En­gage­ment mat­ters!

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

Lately I’ve read a num­ber of ar­ti­cles about news­rooms work­ing with com­pa­nies to grow en­gage­ment with read­ers by in­clud­ing au­di­ences in the cre­ation process. One ar­ti­cle in par­tic­u­lar caught my at­ten­tion be­cause it took a devil’s ad­vo­cate stance on the is­sue stat­ing, rather force­fully, that there was no proof that en­gage­ment leads to any tan­gi­ble value and that peo­ple who be­lieve it does are bas­ing their opin­ion on gut in­stincts, not fact.

The ar­ti­cle was pretty bru­tal in its eval­u­a­tion of one par­tic­u­lar ven­dor, Hear­ken (a reader en­gage­ment plat­form for pub­lish­ers), which I found dis­turb­ing, par­tic­u­larly when I learned the au­thor never ac­tu­ally tried to reach out to Hear­ken to dis­cuss the ar­ti­cle prior to pub­lish­ing it.

It was also un­set­tling to see that the au­thor’s premise (mas­querad­ing as in­no­cent ques­tions) looked like the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to hype his PhD the­sis on “how au­di­ences en­gage with the news, and how jour­nal­ists en­gage with their au­di­ences.” IMHO, it al­most looked like branded con­tent pos­ing as ed­i­to­rial.

I don’t have any con­nec­tion to Hear­ken or the other com­pa­nies named in the story, but I ap­plaud any ef­forts to help the in­dus­try en­gage with read­ers. En­gage­ment wasn’t a pri­or­ity for many in the busi­ness un­til re­cently — a sit­u­a­tion which led to the grow­ing mis­trust be­tween pub­lish­ers and con­sumers.

How did we get here?

It wasn’t all that long ago that 86% of US news reporters be­lieved cit­i­zens should not be al­lowed to con­trib­ute to the news. Per­haps they were pin­ing for the good old days of print when au­di­ence en­gage­ment was lim­ited to read­ers send­ing let­ters to the ed­i­tor with only a hand­ful of mis­sives pub­lished with re­sponses.

With the in­ter­net’s vir­tu­ally free many-to-many com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, peo­ple have an end­less ca­pac­ity to rant, rave, and ques­tion what’s pub­lished — a power that many have wielded like a sword and re­sulted in 80% of reporters ad­mit­ting that they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ re­sponded to reader com­ments.

In­stead of wel­com­ing au­di­ences’ height­ened en­gage­ment and find­ing cre­ative ways to con­nect with read­ers, while tem­per­ing the trolls, a num­ber of pub­lish­ers chose to slam the door on di­a­log and send read­ers off to so­cial me­dia to talk amongst them­selves.

Thank­fully, some of to­day’s most suc­cess­ful pub­lish­ers don’t fall into that “I write, you read. I don’t care what you think” crowd.

The Econ­o­mist, The Wash­ing­ton Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Daily Mail, Reader’s Di­gest, Game In­former, Bon Ap­pétit, and even AARP The Mag­a­zine all open up their sites for users to en­gage with those who write, edit and read. Fi­nan­cial Times dis­cov­ered that peo­ple who com­ment are seven times more en­gaged that those who don’t.

To­day, things are look­ing some­what brighter as more jour­nal­ists start to view peo­ple’s com­ments in a more fa­vor­able light — say­ing that feed­back helps

"When deal­ing with peo­ple, re­mem­ber you are not deal­ing with crea­tures of logic, but crea­tures of emo­tion." — Dale Carnegie

them un­der­stand what their read­ers are think­ing, which helps im­prove their fol­low-up cov­er­age. Oth­ers be­lieve that en­gag­ing with read­ers is needed to drive traf­fic to their sites and that re­spond­ing to com­ments is nec­es­sary for their news or­ga­ni­za­tions’ sur­vival.

So what is en­gage­ment?

Ac­cord­ing to a Fe­bru­ary 2018 study by the Tow Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Jour­nal­ism, “Au­di­ence en­gage­ment is a set of au­di­ence-fo­cused tasks that in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing and in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple who use your site, as well as prospec­tive au­di­ences.”

As much as I re­spect the source of that def­i­ni­tion, it seems to be miss­ing some­thing im­por­tant. Cer­tainly en­gage­ment re­quires ac­tion and a set of au­di­ence-fo­cused tasks, but it must also be ex­pe­ri­en­tial. It re­quires an emo­tional con­nec­tion, a com­mit­ment, and at­ten­tive­ness to those with whom one wishes to en­gage. In other words, en­gage­ment is a two-way street.

