‘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.

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