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COVID Coverage May Have Brought Them; What Else Will Retain Them?

“You need to think, ‘What is it about the relationship that felt important?’” That came from Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post, when he spoke to my colleague Matt Kinsman back in May. It was in response to the new audience the Post was getting from their COVID coverage last year—and how to keep them. Here are some ideas we’ve come across.

Many of the people taking our subscription offers today are taking them on annual plan,” Gilbert said in May. “So by April of next year, we would have had to make the case to them that their subscription is still valuable, even if we are in a happier, healthier position by then. So how do we transition people? If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you? What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”

The American Press Institute just came out with a report on subscriber/customer retention. Let’s take some of their suggestions and others that I’ve come across for some updated best practices.

Identify subscribers who are at risk and act on it. The Arizona Republic found that almost half of its paid digital subscribers were not visiting their website—and that group accounted for 50% of subscription stops each month. They used analytics to guide content changes that cut the share of unengaged subscribers from 42% to 26%, increasing retention as a result. “We began providing reporters with data on which stories were catching the interest of our ‘zombies,’” two editors wrote in API’s Better News. “We have to start thinking outside the box with platforms and storytelling techniques… [Instagram keeps coming up.] What initially grabbed a zombie isn’t what will bring them back. We have to prove to them that we are worth their money.” That echoes what Gilbert said.

Promote your top writers/editors on social media. Rick Berke, executive editor of Stat, the health and life sciences publication launched by The Boston Globe in 2015, credits much of their subscriber success of the last year to infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell “who’s become something of a Twitter celebrity thanks to her salty experience and deft ability to parse wonky data points into plain English,” reports NiemanLab this week. Her Twitter following went from 43,000 to 200,000 by year’s end. As Gilbert suggested, Stat will try to transition readers as it (slowly) returns to writing about cancer, neuroscience and genomics, because 8 of their top 10 stories are still COVID-related.

Improve your welcome package. Almost everyone (90%) encourages subscribers to sign up for their newsletters and 78% send a welcome email. However, only some publishers send educational information about how to use their products (46%) or send personal notes from a person in the newsroom (43%). Even fewer send subscribers personalized messages telling them more about the content and services they’re using. “It is especially important for new subscribers who start on a short-term trial and will soon have a decision to make,” API writes.

Teach, celebrate and respond. Show your newsroom/editorial people how they can track the content metrics themselves so they can focus on the most popular interests. Then celebrate weekly retention wins to give concrete examples of how those metrics are helping. Also respond to any concerns/complaints on social media.

Provide volunteer leadership and other involvement opportunities. This is especially for younger members. “When it comes to building a sense of connectivity to an [organization] among next generation leaders, incorporating volunteer opportunities into the governance of your younger member groups is crucial,” ASAE writes.

Offer quizzes or puzzles, a question of the day or some sort of gamification. With Project Habit, The Wall Street Journal studied how different reader habits affected subscriber churn. It looked into how various products and subscriber actions affected customer retention during the first 100 days after a reader had signed up. They found that “playing a puzzle had a more dramatic impact on reader retention than other actions the team had been promoting.”

Keep your newsletters strong. “The newsletter is one of those things that is going to bump [up your retention rate],” said Ed Malthouse, Spiegel’s research director. “The way someone running a newsroom should think is as follows: ‘I’m going to need to devote a reporter to create that newsletter. What’s that worth?’ There are costs associated with having that reporter. Everybody who subscribes to the newsletter—let’s say they go from having 25 to 40 future payments. You can then do the math to determine whether it is a smart thing to do.’“


Virtual and Hybrid Events Need Their Own Analytics and Designs to Work Best

We’ve talked about content metrics, and that publishers believe that feedback loops must also be part of the measurement equation. So why should events be different? Thus it was impressive to read that Reuters Events is “maniacal about analytics” and based their agenda for Reuters Next on continual polling of the needs of its audience. What else are publishers doing to amp up their virtual and hybrid events?

“This is an opportunity to see and think things differently,” reads a tagline for Reuters Next. “… This December, it is your chance to be a part of the world’s largest movement to tackle change, head on.” In October 2019, Reuters bought the British-based specialist events business FCBI. Rebranded Reuters Events, it has put on more than 60 virtual conferences and events since then.