Not every­thing is driven by quan­ti­ta­tive data and charts which pro­vide just a snap­shot of an au­di­ence’s be­hav­ior at a spe­cific point in time. It’s based on that groups’ ex­pe­ri­ence with the brand, up un­til that point. Look­ing at hard data is not enough to eval­u­ate the to­tal im­pacts of en­gage­ment; one must marry quan­ti­ta­tive data with qual­i­ta­tive — em­ploy­ing ju­di­cious gut feel­ings in the fi­nal anal­y­sis.

But if one still in­sists on purely em­pir­i­cal data, they can check out Forbes In­sights’ 2017 re­port New Rules of Cus­tomer En­gage­ment which com­pares the bot­tom lines of com­pa­nies highly en­gaged with their cus­tomers ver­sus those that are not. The re­sults speak for them­selves.

In the case of me­dia, en­gage­ment hap­pens when con­tent cre­ators ( jour­nal­ists, reporters, ed­i­tors, columnists) and con­sumers (read­ers, view­ers, lis­ten­ers) come to­gether (vir­tu­ally or phys­i­cally) to give at­ten­tion to a story/ ed­i­to­rial/opin­ion. Ei­ther or both may take part in its cre­ation or crit­i­cism — a state which may have them ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a meet­ing of the minds or en­ter­ing into a con­struc­tive con­flict.

En­gage­ment on so­cial me­dia

The other day I was read­ing Ci­sion’s 2018 global state of the me­dia re­port, based on a sur­vey of 1,355 jour­nal­ists across six coun­tries. When I saw that 34% of jour­nal­ists be­lieve that up­dates to so­cial me­dia al­go­rithms would have the big­gest im­pact on their work, I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised.

Given how many of them mostly use so­cial me­dia as a mega­phone to blast con­tent out to the masses, I as­sumed they saw no value in those who fol­low them. They cer­tainly don’t ap­pear to cap­i­tal­ize on its po­ten­tial to cre­ate loyal and trusted re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple and en­gage with them. It’s rare for me to see jour­nal­ists re­spond to posts and tweets from read­ers, but thank good­ness a rare breed does ex­ist.

Mar­garet Sul­li­van of The Wash­ing­ton Post (>83K fol­low­ers) reg­u­larly en­gages with oth­ers on Twit­ter, as does Daniel Dale of Toronto Star (>360K fol­low­ers). Both have huge au­di­ences, but they still take the time to read and re­spond to ques­tions and com­ments.

Mark Di Ste­fano, me­dia and po­lit­i­cal re­porter at Buz­zFeed UK, is also very ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, in­ter­act­ing with many of his Twit­ter fol­low­ers on hot top­ics like gen­der pay gaps. With 94K fol­low­ers, he ob­vi­ously can’t re­spond to ev­ery­one, but he cer­tainly stays in­volved in the di­a­log hap­pen­ing around his work.

Terri Peters from To­day is one of the most en­gag­ing reporters on Face­book. A quick look at her news­feed jus­ti­fies her rank­ing; she is in con­stant con­ver­sa­tion with her fol­low­ers. She also reg­u­larly uses crowd­sourc­ing tech­niques to gather con­tent for Par­ent­ing To­day sto­ries. A bril­liant win-win-win for her­self, her pub­li­ca­tion, and her fans.

In other forms of me­dia, Net­flix and Spo­tify take user en­gage­ment to very per­son level — cre­atively re­spond­ing to users’ posts and/or com­ments with em­pa­thy and hu­mor.

En­gage­ment is all about ex­pe­ri­ence — make it a good one!

At the Digi­day Pub­lish­ing Sum­mit ear­lier this year, 58% of mem­bers (many of whom are pub­lish­ing ex­ec­u­tives) said that there is a user ex­pe­ri­ence cri­sis in dig­i­tal me­dia. No kid­ding! There’s been a cri­sis in user ex­pe­ri­ence since the web be­gan 30 years ago. Just take a look at the bounce rates of some of your fa­vorite me­dia sites.

Slow per­form­ing, power-de­bil­i­tat­ing, ad-in­fested, and badly de­signed web­sites are any­thing but en­gag­ing, but in­stead of fix­ing th­ese prob­lems too many pub­lish­ers just block peo­ple who use ad block­ers. Not ex­actly the best strat­egy given that ad block­ing, that comes stan­dard in modern browsers, will be ac­ti­vated by over 30% of US in­ter­net users this year. It may be the easy road out, but it’s not a road to riches. To be bru­tally hon­est, it’s more like a race to the bot­tom.

