News publishers depend on gathering valuable data about their customers, but what does that mean to readers — and how is their privacy protected?
On module two of five of INMA’s Product and Data for Media Summit, product managers from CBC in Canada and Gannett in the United States spoke to attendees about how privacy laws and the need for first-party data are co-existing at their media companies.
Jeff Burkett, Gannett’s vice president of product/display media, detailed Gannett’s early success with simple micro-surveys in news stories now being used to help gather some of the audience data publishers may be losing in the shifting privacy landscape
Stronger privacy laws and related technology like privacy-by-design features are changing the way publishers are able to monetize content, Burkett said. Testing by major players like Meta and Google has found that without identifiers, content stands to lose half its value from digital advertising.
Gannet has gotten more involved with industry groups like the World Wide Web Consortium to prepare for what’s to come with privacy regulations, and Burkett worries that many of the approaches publishers are now considering won’t always be privacy compliant. To avoid some of the risks of running up again ever-shifting privacy issues, his team is focussing on collecting data directly from logged-in users.
“The only reliable way to mitigate that risk is to collect the data ourselves,” he said.
His team looked at its third-party data usage using identifiers that are on the way out and found that most of what the direct sales team was using was on just eight demographic segments.
They then set goals based on the ad impressions they would need to be independent of third-party data, focusing on those eight segments. The strategy, similar to what some experts refer to as “zero party data,” involves getting users to declare their data directly, which is where Gannett’s micro-surveys come in.
Their plan focuses on logged-in users, which make up a small percentage of the audience but consume a relatively large amount of content. The surveys were placed in the layout in spots that normally would have been reserved for display ads, which meant forfeiting some potential revenue.
But all of them were quick, non-disruptive, and optional, as well as intelligent so that they “remember” what questions users have already answered to avoid repetition.
The key to getting a lot of engagement was to use strong, lead questions relating to current events to draw interested users. The top three topics have been politics, sports, and COVID-19. Demographic questions are then placed at the end. Typical surveys are five questions long with the first three being news topics and only the last two being demographic.
Burkett shared an example of a micro-survey Gannet placed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2021, which lead with the question “How much longer before you expect your vacation travel habits to return to pre-COVID levels?” The survey appeared in the middle of a news story about Joe Biden visiting Wisconsin to discuss rural economic issues. Buttons collect the response without requiring a submit button.
Burkett said that once users answer the initial questions, a very large percentage continue through the list and eventually answer the demographic ones.
The micro-surveys are already showing some really good data in terms of engagement, survey completion, and number of questions answered, Burkett said.
Aaron Sue, product manager at CBC in Canada, gave INMA members an insight into how to implement privacy by design within companies.
Much of Sue’s work involves getting product leaders and managers, developers, designers, and others to start thinking about how to implement a privacy-first mindset into their work. He provided a look into what privacy by design is, how CBC implemented it, and how others can get started on it.
“Privacy by design is essentially a framework that is about being proactive about embedding privacy into your digital products, into your tech stack, business practices and network infrastructures,” he said, detailing seven foundational principles for summit attendees:
The CBC’s focus on privacy by design began by getting buy-in from the top and making sure the company overall understood the importance of it. For CBC, it provided a good opportunity to look at what it could fix ahead of any legislation and how it could start planning for the future. It was also a good opportunity to look at the existing tech stack and better understand all of their products and platforms.
“For us, privacy by design readiness gave us a good starting point for filling in gaps where Canadian legislation didn’t require us nor provide guidance on how to do things in any specific way,” Sue said.
As companies work toward a privacy by design framework, he said keeping leaders informed and keeping the lines of communication open among teams goes a long way. And it’s important to remain flexible on your mission, Sue said: “Privacy laws are constantly changing. Be nimble; that will help you down the long road.”