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‘Give Them Quick Wins’; Offer Breadth, Personalize and Simplify to Onboard Well

Onboarding can entail making sure your new customer/subscriber has the logins and passwords that she or he needs. Or it can be explaining where everything lives on your site and how it can be accessed. Or it can just be about establishing a personal connection. One thing is for sure though, onboarding has become even more important now, when our virtual patience may be on the thin side.

“You have to remind people why they bought [the subscription] to begin with. Restate your value proposition—99% of the renewal decision is based on engagement of that user.” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, was speaking about renewals when he told us that last year. But there’s no doubt that successful onboarding leads to successful renewals.

“New customers—especially trials—forget why they subscribed,” Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up Marketing said. “Don’t let them forget. Tantalize them with the valuable information they will be receiving. Onboarding materials should address three things: Motivation, method and making them heroes—give them quick wins.”

Here are onboarding lessons from the publishing world that I’ve come across.

Make user log-ins a flawless process. “Our survey resulted in multiple concerns about user log-ins and passwords to the websites,” Joe May, marketing director of Pro Farmer, once told us. “So what we did was proactively remind our users the basics—how to reset their password; how to set their browser to remember their credentials so they don’t have to enter it every single time. That’s a simple action that we probably all take for granted…” Echoed Fink: “It’s critical to onboard new subscribers successfully. Make sure they can easily log in. And if they haven’t accessed anything or they’re not receiving your news alerts, you’ve got a problem.”

Be more personalized. Schibsted, a large media site in Norway and Sweden, created a “newsroom onboarding guide to welcome subscribers in a more personalized way. Now new subscribers can choose one of their renowned editors or journalists as a guide through the onboarding period. These personalized onboarding emails have a higher unique opening rate: 63% versus 38% for the standard onboarding process. The retention rate after the first renewal is also five percentage points higher,” reports Twipe.

Reach out and be in touch. “We don’t think of onboarding as a discrete activity,” Aaron Steinberg, chief growth officer at insideARM, said once. “It’s the beginning of our ongoing member service and engagement. We want to be in touch with our customers all the time, and we do a good job of that.” He spoke about the importance of design in the customer service chain. “Our materials are good, our onboarding is good, but in the middle there was a design” on the website that needed to be clearer. That changed, thanks to that good customer communication.

Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. The webinars immediately put a face with a name, and members are more likely to reach out to her directly with questions. The International Coach Federation also puts on a live webinar for onboarding and has found that this type of early engagement boosts first-year retention.

Provide the breadth of what you do. Especially during the pandemic, customers/subscribers/members may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage, ways to move forward or how others are dealing with this crisis. So it’s important that during onboarding you expose them to everything else that you do. “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?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post, early on in the pandemic. “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?”

And by exposing them to everything you do, you can get preferences to build on. From a data perspective, “this [opening 30-day] period is also crucial for us to gather patterns of user behavior,” said Katrina Bolak, manager, customer onboarding and engagement, for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “We need 30 days of data to accurately serve up future content based on interests and for our email segmentation.” After that, content consumption patterns begin to form—good and bad.” So initial engagement has to be high.

Vector of a businessman with a hammer resetting economy after COVID-19 lockdown

Triple Down on Data, Expand Your Digital, Change Your Culture; Use This Time to Reset and Grow, Kueng Says

“It did take time to get the approval to get a new website. We had focus groups and a wide variety of perspectives. But I’m so glad MOAA did it.” said Yumi Belanga (pictured), senior director, digital programs, office of the CIO, Military Officers Association, in an excellent session with Mark DeVito, president, Beyond Definition, titled The 2020 Association Brand Experience at AMP 2020 last fall.

We started to understand our members more and how important data is in making these decisions. ‘Do we have data to probe that will be beneficial?’… We also learned a lot more about what everyone’s individual goal was. Sometimes we don’t listen. Listening and not just hearing gets to true collaboration. Step outside yourself to put yourself in their shoes.”

Belanga’s comments evoke one of the priorities—to triple down on data—of a terrific ebook published last year by Lucy Kueng, an internationally renowned expert on digital disruption, titled Transformation Manifesto: 9 Priorities for Now. It delves into how publications professionals can change for the better in the aftermath of the pandemic. She wants us to “seize the opportunities presented by the undeniable crisis we face, because those opportunities are truly huge.”

About data, she writes: “You can’t move from want to need on guesswork. You can only shift… by diving deeply into understanding customers and how you can become more important to them… Triple down on data, not just on the volume flowing into the organization but on the caliber of discussions around that data, on the insights derived from it, the hypotheses you develop and test.”

Let’s look at five more of these priorities, with some AMPlification.

