Loyalty, engagement, and AI: Predictions for digital media in 2018

As always, Nieman Lab released a list of predictions for the world of journalism and digital media in 2018. Here are 7 of the top predictions, focusing on loyalty, engagement, and artificial intelligence.

Scooped by AI

John Keefe makes the strong claim that “in 2018, you will be scooped by a reporter using artificial intelligence”. We’ve written before about robot journalism, but Keefe believes AI will go further in 2018, explaining:

I’m not talking about computer-generated stories about earthquakes, earnings reports, or sports scores. These will be stories on your beat, written by humans who understand how to use machine learning to aid their reporting.

The future is already here, with The Atlantic’s Andrew McGill having used machine learning to figure out whether Donald Trump was writing his own tweets, and ProPublica’s Jeremy Merrill who used machine learning to detect the issues uniquely important to each member of Congress.

At Twipe we have also identified AI as a game changer in 2018, and we are excited to work withThe Times & The Sunday Times on the DNI-funded project “JAMES, your digital butler“.

Prediction from John Keefe, developer in the Quartz Bot Studio

Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Joanne McNeil believes that we must take a new look at the gatekeepers in media, both human and technology based. On the technology side, that means a need for a better understanding of the algorithms that serve us content.

Value of information is alienated from the volume of traffic a piece receives…”the algorithm knows best” is now a laughably naive position to take, even for the companies that initially pushed that narrative.

We still need humans to curate content, instead of relying on algorithms. While personalised newsletters are interesting, such as Nuzzel which is based on stories your friends are sharing on social media, McNeil points to human curated newsletters, such as California Today from The New York Times, as doing the really great work.

Prediction from Joanne McNeil, currently working on a book about internet users for FSG

News games rule

News games are more than just an interactive way of informing readers, instead Mariano Blejman believes gamification is a way to create added value for publishers.

News games are difficult to copy, scalable, and increase the value proposition of media companies. News games can become the news themself and generate the viral audience that generate increases in direct and social traffic.

While news games are expensive and often slow to build, we have seen plenty of successful experiments from news organisations, including the dialect quiz from The New York Times that was among their top articles in traffic for two consecutive years, and the how-to-be-an-Uber-driver game from the Financial Times. Blejman believes that such examples show that “stories turned into games aren’t only surprising and disruptive, but they can also makes sense from the point of view of business models.”

Prediction from Mariano Blejman, chief digital officer at Grupo Octubre and leader of MediaFactory

Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

The longtime publisher of the American daily The Dallas Morning NewsJim Moroney writes that newspaper “still putting digital advertising ahead of paid digital subscriptions are in danger of extinction”. The New York Times realised this same reality, and switched to a focus on digital subscriptions. Similarly, smart newspapers will focus on quality content that encourages readers to subscribe rather than turning to the free alternatives elsewhere. To achieve this he recommends a focus on data analytics and AI.

Prediction from Jim Moroney, Publisher and CEO and The Dallas Morning News

The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Eric Ulken states that many in the industry have gotten too comfortable with change initiatives, even believing they have a beginning and end instead of a continuous project. “Even the word we often use — transformation — suggests a stable end state, a time when the change is done and we can all just get back to work.” This distinction is clearly illustrated if we look at what Ulken terms ‘the old model’:

This new model of change focuses on ongoing learning, instead of the long-term planning found in the old model.

Ulken believes 2018 will see more legacy news organizations switching to “performance-focused iterative models for change”.

Prediction from Eric Ulken, digital strategy consultant and former managing editor at Philadelphia Media Network

Loyalty as the key performance indicator

As the media business model shifts from the traditional pageview-driven to direct sales, whether that means subscriptions, membership programmes, or something else, key performance indicators will also shift. Sarah Marshall predicts that 2018 will see journalists “become more attuned to loyalty metrics and the types of stories and distribution methods that encourage repeat visits.” News organisations are beginning to understand that their loyal audience is more valuable than flyby readers–they read more, they’re more engaged, are more likely to share stories and behave as brand ambassadors, and are more likely to provide an email address and agree to be contacted. This focus on loyalty will be good for readers and reporters as well, because it will require a larger focus on quality content.

Prediction from Sarah Marshall, head of audience growth at Vogue International, Condé Nast International

Fun with subscription products

At theSkimm, they define subscription products as habitual, recurring, and with a consistent value proposition. With this definition, theSkimm views all its products as subscriptions products–“all users are subscribing to a point of view or a value proposition, even if they aren’t paying”. With this in mind, Dheerja Kaur offers five routes for subscriptions that publishers can take.

  • Volume: the traditional publisher route, with the same product and content but users pay for more volume
  • Content A vs. Content B: the core product is free, but users pay to unlock premium, differentiated content
  • Features: users pay to have a better experience or additional features–how most non-media companies are operating (such as Spotify’s offline listening option or Amazon’s two-day shipping)
  • All or northing: how most video streaming services operate (Netflix), users pay or they receive no content
  • Superfan: users pay to get special access to events, swag, and behind-the-scenes looks–think of membership programs transacting on brand loyalty and affinity

The route that will be most successful depends on the individual publisher and their audience, specifically which of the three news subscriber personas they attract. For more on how to identify the target persona and how to convert them, read the recent report from The American Press Institute “The 3 News Subscriber Personas”.

Prediction from Dheerja Kaur, head of product at theSkimm

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.


Team Twipe

Get insights on Digital Publishing direct in your inbox

Subscribe to Twipe’s weekly newsletter and receive insights, inspiring content and event invitations directly in your inbox!

Subscribe to our Future of News newsletter