Who are your readers? Who is your audience? And are you talking to and monitoring them enough? Alison Gow, editor of digital innovation at Trinity Mirror Regionals in the U.K., has some answers.
“I think newsrooms [or publishers] have taken a long time to move from talking about readers (as in, people invested in what we produce) to audience (as in, the potential pool of people who we could attract),” Gow (pictured here) told WAN IFRA’s World News Publishing Focus. “Taking it down a further layer to thinking of individual behaviours within that mass is the next step.”
Gow believes we are “hung up” on platforms and responsive design. “I agree that design is important, but actually, understanding our audiences is more important,” she said. “Fail at that, and your platform can be as beautiful and responsive as possible—but it will be a vacuum.”
Last week, Matt Bailey, an author and speaker on the subject, told me something similar: “Analytics is the heart of marketing; it’s where you learn. So many companies don’t ask that next question or they may not be talking to [their audience] correctly.”
Gow said that we often look at “our readers” or “the audience” as an entity. “An audience is not a shoal. It’s comprised of individuals who do things at specific points in their day, just like we all do. Understand that, layer it into your audience data…and suddenly you start to see a much more intricate picture of who you create stories for. From that, you can learn how you should create those stories and what formats they need to be presented in.”
Call it inside-out marketing. Instead of “We’re creating this webinar or white paper on this platform for what we think our audience wants and where we think they will be,” you get, “We conducted a focus group or have studied the data and found out they want to learn this, this and that, and they’re hanging out here. Thus we’re creating a MOOC-type course, a new webinar, or a new niche community on LinkedIn based on that.”
Metered paywalls can also serve to discern audience preferences. If The New York Times allows me to read 10 articles a month, they’ll quickly know my main interests. U.K.’s The Telegraph started their paywall at 20 free articles and then reduced it to 10. “The paper probably has a much better understanding now of what triggers users to subscribe and has real-time data to support its decisions,” said Valérie Arnould, part of WAN-IFRA’s Global Advisory entity. “It is up to the Telegraph now to leverage that knowledge.”
In a wide-ranging interview with WAN IFRA, Arnould also pointed out a publisher that barely keeps the paywall in place, believing they have converted those who can be converted.
“Les Echos is a financial newspaper in France that at the end of 2012 initiated a metered model at 15 free articles and five more if the user agreed to register,” Arnould said. “It is now at five articles per month plus a few more in return for registration. In this case the loyal users are already converted and the paper is reaching for the higher-hanging fruit. It is already in its paywall 2.0 phase, in which creative offers (marketing events; special content and offers; new apps, etc.) are necessary to grow reader revenue.”
If you’re worried about an initiative being unsuccessful, Gow might scoff. “If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. Learn from it, move on,” she said. “Understand not all ideas will fly, but if you don’t experiment you’ll never succeed in doing something extraordinary. And if you’re editor of a brand with digital platforms, you have to advocate harder for online innovation and experimentation than anyone else…because everyone will be looking to you for their lead.”
Gow has been impressed by BuzzFeed for its “sticky, shareable content with their lists, and are now doing some excellent original journalism.” She also praised Quartz and Cir.ca for the way they portray what online audiences look for: “snappy information but also greater context and an element of discovery that leads to pleasing surprises.”
And she applauds the work of her company, Trinity Mirror, as well, for its immersive storytelling via Shorthand “In my role, I want to take live reporting and real-time content on to the next level in our newsrooms, and we have some plans for that and to bring the Internet of Things into our journalism. I also can’t wait to get Arduino workshops on a newsdesk.”
For Bailey, any steps up to that next level must involve testing. “People that test get great results and can point to why. They make time,” he said. “It comes down to ultimately creating a culture of testing. You can start small, so people can see the results [and why you are] trying to produce a data-centric culture. Before we can get anything, what does the data say?…What is a good third-party way to look at my data, to test in a low-impact, high yield way?”
Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.