In an article in The Drum, Josh London, chief marketing officer for Reuters, says the high level of interest in Reuters Next—which debuted in January—was a culmination of a strategy which “all stems from customer experience… Thousands of hours’ worth of research [was conducted] to understand the needs of the delegates and match that with a speaker agenda so that we can make sure that the time that they are investing is best spent.”

Here are a few other virtual and hybrid event strategies that are paying dividends:

Virtual – Sell premium perks. While registration was mostly free for Reuters Next, they  sold “professional passes” costing $699 offering a post-event report and access to a networking program which enabled one-to-one meetings with attendees and speakers. “This is something that both parties would opt into and the system would set up a time for you to connect,” says London. “It’s similar to real world [conferences] but with some advantages; so you are not standing on the outside of a circle waiting for a break in the conversation.”

Hybrid – Do what’s best for each audience. At Meeting Professionals International’s recent World Education Congress (WEC)—600 in person, 1000 virtual—virtual sessions were conducted by many of the in-person presenters but at different times and days, Informa’s Meetings Net reported. “The only in-person sessions that were livestreamed were our general sessions, and we engaged the virtual audience in real time with things like ‘fan cams’ and a European region co-host,” says Melinda Burdette, director of events for MPI. Adds James Frankis, director of product for Convene: “The key is to build in a few ‘peak moments’ that are simultaneous for both, such as keynote presentations and critical breakout sessions—opportunities for the two audiences to come together through real-time surveying that guides the direction of a session.”

Virtual – Be interactive. “Say I’ve got a half-hour experience that I’m creating—the audience is an important part of that experience,” said John Capano, SVP of Impact XM. “So yeah, I’m going to deliver some content, but in between the content, what am I going to do to get that audience engaged? And it’s just being thoughtful about that, based on what is the content? What is the event? What is the audience? And what is their appetite for that?” At Reuters Next, all delegates had access to Q&A and audience polling.

Hybrid – Be confident in your pricing and prepare your staffing. For that WEC event, MPI charged $799 for the in-person experience, which featured four concurrent sessions in each time slot; and $299 for virtual attendees who got three concurrent sessions per time slot. However, they “underestimated the number of staff needed to manage the digital experience,” said Jessie States, director of the MPI Academy. “You need a moderator for each room to monitor the chat, mute participants and generally manage the technology.”

Virtual and Hybrid – Emphasize sustainability. Almost 3/4 (74%) of their audience told Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” Capano said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there.”

Hybrid – Don’t let anyone feel like they’re missing out. States from MPI said that some of their “digital participants expressed interest in a few in-person sessions that were not offered virtually. Our takeaway is that we should capture those in-person sessions for on-demand viewing.” FOMO is real. While virtual cannot replicate the networking and exhibit hall, it should be able deliver on content.


Amplify New Voices, Cultivate Empathy, Ask and Listen to Ensure Balance and Diversity in Your Coverage

“Amplifying new voices has been key to how we’ve covered both of these storylines,” Stacy Brooks Whatley (pictured right), director of communications and social media for the American Physiological Society, said in a terrific session at AM&P 2020 last fall titled Writing and Editing in the Time of COVID and Black Lives Matter. “Every one of our organizations has those super volunteers we rely on for so much. We tap them repeatedly for interviews, quotes, testimonials. We’ve had to do a lot more work to surface new individuals, new voices, particularly in the diversity space. There are a lot more people out there who we need to find and see what they’re all about.”

I had been meaning to write about this session—which also featured Melanie Padgett Powers, owner of MelEdits and managing editor of The Physiologist Magazine—for a while. Then this week, in the face of the horrific killings in the Atlanta area, I saw an article by Doris Truong, Poynter’s director of training and diversity, focusing on our language and biases. She included this line: “Journalists have the power to shape public perception, so it’s our job to dig deeper…”

That brought me back to this session and this from Padgett Powers: “Words matter. You as writers, editors, content creators have a lot of power. We are often the last ones who have the final say in what goes in the magazine, what the video looks like, what goes out in social media. We decide who to interview, what sources and how we’re going to cover things. But also language evolves. It’s not your job to robotically follow a [style book]. The best copy editors I know are not sticklers for language. They’re paying attention to how people speak and how language is evolving.”

