You lost a subscriber. Now what?

By Rebecca Alter


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


If you’re down one, 10, or a couple hundred subscribers, you’re probably facing some pressure to improve conversion rates and reduce churn. Not sure how to help your brand do more than just barely hold onto its survival and climb the ladder of success?

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

We know losing a subscriber is frustrating — and we also know your situation isn’t hopeless. It may actually be a blessing in disguise because you can use what you learn to prevent more churn from taking place. This is your chance to make your platform’s subscription and retention rates better than ever.

Losing a subscriber doesn’t just mean losing a reader; it means losing valuable subscriber data.
Losing a subscriber doesn’t just mean losing a reader; it means losing valuable subscriber data.

INMA Researcher-in-Residence Grzegorz Piechota explains how “the subscriber journey doesn’t end with the purchase.” After subscribing to content, users embark on an entirely new journey. Unfortunately, Piechota notes, “publishers don’t really seem to be very much focused on monitoring [the] health of the relationship after somebody subscribed.”

If media organisations don’t understand what causes users to unsubscribe, how can they know how to prevent more churn in the future?

Before you continue on the path of subscriber decline, there are some steps you can take to flip the fate of your brand. To help, we’ve broken down the process of understanding why your subscriber churned and how to prevent it from happening again.

Determine how engaged subscribers were before unsubscribing

Instead of predicting reader engagement based only on the number of clicks on your articles, you need to understand reader habits on a more granular level.

As noted by the Local Media Association, a “regular reading habit is the single biggest predictor of subscriber retention.”

Dig into your data to determine if, based on their behaviour, your lost subscribers were actively engaging with your platform. Have they recently become passive consumers, logging in only once in a blue moon to read content? Or did they flag any toxic comments before unsubscribing?

Anything you can learn about the time period before they churned will shed light on why they unsubscribed.

Assess lost subscribers through front-end tools

By now, you may be well informed on the value socially immersive engagement tools can add to a platform. If you have engagement tools on your Web site, you have access to critical, first-party data related to your subscribers — not to mention information on those who have churned.

Gather as much intel as possible on your churned subscribers by looking at how much they interacted with your tools. You may be able to learn something important. For instance, are subscribers churning once engagement with your community-building tools drops? If so, your readers may be failing to form meaningful bonds to your platform due to a lack of moderation or real-time commenting.

Look to engagement-specific metrics for deeper insights, like the time spent in the comment area, engagement velocity, and civility trends.

It’s also worth investigating the workflow between your engagement tool and paywall providers. If they’re properly talking to one another, your paywall provider should be alerted when a subscriber’s engagement level tapers off. This allows you to predict and prevent churn before it ever happens.

Send personalised offers that encourage re-subscribing

You may have lost a subscriber, but he or she may not be lost forever. When users unsubscribe from your services, you have the opportunity to wow them with offers.

Consider sending content suggestions that are highly aligned with their interests, which can be identified from your first-party data. This may convince them that your content is valuable enough to re-subscribe. Alternatively, you may want to send them a special discount on the subscription cost.

If you’re sending these offers via e-mail, it’s worth using an actual person’s e-mail address instead of a generic sales or marketing one. One publishing executive told Digiday that “since more often publishers are landing in the promotions folder, an e-mail coming from a different e-mail address … is really effective in reengaging people.”

Apply your insights to cohorts of users with similar behaviours

While a single deactivated subscription isn’t the end of the world, disengaged behaviour patterns throughout your audience highlight inefficiencies on your platform.

It’s important for media organisations to use their data to identify these inefficiencies and improve them by building loyal habits for audience members. Every detail you can gather on why a user unsubscribed will help you identify and stop others who may follow suit in the future.

For instance, some individuals who unsubscribe may log into your platform less and less frequently. Keep an eye on user log-in frequency to make sure that your audience members are visiting and engaging with your content regularly. If they aren’t, it may be time to send them a personalised offer.

The Globe and Mail, for instance, has developed a highly sophisticated five-step process aimed at keeping subscribers engaged with its content based on behavioural data. If a user doesn’t log into the platform for a 30-day period, the company sends a personalised e-mail with relevant content.

Take a look at your user data and ask yourself if your users are unsubscribing because of a high subscription cost or irrelevant content, or are they disengaging from the community socially? The answer will help you make improvements to your platform.

At the end of the day, the value of data from a lost subscriber outweighs the value of the subscriber itself. This is because the insights you gain from people who unsubscribe can be used to greatly enhance your retention strategy.

About Rebecca Alter

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