Digital volume strategy requires anticipating trends, building evergreen content

By Sergio Sicheri

El Comercio Group

Lima, Perú

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After a tumultuous start, whether we like it or not, we have a new president in the Republic in Peru. We are thankful for the strong digital traffic on each of our digital platforms at El Comercio Group the situation provided for us, as well as the different trend stories likely to come.

Traffic does not only depend on the situation or specific events. There are different strategies that, as media, we can adopt.

Journalists cannot always anticipate unexpected events, but there are lots of trends media companies can tap into to meet the needs of their readers.
Journalists cannot always anticipate unexpected events, but there are lots of trends media companies can tap into to meet the needs of their readers.

When we talk about the content our audiences like, I always think of what renowned journalist Charles Groenhuijsen stated in a video that went viral last year: “Good news is no news.” That is a message several journalists have wanted to convey to us over time. It was a big mistake for Groenhuijsen, and it’s a big mistake for me too.

This is especially true now that I am a father. I try to imagine raising my son remarking only on the things he did wrong without highlighting the positive ones. There’s no way I’m going to let that happen. That is why I also believe journalism has to try to be like a mirror of the real world. We must seek to amplify those stories that are positive — those that offer constructive teaching — without forgetting the bad.

In addition, this is something the different digital platforms that are traffic amplifiers such as Facebook and Google value. They want less aggressive or negative content.

I do not think this kills journalism. If working with platforms such as Facebook and Google is part of your digital strategy, you cannot avoid the rules of the game they propose. I also place myself in the group of journalists who think amplifying more positive stories contributes to the construction of a better world.

While writing this column, I wrote to one of our audience team leaders about some photographs in a WhatsApp chat of journalistic coverage about admission exams taking place face-to-face (with all the health protocols implemented) at one of the main national universities in our country. That event in itself was already newsworthy and of positive connotation. I asked him to find the people behind the story.

Our readers always enjoy consuming these types of real, everyday stories. But, sometimes, amidst so much political news and other circumstances (the vast majority of which are negative), journalists let them go unnoticed.

Let’s not try to replicate the viral story about the crocodile that entered a village and killed people. Do we have to share the facts? Yes, but we must tell the story. How did that crocodile get to that village? What circumstances allowed that reptile to kill so many people? Let’s do journalism! 

“The future is in everything we learned in the last days of the press,” said Wilder León, an excellent Peruvian journalist, the day before he passed away. With that phrase, León meant to do good journalism. I always say that only good journalism will save journalism. Some media have different problems, especially financial problems, as they have not been able to adapt to the wide variety of technological advances. But finding and telling good stories, in addition to knowing how to share them well through the platforms and spaces the digital world gives us, is the best weapon content producers have.

It may complicate the business for those of us involved with generating digital volume. We’re at a point in the year where publishers should take time to reflect. In our case, at this time of year, the digital numbers should be more robust. This is the time to integrate our journalism with data. Accompanied by good follow-up and performance, this should continue on a positive path for the remainder of 2021.

Enjoy the traffic we’ve been getting (for those who have been getting it, of course), but also think about and start planning for 2022. Entering the final quarter of the year, you can consider the brand or digital strategy that will set the tone for the first three quarters of the next year. While subscription businesses are developing, continuing to bet on mass audiences in digital continues to be very profitable, mostly through programmatic ad revenue.

There are media that work intensely on different strategies, and one of them is “anticipation or future searches.” We know there are certain dates and times when searches are carried out intensively with high volume traffic. This is why SEO teams create calendars of events, and they must be able to place in a privileged position the terms that decant from said scheduled searches. This is a long-term job and the results can’t be obtained by working a week before the event, for example.

Early in the pandemic, the Clarín team held a webinar on SEO, their experience with the “schema recipe” and how it tried to position the “recipes of locro” in May, the Argentine national month when this recipe is prepared in most homes and establishments in the country. The company knows there will be intensive online searches about the creole locro, so it works on positioning the event in advance. It does direct sales of advertising with specific terms or searches that have already been positioned. Clarín conducts exercises and traffic projections it shares with clients. It is an investment with an impact of assured scope.

Another of the volume strategies used by different digital media focuses on evergreen content. This is seasonal content that doesn’t expire and, at most, needs periodic updates. It is important to think about the medium for an evergreen strategy and what the seasonal content will be that we want to develop or link to the brand. In general, it has to be tied to the purpose or digital sense of the medium for a specific audience.

For example, in a family environment focused on education, “how to write XYZ word” could be a good topic. Because people often wonder how to use correct grammar, it will probably receive a good amount of traffic, regardless of current events.

“Now more than ever, and especially in the digital world, the brand is the message. The media are situated in a land of intangibles. The brand strategy gives life to a competitive positioning and works to place it as a ‘something’ in the minds of its projects and clients,” said Pepe Cerezo, a specialist in digital business strategy and development, in a dossier on the transformation of post-COVID-19 newsrooms widely shared on WhatsApp. He stressed how necessary it is “to reinterpret the relationship of companies with their audiences.”

Without strategy, you cannot navigate digital volume generation. We must think about our media brands and what type of traffic strategy we want as well as what we want to achieve. As the North American journalist and professor Jeff Jarvis put it in his Webinar Journalism in Intensive Care: “It is a difficult future for journalism. We must create new niches for different people. (...) We must also amplify the voices of those communities in need.”

He also stressed that, throughout this process, we must be very creative, even in the written press. Jarvis recounted the case of a local newspaper that aligned with a bakery to distribute the newspaper along with bread every morning.

I believe that journalism will thrive as long as it continues to be rethought. That must happen daily. We have to think about how we can continue to impact more communities, readers, and users, regardless of whether we deliver printed or digital journalism.

About Sergio Sicheri

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