‘How Can We Help?’ With All the News Out There, Providing Value Must Be Foremost

“We think people subscribe [or join] for the words we write. We are wrong. Especially during a pandemic, the need for human connectivity triumphs.” That comes from S. Mitra Kalita, co-founder and CEO of URL Media and Epicenter NYC (and a fellow Rutgers grad), in NiemanLab’s Predictions for Journalism 2022.

“Over the last few years, newsrooms experimented with innovation in various formats on how to deliver the news and the results often have been digitally native, visually arresting stories we can swipe or tap through,” Kalita writes. “What if the answer is actually to simplify? To make things less news, more info?”

Kalita wants media to provide more value—to be of more use. She points to a news channel that launched pandemic hotlines and interviewed a funeral director; and her Epicenter site translating flyers, setting up a Google Drive of vaccine-related templates and letters for workers, and booking appointments. It’s looking at your audience and assessing their needs.

“We are trying to solve problems, to create and provide information in a format that is actually helpful to the end user and still holds those in power to account,” she writes.

Here are ways publishers and media execs are providing value:

Be “a wise and trustworthy guide.” “Newsrooms will also have to learn how to tell a story about their community and situate themselves within that story,” writes Ariel Zirulnick, senior editor for community engagement at Southern California Public Radio, also on NiemanLab. “Newsrooms [should] position themselves as a ‘wise and trustworthy guide,’ not the hero nor someone who remains at arm’s length. [It’s] what motivates people to become members—you’re inviting people to join a cause, to fix something that feels broken in the world… As media companies of all sizes seek to cultivate a community among their most loyal audience members, solo media entrepreneurs will combine their audiences [as well]…”

Get behind a good cause. Sustainability, DEI and climate change are all huge issues today, particularly for young people—83% of millennials say it’s important that companies they buy from also align with their values, and 73% of 35-54 year olds and 60% of 55+ year olds agree. We all want to feel like we’re contributing in our own way—if that’s to be part of something larger and doing good, so be it. Data from an Axios/Harris poll found that public perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise a better future for society. According to the poll, companies with the most momentum included those brands putting those commitments front and center. In a Disqus survey, people said they pay for content to “support a publication’s mission and success.”

Think communities. Kalita makes another good point: We hear so much today about the importance of local news—which doesn’t resonate as much in B2B—but remote work has changed that outlook to something that does resonate. “To me, our definition of ‘local’ is at odds with the expansive definition of ‘community’; industries besides journalism are responding to the trend. For a recent column, I interviewed Jennifer Gomez, co-founder and chief marketing officer of oneKIN, an online marketplace for retailers and entrepreneurs of color. She told me consumers define ‘local’ differently than before, with a focus now on size and intimacy over location. Example: A friend of mine wants to only buy Christmas gifts from Black-owned small businesses; she’s happy to criss-cross the country (and internet) to find them.”

Show your audience that you’re listening. Grey Montgomery, SVP, head of ag product and operations at DTN, once told us that publishers not only need to create value but must hammer it home. “If [one of your customers] doesn’t want to buy your content because he says it’s too expensive for him, then maybe you need to do some soul searching in your content,” Montgomery said. “My audience in a lot of ways can’t afford it but they do because we also pitch back; for example, ‘If you follow all of our hedging strategies with your size crop, this is how much you would have made. Therefore by investing the $500 you’ll make $5,000.'” Kalita writes that her reporter’s instinct was always to ask “what happened?” Now, she tells her staff, it should be “how can we help?” or “is there something you need?”

Personalize experiences. According to Litmus, 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences, and 83% of customers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience. That also means more segmentation. More than 65% of marketers are creating at least two versions of an email on average. Nearly 16% are creating four or more. “Run an A/B test with your subscribers, with and without personalization, then look at your analytics to see how subscribers engage with both emails,” they advise. CEO Craig Fuller says that “the idea of the FreightWaves Live Experience is to bring you into the action, make you a part of the experience—letting you see how technology is going to shape the future of our industry.”

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