‘Understand What You Do Well’; Keeping Your Audience Post-COVID

In my previous postStephanie Williford of EB Medicine spoke about the tremendous engagement they’ve been getting since they started posting COVID-19 resources. One article in particular has garnered 340,000 views when a typical, popular article used to get 10,000.
Of course, EB Medicine is not alone. Many publishers and associations have seen big jumps in their visitors and clicks due to coronavirus coverage and resource sites they’ve developed. The challenge for most will be keeping that engagement—and hopefully in many cases subscriptions—after the crisis has abated or in a year from now for renewals.
Here are some ideas:
Examine previous spikes and identify the readers who stayed and who left. That comes from Robbie Kelman Baxter, author of The Forever Transaction and a past SIPA keynote speaker, in an article on the What’s New in Publishing site. Can you tell why they might have stayed or perhaps what their engagement has been since? “It’s never been more important to understand what you do well and why people come to you, from an editorial and a revenue perspective,” said Mia Lehmkuhl Libby, CRO, The Daily Beast, in that same article.
Make your news and information continue to be relevant, said Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post. “Make people aware… about the width and breadth of coverage that you can do.” Which leads to…
Promote non-coronavirus stories to your new visitors/subscribers. The Guardian in the UK is sharing a list of 10 of its most-well read non-coronavirus articles every day. At the Post, Gilbert said that they are “trying to show that our arts writers and critics, our sports writers and critics, and our food writers and critics can feel relevant now but also signal to our audience that after the COVID crisis, we’ll have different kinds of coverage that they will still need… We’re thinking very deeply about what are the things, the products, the tools that we can offer our audience and how can we bridge [new subscribers] from caring about the news in the time of the virus to caring about the news when things are going better.”
Steer people to products or platforms that will continue. Get your new visitors to subscribe to at least one ongoing thing—even if it has to be free. Newsletters are a great example. People tune in now because maybe they have more time or because they’re in front of the computer more or feel more isolated. But “If you can get them to subscribe to a newsletter, you have a way to reach them even when they go back to in-person offices and in-person meetings,” Gilbert said. Ragan turned much of their COVID coverage into a Crisis Leadership Board.
Know what about the relationship that feels important. “Why did the audience turn to you now so you could continue to make that valuable?” Gilbert asked. “Many of the people taking our subscription offers today are taking them on annual plan. 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.”
Look at the specific COVID-19 coverage or resource that got the most clicks. How was it written? Was it a list? Did it have faces? For Williford, what is it about that one article that got 340,000 clicks, “How do we transition people?” Gilbert asked. “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?”
Encourage new habits. “Find ways to deliver value, develop habits and remind subscribers about the value of the product,” said Michael Silberman, Piano’s SVP of strategy. “Even flat churn is impressive, given the big increase in new subscriptions during March.” Cancellations of monthly subscriptions acquired in March dropped an average of 17% compared to subscribers acquired in January and February, Piano estimated. Churn dropped by about 34% in Europe, whereas in the U.S. it was flat overall.
Understand what your audience needs. “And so if we can keep the needs of our audience at the forefront and not just think of our audience as consumers who buy our products but also people who need our news, we’re going to have a better experience,” Gilbert said.

For Williford, Positive Feedback and More Traffic Lighten Heavy Workload

“Every day is hard. Often, there’s very little or nothing they can do. [In addition to patients,] they see their own colleagues pass away… It’s very stressful. Plus their hours might be getting cut. Many of them have had their budgets frozen because many hospitals and emergency departments are really suffering right now. They’re not getting business from elective surgeries and overall volume in EDs [emergency departments] is actually down.”

That was from a conversation I had with Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine and a new SIPA executive board member, a few weeks ago. She was describing many of her customers who are ED personnel and ER doctors. I had interviewed people on the frontlines of COVID-19 before, but more in loans and banks and people hurting that way.

This was different.
“They have to deal with all of this. And then we have to assess that and figure out how to respond.” If that wasn’t enough, a couple days later Williford sent me a story from Buzzfeed News titled An ER Doctor’s Diary of Three Brutal Weeks Fighting COVID-19.
“This gets at the heart of what our audience is seeing and dealing with every day,” she wrote.
As an information provider but also a business, how do you respond? For Williford, the humanity came first. She spoke last Tuesday as part of the excellent two-day SIPA 2020 and repeated something she told me: That EB Medicine forgot to initially ask for email addresses on the free COVID-19 resources they posted on their site. Given the 340,000 and counting views for one primary article, it probably cost them a lot of leads.
But I think they can be excused for forgetting that.
“We were initially going to keep our [COVID-19] content behind the paywall, but we immediately got pushback on that,” Williford said Tuesday. “When we did put it in front, we got really positive response.” That 340,000-views article might typically get 10,000 views. “So traffic has gone through the roof. Every week we’re adding more content. We’re doing more regular podcasts, more social media. International organizations are asking if they can link to us, and if they can translate the content—Japanese, Spanish, Italian.
“We’re still mixing in our regular content. It’s not all COVID all the time, but we are pushing people towards the free content. We’ve seen pretty good results so far, with a couple hundred new email signups. Subscriptions have increased 9% we think due to the increased engagement. It’s definitely been a challenge and an increased workload—the COVID content plus everything else we do—but the customers appreciate having the information.”
As for the economic woes—some of their audience have had salaries cut in half—Williford said that she tries to be understanding and flexible. “We’ve kind of gone outside our wheelhouse [and become] a little more touchy feely. We’ve created a wellness resources section on our website. That’s something we’ve never had before. We’ve done blogposts about mindfulness, show them we care. Plus things llike, ‘Here’s where you can get discounted shoes, airbnb’s [it’s not always safe for them to go home] and free yoga classes.'”
And not every contact they make with customers is a sales pitch. Sometimes now, Williford said, they will just check in. “‘How are you doing? How can we help?’ We’ll remind them of the free resources we have available. We’ve actually had a lot of positive feedback from that. ‘Thanks for asking. I’m doing well. It’s been a struggle but I appreciate what you guys are providing.'”
Williford has also stopped any telemarketing. “They’re just so stressed; we thought adding a phone call is not going to help them. For our larger accounts, we’re doing virtual lunches—just casual conversation, again trying to pay attention to what their needs are.”
Still, the business continues. EB Medicine continues to invest in different areas right now, reallocating in-person event money to online sponsorships and exhibits. They’ve also expanded their retargeting and remarketing efforts with Google Ad Words; eliminated a step from their checkout process; added a pop-up if a visitor is on their website for longer than 30 seconds; and started doing live webinars. Williford just never thought their audience wanted that. Plus it’s a very competitive space.
But the world has changed.
“Our customers are really in the thick of it,” she said. “Fortunately, we have an editorial board for each product, and they really drive those product decisions. They’re able to tell us from the ground what [our customers] need. A hospital might not be able to develop their own protocol, for example.
From the humanity end, one line seems to guide Williford right now:  You can’t take care of your patients unless you take care of yourself.
“Our main focus is on the practical application—what can you do with us? Here’s what you need to do. Luckily we have a very connected editorial board.”

