If the digital first strategy at Business Day can be summed up in one thought, the company’s head of digital services would say, “Who is my reader and what do they want?”
Onyinyechi Eze repeated the mantra several times over the course of Thursday’s INMA members-only Webinar.
So what does “reader first” mean to Nigeria’s Business Day? Eze, a recipient of the INMA Elevate Scholarship in 2020-2021, said it’s reimagining everything you used to believe in a legacy newsroom about having an idea of what you thought your audience wanted.
“As we move more to the digital age, it’s more about who’s my reader, what do they want from me, what do they like to see, how do they want it to look: multimedia, text, podcasts,” Eze said. “You feel the success in this when you can see that the reader can resonate with what you’re writing.”
Business Day pushes towards impact journalism, putting readers first by saying, “We want to hear from you. This is what you want us to do, and we’re giving it to you,” Eze said. Because competition is so stiff in a digital age, being reader first is not only preferred, it’s a must.
“You’re struggling for attention, you’re struggling for information. Everyone is getting information from everywhere and you still want to stay relevant,” Eze said.
To develop your audience, Eze recommended these steps to understanding who your readers are and how to figure out the content they really need, questions questions like:
Who is my audience?
What is their activity?
Where do I find, grow, and retain audience?
How do I measure success?
She recommended thinking of audience development in four phases:
“Everyone has the same news, really. So you have to give them what they want,” Eze said. “And if you give them something they want, they come back. And when they come back, it’s a good time for you to understand why they came back.”
Once the audience knows they can come to you for content they care about, you can then ask them to take action by getting them to subscribe. You’ll want to shift them from being visitors to being known subscribers.
When you analyse your audience, Eze says you’re getting all the data you need to figure out what they want: “At that point, it’s for you to actively listen to your audience before you start to distribute anything.”
She told INMA members to think about demographics, the geolocation of the audience, how they’re consuming content, and the best ways to present it to them.
4 key metrics Business Day uses
Audience analysis: In addition to looking at audience analysis that shows demographics, gender, geolocation, Eze encourages companies to start gathering first-party data since Google has made it clear it is moving away from third-party cookies. “You can get them (data) in various ways: newsletter sign-ups; if you have a subscription or membership or contribution model, start getting that information; let them login and register,” Eze said. She believes requiring them to take an action that they actually do means you’re doing something right.
Audience activity: BD looks at audience activity like time spent, what posts or sections users are looking at, what keywords are they searching and are they on mobile or desktop.
User acquisition: “When you start looking at acquisition, you start looking at are you having more new visitors or returning visitors,” Eze said. Take a look at what active users are doing daily or monthly, she advised.
User retention: News media companies can use things like frequency and recency to think about how to acquire new visitors or get current ones to visit more. “We can all see that these are really ways for us to ensure that we capture our market, capture our audience and retain them.”
Pricing, products, data
When looking at audience development, Eze said the company must look at its ultimate business goals. A company with an ad revenue model will have very different goals from those of a reader revenue model. Companies may take different paths, but their ultimate goal is user engagement.
Of course with any strategy, there will be some misses along the way. Business Day has done focus groups to make sure they stay on the right track.
“There was a time our pricing wasn’t quite right,” Eze said. “We were billing people and we were starting to get feedback from the audience.”
They had meetings with subscribers and heard a lot about the pricing structure being a problem. What they found was that an annual or bi-annual payment method wasn’t best for their subscribers. So they changed it.
Feedback and data has also helped them to create more impactful new content. Recognizing their audience was 2-1 favouring males, Business Day started creating products tailored more toward women. They included lifestyle and art news as well as politics.
“Not everyone wants to read about business,” Eze said. “We’ve also created newsletters for our audiences. We understand that everyone is different so you subscribe to what you’re particularly interested in. This has built loyalty for us.”
BD has compiled data from many different platforms, funneling it all into their dashboard. The platforms they use, though, are carefully selected.
“These softwares, when you’re picking them, you have to ensure they’re giving you what you want,” Eze said.
Seeing all the data organised and analysed helped them realise they needed to focus on women. They also learned a lot about how the audience wants to receive content.
“We’re producing videos and podcasts for them to view,” Eze said. “Our Webinars are giving them more information and letting them see what they can invest in Nigeria and what they can do.”
The data gathered by different softwares is paired with data provided to Business Day from users themselves, who enter it when they buy a subscription or register on the site.
“This has really helped us focus our digital strategy,” Eze said. “It helps our content because we know what our audience wants.”
Business Day has weekly meetings to talk about subscriptions. The marketing and research teams are brought in and gather even more information on what users are saying about pricing. They then learn how to move visitors from anonymous users to registered users and then loyal subscribers.
BD has been able to completely personalise the reader experience. Their newsletter greetings are personal, as is the content inside them. BD noticed when a user was reading a lot about technology, they sent her more articles they thought she might like.
“We send recommendations based on what you’ve been reading,” Eze said. “We also try to give you this highly curated content you’re really interested in.”
BD has some pretty convincing success stories with their strategy, which is completely based around who the audience is. Their registration conversion rate is 39%, and their bounce rate decreased 10.88%.
“It's really nice to show everyone how we improved in our digital strategy just by audience engagement and development.”