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Retention, Engagement and Referrals Can All Be Cheered on by Gamification

I just played the WSJ Jigsaw Puzzle! First it asks you to choose your difficulty level. My sister-in-law is a jigsaw addict, so I was semi-confident and chose medium. The puzzle consists of about nine pieces that you move around like a Ouija board until they click into place. The completed image is of WSJ columnist John D. Stoll (pictured above). “Read his latest columns here,” it says.

It’s all very cool—you can even create your own portrait. When WSJ introduced puzzles as part of their onboarding journey, they knew that there was a distinct correlation between gamification and retention. Although less than 1% of their audience had ever played a puzzle on their platform, they felt that this was a missed opportunity, according to an article in Twipe.

They also were aware how important the first week experience is in subscriber retention. Their onboarding “included an email that encourages readers to play puzzles after one week of their subscription.” Not only did retention rates soar, but the new marketing push saw engagement rates grow across the whole site. That brought more puzzles including the jigsaws.

Here are six more examples of what gamification can accomplish:

Get people to participate.
LabX, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, has a monthly show they call Wrong Answers Only. They describe it as “an interactive show featuring celebrity guests who play games and quizzes while learning about exciting research with the help of a scientific expert.” On May 13 at 8:30 pm that expert will be Chiara Mingarelli, a gravitational-wave astrophysicist based at the University of Connecticut.

Encourage referrals.
The Morning Brew provides a real-time counter that tracks how many referrals someone has, along with some encouragement: “You’re only X referrals away from receiving Y!” A previous progress bar was shuttled for the numeric counter.

Engage and promote other offerings.
MedLearn Media’s popular Compliance Question of the Week marches on. They have six questions this week! Here’s their Respiratory question: “Is there a code to report when a respiratory therapist provides instruction on how to use incentive spirometry in a physician’s office?” After giving the answer, they write (with a link): “This question was answered in our annual Respiratory Therapy Reimbursement & Compliance Update webcast. For more hot topics relating to respiratory services, please visit our store or call us…”

Engage and be relevant.
The Financial Times is still doing an FT Weekend Quiz. Last weekend’s was headlined, “Filet-o-Fish, The Beatles and sixdegrees.org.” “Our ‘Round on the Links’ quiz tests your ability to draw connections. Thinking caps on!” There are 10 questions such as, “In 2018, Steven Payne became the first person to cross the Alps on which children’s toy?” When you click on the answers—“space hopper“—you see: “Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published.” But remember, people take these seriously. One comment: “I love this quiz and usually do OK. This week was hopeless. I think the setter misjudged what is generally acceptable knowledge on the link subject.”

Bring in new subscribers.
The New York Times Crossword app benefits from over 500,000 paying subscribers, according to Twipe. “Over 50% of users of this crossword app do not have a subscription to the digital or print versions of the newspaper. This gives the Times access to an already loyal paying audience whom they can expose to different types of content. The app also drives high engagement with these subscribers through various ‘streak features’ encouraging readers to play every day.”

Encourage webinar sign-ups.
Lastly, I always hark back to a quiz that OPIS (Oil Price Information Service) did. The questions were very tough, so that when you got one wrong, the answer led you to the registration for an upcoming webinar where the correct answers would be discussed. The email with this quiz drew the most sign-ups for that webinar.

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‘Crafted After Deep Listening,’ New Event Models Mix Safety With Audience Needs

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, quite appropriate for the times we’re in and the day after Mother’s Day. So with the mixed success of virtual events, we’re starting to see different models emerge in 2021, from micro-conferences to rock band-like, city-to-city tours to fully hybrid events—though again the hybrid model has many variations.

“For me, the planning process always starts with what the objectives are for an event,” Annette Gregg, SVP of experience for Meeting Professionals International, told Informa’s MeetingsNet. “Some meetings are for straight education, and we know that can be delivered just fine online, as colleges are showing us right now… But when your objectives are something like brand activation, where you want the human senses involved, then in-person is what you have to do.”

But are we ready for that? Everyone is sending out surveys trying to gauge audience temperature, which makes sense. There are still major virtual events scheduled for the latter part of the year like Reuters Next Dec. 1-3 and PR Week’s PRDecoded Oct. 12-14 (Haymarket Media). And when there is an in-person event scheduled such as Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Summit July 25-27 in San Antonio (Questex), there’s a long intro page on the safety precautions they’re taking. And under “Information,” there’s “Agenda,” “Venue” and “Be Safe.”

