The more I get into this area, the more I realise that personalisation is becoming expected by users, allowing us to serve wide audiences by serving up relevant content in formats that users want.
With more off-the-shelf software and the huge advances in generative AI, media companies that produce a lot of content are going to have to get smart about personalisation, quickly.
The below slide was shown by Sharon Denning at Dow Jones. A year ago, this may have been far out. Now it’s here. (For those of you outside the U.S. or who didn’t get to the beta, you can see my breakdown of Artifact here). Sharon was the second person to flag Spotify’s AI to me within 24 hours of it launching.
As we saw in the Gen Z session at the recent product master class, personalisation is one way of dealing with very different users. If we have readers in their 60s and in their 20s living in different parts of a country or countries, their content tastes will be different. This isn’t just by topic but by format and how news is consumed. Even within our typical target audiences, we are likely to see people who want to consume in different ways.
And as Jaron Harambam at the University of Amsterdam pointed out to me, it’s not just one person. A single person has different needs at different times. In the morning when you are in a rush to get out the door? Update me. Get home and want a distraction before the end of the day? Entertain me. His research developed a system which would let users choose what mood they were in to get different feeds. This would be layered personalisation.
Perhaps we don’t wait for the consumer to tell us. Maybe we need to sequence content for them. We are seeing the highest level of news avoidance ever. News can be dark and can have an impact on mental health, something Gen Z seems to be well aware of. So how can we sequence content in a way that informs, entertains, and gives users what they need, when they need it?
Something else that really struck a chord was Jaron pointing out that we shouldn’t just look at history. We need to take into account people’s future aspirations. What do they want to know or learn about that we are not currently surfacing? Some information we can ask for, but for users to give us something a promise of “better curated content” is not always enough. We need to give them a return on investment. What can we give them here and now? And how does that translate into future benefits for them?
And, of course, as journalists hold power to account, we need to hold ourselves and our industry to account, which means striking the right balance of consumer desire, societal needs, business goals and ethics. This isn’t an easy win.
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