Lessons, tools for building better digital experiences to grow readership


Berlin has become Europe’s start-up hotbed. So it is apt that the Digital Innovation Ideas Days offered by INMA and BDZV would be hosted in this teeming capital. 

Young and very young companies were invited to talk about ideas and solutions for the media industry in the fast paced “brainsnack format” with seven-minute presentations.

The overall question: How do we enhance existing offers so users become more engaged and get a better digital experience? Because the engagement factor strongly determines how and when any newspaper entity reaches the point where digital revenue outpaces print losses.

Jim Chisholm, principal at Chisholm in the UK, offered a view on the different engagement levels in different newspaper markets. His numbers suggest that the shift to mobile offers a unique opportunity for publishers to tie their strength into consumers lives. He urges publishers to ask themselves: do your KPIs sufficiently take the engagement factor into account and are your efforts for becoming best of class in the mobile space as focused as they need to be? (View his presentation here.) 

The answer for a better experience that the Digital News Initative initated by Google came up with is AMP. If 40% of people abandon a page that takes three seconds or longer to load, then one simple answer is: make the page load faster. If the page loads faster user will engage with more pages and stay longer. 

AMP is an open source HTML-protocol that sits behind a webpage and makes sure the page gets cached in a AMP-cache. Form there the loading of the page is optimized (asynchronous, prefetching of elements). (Here is a demonstration; here is the presentation.) 

As long as publishers are dealing with the Web, they are thinking about the personalisation of news. Many roads have been traveled and abondend. They key question has always been: When do I as a user become bored by my own preferences?

The presentation by Het Financieel Dagblad offered a solution on how to balance a publishers product promise to be new and surprising while catering individually to each visitor.  It starts with asking: Which of the 80=plus articles we produce daily do we want to show to a particular reader? The reward lies in more articles read and a stronger tie to the user. (View presentations here and here).

Rutger Tulleken of YipiY asked: Why do we so often leave a user at the end of an article with dozens of potential distractions rather than finding a way to engage him? (See presentation here.) Eli Ken-Dror of Vicomi gives users the option to do something after reading an article. (See presentation here). In the one case it is a gamification approach with a vote; in the other, instead of a comment, people can leave an indication of their emotional state after reading an article by clicking on one of five buttons.

Both companies use the collected data to further the customer journey and enhance engagement. 

To ask what a user’s customer journey is on a news site will in many cases open up new options and better decisions. As Big Data expert Michael Kollegger asked: Why are our sites structured like print, with sections that take users further and further away from the hub rather than grouping articles along topics and allowing for horizontal navigation. (See presentation here.)

The customer journey from print subscriber to a subscriber who also registers for the digital offer was the challenge for Het Belang van Limburg. It was helped along with a series of comic books that were only available online for subscribers and only on circulation free Sunday: 30% more digital activations where the result. (See presentation here.)

Digital advertising sits on a considerate problem with fraud. As much as one-third of page views are non-human. So publishers might charge for advertising inventory that is absolutely worthless. Amos Szabo of Enbritely thinks publishers need to deal with this proactively (See presentation here). From a compliance and risk management point of view, this is an excellent idea. Else how would you determine the right price point for a digital offer you want to make next summer?

Something MediaGamma offers to find out for you with added intelligence for programmatic advertising. (See presentation here.) Georg Nimeh discussed the award-winning cross-media campaign for Kurier, which aimed and succeeded to leverage unique content across a universe of channels. (See presentation here.) Blogfosters Jan Homan proposes a unified and simple interface for small- and mediam-sized publishers to handle the different ad providers and figure out the best deals. (See presentation here.) 

To provide ever more engaging content either requires more money — or better tools. Pictures without doubt have gained in importance for publishers — the fastest-growing social site are Pinterest and tumblr — and take up an ever bigger part of digital real estate and of editorial manpower.

The visual search engine Greg Fawson of PAMA demonstrated offers to reduce the time and effort it takes to find the “right” picture through technologies of recognition (people, gestures, logos etc.). (See presentation here).

Another big growth area is the visualisation of data in hundreds of different ways. Dutch company LocalFocus concentrates on providing a platform where all kind of datasets from any source can be collected, worked into endless possible visualizations and then be spit out as editorial content either digitally or ready for print.

Very interesting is the geo api that allows visualised datasets to be adjusted to a user’s geolocation. Again, another very effective way to engage the user by putting him or his immediate geographical location in the center of the delivered content. (See the presentation here.) 

Agile development promises to be another tool to get better products in shorter time with less people. A team and goal organizing instrument which was impressively employed by Gota Media to supply a wide range of local publications with their digital platforms. (See presentation here.)

A secure connection is a need that becomes ever more critical. Finnish Tosibox offered a nice and very retro solution by providing not yet another software, but a box that is set before the internal network and a USB-Stick which acts as a key. A journalist traveling only needs to put the USB-Stick into the computer, enter a password and is immediately on a secure data transfer line to his company. (See presentation here.)

Last but not least, Attila Gajdics of Candy presented a promising tool that helps to organise all kinds of interesting information within within a browser. The extension (Chrome only at the moment) allows for example text snippets to be cut, collected into story lines, and eventually being dragged and dropped into other applications. Each card has full attribution and hence is a way back to its original source. (See presentation here.)

After day like this, one has to wonder: What should one do as a publisher? How should one weight this host of great approaches, practical solutions, successful tools? How plug them in into the story line of one’ s own company? Engagement certainly is at the heart of any viable brand and as crucial for a fast and healthy digital development as it ever was in the analogue world. So maybe here an answer can be found: If it strengthens engagement of our users, we should look at it.

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