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Word of Mouth, Relevancy, Transparency and ‘Endings’ Resonate Even More Now

In December 2019, The New York Times Open Team released a list of 10 Themes for News that they had come up with after “traveling the world to better understand people’s needs and behaviors.” In looking at that list now—almost a year-and-a-half and a changed world later—it’s amazing that most of these themes have not lessened in importance. If anything, they have amplified.

Take this one—time of day influences content selection. The NYT Open team wrote that, “Rarely do media organizations take time of day and the cognitive load of their users into account when publishing content… People’s daily lives demand a lot of them.” That was before the pandemic. How much are we dealing with now between schooling, childcare, pets, housework, errands, technology, etc? Survey your audience—ask when a podcast or webinar might be best for them. You might be surprised. I like to get the Washington Post headlines email at 4 pm but not in the morning when I’m focused on work. And I grimace at some good events in the evening when I’m zoomed out.

Here are five more of those themes—with our own AMPlification:

People want stories with a clear beginning, middle and, most importantly, end.
“Through our research, we heard that people flock to true crime stories for just this very reason,” they write. “When it comes to news, people want that feeling of accomplishment, as well.” “I feel like there just has to be an end… and it has to be definitive, and you need to indicate to the audience that eventually you’ll get there,” said actor and storyteller Mike Birbiglia. “Because if it doesn’t end, people will be furious.” We know how much storytelling—and our attention span—matters today. So be sure to think about what result(s) you want?

Try this. FT Live has put together five “hour-long, live panel debates in the week of April 26-30, to coincide with the publication of a series of opinion pieces.” The last one is titled, “Can Young People Save the Planet?” Now that’s an ending. Think shorter pieces of connected content.

Scheduled programming fosters ritual and connection.
Shared experiences still resonate. How many of us have paid more attention to the Chat during a talk than the actual talk? We want to connect—thus the trouble with virtual events so far. “When people watch or engage with scheduled content, the experience becomes a ritual and the content becomes a cultural touchpoint,” NYT Open wrote. “…The conversations about the content often feel as valuable as the content itself. Consistent programming facilitates these conversations—and ultimately fosters a sense of connection—by turning that scheduled content into an event.”

Try this. A weekly or bi-weekly participatory feature. Examples are Rob Ristagno’s Campfire Chats and Joanne Persico’s Bold Minds Virtual Mixer, NYU’s Salon Series—next up a talk with NPR’s Maria Hinajosa and Meetings Professional International Academy’s #RealTalk Dialogue Series | Still We Rise.

Word of mouth is still the ultimate recommendation engine.
My real estate agent friend Nya Alemayhu has been successful the last 12 months because of the personalized service she offers, a monthly newsletter called Keeping It Real based on conversations with clients, and her collaborations with other pros like loan officers and home inspectors. The result? She gets referrals and recommendations. “While algorithms can offer interesting suggestions, nothing beats the recommendations from co-workers, family and friends,” NYT Open wrote. “Personal recommendations, which are the product of ongoing personal conversations, allow for the discovery of new content to feel seamless and nuanced.”

Try this. Instagram. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) generates word of mouth and publicizes events through their popular Instagram page.

The most recent information is not always the most relevant.
This one is huge. It’s basically that relevant content may trump today’s news. “News organizations tend to surface the most recent content, but that often gets people only some of the information they’re looking for,” they write. In a recent conversation I had with a publisher, he expressed the success they’ve had repurposing their best content. “Not everyone sees it the first or even the second time around,” he said. “It’s been a huge plus for us.”

Try this. Take the top 10 most popular content pieces that you’ve done over the last couple years and schedule their repurposing in a weekly or monthly series. Call it something like Doing Our Best or Our All-Star Content.

People crave transparency.
“The public hears claims of ‘fake news’ just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it,” NYT Open wrote. When Sam Yagan, vice chairman of Match.com and co-founder of OkCupid, Tinder and SparkNotes, spoke on one of those Campfire Chats, he was believable because he told us the process that he went through after taking over Match and the mistakes they made. “I compare never failing with not having ambition,” Yagan said. “[So the question became,] how do we let ourselves test out our intuition? The intuition has to inform what data you get.”

Try this. Let your audience see—and discuss—how one of your best publications or podcasts or webinars gets done. “Come behind the scenes with us today.”