For media houses in data-driven pursuit of every potential digital subscriber, it is de rigueur today to implement some sort of editorial analytics dashboard to guide their news-handling decision-makers.

But most of those dashboards suffer three fatal flaws, warned Wiebke Meeder, head of subscription growth at German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.

Speaking to more than 100 international colleagues in Wednesday’s closing out of INMA’s Reader Revenue Symposium, Meeder said: “We did a deep dive into our own subscription data and we found three blindspots I think every editorial dashboard contains and that can be very risky for a publisher.”

Wiebke Meeder of Der Spiegel speaks to INMA members about three blindspots in an editorial dashboard.
Wiebke Meeder of Der Spiegel speaks to INMA members about three blindspots in an editorial dashboard.

1. Cross department dashboard use

One problem, she explained, has to do with who sets up and uses the dashboard within a media organisation and whether those people understand the rest of the organisation’s viewpoints in regard to digital subscribers.

“The editorial team at Spiegel was really focused on generating reach because, as you can imagine with 22 million unique users per month, the advertising business was a huge money driver,” Meeder said. “Then we talked with our data science team and our editorial team, and we decided that we don’t need conversions — we need customers who are willing to pay and use the product on a regular basis.”

Meeder added: “My point is if you set up an editorial dashboard, you have to make sure it’s not only used by the marketing department or the editorial department. It has to be used by the whole organisation. So we make sure that all the data provided are in context so business units can put in their expectations and their learnings they’ve learned from their data.”

2. One article will not save you

A second problem has to do with the way editorial dashboards typically highlight individual articles and content that get the most reader interactions and that are supposedly responsible for triggering the click that converts a reader to a subscriber.  

“We’re not selling single articles. We’re selling subscriptions,” Meeder said. “And I think editorial dashboards often suggest that a single article wins the subscription from (out of) the whole customer lifecycle.”

As a result, she added, publishers assign too much value to content that wins — but ultimately does not keep — a subscriber.

“If you imagine that light little articles can drive the conversion all by itself, as well as pieces about personal strategies — but they are not the core of the Spiegel brand as a really serious newspaper. So the people may come and start a trial but they will never pay.”

Top performing articles cannot be just conversion drivers but can be customer-loyalty tools, Meeder said.

“Even if we find out some articles don’t drive conversions as we expect them to, but they are really loved by our existing customers, then we can think about bringing these articles to our marketing campaigns to our churn-prediction activities and make sure that these articles are seen by the right subscription group — even if they are not a subscription driver. I think in the subscription business we have to be aware of this moment of truth that comes every month when the new bill is sent out.”

3. Keep growth in mind

That highlights the third problem with most editorial dashboards — that they don’t focus on the what Meeder calls the customer “growth funnel” for expanding subscriber engagement and retention.

To confront this shortcoming at Der Speigel, she said, “We really rebranded the whole dashboard, and we are not focusing on absolute numbers but on indexes.”

An index, she explained, combines a number of different metrics into a broader and more useful measurement of, for instance, the extent to which particular content generates customer loyalty.