Weekly Features, Podcasts and Faster Load Times Can Increase Retention

Research last year from Northwestern’s Medill Local News Initiative looked at audience data from three major metro publications. Their conclusion, according to NiemanLab, 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.”
So with that established, the goal becomes to entice your subscribers and would-be subscribers to check in a lot with your website and resources. Here are some ways to make that happen:
Send an email quiz or post a puzzle. I received this email this week from Lessiter Media. “To test your knowledge of soil health practices, No-Till Farmer, with the support of Indigo Ag, created a 6-question quiz, ‘How Much Do You Know About Soil Enrichment Practices?’ Take the quiz.” 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. 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.
Start a podcast. This has certainly been a ripe couple months for podcasts. “Podcasts are interesting for publishers because they are much more likely to attract younger audiences, since they can be accessed conveniently through smartphones and they offer a diversity of perspectives and voices,” writes NiemanLab. “The deep connection that many podcasts seem to create could be opening up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside public-service and advertising-driven models. In our data this year we find that almost four in ten Americans (38%) said they would be prepared to pay for podcasts they liked, and a similar number in Canada (37%).”
Start a weekly content feature that brings people back. Inc. launched a weekly webinar called “Real Talk.” “It’s people who have had success and are willing to give back to entrepreneurs and the small business community and answer questions for an hour,” said Scott Omelianuk, editor-in-chief. Haymarket’s PRWeek has two that they’ve started during the pandemic: Lockdown Life and Coffee Break. Episodes for Lockdown Life include: three PR people who have recovered from COVID-19; a diverse group of recent grads entering the PR workforce; the challenge of pitching remotely; and fun videos where kids say what they think their parents do for a living. Coffee Break is short, 15-minutes videos with people in the industry,” In one recent episode, Margenett Moore Roberts, chief diversity and inclusion officer at CMG, talks about what it takes to address diversity and inclusion at your company.
Get people “together.” One of our other divisions, AM&P, is hosting virtual get-togethers on Fridays at lunchtime to either talk about a topic—diversity, alternative revenue, accessibility—or just offer each other support. Joanne Persico, president of SIPA member ONEcount, has been holding “Bold Minds Virtual Mixers” every Wednesday at 5:30 pm. “Collaborate with other media execs, CEOs and industry colleagues to learn what others are doing, what’s working and creative ways to keep your customers and employees happy!” she writes.
Reduce your load times. According to a report from Twipe, The Telegraph in the UK found that reducing loading time from 9 to 5.5 seconds led to a 49% increase in subscriber conversion from those who visit the homepage. An initial analysis led them to push for faster homepage load times and a service to send audio summaries and news links to commuters through WhatsApp. Users who regularly listened on WhatsApp were 12 times more likely to become paid subscribers.
Steer people to products or platforms that will continue. Getting a COVID-19 readership bump? Then make sure your new visitors 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,” said Jeremy Gilbert of The Washington Post. Ragan Communications turned much of their COVID coverage into a Crisis Leadership Board.

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