1. Growth will be all about digital. “Organizations that have procrastinated on digital are in a tough place,” writes Kueng. “Their transformation runway is suddenly much shorter. They need to pull off a fast pivot—to traverse what disruption specialists call the ‘valley of death’ where [organizations] that fail to reinvent themselves for a digital world get consigned to a slow death—without the substantial legacy revenues that early movers have used to finance this transition. These ‘digital laggards’ are the ones in survival mode, facing difficult decisions.”

I was speaking this week with Lilia LaGesse, an association publishing strategist and frequent speaker for AM&P. Her exceptional presentation at a Lunch & Learn last year highlighted the three main ways that a magazine can be digital: a page-turner, web-based and immersive. She said that while the page-turner can look pretty cool and maintain existing print production process, its user experience, single level of engagement and sharability are much less than the immersive model. As Keung writes, now is a great time to play digital catch-up. Expand your presence. “Find out where your audiences are in the social media eco-system and get your content out to them there.”

2. Seize the moment to do clean-up work that’s overdue. In the same way we have been cleaning out our homes, Kueng wants us to do that with our business—and stop doing things that aren’t successful. “We have been very good at starting things but terrible at stopping them,” she writes. Look at your legacy products. Are they “hangovers from a previous era but still resourced at glory day levels”? She also wants us to pivot in the way we do age-old processes. “Remote working clearly offers opportunities to rebalance fixed costs.”

“I think what happens a lot is that you say these things are important, but you aren’t really following it in leadership with your actions,” said Anita Zielina, director of news innovation and leadership at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “Then you have to really be willing to invest or shift money into building a product team. So it’s really kind of a transformation process than anything else, unless you’re building as a start-up. Of this means you ask yourself, ‘What can I stop doing to shift those resources into something else?’”

3. Your culture is unfrozen. There will never be a better time to change it. “Culture is incredibly efficient—it works as an internal protocol that silently influences actions and decisions,” Kueng writes. “Ensure digital voices (often younger and more diverse) have equivalent ‘voice time’ and that they are heard first… The pandemic has broken cultural inertia. Habits have been unbroken. People are expecting things to be different. This is really rare. Now is the time to make your culture into what you want it to be. The trick is to layer culture change objectives into everything else you are doing,”

This will take direct involvement from all staff, especially leaders. At AM&P 2020, keynote speaker Leslie Mac told a great story about a university where she helped conduct some diversity workshops. The heads of the department told her, “We want to spend time with you.” And she said, “That’s great, we’re all going to the workshop.” That was not in the department heads’ plans. “I stopped them,” she said. “’You have to come to the workshop, too.’ They looked at me with [deer-in-the-headlights] eyes. ‘There’s no way unless you come. You need to be there, you need to participate.’ They were really afraid of saying the wrong thing, of being uncomfortable. They came up to me after: ‘I never had this kind of conversation with staff and graduate students. The walls came down. Thank you.’ We can’t silo this kind of work.”

4. Take extravagant care of your teams. “Remote working is often a boon for productivity when tasks are known. [But] it is bad for innovation and setting up new things (and finding a workaround for this is the challenge right now)… Ramp up communication as much as possible. Gather everyone together more often. Remind them that they are part of a cohesive organization.”

Early on in the pandemic, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, told me something that turned out to be prescient. “Since the pandemic isn’t expected to end anytime soon, we have ordered kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc. Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

5. Timing is the rarest of strategic skills. Now is the time. “Agility, innovation, optimism—these were the most critical traits for now, according to 22 CEOs surveyed in September 2020. This is a rare reset moment. COVID-19 has been a crisis on so many levels but it is also a huge opportunity: to rethink, to innovate, to shed things that need to be let go of, and to build for the future.”

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A Combo Platter of Metrics and Knowing Your Goals May Be Best, Two Leaders Say

Audience metrics and which ones publishers should focus on continue to matter greatly—and only get more varied as our platforms advance. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now time-on-page, page views, scroll depth, article scores, shares, printouts and even absence can all keep you up at night. We asked two leading publishers to weigh in

“We still look at open rates for our newsletters and several other metrics—but it is important to understand what these metrics actually tell you, and what they don’t,” Davide Savenije, editor in chief for Industry Dive and its stable of 23 newsletters, told me in an email recently. “If you understand your goals, you can figure out which metrics you need to pay attention and in what ways they are relevant—it’s never a single golden metric; for us, it’s a composite picture of multiple metrics that fill in different parts of the picture and that are tailored to your goals. These metrics provide you with a feedback loop from your readers that helps you guide strategy and adapt where necessary as you see the results. Benchmarking is also important so that you have context on what the numbers mean.”

As Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, both indicate, it is not just one metric that can tell the whole story. It’s more of a combo platter, depending on your needs and goals—be it building subscriber loyalty, adding new members/subscribers, increasing engagement, moving people to and within your site, or all of the above.