What resonated most about this session is that neither panelist was pushing an agenda or a right or wrong way of doing things. Far from it, they were advocating more listening, outreach and having conversations among staff and members to determine the right language and approaches for your organization.

“As the protests heated up, it was clear that there was new urgency to execute on all of our long-term [diversity] strategies and really to just do a lot more,” Brooks Whatley said. “They’re changing the way and the frequency at which we talk about race, we think about diversity, we build community, we provide member benefits. Where COVID-19 taught us to be nimble, last summer’s reckoning on race is teaching us to stretch and widen the net.”

Padgett Powers emphasized that it also means we need to write with compassion. “We should always be serving the readers, especially at associations. We’re here to serve them, educate them, inform them and entertain them at times.”

It was a moving session that, five or so months later, resonates even louder. Brooks Whatley offered 5 Guiding Principles in dealing with these two huge and ongoing crises.

1. “Cultivate empathy has been a foundational writing and editing strategy for both of these stories,” she said. “In my opinion, this is a member benefit, the way we tell stories and convey point of view and the experience of our members. We really can demonstrate care for them as individuals for their stories and backgrounds.”

2. Embrace nuance. “There’s so much nuance in both of these stories,” Brooks Whatley said. “Both are intrinsically tied to politics and both are potentially tied to life and death. The key is not to be overwhelmed by the nuance but to expect it and embrace it. Maybe you have to ask questions, push boundaries, in order to educate yourself on a lot of these topics. Maybe the stories you were planning need to go in a different direction and that’s okay. The point is seeing value in communicating things differently.”

3. Be flexible. Brooks Whatley said this is huge in this moment. So many of us had to tear up our editorial calendar for the second half of last year and rethink 2021. For APS, the Olympics and an annual meeting were to be focal points. She then added this: “I am no fan of the themed issue. I really feel that for the diversity issue, if you’re doing it right it should be unnecessary; diversity should always be present. You’re going to see that in your stories, topics, sources, your images, your writers, all throughout, diversity should be there.”

4. Amplify new voices. In addition to the above, Brooks Whatley said that social media has been helpful for APS here. “In the science space there’s a #blackin movement, so ours is #blackinphysio,” she said. “Our members have organized this on their own and are doing a roll call and connecting with people in that space that may or may not be our members. That’s been excellent to see people not on our radar. It’s a great time for social media listening.” She also asked to reconsider who sits at your organization’s social media table. Reach out to the entire staff. “They might not be in publishing but might be people who engage with your members and if they’re different from you there’s a good chance they’re meeting members different from the ones you know. So this is a great time to bring them into the fold.”

5. Keep going. That means editorially and in the organizational efforts that you make. “We’re going to have to keep talking about both of these,” she said. “Set a mindset that you’re seeing [these issues] in the long term.”

Padgett Powers urged publications staff to “widen your network and listen and learn,” using social media to “get out of your bubble.” (She’s a big fan of Twitter to learn about varying viewpoints.) She stressed the importance of diversifying the writers you use, even though it “takes work.” She also suggested that if it comes down to a choice, “give up your seat. This is important; we need to represent these underrepresented groups.”

Brooks Whatley encouraged more conversations among your entire organization and members. “It’s important to ask people what they want to be called,” she said. “And to bounce ideas off of them. There are people in your organization who may have already raised their hands to help with these questions.”

APS asked members to update their demographic information because looking at photos isn’t always enough. Brooks Whatley has said they are now keeping track of who they highlight in all of their publications and outreach. “We’ve featured 170 members across our media channels,” she said. “This has been helpful in our diversity efforts. Non-white scientists can start to feel that we’re tokenizing them [if featured too often]. That’s not what we want.”

And lastly, she urged transparency. “We want to let people see the work that we’re doing.” She said the idea even came up to “do some sort of multimedia piece on the discussions we’ve been having. It could be useful for members to take [that] back to their institutions to help pull them along.”

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

‘It’s All About the Ability to Connect’; Can Virtual Events Be Successfully Reinvented?

