Better user relationships depend on improving the journey

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


A better user journey is crucial to creating a relationship with customers.

At Viafoura, a Canada-based company that helps media brands activate their audiences, the way to build those relationships is to deliver value, said Dan Seaman, Viafoura’s vice president of product management, during Wednesday’s INMA membes-only Webinar, Live Q&A: A look inside Sportsnet’s strategy for a frictionless user experience.

“When we talk about activation of audiences, we’re really talking about taking users from a passive consumptive model and moving them through a series of sort of opportunities for engagement toward a highly engaged participatory — and ultimately registered and subscribed — model,” Seaman said. Viafoura’s role is to help move audiences through that user journey “in as frictionless a way as possible,” he said.

Doing that helps drive registration, and with the impending disappearance of third-party cookies, building a direct relationship with users is increasingly important for brands.

The user journey is about moving the audience from unknown to engaged to registered. Along the way, media brands are collecting data to help them learn more about their customers — their interests, their sentiments on certain topics, their preferences, etc.

Optimising the user journey helps move the audience from unknown to engaged to registered.
Optimising the user journey helps move the audience from unknown to engaged to registered.

“All of this helps you to be able to better personalise your content, to tune your content strategy toward their interests to help to build that direct relationship,” Seaman explained. Ultimately, that will help drive subscriptions as well as retain the subscription revenue and the relationship with the user.

Noah Love, senior product manager at Sportsnet, explained how it has worked with Viafoura to create a frictionless experience. Sportsnet is part of Rogers Sports and Media in Toronto and has exclusive rights in Canada for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. It also holds the Canadian rights for the National Hockey League and splits rights for Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association with a competitor.

It often ranks as the No. 1 sports Web site in Canada, and Love explained that it has a couple of missions: “The central goal is to increase paid subscription of our direct-to-consumer product, Sportsnet,” he said. “The second is to build our audience and to drive advertising revenue.”

The power of comments

Sportsnet depends upon a robust user base to attract advertising, but the subscriber growth market is also important, Seaman said. One of his main goals is to increase time spent consuming and commenting on content.

“On all of our platforms, from owned and operated digital to social media, to television and radio and beyond, we’re trying to create and sustain fan communities. And one of the ways that we do that is through the commenting on the articles.”

Sportsnet has partnered with Viafoura both from a platform and a moderation perspective to help with commenting around its coverage of various teams. It uses the articles on the Web site as ways to engage users and get comments. Sportsnet had previously struggled with how to gather user registrations because in the past it didn’t give them many reasons to register, Seaman said. It began building personalisation features a couple of years ago to create a seamless experience across devices, but realised it needed to simplify the registration process to “get users through the gates.”

The original sign-up process required users to give information just to be able to comment, and many users chose to leave the site.
The original sign-up process required users to give information just to be able to comment, and many users chose to leave the site.

The original sign-in process was long, and users often bounced before completing it. Users had to “jump through a lot of hoops” just to comment on an article, Love said. So Sportsnet created an experience that only required an e-mail and password to sign up.

“That allowed us to push users directly to the preference setting, to the newsletter sign-up; we could bucket those things a bit more seamlessly than we had previously. And once we fixed the sign-up issue, then we were able to focus on other areas of the Web site and see if we could make other improvements to encourage onboarding.”

Now, it has streamlined the process and improved the experience for users. Love said it was a fairly long process that involved working with the engineering team to figure out how to make sure they were improving the experience for users. Now, Sportsnet is focused on increasing user personalisation preference settings, and Love said there will be “less to worry about when third-party cookies go away” because of the information it is able to gather.

When Sportsnet simplified the user experience, it saw an increase in registrations and engagement.
When Sportsnet simplified the user experience, it saw an increase in registrations and engagement.

The process paid off: Sportsnet experienced a 24% increase in the amount of time spent on the comments sections and a 14% lift in registrations. Even more, it enjoyed a 262% increase in the number of comments from readers. Seaman added that when people see other users participating and engaging, they tend to have a higher propensity to participate themselves.

“From our data, what we see is … once you have at least one comment, we see about a 5X lift in the number of registrations on the page,” he noted. “And as the number of comments increase, that rate of registration actually goes up as well. So making sure that people can see that is a very powerful way to drive that increase in registrations.”

Sportsnet also uses Viafoura for comment moderation, which Love said is crucial. Even though sports coverage is “not as dicey a topic as news,” there’s a need to have moderators on the site: “Sometimes things get a little bit out of hand and we need to mute or suspend users. We have had some problems with that in the past.” Viafoura handles the day-to-day issues that arise and flags comments that could have legal implications, Love said.

“I’m thankful that we have tools at our disposal in this format because it’s a bit difficult to keep the level of community and engagement civil if you have nothing at your disposal.”

Love noted that Sportsnet uses a lot of different calls to action and value propositions to move people through the funnel but said brands must give users a good reason to give up their e-mail addresses. This will continue to be important as reader revenue models continue developing and the need for direct relationships with users increases. This is not only important but good for the entire industry, Seaman said.

“This move toward focusing content and the overall user experience to more of a user-focused model is a really good thing and is contributing to improving the overall health of the media industry,” he said.  “We definitely see the power of community engagement as a mechanism for driving retention is incredibly strong. What we see is when users participate in some active way, even if it’s very lightweight, we see at least a 6X increase in overall loyalty and retention rates.”

Moving forward, social and community engagement will continue playing a bigger role, he said. Users no longer settle for a “lonely consumption” experience at the computer; they want to be part of a social community. The brands that get it right will win big with users, Seaman predicted:

“Providing a social layer as part of your overall content experience is really important to driving loyalty. It’s one thing to walk away from a brand; it’s another to walk away from a community that you’re part of.”

About Paula Felps

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