“We’re looking at time-on-page in addition to page views to assess which articles are resonating with readers,” Fink wrote to me. “It’s useful to look at average time and total time for each article. This reveals that the article with the most clicks doesn’t always get the most time. That’s important because users put a greater value on the amount of time they spend with your content, than the number of times they click on it.

“We are also looking at scroll depth (i.e. how far down the page readers scroll). This gives a similar insight to time-on-page. We are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”

recent article on INMA titled, Should Time Replace Pageviews as the North Star Audience Metric?, showed that time spent has gained traction throughout the industry. At Facebook, time spent helps rank the News Feed. At Google, it informs search results. “At Netflix and Spotify, play time guides content, product and marketing decisions.” A Netflix study found that “the total hours spent watching was the most predictive for member retention, well ahead of movie or show ratings.”

Finding the metric that most ties into reader/subscriber loyalty would seem to be the gold standard. Mediahuis, a huge international media company in Antwerp, Belgium, also found that “aggregated time spent on the site by individual readers correlated with the likelihood they converted to paid subscribers and renewed.” Other research confirms this, though visit frequency often tops even time.

Of course, metrics do not tell all. Industry Dive goes the extra mile, setting up “measurement and feedback loops” to try to answer further questions about value and loyalty, quality of their coverage and even which readers you should covet most.

“At the same time that we use website and other metrics to tell us important specific things about readers, I think there is a big analytics gap in the journalism world in terms of measuring the qualitative value of your relationship with readers outside of these specific contexts,” Savenije wrote. “There are many important questions that the above metrics do not provide clear answers to. What value do readers believe you provide? How loyal are your readers? Where do readers see you vs. your competition? Are some readers more important to your editorial model than others, and how do you measure your relationship with them? What do readers think about the quality of your coverage? Are they satisfied with your product?

“At Industry Dive, we have worked to build up measurement and feedback loops to help us answer these important questions. We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around these questions, and develop custom dashboards to make them easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them.”

That last part is music to an editorial person’s ears. In 2019, the Financial Times, Money-Media’s parent company, developed a Quality Reads metric that “measured page views qualified by the threshold of time and scroll depth,” writes INMA. “For a page view to be counted as a Quality Read, the reader needs to spend at least 50% time required to read the whole article estimated by the number of words and scroll to at least 50% of the page’s length.”

We will continue to cover this important topic. What are your go-to metrics? Let me know at rlevine@siia.net. Thanks!

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‘Analytics as a Decision-Making Tool’; Metrics Work Best as a Means to a Well Thought Out End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“How do you change your habits after you’ve learned about analytics?” asked Vidisha Priyanka (pictured), visiting instructor at the University of South Florida and a former interactive learning manager for the famed Poynter Institute, in a discussion we had on content metrics here a couple years ago. “How will it change your daily habit of writing and reporting and engaging your audience? How do you understand when your audience is trying to engage with you? And who is your audience?”

Most editorial people are not data and analytics experts, myself included. Yet as our world becomes more and more digital, so many more metrics have become available to us. It used to be having a high open rate and few unsubscribes would allow you a good night’s sleep. Now page views, time on page—the trendiest metric—scroll depth, shares, printouts and even absence between visits can each keep us up at night. (Absence may make the heart grow fonder but perhaps not the reader.)

“And what about drop-off rates?” Priyanka continued. “I’m reading an article that you’ve written and you poured your heart and soul in it, but people are dropping off after four paragraphs. So how do we improve your writing or presenting skills? What do you do with multimedia content? How do you add a visual or a graphic? So we talk about analytics not just as numbers, but analytics as a decision-making tool.”

What triggered my recollection of Priyanka was an email exchange this week with Davide Savenije, editor in chief for one of the fastest growing publishers, AM&P Network member Industry Dive and its 23 newsletters. Like Priyanka, they view analytics and metrics as a way to get better.

“We have a data analytics team within our audience department that helps us build measurement tools around [our major reader] questions, and develop custom dashboards to make [the data] easy for our editorial teams to interpret and glean actionable takeaways from them,” Savenije wrote.

That should be music to an editorial person’s ears. Both Savenije and the other leading publisher I turned to for this article, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times company, both indicate that it is not just one metric that tells the whole story. And how you measure your metrics must also be tied to your goals—be it building member loyalty, increasing engagement, getting members to events, or all of the above.

“We still look at open rates for our newsletters and several other metrics—but it is important to understand what these metrics actually tell you, and what they don’t,” Savenije wrote. “If you understand your goals, you can figure out which metrics you need to pay attention and in what ways they are relevant—it’s never a single golden metric; for us, it’s a composite picture of multiple metrics that fill in different parts of the picture and that are tailored to your goals. These metrics provide you with a feedback loop from your readers that helps you guide strategy and adapt where necessary as you see the results.  Benchmarking is also important so that you have context on what the numbers mean.”