Virtual events present good content. We know that. But so do webinars, podcasts, blogs and whitepapers. So given the resources they require, can they be made more viable for sponsors and vendors? We talked to one vendor who, instead of putting her faith in the events world that she used to cherish, started a weekly conversation/happy hour/innovation chat that’s flourishing. Can virtual events facilitate that same connection?
“Originally it was, ‘Let’s try to mimic an in-person event’—with virtual expos, exhibit halls, so we can walk the hallways, step into a booth—instead of embracing digital differently. We saw that doesn’t work. Some vendors [believe] that virtual events are now just about brand awareness, sponsoring breakout sessions or getting their logo out there. So now publishers are finding other ways [to create connections]—and really being creative. ‘How can I position you as a thought leader in the industry?’ Podcasts are creating new opportunities. For us [as a vendor], it’s all about leads. People want to have meaningful conversations.”

That comes from Joanne Persico, president of ONEcount, a customer data platform vendor. She decided quickly last year when the pandemic hit not to depend on others, and hold those conversations herself. So for the last 46 weeks, she’s hosted the Bold Minds Virtual Mixers. Number 47 takes place tomorrow from 5:30 to 7 pm.

“They’re Wednesdays, mid-week, inspirational—it’s at 5:30 so we all bring cocktails,” Persico said. (The Mixers average around 20 people.) “And nothing is recorded. So people share information and are non-competitive. It has been a great way to get people to engage, have fun and drive leads for us.”

Kudos to Persico for coming up with an innovative solution. As virtual events move into a new phase—kind of an if-we-still-need-to-do-this-we-gotta-offer-sponsors-something-different phase—Samantha Whitehorne of Associations Now offered suggestions for 2021. She based it off of a manifesto of legal technology vendors who came together for a Virtual Value Workshop.

Get vendors involved during the planning stage. “Invite us to offer suggestions, give feedback and share the lessons we’re learning (and the solutions we’re seeing) before you go your own way.”

Rethink the virtual expo hall. Organize the hall around the problems that attendees are looking to solve, or even around conference tracks. “Vendors might choose to be in more than one area, depending on the variety of solutions and services they offer.”

Build small curated exhibit spaces. “Make attendees leave their virtual sessions through a curated, mini vendor hall where they might be exposed to solutions connected with the session they just attended.”

Offer discounts in exchange for engagement and data. “If registration discounts aren’t something your [organization] would consider, you could offer other benefits like prizes or access to additional content.”

Persico has seen that type of gamification and admits it does have merit, but attending a recent event with 3,000 people, three virtual expos and “so many booths that are impossible to all go to,” she was glad that she wasn’t a sponsor. “You see a logo and you have no idea what this logo is, what they do,” she said. “There was just an overwhelming number of people and sponsors and booths.”

Instead she praises chat rooms that follow a session—“People are looking more for the content”—or an idea she saw recently at a CMSWire event. “They had something with Slack where you create a profile, indicate a couple interests, then drag yourself to a breakout room and get right in on the conversation. The leader brought me in, and I started talking to people.

“Sponsors don’t feel like they’re getting a return on investment on most of these [big events],” she said. “And if they’re free, then the leads might not be qualified enough. It might be just people thinking that the topic seems interesting, so let me join.

“It’s all about the ability to connect. People still want that human connection,” Persico went on. “As a host, I’ve really perfected [getting those conversations flowing]. I scan the room and bring people in. Christine knows trade shows and conferences, she can answer that. Leslie does sales training. We have multi-pronged conversations and get a lot of forward thinkers, so for us, even though it’s 90 minutes, no one is fatigued. In fact, they usually hate to go.”

Persico also knows that putting on virtual events is not cheap. “There are costs with technologies—it’s not one size fits all. Breakout rooms, chats, speed dating all may require different technologies. Then someone has to moderate every panel and breakout room. That can be intensive. One of my attendees had to lower her price—she was having a hard time justifying the increases” without any food, receptions or real networking involved.

“Instead of asking, ‘How can we do online what we’ve always done in person?’” wrote Whitehorne, “you should ask, ‘How can we do online what we’ve never been able to do in person?’ And then answer it well.”

It’s a challenge. While not everyone has the bandwidth to do what Persico has—47 and counting!—her success points to three things: a push for more innovative thinking, the willingness to try different strategies, and the ongoing need for making connections.

You can email Persico for more information about attending the Mixers.

