Is your media company ready to start personalising?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


The more I look into this, the more I am convinced that personalisation isn’t just a way forward — it’s necessary. Gone are the days when we can talk about an “average consumer.” Our customers have specific needs and problems that need addressing. In order to delight customers with outstanding problems, we must address those needs.  

As this is the product initiative, let’s take a product approach and look at personalisation from a customer problem perspective:

  • Customers can’t easily see the most relevant article to them. Some articles they would enjoy are buried deep, so they get missed.  

  • When customers know where to find the most relevant articles (or think they do), they often need to bounce around the app/Web site to find them, causing a lot of friction. 

  • Customers feel that other platforms know them well: Netflix highlights TV shows relevant to their interests right away, Spotify curates lists based on their preferences, Facebook is a highly personalised feed. But your site doesn’t. 

The knock-on effects of these problems are numerous. Here are a few examples:

  • New users may not see enough content that would make them sign up/subscribe.

  • Customers may get frustrated with friction and move on quickly, meaning your content isn’t being read/viewed as much as it could be.

  • Content that is high value for a low number of people is rarely seen by the right people.

  • Your products and content are not being optimised for your business needs.

Let’s take a real example: Aftenposten in Norway. They looked at their different cohorts of users, saw how different they are (and therefore how diverse their habits are), and realised that curation for the “average” user doesn’t work. Or at least not as well as it could. Editors have always decided what goes on the front page based on what the most important stories are. But that’s subjective. It’s always exceptionally difficult, actually impossible, to do that for all audiences.

Based on its audience's habits, Aftenposten realised curating for its "average" reader doesn't work.
Based on its audience's habits, Aftenposten realised curating for its "average" reader doesn't work.

Before the above paragraph is misconstrued or oversimplified, this does not mean the home page should be moved out of editorial control or that we should immediately personalise our home pages with out-the-box recommendations (please, please do not do that).

Editorial is absolutely key in determining the rules and guardrails of any automation. In fact The New York Times appointed some editors to work with the product team on “providing a more valuable experience.” For personalisation to work, it must be a true partnership between product, editorial, design, and technology. We’ll delve into these roles, and dependencies, in future posts.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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