The Growth of Time-on-Page

Money-Media has several verticals and has always focused intently on metrics, infographics and visual storytelling. Yet the top of their website still reflects their guiding principle: “Content Is King.”

“We’re looking at time-on-page in addition to page views to assess which articles are resonating with readers,” Fink wrote to me. “It’s useful to look at average time and total time for each article. This reveals that the article with the most clicks doesn’t always get the most time. That’s important because users put a greater value on the amount of time they spend with your content, than the number of times they click on it.

“We are also looking at scroll depth (i.e. how far down the page readers scroll). This gives a similar insight to time-on-page. We are working to develop a formula that combines page views, time-on-page and other user actions (print, save, share, etc.) into a single metric. My plan is to shift our internal focus on this new engagement metric, since it is more valid than one-dimensional page views.”

A recent article on INMA titled, Should Time Replace Pageviews as the North Star Audience Metric?, showed that time-on-page has gained traction all over. At Facebook, time spent helps rank the News Feed. At Google, it informs search results. “At Netflix and Spotify, play time guides content, product and marketing decisions.” A Netflix study found that “the total hours spent watching was the most predictive for member retention, well ahead of movie or show ratings.”

For Savenije, there’s so much more than just metrics to determine if their content is accomplishing what it needs to.

“There are many important questions that the above metrics do not provide clear answers to. What value do readers believe you provide? How loyal are your readers? Where do readers see you vs. your competition? Are some readers more important to your editorial model than others, and how do you measure your relationship with them? What do readers think about the quality of your coverage? Are they satisfied with your product?

“At Industry Dive, we have worked to build up measurement and feedback loops to help us answer these important questions.”

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

Get Dressed, Adjust Routines to Your Vibes and Stay Connected, CEOs Advise

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

During an October 2019 SIPA webinar on managing remote workers, Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said that the most relevant stat was that 90% of remote workers said they’re more productive. “We hear this a lot at AI,” she said. At that time, many of us might have raised our eyebrows. Now, we’re all (tired) believers. But is it sustainable?

“Many also advocate for experimenting with small adjustments to your routines to hit your most productive period in the day,” Diana Shi wrote in a Fast Company article titled 9 CEOs Share Their Best Tips for Successful Remote Work

That sentence struck a chord for me. At around 7 am this morning, I read work emails written around 10 pm last night. And I’m sure that colleagues look at my 7:05 am emails the same way I look at their late-night emails—when I’m either asleep or on the verge—and we make similar exclamations. We all have different times and vibes to get our best work done, and working remotely encourages that.

Looking back now, it was prescient of SIPA to conduct that October 2019 webinar with Farley and Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media. They gave an excellent blueprint of what to do and not do managing remote workers. Let’s mix some of their advice with some from the CEOs that Shi featured in her article for an updated guide.

Invest in relationships. “Find creative ways to still informally connect with your teams, to build and strengthen relationships,’ said Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread. He also advises to share praise. “Remember to recognize and show appreciation of your team.”

Engaging in meetings is very important. In October 2019, Fink was concerned that remote workers would receive audio and video feeds from conference room meetings. “We’ve installed some large screens in conference rooms. There’s a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference.” Today, engagement in meetings remains important. I’ve read that we lose a lot by multitasking during meetings. A recent study found that “those who focused on nonverbal communication cues from their colleagues or said they tried harder to listen attentively were less likely to see any change in the quality of their work relationships.”

Make time for one-on-one voice calls, without video. “There’s a lot of video fatigue, so be conscious whether all parties want to use it,” says Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business. “With family, do take advantage of all the benefits of video, especially with those whom you haven’t seen for a while. If they don’t know how to, get them set up.”

Ask for feedback. I think this one still applies. “Is this working for you?” Farley asked. “What are the pain points? Are you lonely? Do you feel disenfranchised? Is the work getting done? Relationships work because they’re built on trust. We talk about it on a regular basis, to have regular touch-in points is critical. Things don’t just happen. Clear the decks and course correct to get those situations working.” She also said to “over-communicate.” Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, agreed and said that’s also incumbent on the manager. “Communicate. Schedule time for more all-hands, team stand-ups, one-on-ones, and skip-levels.”

Check on their technology. Pre-pandemic, 77% of remote workers were between ages 25-44. But now it’s everyone. Money-Media was quick to order “kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.,” Fink said. “Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”

Pretend you’re going to the office. “In this virtual world, maintaining some of the habits that helped me think and feel my best when I was going into the office has been really important to me,” said Joel Flory, CEO of VSCO, such as getting up early to exercise. Any guess what Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway—a subscription fashion service—recommends doing? Get dressed nice every day, of course. “Getting ready in the morning helps signal my body and brain that productivity is my priority.” I’ve read that some people even ride around for a half hour and then come home to give the commuting feel. I’ve kept my Friday tradition of driving to Heidelberg Bakery in the morning.