Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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How publishers are driving deeper engagement

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The subscriber journey doesn’t end with the purchase (of subscription).” It’s the beginning, says INMA’s Researcher-in-Residence, Grzegorz Piechota.

Piechota conducted a mystery shopper study of 10 nationwide news sites in Australia, the UK, and the US. He found that publishers were not “focused on monitoring the health of the relationship after somebody subscribed.” Doing so would help publishers reduce churn, according to Piechota.

Across industry, it is always much easier to retain somebody than to bring in someone new, because they already value and trust you, and they want to engage with your content and your product, versus trying to convince somebody why they should subscribe or join  

Ainul Huda, VP of Audience Development and Analytics, Condé Nast

“Ways to strengthen the connection with readers”

Retention is becoming increasingly important as a growing number of publishers worldwide focus on generating direct reader revenues. According to FIPP, research suggests that retention is about engagement, loyalty, and long-term customer relationships, personalization, and avoiding churn.

“New organizations are well aware that subscribers often drop out when an introductory rate expires, a challenge that has long-term implications for revenue. In response, successful publishers are finding ways to strengthen the connection with readers after they have made a decision to subscribe,” writes Gwen Vargo, Director of Reader Revenue for American Press Institute. 

Vargo presents strategies that some publishers are using to keep their subscribers engaged. These include chronicling their reading experience, using quizzes and exclusive content, and reminding them of subscriptions benefits they may be missing out on.  

“Your story is just beginning”

The New York Times, for example, sends out an anniversary email to subscribers summarizing their journey with the paper. The email features a bar graph of individual readers’ most-read sections and points out their favorite writers. 

It encourages deeper engagement by pointing out specific stories the reader has missed, and suggests relevant multimedia offerings and newsletters. The email also reinforces the subscription’s value by reminding the reader about the Times’ expansive coverage. It displays the exact number of articles and opinion columns published by the paper since the subscription commenced. 

It is friendly and celebratory in tone and looks forward to continuing the relationship with the subscriber and ends with the line, “Your Story is Just Beginning.”

“Potent tactic to increase engagement and retention”

BuzzFeed also relies on email to drive engagement. It is one of the top five referrers of website traffic for the publisher. Further, according to Campaign Monitor, visitors from email spend three minutes longer on the site than visitors from other channels. 

The publisher has over 20 email newsletters focused on specific subscriber interests. Among other strategies, it uses email courses to keep readers engaged. For example, BuzzFeed offers a four-week “Get Fit” class to subscribers in which they receive a new workout routine every week via email.

The idea is for new subscribers not just to come on board but to stay on board. Rewards programs, membership services, special offers, events, bonus content and friendly guidance on navigation all help foster engagement.

Gwen Vargo, Director of Reader Revenue for American Press Institute

“Longtime habits may begin to change”

Vargo recommends offering benefits and “extras” to strengthen the bond with recent subscribers. “Programs that reward customers in ways beyond content may top the list. Done right, they are a potent tactic to increase engagement and retention, enhancing the customer experience and sense of connection,” she says.

For example, The Sacramento Bee offers rewards to digital users. Readers can earn points by reading the news, playing games, watching videos or taking quizzes. They can use these points to enter sweepstakes, where they can win gift cards, electronics, tickets to movies and other prizes.

The publisher also uses this strategy to nudge print subscribers towards digital content consumption. It tells them to create a digital account to benefit from the rewards program.

McClatchy tries to achieve the same by informing print subscribers via email, about the additional features that are only available digitally. It has created a digital “Extra, Extra” section for the purpose. 

Vargo comments, “As readers begin to see the value of the e-edition, they become more receptive to digital content, and longtime habits may begin to change.”

“Open up a world of opportunities to drive revenue”

Condé Nast’s Huda suggests that publishers seeking to build engagement should carefully consider their value proposition. “What is the best way to connect to consumers in a deeper, more meaningful way, that will allow them to spend time or dollars with your publication? At the end of the day, it’s about being very thoughtful about what your value is, and why someone should pay for a subscription or give you their time.”

Michael Silberman, SVP Strategy, at Piano which assists publishers with their reader revenue strategies says, “In a user-first world, building deeper user engagement means considering the value exchange between the user and business. What action do you want the user to take? What’s the benefit to them? What are you asking in return? If you ask for permission to track them, for example, does that enable you to improve their reading experience by only showing articles they haven’t read yet? Are you making that benefit clear?

“If you get the user journey and value exchange right, you open up a world of opportunities to drive revenue.”