5 evergreen tips from 18 news media leaders

Over the past editions of the Digital Growth Summit, over 50 of the most innovative figures from the media industry and beyond have taken the stage. Looking back at their keynotes, panels and presentations, 5 evergreen tips stand out for publishers looking to grow and sustain a healthy digital business.

1. Habits are the past, present and future

Habit formation is a traditional feature of the newspaper. Habits ensure regular interactions with content. They must remain part of the present and future for publishers. Habit formation expert Nir Eyal provided a masterclass on how publishers can build reader habits. Standout points included:

  • The largest blocker to form daily habits is a product that is not intended to be used daily or product that is not used frequently.
  • Everyone has their own trigger. There is no “this is how you do it for everyone”

Reuters’ Nic Newman highlighted that the internet has fragmented attention and disrupted habits in digital. News brands are no longer at centre. FD Mediagroep CEO Eugenie van Wiechen added that digital does not and can not fully replace the print newspaper. There is a huge difference between readers during the week (digital) vs weekend (print) and this will exist for a long time. Work to build habits in both formats is still required.

But publishers have built habits before and can build them again. For Mathias Douchet, Director of Product at The Telegraph, the only difference is the routine of news. At 7am there was just news, but now consumers also have social media. Telegraph users who visit 3 times a week are 8 times more likely to subscribe, so the publisher knew they had to get into people’s lives. They have successfully done this through newsletters and the launch of their unified app. Subscribers can access their daily newspaper, quizzes and live content in one place meaning they can develop a habit of using the app as their go-to place for news. The UK publisher now have 737,251 subscribers, well on the way to their 10-1-23 goal.

2. Continue to invest in content to stand out

Habits come from delivering valuable and trustworthy content time after time” explained Nic Newman. Alan Hunter believed that quality content is how publishers can fight tech giants who have all the resources in the world to improve. After all, newspapers are designed to provide fact-based, trustworthy news. Eugenie van Wiechen identified quality content as one of the top 3 future challenges facing publishers. Providing quality content for van Wiechen is the main way in which publishers can distinguish themselves from others in their markets.

Chris Duncan, former Managing Director of The Times and The Sunday Times now CEO of UK Publishing at Bauer Media highlighted that this focus on content has been behind the success of Netflix. They spend the most on content and this is their not-so-secret secret. To respond to this move, Louis Dreyfus, President of Le Monde recommended investing in editorial staff. This is how publishers increase the value of not just content, but also readership and business. With 80% of revenue already coming from audiences at Le Monde in 2018, the move is a no brainer. Therefore, Dreyfus predicted that in the next 5-10 years, we will have more journalists then today.

At a time where influencers and other non-traditional outlets are starting to take a hold of content creation, publishers need to continue to invest in their traditional stronghold of content.

3. Retention and engagement will always need focus

Once quality content is provided, encouraging engagement with it is central to business plans. Simon Regan Edwards Product Director of The Daily Mail argued retention must be each of the 3 top priorities for news publishers. Thankfully, some great tips for retention came from previous summits.

Customer Experience Thought Leader Steven van Belleghem championed the cause of becoming a partner in life. News media must be the oxpeckers living on the rhino. Oxpeckers pick up important signals and broadcast them to rhinos who are less well equipped to pick up those sounds. That role can’t be fulfilled by technology and must be done by empathetic human beings. That’s where the opportunity for news media lies. Publishers must be always around, never intrusive, bring value and be there at the right moment. van Belleghem identified as an area that the tech giants have failed to expose.

Media Analyst Thomas Baekdal and former Chief News Strategist and Chief Product and Technology Officer at The Wall Street Journal Louise Story told us that publishers must reclaim utility to boost engagement. News is becoming a standalone product and people no longer come to news providers for non-news topics. The area is a tale of missed opportunity, with Louise Story providing the example of Turbovax in New York.

The Economist have boosted their engagement and retention through audio. Former VP of Product Remy Becher explained that trialists who listened to an article or podcast in weeks 9 and 10 of their 12-week trial were more likely to stick (71%) than those who used the app but didn’t listen to any audio (61%). With its multitasking nature audio can be a better way to boost engagement.

4. Data and AI should continue to be used for the right reasons

AI will play a role in the future of news, and for some newsrooms it already has a significant place. Chris Duncan believed that AI is hugely exciting because it will replace tasks in the newsroom which journalists don’t like. Tor Marius Espedal, Head of Customer Lifecycle Management said that at Schibsted, data and analytics already let newsrooms make the right choices like which to put behind the paywall. These smart uses of AI have the potential to let journalists focus more on the content they provide.

Personalisation is one of the other main uses of AI. Steve Dempsey, Group Director of Publishing Products at Mediahuis Ireland explained that one of the most powerful mixes to drive a habit-forming product for the future could be through the use of personalisation and replicas. This is a product area to watch out for in the future.

Whilst AI offers exciting opportunities, it should be used for the right reasons. Handelsblatt’s former Director of Audience & Market Intelligence Imme Baumüller reduced the newsroom stigma around data and AI complexity with a data dictionary and dashboards so the KPIs and usage reasons of data and AI became clearer. The German publisher have even gamified their data to encourage buy-in.

Eva Roa, formerly Senior Manager, News Product Analytics of The New York Times reminded us that people come to news and different brands for editorial insights and curation. Therefore, within personalisation a balance must be found. Le Monde CTO/CIO Sacha Morard insisted on the need for publishers to have the highest level of transparency in how data is being used. This is particularly in the area of personalisation. Responsible use of AI can offer future success, so ensuring it is used for the right reasons is key.

5. What piece of tech would you add to your newsroom?

Newsroom tech can be exciting. We asked some speakers what tech they would choose if they could have free access to any for their newsroom. Ideas around immersive experiences/AR in particular stood out. Digital Product Manager Maxime Rezé from Ouest France would choose to introduce a 3D newspaper to their offering. Away from the actual offering, Tor Marius Espedal chose to focus on the onboarding process. As a way of getting readers to feel more personally welcome and involved, he would give Schibsted the power to have hologram onboarding. Figures from publishers including editors in chief and well know journalists would guide you through your news apps. Both ideas have exciting potential.

Steven van Bellegham would create a newspaper which would use state of the art AI to report news faster than real time so people could be immediately informed of stories. To add a human touch he would bring in some of the best human faces in the industry who can have good impact on society who can do better for the world.

Want more tips?

Then join us at the 2022 Digital Growth Summit on 19th October at The Brewery in London! We will take a look at today, tomorrow and the future for news technologies with speakers from across the world. Buy your ticket here to avoid disappointment.

Matthew Lynes
Media Innovation Analyst @ Twipe

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