The COO of commercial and content for Sin Chew Corp in Malaysia, Lee-Chin Tan, said she was hesitant to present at INMA’s Asia/Pacific News Media Summit last week because she knows her news publication isn’t as far ahead with digital growth as a lot of her peers.
She decided to participate in hopes of encouraging other companies who are just starting out on their digital growth journey and shared how Sin Chew got going.
Sin Chew knew its core strength was being known as an institution for reliable news and information. Its biggest challenge, Tan admits, is a lack of insight, data, and analytics to quickly scale the digital footprint. So the company decided to take the casual visitors it does have and move them through what they refer to as a funnel approach.
“Ten million visitors engage with our brand on a monthly basis whether through visiting our website, sharing a post on our social media, or interacting with us on our live video production,” Tan said. The Web site has about a million readers, so converting everyone engaging with Sin Chew elsewhere is a top priority.
They decided to launch a membership programme in 2019 because they knew they needed a model more sustainable than relying on advertisement revenue alone. The membership model was better suited for Sin Chew, Tan says, than sending readers straight to a paywall.
“We do not have enough intelligence and confidence that the market is ready to pay for content,” she said.
This is where the funnel approach comes in. Sin Chew works to get its casual visitors who mostly engage on social media to next download their app and sign up for newsletters. Once they become more frequent visitors, they ask them to subscribe so they have access to all the best premium content.
“In order to achieve this, we often allow some sort of sampling or trial,” Tan said.
In May of this year, Sin Chew launched its premium content section. Paying customers have access to all of it. Members signed up for free access get about 10% of it. They heavily promote this content to free registered members to let them know what they’re missing and remind them to upgrade their membership to get it.
For all of this to work, Tan said they had to completely rethink the way the newsroom worked. In the past, they made decisions based on gut feelings or past experiences. Now, they rely on data and product mentality.
”We should constantly test and improve the product from the aspect of user experience, value delivery, better customer onboarding, or a smoother check out experience,” Tan said.
The big question Tan always gets when she talks about this shift in thinking is, “How do you change people?” Sin Chew creates internal champions made up of members of the editorial, marketing, promotions, audience, growth, and tech departments.
“The core team driving the digital membership growth is a cross-departmental and functional team,” Tan said. “All of them have a common goal of growing recurring digital revenue.”
Sin Chew also recognised it needed to fix its tech stack and work out issues with its data warehouse and data mining. The ultimate goal is a highly personalised user experience, which Tan admits is a work in progress.
The good news is, it’s working. So far in 2021 Sin Chew has seen a 120% growth in registered members and a 50% growth in paid members.
With data-based decision making over gut feelings, Tan says Sin Chew is now identifying new revenue streams. An example is seeing its 2020 success with virtual education fairs. The company plans to provide more content for parents and students looking to further their education. It also recognisse an opportunity to monetise its virtual programming since much of Malaysia is very much still in COVID lockdown.