These Ideas Spotlight Social, Innovation, Talent and Tech – and Can Be Adapted  

It’s Ideas Wednesday. The American Chemical Society gives a nice twist to the 35-under-35 genre. Copyrightlaws.com gets big audiences with their Zoom On Ins. We like quizzes, and PMMI Media Group does it well and with purpose. And insideARM puts their Innovation Council to good use with a Think Differently series.

Talented Twelve. Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) has been published by the American Chemical Society since 1923. Subscribers get a magazine, RSS feeds, archives access, a mobile app, tailored newsletters, a podcast—Stereo Chemistry—and a voice product that “delivers daily chemistry news highlights to your Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker.”

What caught my attention this week is their Talented Twelve program. “Nominate a Rising Young Chemist to Be One of C&EN’s Talented 12 for 2021. Help us identify early career scientists doing research that will have a global impact.” Knowing this organization you can be sure that this will be a very diverse dozen. The program is presented by Thermo Fisher Scientific, so that’s a nice sponsorship.

Looking back at their 2019 class, C&EN also does a fun, informational page on the group, asking their favorite dish to cook (best answer – Bangladeshi kacchi biryani), number of patents filed (27), languages spoken (9) and surprising skills (wrestling – from Markita – and violin). Each also gets their own profile.

Reach out and learn copyright. Or in the case of last week’s Zoom On In, the relationship between copyright and contracts. Lesley Ellen Harris of Copyrightlaws.com has been hosting these every few weeks for a couple years now—yes even before Zoom absconded with our lives.

Zoom On Ins are free, 20-minute virtual copyright sessions and part of Copyrightlaws.com’s initiatives to make people more aware of copyright law. Harris told me this morning that 200 registered for last week’s session, and 150 attended. That’s a very good percentage, and a smart way to build interest for her paid online courses

“I really nurture [my audience],” she said. “I email them, ‘Don’t forget to come!’ I keep in touch with them—I just want to keep building the copyrightlaws.com community. Actually, I only did a medium marketing effort on this one.” I asked her what other benefits Copyrightlaws.com gets from these.

“Several things. They’re great for my students. In the bigger picture, they’re great for our alumni—they can keep them up to date. They’re great for the public to get information. For us, we can build our list and nurture our current list. It’s good, practical information.”

The sessions are at 1 pm Eastern, and Harris gets attendees from all over the world. “Global has always been important,” she said. “Think about not just what you’re doing now but how people’s habits have changed moving forward.”

Ask Me Another. Quiz: Are You a Social Media Smarty? asks PMMI Media Group. Not only are quizzes proven winners for engagement, but most of us could use help when it comes to social media. So this quiz is particularly well-positioned.

“With email challenged by competition for the inbox, marketers are having to up their game on social,” they write. “Do you have what it takes to succeed? Test your social media smarts with this brief quiz.” There are five questions, and I did not do too well. So I signed up for their monthly Marketing Insights email newsletter “for latest research and tips!”

Another question asks: Which will get your brand in front of the largest group of active prospects? The final question asks us to choose an image that Company X is planning to run in a Facebook ad. I feel better when I see that 82% got it wrong. I am not alone. At the bottom, you see this button: “Learn how PMMI Media Group can help you reach the right audience with your next campaign.” Oh, you can also take the quiz again. Is that cheating?

Other media company quizzes I like: the Financial TimesEducation Week and Kiplinger. And Lessiter Media has a good article titled 3 Ways to Use Quizzes in Your Marketing Strategy.

Good thinking. Innovation is often talked about but not made intentional enough. InsideARM dispels that notion with their ongoing Think Differently series. “Written by or recorded with members of the iA Innovation Council, the series of articles and videos showcases thought leadership in analytics, communications, payments, and compliance technology for the accounts receivable management industry.”

Ray Peloso, CEO of a technology company called Katabat, wrote the first 2021 article. “Great innovation is usually a series of incremental lessons honed through relentless discipline in a rapid cycle environment where “speed to insight” or “speed to fail” is the most valuable objective,” he writes. “Disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action; Identifying and discarding bad ideas on the road to winners is crucial. Shortening the timeline from initial idea to winner is a massively powerful concept that separates great innovators from the rest of the pack.”

A program like this energizes their Innovation Council so it’s a real thing, provides paths to innovation, positions InsideARM as a thought leader and builds engagement.

If you have any suggestions for future Ideas Wednesdays, please send to rlevine@siia.net. Thanks!