Evaluating current user needs reveals opportunities for growth hacks

By Stefan ten Teije


Nijmegen, The Netherlands


The fact the Reuters Institute dedicated an entire chapter to the user needs model 2.0 in its recently published Digital News Report is confirmation this is something worth giving attention. And, a great way for news publishers to start is by using the model to run growth hacks.

If you’re being data-driven about your work, the key question is always what works well — and what doesn’t. To answer that, there’s an even more important question to ask: What is your definition of “good?”

The answer to this should align with your journalistic mission. Do you aim to provide a certain audience with context on the news, to move people emotionally, or to help readers make choices in their daily lives? In all of these cases, you can start to measure impact by looking at the extent to which these types of stories are widely read (pageviews) and well read (attention time).

From here, you can assess your strengths and see if you can produce more from the user needs that perform well and less from those that don’t resonate with your audience. For a newsroom, this is an excellent way to self-reflect.

In the graph below, which shows analysis from a smartocto client, we can see a significant amount of “update me” and “educate me” content was produced, but median pageviews were, in fact, higher for five other user needs.

Additionally, engagement was higher for needs other than the most commonly produced ones.

So, those growth hacks …

This brings us to the phenomenon of growth hacks, which are simply adjustments that lead to growth. The hack this newsroom used was creating more emotion-driven content (“inspire me”) and fewer news updates (“update me”). This was a successful growth hack for this news site. The newsroom took action, and it paid off.

The proportion of “update me” stories decreased from 33% to 23%. While there was little to no growth in median pageviews, a clear and better balance was achieved.

However, as is often the case, pageviews aren’t the only metric to consider. The beauty of this project is that attention time notably increased by 29% on average.

Steps for achieving growth hacks

The user needs model 2.0 offers opportunities to focus on the right growth hacks — the changes journalists implement in their daily work to achieve growth. Here are three steps for developing effective hacks:

1. Create a baseline report based on user needs.

Recently, through the User Needs Labs’ programme, smartocto and FT Strategies presented baseline reports for nine journalistic titles worldwide. These reports are based on 1,000 articles. From these, you can determine if your goals are being met.

If you aren’t yet tagging stories at the user need level, Artificial Intelligence can help categorise historical articles.

2. Identify opportunities in the presented data.

You might be satisfied with the balance on your Web site based on the analysis and see that loyal visitors are well served. But are you attracting enough new visitors? Which user needs offer the most potential for attracting new visitors?

Look for opportunities to implement improvements. Focusing more on the quality of the type of stories that best achieve your objectives can be a good choice. As shown below, for this particular client, action-driven and context-driven content is most read by new visitors.

3. Keep the growth hack small; start with one section.

If you want to see significant improvements, you might be tempted to involve the newsroom and aim for overall better performance. Experience shows this can be a laborious process, and it would be a shame if the user needs method doesn’t get enough chance to prove itself.

Start with one section. As shown below, the “culture” section produces no action-driven content, although it is an ideal subject for service-oriented stories. Which books should I read, or which films are worth seeing in the cinema? How can I still get concert tickets for the Bruce Springsteen concert?

Try implementing simple growth hacks in that one section to demonstrate to the rest of the editorial teams that they should also adopt this approach.

About Stefan ten Teije

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.