Hello, and welcome to the first full paid version of this newsletter. This is very much a passion project for me, and those brave few of you who have been my pioneer members are greatly appreciated! Please let me know what you think…
- There's plenty to learn from outside our industry about audience engagement
- Community work is a key component of a paywall strategy
- So is rethinking the style of content we produce
The old is new again at news:rewired
I enjoyed most recent news:rewired greatly, somewhat to my own surprise. Despite what looked like an underwhelming line-up from the agenda, the actual content was really worthwhile, and I took a decent amount away from it. A couple of weeks on, I've had the chance to digest it properly, and here's what I think matters:
Paywalls and Audience Engagement are deeply linked
The speeches that topped and tailed the session were more connected than they might have appeared at first glance. Rouven Leuener's fairly technical talk dug deep into the evolution of their paid strategy - what they call a paygate rather than a paywall. This was a very useful session: too often people see a paywall as an end state, rather than an evolutionary process.
Businesses in the B2B journalism space have had successful paywalled business for over 20 years, and it's good to see mainstream news finally catching up with that.
At the flip end of the day, Kathryn Geels' talk shared some of the learning from the Engaged Journalism Accelerator. This was a "softer" talk, but one which complemented the earlier one beautifully. There's some useful stuff in there about language, commitment and R&D. However, one interesting point that wasn't explored deeply, but which a few of my readers picked up on was this:
Don't just look at how journalists engage - look outside. There’s plenty to learn from social innovation around the craft beer movement, for example.
We journalists have a deeply myopic view of the world, sometimes. Many other businesses have had massive experience in community management that we just don't pay attention to. The gaming companies have a couple of decades of managing community interactions on their forums and Facebook pages, but we rarely learn from them. (More on that in Engaged Tweeting Time below.)
Escaping the bubble
Since the Facepocalypse, it's been clear that owned & operated community engagement is going to be a strong part of the audience development mix going forwards. This isn't rocket science: if you're going to have direct customer relationships, you need to have customer service. And many of the most successful reader revenue driven operations look as much like membership clubs as transactional businesses. The Times and The Guardian are both good — if very different — models here.
But we need to look outside our own bubble for good ideas in this space. That's something I'm hoping to do in future editions of this newsletter.
As for the rest of the conference, yes, there were the normal "tech fetish" session: we had a session on smart speakers, which pretty much proved that you shouldn't bother right now unless you have plenty of money to spare. And the inevitable blockchain session was baffling even to some off the brightest journalism minds in the room. I gave up trying to blog it, but Emily Yarwood took on that thankless task for journalism.co.uk.
But the underlying message was a good one: we won't get through this rough patch in the history of journalism by just throwing up a paywall, and calling it job done. Once we commit to serving an audience we need also to commit to rethinking our content strategy about what that audience responds to. That's going to be a big challenge: ideas like solutions journalism clearly resonate with people — especially those who are willing to pay — but go against so much of what has been the conventional wisdom about successful journalism.
Engaged reading links
Post-Christchurch, there's been a focus — quite understandably — on moderation. It's clear that a combination of AI intervention and human moderation is probably the way forward here, at least for businesses of any scale. This plugin gives you a chance to experience the state-of-the-art in AI intervention on any comment section on the web…
Many paywalls go through cycles of problems with acquisition and retention (I've worked with publications on both sides of that curve). Interesting to see The Telegraph attempt to balance both.
Most people, however are concentrating on retention. This is classic second stage paywall behaviour - figuring out that keeping people matters and that what you write has a big impact on that. The strategies for a paywalled site are very different from an ad-driven model.
And, let's loop right back around to acquisition. Once you start figuring our what sort of content tends to help retention, the next obvious step is to figure out what boosts acquisition.
Some good case studies from EJA here. Plenty to learn from, even if their business models and audiences are quite different from your own.
There's some interesting material here about face-to-face events and building them into your strategy.
A really detailed set of lessons from a set of engaged journalism projects, that you can take much away from.
My Interactive Journalism students have found very similar things in small scale trials.
It's pretty clear now that featured snippets are basically stopping a bunch of queries ever hitting publisher sites. Be veeeeeeery wary of optimising for these.
See how your site stacks up against competitors, get recommendations for improvement. Seriously, do this. Mobile site speed makes a huge competitive difference in search.
Engaged Tweeting Time
A fun Twitter conversation about the general ignorance of other forms of online community amongst journalists. Worth exploring the whole thread…
I hope you found this useful. I'll be back with another edition of the newsletter on Monday evening, with a first look at whatever Apple finally announced around its paid Apple News offering, and how it may (or may not) play into audience engagement strategies.
I'm likely to be sending you several a week for the next few weeks as I settle into a routine for it. Please send feedback on what you find useful or not. Beyond that, I hope to settle into a minimum of two editions a week. That number might grow as I acquire subscribers and can devote more time to it.
Until then, have a great — and engaging ‚ time.