start handing over information about their preferences.
Onboarding in this way is likely to be tailored to where they are signing up from: Are they in app or on the desktop? Gannet started their personalisation in-app only. Either way the experience will be slightly different. Make sure you think about both.
Gannett is building this out right now, and Nicole told me the first thing they will be looking for in their tests is where the friction is: What do users skip? What’s tripping them up? It’s hard to know the right number of steps for your users until you actually try it. So how do we get around this?
If a reader doesn’t go through the full onboarding at that time, the prompts can be broken up into different visits. There are a number of ways of slicing and dicing this. For example, you could prompt people to follow an author when they have read a full article or two or more articles by the same person. Ditto with topics. Or you can add subtle cues such as: “This article was highlighted in our morning newsletter. Would you like to sign up?”
Another way of looking at this is to highlight things users may not otherwise know they have access to (or don’t know they exist). Gannett is mostly made up of local titles so that could be high school sports scores or local events through to a new podcast. These are additional benefits which Gannett highlights as “Did you know?” questions to readers.
The beauty of in-app prompts is that you can ask a little each time to build up a profile. When done well, users want to add information as they see an additional value and it doesn’t interrupt their experience. Rather than 10 questions in one session, they may get these questions over 15 visits in one month. It feels more manageable.
For example, the FT adds related topics when you do a search. It’s a simple yet effective way of nudging people to add interests and preferences.
It’s not just in-app or on Web prompts that can be used. Gannett is doing some experimentation with other formats — particularly using “Did you know” type questions to highlight products and services within newsletters people are already receiving.
The real thing to understand in all this is that we know active personalisation can increase engagement dramatically. Therefore, if you decide to go down this path, you’ll need to allocate time and investment into onboarding readers through a variety of means.
Tweet of the week
Every product leader I have spoken to has had this happen. Truly understanding customer need is the most important step in product process as if we get this wrong, we waste valuable resource building something that customers ultimately don’t use. Thanks to Aakash Gupta for this tweet of truth.
- Coverage of the Product Initiative Meet-Up last week about how Schibsted is attracting younger news outsiders.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.