Here are some event ideas I’ve seen recently:

Micro-conferences.

The Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG) has announced a series of micro-conference meet-ups to replace its annual conference originally planned for Nashville in November 2021. “Crafted after deep listening by TAG’s member-led Engagement Committee,” the late-summer local meet-up series is designed to provide deep learning and meaningful connection—“with health and safety in mind”—featuring “hyper-local micro-conferences held in communities across the continental U.S.” No more than 30 people will meet at each hosted location.

For those meet-ups, they asked in an online survey: “In terms of potential places for #TAGreconnect meet-ups, the following cities exist in regions with a concentration of TAG members and/or a fresh location for TAG.” They list 11 of the nation’s biggest cities, from which 5 to 6 will be chosen. And then a line that we’re often seeing: “We need YOUR input to get this show on the road.”

An event tour and hybrid event.

Like a touring rock-and-roll show, Solar Power Events premiered an event series in February called the Smart Energy Market Tour (pictured above). The outside tour spanned one week in Florida and visited four cities, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. Over the week, nearly 20 exhibitors followed the event and saw over 400 attendees in total. In late April, the tour made three stops in the Carolinas.

“We know that virtual events can’t replace in-person interactions. COVID-19 has forced us to reconsider our event model, to find new ways to host in-person events that facilitate business,” said Stephen Miner, president & CEO, Solar Energy Trade Shows. “We heard from a number of exhibitors who wanted a safe way to meet with potential buyers. They were thrilled when we proposed this format to them and they had a great week in Florida. We’re looking forward to expanding the Market Tours to other states.”

Next up for them is a hybrid event. Knowing that hybrid does not mean just broadcasting your in-person sessions, Solar & Storage Northeast will feature virtual education on June 7-8 and an in-person expo taking place inside and outside of the Westin Boston Waterfront, June 9-10.

Hybrid events.

The Professional Convention Management Association has scheduled EduCon as a hybrid event in Phoenix for July 7-9. Their tagline is “We are better together.” Some content will be livestreamed from the conference while some will be prerecorded presentations followed by live Q&A.

“If you are ready to meet again in person, please join us in Phoenix at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge,” they write. “If you want to explore what a hybrid event looks like from the digital side, we welcome you to participate in that journey.”

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‘We Found That This Coverage Was Helping to Convert’; How ACS Uses Metrics to Grow Their Audience

For months, we have heard of excellent COVID coverage from association publishers across the topical spectrum—medical, financial, psychological, etc. But we all knew that at some point, the readership bump that was gained by this coverage would have to be converted into a longer-term commitment.

In a recent webinar hosted by our AM&P Network—titled The New Content Metrics: How Publishers Are Measuring Engagement and Using That to Grow—two editors/digital strategists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) joined two other leading editors from B2B publishers to talk how metrics and engagement are helping retain that bump—and, in general, help grow their organization’s audience.

“When we covered the COVID-19 pandemic, as the science news organization, [we knew] this is part of our mission,” said Sondra Hadden, manager, C&EN (Chemical & Engineering News) audience development, ACS. “We put the articles in front of the paywall so it was free to read. And our site traffic exploded. We had very viral articles routinely, and this helped us.

“Our loyalty report really helped us measure whether people coming from search and social were able to move down this funnel of loyalty, and [we could] convince them to keep reading. We found time and again, month after month, that this was true—that this coverage was helping to convert in that sense. So that was a really good data point to go back to our editorial team and let them know.”

The “loyalty” refers to a loyalty dashboard that they launched early in 2020. This is a completely free resource, Hadden said, from the Center for Cooperative Media. “It’s less about new metrics and absolutely more about categorizing your site user in a different way based off of frequency to the site,” she said.

The different buckets are: casual readers for someone who comes once a month and that’s it; prospective loyalists who make 2-5 visits a month; and brand lovers who visit six times a month. “For us, those are the metrics of the numbers that the report actually came with. It aligns very nicely with our metered paywall article limit, so we didn’t change that.”

This helped ACS measure success beyond the simple page view. It told them who is reading, how are they reading and where they come in from. Still, while coverage of the pandemic brought in so many readers, ACS had to wonder at what point fatigue might set in, and people would need a pause. But it never really happened.

“All of the past year that we’ve been doing this reporting, the coverage is still a top read amongst all these different buckets of people,” Hadden said.

While Hadden painted that overall picture, Dorea Reeser, senior audience engagement editor, C&EN, ACS, presented more of the day-to-day picture from their daily news meetings. Every morning she pulls metrics on how stories are performing on their website, as well as on social media, and collects it in a spreadsheet.

