Tronc research shows healthy engagement behaviour mitigates churn

By Jonathan Utz

tronc, Inc.

Los Angeles, California, USA


As part of tronc’s INMA blog contributions, I wanted to bring up our recent findings regarding churn and retention. The key to retention is making sure subscribers have reasonable prices and are consuming high volumes of content, right? Not necessarily.

So, which subscribers are at the highest risk for churn? The answer may surprise you. The engagement metric that helps predict churn isn’t related to the depth of the content consumed, but instead the frequency of visitation. Specifically, we have found subscribers who have not visited the Web site in three weeks or more are at the highest risk for churn.

Users who visit a news Web site more frequently are less likely to be lost to churn.
Users who visit a news Web site more frequently are less likely to be lost to churn.

What can we do about this? One recent tactic in the industry has been to send swag to subscribers with their publication’s name on it. The main concern with this strategy is it’s unrelated to frequency of visitation, which is the key to reducing churn. Instead, strategies should be focused on creating and encouraging healthy engagement behaviour.

What does this mean? We don’t want to shove content down our customer’s throats, but instead make ourselves a news source that people depend on regularly. If a subscriber only reads one article per week, this turns into a routine for this subscriber, which creates healthy engagement and thus that reader is unlikely to churn. How can we encourage this type of behaviour?

Here are two strategies we have tested so far:

• Boosting paid content through social channels for paid subscribers: Do you have a marketing budget for social channels for current paid subscribers? If you don’t, then you should propose that this is a worthy investment. Why are we stopping paid content once a customer has become a fully paid subscriber?

A query is written to identify any subscriber who qualifies as being at high risk for churn. We systematically upload them to our Facebook custom audience using a vendor that can automate this list syncing daily. We then serve this audience content links using another vendor that has an algorithm to determine content that might interest the subscriber.

We continue this programme until we can determine the subscriber has healthy engagement behaviours. This helps to encourage subscribers to engage with our content even when they are not coming directly to the Web site, which then should encourage them to come to rely on us as a trusted source of news.

• Creating a revamped welcome series: In our newly revamped four-part welcome series, we encourage subscribers to sign up for a newsletter that can be delivered to their inbox, follow us on social media channels, and understand all the benefits of being a subscriber, which include discounts and invitations to local events. This encourages our low-tenured subscribers to develop healthy engagement, making our content part of their new routine.

My advice for others whose goal is focusing on retention would be to:

  • Understand the early warning signs that a customer is about to churn.
  • Attack the symptoms directly to mitigate churn.

At tronc, we are looking to implement further strategies to create heavier healthy engagement, and we plan to continue to test new ideas throughout 2018 and beyond.

About Jonathan Utz

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