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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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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.’“

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‘What Molecule Am I?’ The Many Positive Outcomes From a Quiz

On the American Chemical Society homepage, there’s a heading for a big Virtual Meeting & Expo this week; then there’s a very cool member invitation: “Me Becomes We, Improve the world through the transforming power of chemistry” with a super-diverse, 16-square face box; and also a Personal Stories area with testimonials.

One more element on the page must get a lot of clicks to be so prominent: “Molecule of the Week: You’ll get a bang out of making me. What molecule am I?” (There’s always a clever question.) I click for the answer. “Azidoazide azide.” When I click on their archive, I see they’ve been doing this feature since 2005! (Bullvalene was the first. Superbowl was the fifth.)

People like quizzes, trivia—virtual nights still attract a big crowd—and puzzles. The Wall Street Journal studied how different reader habits affected subscriber churn. They 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.”

Quizzes and puzzles also bring people back to your website. What’s the molecule going to be next week? Northwestern’s Medill research determined that the frequency with which a reader comes back to a publication’s website “is the single biggest predictor of retaining subscribers—more than the number of stories read or the time spent reading them.”

Here are more reasons for using quizzes:

To sell products and build archives. MedLearn Media has a popular Compliance Question of the Week. Typical “Laboratory Question” is: “I’ve heard there is a CPT® code for COVID-19, is this true?” After the answer is given, readers are told that “This question was answered in an edition of our Laboratory Compliance Manager. For more hot topics relating to laboratory services, please visit our store or call us at 1.800.252.1578, ext. 2.”

To educate readers about your topic. “Who are these Five Influential Women Engineers?” the American Society of Mechanical Engineers asks. “Many influential women engineers are role models and mentors for the next generation of female engineers. How many of these women do you recognize?” Then after I got just 2 out of 5 questions right, I got this: “Interested in finding out more about these influential women engineers?” Hit the Learn More button.

To convey positive information about your audience or members. The American Association for Cancer Research does this to show the progress they’ve made. “Thanks to cancer research, the number of cancer survivors is increasing year after year. How many cancer survivors are projected to be living in the United States by 2040?” I chose the highest number—26.1 million—and was correct! “Research is driving advances in cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment that are helping more and more people to survive longer and lead fuller lives after a cancer diagnosis.”

Lead generation. After a brief hiatus, Education Week quizzes are back and they’re timely. “Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Elementary Remote Instruction? How are elementary educators responding to the shift to remote learning, and what challenges do elementary students and teachers face with remote instruction?” It’s sponsored by Square Panda, but Education Week maintains editorial control. You have to give your email address to see the results. For this quiz, there were 994 participants. In the past, Education Week would regularly achieve nearly 90% quiz completions and around 60% of people who completed the quiz filling out the registration form.

To raise money for a good cause. The Investment Week Virtual Quiz 2020 was designed to help “heroic frontline NHS [National Health Service] staff tackling the coronavirus crisis.” They held a live quiz “hosted by a special industry guest.” Participants were sent a link and also could dial in to a video/audio call. They would even show a leaderboard in real-time so the winner can be revealed instantly. To take part they asked people to choose a donation fee with all proceeds going to CASCAID’s NHS fundraising campaign (minimum donation was £15).

To get sponsors and increase knowledge. I came across this quiz recently on a site called The Fulcrum: How Much Do You Know About the Electoral College? Good to see that on the bottom it says, “This quiz is powered by CredSpark,” one of our vendor members. “Think you know all there is to know about the Electoral College? Test your smarts with this quiz.” I didn’t do very well—got about half right. But it certainly engaged me.

More lead generation. Lessiter Media has been getting good results from their sponsored quizzes. How Much Do You Know About Soil Enrichment Practices? they ask. “Take this quick 6-question quiz to find out. We didn’t create this quiz ‘just for fun,’ but to act as an educational tool.” For a previous quiz, they received 3,346 total submissions from Nov. 2019, through the end of March 2020. About 1,658 were new email addresses and 120 new subscribers.

To sell a webinar. Lastly, I always hark back to a quiz that OPIS did. The questions were tough, so that when you got one wrong, the answer led you to 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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In Challenging Times, Quizzes Seem to Be a Challenge People Like Taking on