“I collect the obvious things like date, story head links, story type, but the data that I pull also includes social media engagement,” Reeser said. “We have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and a LinkedIn one coming. I also take notes on how [stories] rank in terms of page views and where [visitors] are coming from because certain web referral sources are more valuable than others.”

Reeser, and the other speakers, agreed that time on page is another great engagement metric. “The benefit of doing this every day and manually gives us insight into what content, in addition to our viral content, is doing well. That content may go crazy from search, and while that’s great it’s not necessarily high engagement. Not all those people are going to become brand lovers and loyalists.”

All this data helps to inform ACS staff each day on what content to post. Are there any pieces of content that they should resurface more in social media? And is there something that they want to make sure not to overlook for their weekly newsletter? “It’s important that we give them the content that we’ve seen that people want and our readers want in various spaces,” Reeser said.

Aside from COVID-related content, Hadden spoke about one of their large editorial packages called C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch. It wasn’t getting a lot of metric love, so they wondered if just judging it by page views was doing a disservice.

“Writers were asking about it,” Hadden said. “It’s a huge effort; there’s a nominations component to it, creative, everyone’s involved in this package. By having the loyalty report and being able to drill down into behavior a little bit better, we were able to tell that, yes, maybe it wasn’t a viral article in that sense, but our brand lovers are engaging with us there when it’s released.

“They are reading it and spending time with it, and our brand lovers are members so we’re serving that audience that we as a society [can classify] as a member benefit. So this report did help us do better than the previous concept of defining loyalty, and turning our non-member readership into becoming members.”

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New DEI Statement and Implementation Plan Light Path Forward for Associations Council

As AM&P Network’s Associations Council continues to grow and evolve, we are rededicating overselves to the values, goals and initiatives that have helped us serve members like you over the years. Perhaps nowhere is that more important then ensuring all our members are represented, welcomed, and heard through our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

To reaffirm our commitment to progressive change, we are unveiling a new DEI statement and implementation plan.

“I am thrilled that we are taking steps like this to better serve and support our members,” says Diane Rusignola, Associations Council advisory board president and senior editorial director at Nareit. “The association publishing industry has evolved significantly over the past year. Some of our companies have added new and specialized team members, pivoted publications, launched new products, and made other changes to better fit our members’ lives. Changes like this are so important for all of our missions.”

Our new statement reiterates the Council’s commitment to anti-racism, eliminating other prejudices, and to elevating equity in all areas of our community.

“As we stand up against inequality, we will actively honor all voices from marginalized groups or communities. In service of our association members and industry service partners, we are responsible for ensuring that the Associations Council is regularly making progressive change toward diversity, equity and inclusion.”

— AM&P Network Associations Council Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement

This new statement represents the culmination of the latest efforts of the DEI Initiative that started last year and is being led by Randy Townsend and Kaylen Tucker. The initiative is focused on dedicating ourselves to five pillars: collaborative opportunities, knowledge development, member experience, organizational policy, and representation.

“This is a long-term initiative with several stages — looking within the Associations Council organization and thinking about some of the elements: the programming, topics we cover, the reputation that we have — looking at every aspect,” says Tucker, associate executive director of communications and editor-in-chief of NAESP. “I think a next stage is being able to share recommendations and how other professional organizations can do the same.”

The Associations Council aims to advance our DEI goals through action on a consistent and ongoing basis. As we begin this initiative in 2021 and 2022, those actions will include an initial eight-point plan: this DEI statement; our new Equity Award, to be presented in its inaugural year on June 16 during the EXCEL Awards; and continued content development; as well as new work on collaboration with the ISP community; training for volunteer leaders; membership surveys; an equity audit; and creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

“This past year has brought a tremendous amount of attention to social injustices that have been occurring for decades, centuries even, for people of color,” says Townsend, director of publications operations for the American Geophysical Union. “This has generated organizational letters — sounds of support. We have had a lot of great talk that sounds like what we need to hear.

“What I would like to do with our initiative is to take a look at those letters — ‘This is what you said, stand by and believe. What’s the follow through?’” he says. “Because the commitment to the execution is going to be key. How’s it going to stand up? Despite what occurs there, are you going to stand by the commitment because it was who you say you are or just the politically right thing to do at the time?”

One of the great strengths of the Associations Council is the wide variety of professions and industries we represent. Our DEI efforts represent one of many steps we’re taking to support and empower our members to face the challenges of the day.