It’s pos­si­ble that boomers and Xers didn’t care as much about their on­line ex­pe­ri­ence or en­gage­ment, but mil­len­ni­als and Gen Zs most cer­tainly do. Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Google study, to­day’s gen­er­a­tions ex­pect three things from brands (in­clud­ing me­dia brands).

Help me faster

Did you know that 53% of mo­bile vis­its are aban­doned if it takes longer than three sec­onds to load? And for good rea­son. Ac­cord­ing to Google, the av­er­age mo­bile load time glob­ally is 22 sec­onds. Is that op­por­tu­nity knock­ing I hear?

Know me bet­ter

We’re not traf­fic, we’re hu­man be­ings with per­son­al­i­ties, feel­ings, ex­pec­ta­tions, and money to spend. So when it comes to at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing my at­ten­tion, make it sim­ple, con­sis­tent, trust­wor­thy, and rel­e­vant (for me).

Wow me ev­ery­where

It’s not enough to sat­isfy me with qual­ity con­tent; that’s just the price of ad­mis­sion. On­line, on mo­bile, in apps, or in per­son, de­liver me an en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence so I’ll stay longer and come back for more. Hey, I might even PAY for it if the ex­pe­ri­ence is worth giv­ing you my at­ten­tion.

En­gage­ment starts at the top

In 2016, PhD stu­dent, Merel Borger, pub­lished a pa­per on par­tic­i­pa­tory jour­nal­ism that made quite an im­pres­sion on the in­dus­try and its walled gar­den ide­ol­ogy.

The chal­lenge she wrote about couldn’t be fixed by throw­ing money at it. It is deep-rooted in 300 years of tra­di­tion­al­ism — an im­por­tant is­sue ad­dressed the 2018 Guide to Au­di­ence Rev­enue and En­gage­ment re­port.

“Be­com­ing an au­di­ence-driven — and es­pe­cially mem­ber-driven— news­rooms re­quire a huge cul­ture change for reporters and ed­i­tors that de­mands sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship. The two-way en­gage­ment be­tween pub­li­ca­tion and au­di­ence re­quired to sus­tain a suc­cess­ful mem­ber­ship strat­egy can ini­tially feel un­com­fort­able for those who ex­pect a clear boundary be­tween news­room staff and au­di­ence mem­bers. But cul­ture change is pos­si­ble.”

Given the top-down na­ture of cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion re­quired in le­gacy me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, one can’t ex­pect ma­jor changes to hap­pen overnight. But we are see­ing the more pro­gres­sive pub­lish­ers break down the “who is in ver­sus who is out” ceil­ings and walls — moves that are help­ing to re­duce sub­scriber churn and re­store trust be­tween cre­ators and con­sumers.

• ProPublica ac­tively re­cruits in­put from its au­di­ence to help craft its sto­ries.

• The New York Times launched a Reader Cen­ter in 2017 in its news­room, to so­licit ques­tions and com­ments from its read­ers. And most re­cently, the pub­lisher in­tro­duced sub­scriber con­fer­ence calls (not un­like ra­dio talk shows) to en­gage them even fur­ther.

• The In­for­ma­tion show­cases sub­scribers who have been rec­og­nized for in­sight­ful com­ments on their Contributor page.

• De Cor­re­spon­dent news­room staff an­tic­i­pate spend­ing a third to half of its work­ing hours in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with read­ers this year.

En­gage­ment pays

De­spite what some might think, en­gaged con­sumers are worth their weight in gold. Stud­ies show that they buy 90% more of­ten, spend 300% more than oth­ers ev­ery year, and are far more will­ing to ad­vo­cate on be­half of a brand that en­gages them.

Fi­nan­cial Times found that higher en­gage­ment in­creases the like­li­hood of sub­scrib­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to an INMA’s 2018 Me­dia Sub­scrip­tions Blue­print — a re­port based on pre­sen­ta­tions by 25 me­dia com­pa­nies on how they have recre­ated their value propo­si­tions around con­tent, com­mu­nity, cause, and con­ve­nience — sub­scriber re­ten­tion, which di­rectly im­pacts the bot­tom lines of pub­lish­ers, can be im­proved through smarter en­gage­ment strate­gies.

Of course, you could wait for more aca­demic stud­ies on en­gage­ment to prove to you that your gut in­stincts were right all along, but I would strongly urge against that ap­proach.

In­stead take a les­son from Jeff Be­zos, a CEO with a re­lent­less fo­cus on cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, and treat your read­ers as “in­vited guests to a party where you are the hosts. Make ev­ery im­por­tant as­pect of the reader ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle bit bet­ter ev­ery day!”

Do that and I am sure you will find out very quickly that en­gage­ment truly does pay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.