The news media industry needs to bust a prevalent myth: Light readers won’t ever buy.
INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota, lead of the Readers First Initiative, said that across industries and products, the first groups to buy are fans and heavy users. But when that growth stalls, it is critical to identify new target segments and tailor the product to reach them.
“There is a good reason to take care of your most devoted readers and fans,” Piechota said. “At the same time, we need to realise in order to grow, we need to start loving our light readers, too.”
Guest experts from News UK and Amedia shared how their analytics and content strategies are changing to better serve new target audiences — especially young, female readers — during a live Readers First Initiative Meet-Up on Thursday.
Amedia research and newsroom initiatives
Amedia in Norway has spent years encouraging users to log in when visiting its Web sites. Eivor Jerpåsen, head of editorial development, said the company reaches 40% of all Norwegians and sees 85% of its readers log in when they read. With the demographic data provided by these users, Amedia can better understand which content is reaching and resonating with specific groups, including young and female readers.
Amedia considers young readers as those aged 40 and under. They are adults who have established themselves in a community, might have kids, and are likely to be invested in what is happening around them.
So far, Amedia’s local brands have only reached 10% of young readers. Reviewing new traffic driven by the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a boost in both young and female readers, but as the weeks went by, only the female readers retained.
“Our main product wasn’t that interesting enough, I guess,” Jerpåsen said.
Since 2018, Amedia has been doing research on what interested younger readers. Qualitative and quantitative analysis informed a playbook on how to create journalism to engage people aged between 30 to 39 years old. Jerpåsen shared three major lessons from the playbook:
- If we want a younger audience, we need to start talking to younger people.
- Young people are just as interested in the big news stories as older audiences.
- We can write engaging stories for a younger audience in every category.
As the COVID-19 traffic bump picked up, Amedia implemented strategies from the playbook right before the summer. By the fall, the company saw a significant increase in readers and content consumption.
“It looks like this strategy has been working, and this development has been working up until now,” she said. “I think we are on a 50% increase so far, and we’ve hit 100,000 readers below 40 yesterday.”
Jerpåsen shared an age dashboard monitored by newsrooms daily that contains a list of “young articles,” those that engage younger readers, as well as click-through rates that reveal how articles perform with subscribers under- and over-40. Articles that have been specifically written for younger audiences and with younger sources do tend to be more engaging than the average article, Jerpåsen said.
This dashboard also shows newsrooms which stories have recruited the most new subscriptions from younger readers, she added: “We have seen that stories are kind of our greatest sales initiative.”
Sharing the main dashboard, Jerpåsen said newsrooms get an overall total of readers and traffic development during the day. High-performing articles highlight which age groups they performed well in. If an article did well in both, it is usually one of the top performing stories of the day.
Culture is one area that happens to engage both younger and female audiences, Jerpåsen said. Amedia has also done research beyond age segments and into interest segments, asking subscribers about their motivations in reading local news. Being more involved with the community was a common answer, so it makes sense that culture content would help fill that desire. Interestingly, sports content does not.
Another interesting revelation from Amedia’s research: There was no significant difference in motivation to read and subscribe across age groups. Flipping the perspective to the newsroom side, moderator Piechota then asked if the research showed any correlation between the age of the journalist and the age of engaged readers. Jerpåsen said younger journalists are not inherently better at producing content for younger audiences.
“We find that everyone can do this,” she said, “But you need to have it high up in your mindset everyday when you are planning and prioritising.”
Piechota posted a poll for the audience, asking: “In your daily work with data, do you view all readers as a whole or consider segments?”
- 60% said they look at customer status segments.
- 60% said they consider behavioural data.
- 40% said they consider demographics.
News UK metrics and how presented
Piechota asked Daniel Gilbert, director of data at News UK, to ask for his reaction to the poll results.
Gilbert said News UK feels that a balanced diet of metrics is a healthy diet, pointing out there is a risk to only measuring one thing, such as average engagement of a subscriber base.
