Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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How to identify audience growth opportunities: The Star, The Economist, South China Morning Post, and The Times

Last Thursday, four publishing executives from the South China Morning Post, The Economist, The Daily Star and The Times participated in a session at’s Newsrewired conference entitled, “How to identify audience growth opportunities”.

The conference session, aimed at innovators in digital publishing, looked specifically at how publishers can ‘go about rethinking their brands to engage younger and more diverse audiences’. For the four publishing brands participating, the question was especially apt not least because much of their existing audience demographic is aged over 40.

Top Left to Right: Jacob Granger, Senior Reporter,; Korey Lee, Vice President of Data, South China Morning Post; Taneth Autumn Evans, Head of Audience Development, The Times and Sunday Times. Bottom Left to Right: Jon Livesey, Deputy Editor-in-Chief (Digital), Daily Star Online; Kevin Young, Head of Audience, The Economist

Here are the key takeaways we’ve taken away from each publishing brand involved in the session:

The Daily Star

The Daily Star has traditionally been aimed at older, male audiences and in this segment, Jon Livesey, Deputy Editor-In-Chief, talked about the publisher’s transition to attract a younger, more diverse audience. The Star’s average audience age is 43 and Livesey admitted that the pivot to attracting a younger readership was essential in order to ensure the long-term survival of the brand. Here are some key insights gleaned:

  • The Star reaches Millennials and Gen Z but they previously didn’t connect the stories with the Star brand. To address this, the Star brought in an outside agency to run sessions with in-house journalists to underscore the three main pillars of the Star brand: fun, cheeky, irreverent.
  • The content has evolved to attract younger audiences but with an emphasis on remaining ‘on brand’. Instagram and Facebook have been heavily used: Facebook page views in April 2021 were nineteen times higher than two years ago; Instagram has grown to 61,000 followers with an audience comprised 52% male, 48% female, with 32% of total followers in the 25-34 age range.
  • The tone and style have become more inclusive, and as part of this, Page 3 nudity was ditched. This has been replaced with ‘bikini-clad’ Instagram influencers who fit the profile of the women the Star is trying to reach. Once a week, a chat panel is filmed with some of these influencers, and this chat panel attracts an audience that is 80% female.
  • Advertising interest has increased accordingly with 91 new clients across the past year.

From Dec 2019 to Dec 2020 we’ve seen a 70% increase in monthly unique visitors

Jon Livesey, Deputy Editor-in-Chief (Digital), The Daily Star

The Times and Sunday Times

The Times and Sunday Times have faced similar issues, with their audience attracting a largely older male audience. To address this, and as part of the transition to become a digital-first organisation, The Times has been running a project to increase the engagement of female readers with the ultimate aim of converting them to subscribers. Here are some key insights gleaned:

  • The Times created focus groups to find what content was ‘indexing’ with female readers. As part of this, The Times avoided merely looking at subject areas that would attract women, but also looked at deeper details including the writer, tone, format, etc to see if these also made a difference to engagement levels.
  • The Times subsequently created a Female Engagement Index which predicts what female readership each article should attract, and then scores the reality vs the prediction. The Index helps underpin and benchmark the initiative and gives a ‘fuller picture’ of success.
  • Everyone in the newsroom has had to be on board with the initiative.

In the digital age, everything can’t be for everyone. Don’t be distracted by numbers that don’t align with your goal.

Taneth Autumn Evans, Head of Audience Development, The Times and Sunday Times

The Economist

The Economist, launched in 1843, has spent the last decade stepping up its digital operations to become a digital-first organisation. It has revamped its approach to its four primary platforms: Twitter is treated like a ‘radio station’ with a short mix of new content and ‘greatest hits’ content; The Economist is more selective on what it posts on Facebook, not least because the platform is its biggest source of referrals; it has aligned the scheduling of longer ‘chattier’ posts on Instagram with its LinkedIn page as more of a conversational outreach on both platforms simultaneously. Here are the other key takeaways:

  • Instagram has been particularly important in terms of audience growth. Two years ago, The Economist’s Instagram account had 3M followers and focused on ‘beautiful photos’. Since then it has widened its Instagram output to include illustrations, animations, videos, rich graphs, quotes, etc. This has brought in a new audience, with two-thirds of its Instagram audience now aged 18-34.
  • Its total Instagram following now stands at 5.5M individuals and the platform is viewed as an important ‘shop window’ for The Economist bringing in 1M website referrals per month.
  • The Economist is trying to reach younger audiences not by changing its content but by ‘reinterpreting’ its existing content for a younger audience.
  • The Economist newsroom and its journalists are ‘engaged with’ when re-posting articles across social media, in order to see if there are new ways to reinterpret content. The Economist team ‘crowd sources’ its social media content from across the organisation rather than pigeon hole content into strict job function silos.

I’d encourage people to take a look at Instagram, you might be surprised at what’s there in terms of your audience

Kevin Young, Head of Audience, The Economist

The South China Morning Post

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) was founded in 1903 and was acquired in 2016 by Alibaba. Since its takeover, it has pursued an aggressive strategy of digital transformation. Although it has ‘South China’ in its name, the title’s biggest market is in the U.S. and the publisher focuses on ‘leading the global conversation on China’. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Using data science the publisher found that it had six broad audience cohorts, all with various levels of engagement and subscription potential, as well as reasons for visiting SCMP.
  • The publisher has to reach each group in very different ways, and uses a funnel-based approach based on broadening readership, growing engagement, deepening loyalty, and finally converting and retaining readers as subscribers.
  • Within each cohort, SCMP has further segmented its audience not just in terms of what readers are interested in, but also what point they are at within the funnel. Content recommendation plays a large part in reaching each segment, even to the point of building different home pages for each audience segment.

My team, the data team, is responsible for building the bespoke content recommendation engine that really powers a lot of these topic and section recommendations for the areas people are specifically interested in.

Korey Lee, Vice President of Data, South China Morning Post

About: Since 2010, has hosted 27 Newsrewired conferences. The event is a mix of talks, panels and hands-on workshops offering practical knowledge that attendees can take back to their newsrooms. The organiser,, is a Brighton-based independent media company that has been providing news coverage on the media industry since 1999. The next Newsrewired conference will take place in late autumn 2021 – visit Newsrewired for further updates.