Keeping and growing audiences during and after the pandemic is top of mind for news media companies around the world. And creating content they love is a key way to do that.
During the Brainsnacks session on the fourth of seven modules of INMA World Congress of News Media on Tuesday, leaders from Newsday, Insider, Funke Media, and The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age shared how they are using events, apps, dashboards, and social media to cater their content to make it useful to their readers’ lives.
Newsday (United States)
Newsday has found that, when used correctly, virtual events will deliver new audiences and create loyal fans amongst both existing and new users.
Newsday’s event strategy and development team member Melissa Carfero discussed how Newsday Live has done this with its virtual event strategy.
“Events have always been a part of Newsday’s DNA,” she said. “For many years we were known for our large-scale, family-friendly community events.”
These events were usually free or offered inexpensive tickets and often drew up to 10,000 attendees. By 2018, Newsday had evolved to start offering smaller, more intimate events. Advertisers sponsored these events to help offset costs.
Then came 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifth-two live events had been planned for that year, but instead the team found itself scrambling to pivot to virtual events.
“As the go-to news source on Long Island [New York], our immediate focus was to provide Long Islanders with the information they needed in a rapidly changing market,” Carfero said.
The team also focused on small businesses and the impact COVID was having on them. These virtual events started with weekly Webinars moderated by a Newsday reporter or columnist. The response and audience feedback to these Webinars was extremely positive, inspiring the team to expand virtual events into health, education, and entertainment.
Newday quickly grew from producing one or two live events a week to four or five at the height of the pandemic, Carfero reported:
“All in all, since March of 2020 through Q1 of 2021, Newsday Live has hosted a total of 155 virtual events for over 300,000 attendees,” Carfero shared. “We’ve also seen net promoter scores average 67.”
Insider (United States)
With a growing focus on subscriptions, Insider decided to rebuild its mobile app from scratch so it could become the ultimate companion for its subscribers. The team used user testing to defy their own assumptions and optimise the Insider app for subscribers.
Retention had become a key metric for subscription strategy, and subscriber engagement on the Insider Web site was low — the No. 1 reason for cancellation. They needed the app to give users a reason to return, Principal Product Manager Alla Novik said.
“We had a mobile app, but it wasn’t optimised,” Novik said. “We knew if we could rebuild this mobile app to become a daily companion for subscribers, we could help make Insider a part of their routine.”
The team set out on a 10-week design journey, conducting long-form user interviews and usability tests with side-by-side prototypes. They tested loyal subscribers, engaged but non-paying members, and casual readers. This allowed the team to identify and test assumptions. Three key themes emerged, including the theme of the single feed.
Insider’s main assumption was that users would want to browse by topics, but Novik said the team found this to be false.
“No matter what kind of navigation we put in front of users, we realised that they didn’t interact with it much, and their natural behaviour was to hop into the app and just start scrolling.”
The team experimented with segmenting out the app feed into sections, such as politics or tech. But users responded that it took away from the variety and excitement of discovering something interesting to read. Some of the design recommendations that came out of this were:
Simplify navigation and focus on natural browsing behaviour.
Mix content in a single feed and encourage discovery.
Offer a brandless experience for seamless transition between content.
The new Insider app has now been live for three months, and Novik reported that the team has seen very positive results already.
“In our first month live, we had about 75% growth in gross new app subscriptions,” Novik said. “And in the month of April they averaged about 13 more new sessions per month than our Web subscribers. We’re really excited to continue user testing to develop the app further.”
Funke Medien Group (Germany)
The pandemic created many new challenges for news media companies, but for Funke Media, it allowed for breakthroughs as well. Marie-Louise Timcke, head of interactive, shared some of the company’s initiatives that allowed it to grow its audience while exploring new ways to reach them.
Much of what audiences wanted to know in 2020 revolved around the coronavirus pandemic, and Funke Media developed the Coronovirus Monitor to present the latest figures on outbreaks. The dashboard offers multiple views — for Germany and the world — has easy-to-use tools that allow readers to customise their searches for specific coronavirus-related information.
“It functions as a landing page with the most important information at a glance and links to national and regional news on the coronavirus,” Timcke said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Coronavirus Monitor has become a leading source of information for Germany, and Funke Media constantly adapts the information to ensure it is always meeting the changing needs of users.
The monitor was designed to be able to add new information as needed, but what is most remarkable about it is that it took just one week from conception until the tracker was live on the Web site. Since then, the interactive team has been able to add features and information to make it increasingly more useful and ensure it remains relevant.
“We are constantly evolving the back end system,” Timcke said. “It is maintained and further developed around the clock by us.”
The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age (Australia)
Initially, the audience development team at The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age did not set out to solve a dashboard problem. It set out to solve a content problem: 40% of content made up 97% of what subscribers read online and 92% of what non-paying audiences read online — meaning readers weren’t engaging with 60% of the company’s content.
“We wanted to produce less of what wasn’t working and more of what was,” said Aime Rigas, head of audience development at the Nine news media titles. “We wanted to make sure that even our least-read content was the very best it could be.”
The teams started a five-week reset, during which a complicated system of data, content, and marketing made its way through the company — centered on the newsroom.
“Many editors came to me, some of them quite upset with how much work this really was, which was quite eye opening,” Rigas said. “If we wanted it to become a habit, we needed it to be easy. And it was not easy.”
A sports editor created a distilled version of all the data, which spurred the design for the Topic Editor Dashboard (TED). The dashboard lets the editorial team wade in as far as it wants, yet doesn’t immediately overwhelm them with data.
And it’s working: The lifestyle team produced 50% fewer articles last year, and the number of subscriber pageviews on its worst-performing article was 40X higher.
TED works for five reasons, Rigas said, one being that it is designed to be helpful, not to dictate: “The dashboard is there to help them with their strategy,” Rigas said. “It doesn’t define their strategy.”
GFR (Puerto Rico)
GFR Media is the leading multimedia organisation in Puerto Rico, with two newsrooms, “Primera Hora (The First Hour)” and “Un Nuevo Dia (A New Day)”. The newsrooms wanted to reach younger and new audiences, diversify the sources of traffic, and keep the same branding across all of the platforms and increase engagement with the audience. So it revamped its social media strategy, Selymar Colon, director of strategy, told INMA members.
GFR took a deep dive into what it currently was doing and how it could improve that strategy, workflows, and processes. Colon calls this the “simplified production.”
GFR’s analytics dashboard for its Instagram accounts captures profile views, new followers, media count, profile impressions, profile reach, and total post saves by users. It also breaks down the percentage of types of media, such as images, video, or a carousel album.
Colon explained the importance of following these analytics to measure what is and isn’t working in a social media strategy. “I recommend taking your time to set up these insights, to learn from your audience, what they’re sharing, what they’re talking about, what they’re commenting the most on.”
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