“We represent through our colleagues, a block of professionals in organizations that cover many topics,” Tucker says. “I’m representing school principals, Randy’s in the geophysical union — we’re people of all things. So for us to come together and start to think about how to get at that business imperative, not just about people of color or individuals in pain, but that hostility is actually hurting your business.”

Townsend says these are changes that will not happen overnight. “It can’t be one and done,” he says. “There need to be strategies put into place — a way to maintain the effort and keep the conversation going. It needs be a true cultural change.”

This is why Townsend says allies in association publishing are so important. “It’s not enough to just add some diverse faces to a magazine and hope people will come to you. We need people reaching out, offering a hand. Someone needs to be going out and telling people ‘We want you to join us. And not just to join us, but to be heard, to be part of what we’re building here.’”

“Nothing is going to change if no one is talking about it,” he says. “If it’s not at the table, it will get left behind. It doesn’t have to be as blatant as ‘Why don’t we have any Hispanics in the room?’ That’s an important question, but the consistency of having the conversation is just as important.”

You can join the conversation, starting with our new DEI statement, which you can find here.

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A Publishing Staff Revolts Over Bungled Return-To-Office Message

As the world opens up, one of the most pressing issues facing publishing CEOs is navigating the cultural and business ramifications of sticking with remote work versus returning to the office (editor’s note: on May 19, AM&P Network’s CEO and Owners Council is hosting a virtual discussion on Planning the Office Return, facilitated by workplace experts Monreau Shepell).

Strong cases can be made for both, including remote work offering flexibility, lower costs for both employees and employers, and unchanged or improved productivity (see chart below) while in-office fosters deeper collaboration, mentoring and camaraderie.

However, Cathy Merrill, CEO of D.C. regional magazine The Washingtonian, showed exactly how NOT to approach the dilemma in a Washington Post opinion piece last week.

Merrill wrote that she’s excited about the prospect of returning to the office but concerned about the “common office worker who wants to continue working at home and just go into the office on occasion.” Fair enough.

Then Merrill threw down the gauntlet, saying employers could consider changing the status of those workers to contractor and eliminate their benefits:

“While some employees might like to continue to work from home and pop in only when necessary, that presents executives with a tempting economic option the employees might not like. I estimate that about 20 percent of every office job is outside one’s core responsibilities — ‘extra.’ It involves helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday — things that drive office culture. If the employee is rarely around to participate in those extras, management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor.’ Instead of receiving a set salary, contractors are paid only for the work they do, either hourly or by appropriate output metrics. That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes — benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15 percent of compensation.”

Merrill’s staff subsequently revolted very publicly, including a one-day work stoppage on May 7. “As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor,” they declared. “We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.”  

Ultimately, the pushback from The Washingtonian staff has less to do with remote work versus office work than a lack of respect from the C-suite. That next conference room birthday bash should be fun.

No Change in Productivity

Fortunately, in B2B and information publishing, most CEO’s seem to be treating their employees like adults and exploring a hybrid model of remote work and office. “We’re allowing employees to keep working from home two-to-three days per week,” says the CEO of one mid-sized B2B publisher. “I find where face-to-face is really necessary is for things like budgeting and idea generation, not day-to-day.”

According to an AM&P Network survey conducted last fall, most B2B media and information companies surveyed noted little change in productivity with remote work.

That’s led to some creative policies for publishers to enable employees to balance home life and work. Industry Dive (a staple on the Washington Post’s Top Workplaces list) adopted a flexible approach to supporting employees should they decide to live in another part of the U.S. during lockdown, while keeping staff connected by offering a video-based story time hour for employees’ children as well as cooking demonstration, yoga and workout sessions.

Changing Culture, Not Just Revenue Mix

Publishers today are quick to refer to themselves as “digital first” or cutting edge compared to their competitors.

While that may be true of their product set, it often doesn’t apply to culture and daily operations (not that the tech giants have handled the office return any smoother—last week Google backtracked on its hardline return-to-work policy, saying staff can telecommute through Sept. 1 and then have the options of returning to their pre-pandemic office, working out of a Google office in a different city or working remotely if their role permits it).

The evolution of this industry can’t be limited to the development of data products and marketing services or dropping the label “publisher” for something like “information services.”

“We refer to ourselves as digital-first and if we can’t operate day-to-day in a digital environment, then we’re doing something wrong,” said Thomas CEO Tony Uphoff at our Business Information & Media Summit last year.