As for her own staff of 14, Williford has reached out to all of them during this time to see how they’re doing. But she believes more is needed. “We don’t have a regular company-wide meeting every week. But we’re getting ready to re-implement that again. I’m feeling disconnected and that we need that.”

If they’re seeing what she’s seeing, it probably makes sense.


You Can Keep Expenses Low and Vary the Length for a Successful Podcast

We know the huge hit that events are taking now. And we encourage everyone to register for next Thursday’s SIPA/AM&P/Connectiv webinar titled Coronavirus and Your Events: How to Make Decisions that Protect Your Business and the Safety of Your Staffthat will include our own Brian Cuthbert from Diversified Communications..

Like any national crisis, audiences are turning more and more to their news sources for information. And within that, publisher podcasts are experiencing serious upticks in listeners. According to a Digiday article this week, since Jan. 22, podcast network Acast reports that there have been 650 episodes which reference “corona” or “covid” in the episode titles. These have been downloaded 16 million times. A number of individual Coronavirus-related podcast episodes have had over 300,000 listens each, including one day (March 5) that had over 875,000 listens.

Here are some tips for starting a podcast:
Fit your schedule to your audience. “People get it wrong if they think they have to pump out a podcast every week,” Riordan said. “You really need to think what your true podcast value is, what the audience is, and whether a [time-limited] series is a better fit.”
Over-explain how to listen. There’s still a gap in podcast awareness and listening, particularly among older audiences—who listen least, but like Facebook, will most likely be jumping more on board. “Podcast creators still need to explain to potential listeners how to find, subscribe to and download their show.”
It doesn’t have to cost a lot. For Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine, the annual cost of her EMplify is $6,500. She pays the hosts $500 a month, and they handle entire production. “They send us the audio file and we upload it to Blubrry which pushes it out to iTunes and Google Play.” Another SIPA publisher, Spidell, does it all in-house. Editorial creates the content. Audio is recorded in Audacity, and production done in Audition. Then editorial and marketing review a draft.
Podcast length can vary to your audience. EMplify is 20 minutes because Williford believes her audience “has a short attention span and not a lot of time. They seem happy with that.” Spidell’s California Minute is actually 3-5 minutes. President Lynn Freer also said it just feels right for her busy audience, and the numbers—around 700,000 listens and counting and an average of 4,148 per episode—bear that out.
Celebrate your launch. “My biggest recommendation is to have a big bang launch, and I’m not talking about an ad on page 5,” said radio futurologist James Cridland. “I’m talking about ads throughout the day on your website, a strap on your [publication] for the week.”
Look inward for talent. “Firstly, use your brand and your talent,” said Cridland. In listening to some of the SIPA member podcasts, I’m always impressed by the hosts, who are usually staff members. Kathryn Zdan of Spidell comes to mind. Ask your staff, in all areas, who might be interested in hosting. You never know.
Capitalize on your legacy brand. “There’s a temptation to launch a new brand around podcasts, rather than using your legacy brand,” Cridland said. “But if you do that you end up not having any heritage, and more importantly no points of difference from all the other podcasts out there.”
Get some advice on selling ads or sponsorships. Cridland recommends approaching an agency that can provide specialist advice on how to sell a new podcast product to potential advertisers. “People who sell full-page ads in newspapers find it quite difficult to go out and sell audio, so having sales people and teams that understand the specifics of selling this kind of content is absolutely essential.” This might be a question for the SIPA webinar.
Get the word out. “You can leverage it through social media, through newsletters, through making short-form videos,” said Riordan. “And if you’re an independent podcaster who can’t lean on the ‘network’ effect’, you can tap into communities and influencers in your genre.”
Build off of your podcasts. EB Medicine has created “video” podcasts, which most of their competitors are not doing. It’s just slides and text but still represents another communication vehicle. Spidell does a little product marketing now in their podcasts and then follows up with people who open that podcast with an email with more information on that product. “It has generated some revenue for us,” Freer said, “enough to justify the time.”
Check out the recent webinar on podcasts that Freer and Williford did here.