Aftonbladet uses automated content to quickly build local coverage

By Cecilia Campbell

United Robots

Malmö, Sweden

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We recently received the following question from a local news publisher: “We’d like to extend our reach by building hyper-local sites along the perimetre of the region we currently cover. Could we somehow leverage automated content to do this?”

The simple answer is yes. In fact, there are few more compelling use cases for newsroom automation than the local accelerator model. With robots providing a base of constantly updated texts about traffic, weather, local sports, house sales, and so on, building out a presence in local communities is quick and efficient.

Automated content can not foster relationships, but it can build the foundation for them.
Automated content can not foster relationships, but it can build the foundation for them.

Sweden’s top news site, Aftonbladet, has a staggering reach nationally: 3.5 million daily unique visitors in a country of 10 million people. Knowing there is a limit to how much more the company can grow in terms of reach, in 2019 it launched an initiative focused on local communities around the country. The strategy was to get closer to local Aftonbladet visitors, by offering local content relevant to them. The hypothesis was that as a result, we’d also be able to capture more of the local advertising markets.

Today, Aftonbladet has 230 local destinations (by municipality), and two cities, Malmö and Uppsala, also have local reporters. All the destinations publish robot-written texts on traffic, weather, and local sports. Uppsala also has a widget for homes that makes automated updates on local house sales.

All the automated content means the local sites always feel fresh and updated. As an example, United Robots now delivers six weather updates a day to Aftonbladet — some 1,700 texts in total — pushed to local sites.

While weather updates are a great service to readers, the robot-written local content also consists of more engaging articles. Local match reports include comments from team coaches through United Robots’ Q&A function. At the final whistle, our robot sends a couple of match relevant questions to the coaches via SMS. The comments then get automatically inserted into the text.

“Using text messages to automatically retrieve quotes from coaches lifts the automated content to a new level and provides great added value for readers,” says Mattias Andersson, head of local at Aftonbladet.

The fact the local destinations are regularly updated — and feel up-to-date — means Aftonbladet now sells to local advertisers in general. In Malmö and Uppsala, the local inventory is sold contextually, though the automated articles play a smaller part in this. In Uppsala’s home-focused widget, however, the stream of robot texts about home sales contribute to attracting estate agents and housing corporations to advertise in a very specific context.

The key benefit of the local accelerator model is the volume, regularity, and hyperlocal nature of the texts delivered. Within this model, there are a number of possible use cases, such as:

National goes local

This is the Aftonbladet case, where a national news brand wants to deepen its relationships with readers in local communities. From a business point of view, the objective may be to:

  • Generate local ad inventory and/or attract local advertisers.
  • Drive relevance and engagement, and thus digital subscription conversions and retention.
  • Achieve both of the above.

Extending existing beats

The local accelerator creates a low threshold for local publishers to extend their reach by building sites in additional communities, leveraging the base of automated content across topics like traffic, sports, weather, and so on.

Quick foothold in new markets

The local accelerator allows publishers of any size to quickly establish a presence in new markets by providing great reader services like instant traffic updates, and engaging local journalism through automated match reports or texts about new business registrations.

Robots cannot replace reporters when it comes to engaging with local communities. But within the local accelerator model, they can provide a base of services and volumes of updated content that supports the growth of local engagement.

About Cecilia Campbell

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