Media companies are always talking about subscription models, monetisation, and the future of publishing. But the most important thing to note, according to digital consultant Dmitry Shishkin, is irrespective of what a company is doing digitally, its success happens when it finds itself at the intersection of two axes: focus and quality.
Speaking at the INMA Product and Data for Media Summit on Tuesday, Shishkin said that in digital publishing, there are an infinite number of niches on which to focus. Success is dependent upon delivering superior quality in your particular niche.
As a journalist by profession for two decades, Shishkin said those types of questions are seldom discussed in newsrooms.
“You need to find an understanding of why you exist in the market. Sometimes that strategy conversation just never happens, or it happens not as often as you would want.”
He shared a litmus test he uses: If the CEO of the company stopped every team member in the corridor and asked them the following questions, would each member be able to answer?
Why do you exist as an entity? What are your mission and vision?
What business are you in?
What are your audiences’ user needs?
What is your content/product market fit?
In other words: Does everyone pull in the same direction?
“The most underappreciated resource in the media sector is not money,” Shishkin said. “It’s focus. If you’re not focusing on your audience and their user needs, you’ll likely be producing content that is irrelevant to the audience and leading to waste.”
News media organisations have been on a long journey to bringing data into their newsrooms and in large part have done so: 83% of CEOs want their organisation to be more data-driven. But there is a big difference between being aware of your data and being led by it.
While many have become data-informed and even data-mature, only 25% of organisations are actually data-leading.
“All the dashboards do is present information,” Shishkin said. “And you really need to be able to take action on the data you’re seeing.”
Why does he recommend an audience-centric approach to doing news based on user needs? He outlined three key reasons.
Hard news is not enough to attract people regularly or with sufficient engagement.
Commodity “agenda” news is everywhere — therefore relevancy, unique takes, and engagement become the differentiator.
There is misalignment between what audiences want in digital — information as well as understanding, inspiration, utility, and fun — and what they currently get from media outlets.
When the newsroom mission is directly linked to its audience user needs, they find success. Failing to satisfy audience needs means loss and/or lack of engagement.
Growth, on the other hand, comes when different user needs are addressed consistently, creatively, and strategically. Newsrooms that operate with no appreciation of user needs — and therefore their own place and role in the market — are drifting.
Shishkin has been talking about the importance of user needs since he was at the BBC years ago, and since that time it has become a real trend in the sector.
“Every time I see user needs again in the conversation I’m delighted, because it means we’ve done something right. User needs connect product, data, content, and audience all together.”
In content, we have always called them “user needs,” but Shishkin said in product they were just looked at as jobs that needed to be done. The audience, however, views it all as the same thing, without differentiating between content and product.
The beauty of a user needs model is simple — the model itself is external because it comes from users. It challenges newsrooms by reminding them not to preach but to listen, before forming their strategies.
Shishkin sees a direct correlation between strong performance, finding your audience, and satisfying its needs properly. He offered a simplified process for implementing a user needs model:
Learn from the audience and/or clients. It should not be created from within the organisation.
Support culture change internally. The output must reflect this new approach, and usually takes time and a lot of communication.
Track output, optimise, and iterate. Internal and external analytics systems must reflect the new approach, and user needs will change over time.
INMA’s Product and Data Summit continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays through October 19.