13 best practices, behaviours that drive digital engagement

By Laura Inman

Cox Media Group Newspapers

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


I am new to this blog space but certainly not new to news media companies and our many challenges.

With 20+ years of wearing many different hats, my favourite job is my current role as senior director of audience engagement for Cox Media Group. I love the marriage of news, marketing, technology, and business, and it’s that intersection of disciplines that I’d like to write about here.

Successful customer engagement requires being in tune with audience members and interacting with them on a personal level.
Successful customer engagement requires being in tune with audience members and interacting with them on a personal level.

We’ve been on a three-year journey at CMG newspapers to understand and grow subscriber engagement. It’s taken a lot of work and dedication from many talented people across the organisations to get to where we are today. From those experiences, and lessons learned, I’ll share some of my insights and ideas.

I am often asked how we made such progress, what lessons we have learned, and what I can share that others can put into practice at their local property.

Cox Media Group keeps careful track of its number of engaged subscribers.
Cox Media Group keeps careful track of its number of engaged subscribers.

So, given that we’ve all realised the power of using listicles in stories, here’s my summary list of best practices to drive digital engagement among subscriber.

1. Pay attention. Deliver immediate value to customers every time a worthy news event occurs.

2. Look ahead. Anticipate the hills and valleys based on engagement performance from news events, and know what metrics you’ll be up against to retain those readers in the near future.

3. Create reasons to read. Publish digital-only content on the Web or in your e-paper replica, and execute promotions and reasons to drive readers to it.

4. Reuse and recycle. Create engagement moments by reframing and re-packaging evergreen news and information timed to news cycles or seasonal events.

5. Be useful. Craft and curate content that is relevant, timely, and utilitarian.

6. Get aligned. Focus on strategic e-mail touchpoint plans tying the business needs to the customer lifecycle.

7. Test, monitor, and measure. Create new ideas to improve and optimise customer facing pages, transactional flows, e-mail journeys, and content presentations.

8. Get technical. Deliver dynamic and data-driven experiences via e-mail, contests, or story formats.

9. Be personal. Know your audience and relate with it in subject lines, story content, and distribution channels.

10. Get nostalgic. We sit on a treasure trove of history from our archives that can simply be dusted off and repurposed.

11. Count the anonymous. Analyse subscriber e-mail lists to ascertain which subscribers clicked into premium content from e-mail while not in a logged-in state, and then track data and events to count toward your engagement base metrics.

12. Plan engagement moments together. Include news, marketing, sales, audience, technology, and product development staff.

13. Have fun. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Great results are infectious.

Cox Media Group is passionate about engaging with subscribers.
Cox Media Group is passionate about engaging with subscribers.

Additionally, these are behaviours your audience engagement leader should embrace.

  • Be deliberate in your leadership example. Your commitment to “connect all the engagement dots” is required to drive employee and customer engagement. Crank up your consumption of news, and read from the vantage point of your various target audiences. Craft your content marketing with those readers in mind and distribute accordingly.
  • Don’t be afraid to get in the fray of the newsroom. Be the newest member of their team.
  • Advocate for our subscribers. What element in the digital story presentation is premium? What is so unique that it will awe and delight a paying customer over a non-paying customer? How can your story be reframed and re-packaged as a subscriber-only bonus?
  • If a story drives engagement, how will we follow it next week? What evergreen content do we have that relates to it and creates a second click or reason to read? How many distribution channels can we leverage to create exposure, interest, and traffic?
  • Share your successes and failures with stakeholders, and be noisy and frequent in sharing the data. What worked, what didn’t work and why? Tell a story about the story.
  • Be curious about and open to what other colleagues produce, and work toward collaborating with cross-functional teams.
  • And, lastly, make friends with technology: the people, the prioritisation required, and the processes.

At the center of all of this work are our readers. Subscribers expect us to help them navigate our digital content and get the most value out of their subscription. Let’s use engagement methods to deliver a great experience.

I’d love to hear from you and how you’ve engaged your readers and audiences.

About Laura Inman

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