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the successful quizzes that Lessiter Media is doing—an initiative they started well before the pandemic hit. For one, they received a few thousand submissions with almost 2,000 new email addresses; more than 120 new subscribers emerged from the list of quiz takers.
This week I came across a quiz from a publisher in the UK that ties into the pandemic. The Investment Week Virtual Quiz 2020 was designed to help “heroic frontline NHS [National Health Service] staff tackling the coronavirus crisis.” Today at 4 pm their time they held the live quiz “hosted by a special industry guest.” Participants were sent a link and also could dial in to a video/audio call. They would even show a leaderboard in real-time so the winner can be revealed instantly.
To take part they asked people to choose a donation fee with all proceeds going to CASCAID’s NHS fundraising campaign (minimum donation was £15).
Coincidentally, the Washington Post ran an article this week titled, The Pubs Are Closed, But Brits Won’t Give Up Their Quizzes, so the tradition is even stronger there. But still, given the success of quizzes here—I’ve read that Jeopardy is once again soaring in the ratings—this might be a good time to try one, especially if you can work in the goodwill.
Goodwill was one theme in the SIPA UK discussion last week. “What we’ve done this week is a special white paper on COVID-19,” said Victoria Mellor, who with Robin Crumby built Melcrum up from the ground floor and now runs Kademy. “The view I’m talking on subscriptions is that you need to sell by helping people. Cold calling in this environment is difficult; being helpful is the way to go. We have a coaching offering in our membership suite of online training modules… What we’re doing is for prospects in our pipeline, offering free coaching sessions [and it is] being well received. People need short-term help… Be helpful and thoughtful about how you’re positioning yourselves.”
If there can be some type of quiz or gamification involved, all the better. People are looking for any kind of escape, and quizzes, jigsaw puzzles and games can supply that.
In their 100 event trends for 2020—before the pandemic—the Event MB Studio team found that 10% of the apps they analyzed listed gamification features as part of the app. “…let people win rewards for acing a quiz on the keynote [speaker]. Leaderboards and awards have proven particularly effective, as attendees compete against one another for more recognition as well.”
Other publishers I know doing quizzes include:
Financial Times. They are still doing an FT Weekend Quiz that seems to be gated to subscribers (must be popular). They are centered around popular culture with this subhead: “Our ‘Round on the Links’ quiz tests your ability to draw connections. Thinking caps on!” Last year’s quiz focused on “The Week in News.”
Education Week. Although it looks like they put a temporary stop to their quizzes after Feb. 24. They would regularly achieve nearly 90% quiz completions and around 60% of people completing the quiz filling out the registration form for lead generation.
Kiplinger. The UK-owned publisher features an entire gallery of quizzes on varying topics. Although most of them seem evergreen—The Couples and Money Quiz; The Personal Finance Quiz—a click on the Recession Quiz leads to 10 Facts You Must Know About Recessions, updated on March 27.
PR News. On Access Intelligence’s PR News grammar quiz,  a Scrabble-like image of “G R A M M A R” emerges with the headline, “How Good Is Your Grammar?” “Do you correct others on their grammar? Or do you get corrected? See how you stack up…”
Lastly, I always hark back to a quiz that OPIS did. The questions were tough, so that when you got one wrong, the answer led you to 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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Lessiter Media Scores a Big Lead Gen Win With an ‘Educational’ Quiz

I received an email from Lessiter Media Chairman Frank Lessiter over the weekend talking about the success they’ve been having with quizzes in the last few months. So, of course, I had to take it.
Quizzes are one engagement element that can still be effective now—and frankly can bring us a little relief. (I’ve read that jigsaw puzzles are also reaching new popularity heights.) In fact, this morning, a sports station here presented the most compelling content in weeks by doing quiz questions to callers. And trivia nights have already found a comfort zone online—one friend just gave a thumbs-up testimonial for one and forwarded it to me. They’re charging $18.
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“Hey, it’s Frank!” a pop-up emerges with his photo when I go to Lessiter’s no-tillfarmer.com. “Have you taken the 12-question quiz, ‘How Much Do You Actually Know About Cover Crops?'” It takes less than 5 minutes to complete and we’ll send you a copy of your quiz results in addition to a FREE PDF copy of our popular 28-page eGuide, ‘The Pluses & Minuses of Today’s Most Popular Cover Crops’ via email.”

The link takes me to “How Much Do You Actually Know About Cover Crops?” with a big sponsor logo—Schaeffer’s Crop Enhancements—up top.
“Take this quick 12-question quiz to find out. This quiz wasn’t created ‘just for fun,’ but to act as an educational tool.” I quickly answered the questions and then a final one asking if the sponsor can call me, before getting my results. I got 5 right! Wow, maybe I should play the lottery today. That makes me a “PLODDER.” One point lower and I would have been “McFLY.”
The quiz was fun, yes educational—who knew that forb is not a primary cover crop species?—and great lead gen for Lessiter Media.
“We have received 3,346 total submissions from Nov. 7, 2019, through March 31, 2020,” Lessiter wrote. Some 3,160 are unique. About 1,658 are new email addresses to our database which we are currently marketing to with subscriptions and event promotions. To date, there are 120 new NTF subscribers from this list of quiz takers with a first order date after the quiz launched.” I may have to opt out.
This was the first quiz that Lessiter Media launched with a sponsorship. “We launched [a quiz] last fall for our farmer audience that was a really tough quiz on soil health,” wrote Lessiter. “It was pulled together by No-Till Farmer senior editor John Dobberstein, while Joanne Volkert of our audience development staff handled the marketing aspects.”
Here’s the promo breakdown that Volkert developed…
  • 15 total promos in the weekly email newsletters (No-Till Farmer, Strip-Till Farmer and Cover Crop Strategies email newsletters;
  • 8 total promos in these three daily newsletters DEUs (NTF, STF, CCS);
  • 3 total email promos to our entire grower audience;
  • 2 Facebook posts (one on NTF and one on STF);
  • 6 total Facebook ad campaigns ($541 total expense);
    – Posted once each in several outside grower LinkedIn groups;
  • Was part of their National No-Tillage Conference event contest in November to earn more entries;
  • Posted in “Everything Cover Crops” Facebook Group, another outside grower group
  • Farm Babe (Michelle Miller, an ag influencer on social media) shared with her Facebook followers
I had to look up that last one, and there she is, The Farm Babe (thefarmbabe.com). “‘The Farm Babe’ unearths the truth behind modern farming… Big city globetrotter turned Iowa farm girl.” Given the state of my exciting evenings, I may watch one of her videos tonight.
Lessiter said that the quizzes will amp up a bit from here. “With our American Farriers Journal market, we’re starting a monthly quiz on specific areas of trimming and shoeing horses. Hopefully, we’ll find sponsors for this quiz series. As you would guess, we’re happy with the results.”
If you get a few extra minutes, I also urge you to listen to a Lessiter Media podcast titled How We Did It. For the final “bonus” episode of the series, longtime editor Dave Kanicki sat down with Frank Lessiter and wife Pam, along with their son, Mike Lessiter, president of Lessiter Media, to discuss the company past and present. It’s wonderful. And yes, there is a sponsor.