News UK owns The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun.
“We find that there is this kind of ‘Goldilocks-zone’ of content that sometimes appeals to your core base and to these new audiences, be it younger or female readers,” Gilbert said. “Very often content does different jobs for different audience groups, and you kind of need a mix of that stuff. I think if you’re not measuring that mix, then you may miss out on content that’s doing a really good job but fails on a singular metric.”
Gilbert added that they may be lax compared to Amedia, defining young readers as those aged 45 and younger and judging content on a threshold of at least 8 seconds spent reading. He shared how data manifests itself at News UK after five years of collaboration between digital, data, and tech teams working to make numbers useful for newsrooms. Before these efforts, Gilbert said, there were real objections to the validity and insights of data.
Now, when journalists and editors view an article on the Web site, metrics appear on the right side of the screen. Showing an article about food delivery service Deliveroo, Gilbert pointed out how dwell time does not show the actual average time spent but instead is scored on a scale of 1-5.
All metrics are scored on this scale, where 3 represents how well an article is performing given its context, such as length and in which section it appears. Target audience indices are also scored, showing how the content is performing with female, younger, and global audiences.
These individual indices are packaged into what the company calls vignettes to give insights of content performance over days or weeks. The vignettes show which articles are not only driving more conversions than expected, but are also performing well with at least one key new target audience group. There are upsides to having more metrics, Gilbert said, but raw numbers can get overwhelming.
“Using these indices has been a really good way to simplify the data we show. That actually opens up the possibility of showing more metrics in one place without overwhelming the end user, who is ultimately an editor or a journalist, many of whom are not particularly interested in the numbers. So this is our best attempt to distill it down into something they can grasp and action.”
Newsroom and audience development teams work to develop the indices, Gilbert said, adding that the process is in constant iteration so that data is used fully and not overwhelming.
How The Times uses data in its newsroom
Taneth Autumn Evans, head of audience development at The Times and The Sunday Times said the iteration also ensures indices continue to serve journalists’ desire for more details and greater layers of data, adding that the data dashboards for audience development teams are more complex than those for the newsroom. Just developing the indices themselves, over processing raw data, are critical to helping the teams do their jobs efficiently.
Piechota launched another audience poll, asking if companies are using raw or processed data:
- 60% said they use raw data.
- 36% use processed data.
Processed data can be a hassle and creates room for mistakes, Gilbert said, so he understands why so many companies rely on raw data.
At The Times and The Sunday Times, staff news conferences start with insights provided by the indices. If people are clicking on a homepage article but it has a low dwell time, editors might reconsider the headline. The data is accessible and democratic so newsrooms can act on it.
“I think that’s one of the benefits of using the indices,” Evans said. “We can give data to everyone in the newsroom if they want it, but be really confident that they are also getting enough context so they can use it in the right way.”
Asked about creating content targeted to younger readers, Evans said while this may not engage older subscribers, these subscribers are more loyal and can be challenged with different types of content: “I don’t think you can or will please every target group with every story.”
Her team has been working on what her team calls a “female engagement project,” which are packages of formats that they know engage female readers, written by and about females, and featured more prominently.
While females are not a minority, their issues are often treated as specialist topics, Evans said. Stories about female rage, the politics of periods, and sex education in schools engage the target female audience more than male audiences, and Evans said there is nothing wrong with that.
“I think it’s down to us to accept that those articles are there to do a certain thing and speak to a certain demographic, and that’s OK,” she said.
As for hard news, Evans said it is crucial to link representation and authenticity. It’s about thinking of who you are talking to and making sure the right person or people share their voices, whether it is consulting experts, sources, or considering which writer is best for the particular story.
Moving forward, Evans thinks common demographic information will not be that interesting. It is simple to collect age and gender data when a subscriber signs up, but qualitative information will be more telling.
”I think in the future we’ll need to approach it with passion points and interests,” she said. “What are people interested in and how can we talk to those people, instead of something so blunt as ‘under 30 female.’”