What works best for increasing reader engagement and retaining loyalty? Practical tips from media professionals to publishers

5. November 2022

What can we do to engage new audiences and retain them? How do we make readers engage with our content more? And how do we develop media brand lovers? If these questions occupy your mind too, we are bringing you advice and experience from media professionals and subscription specialists.

Content is King

We can all agree that quality content is definitely something without which we can't have this discussion further. As Rado Augustín, Head of Product at Denník N claims, “the readers of Denník N are motivated mainly by quality content. But what is crucial, the content needs to be updated very often. This way the readers have a reason to learn to visit the website regularly.”

But quality content alone is not enough. Tim Robinson, Managing Editor at National World (UK news publishers) adds that “the key is to understand the utility of our content. Readers are evolving and we need to evolve with them, to offer the depth and perspective that can’t be found elsewhere. For news publishers this means not just being first, but explaining and educating the world to our readers - a world that is full of less reliable sources of information. We can build relationships through newsletters and social, but these will only stand the test of time if they are built on the solid foundations of relevant quality content.”

Tatiana Repková, Founder of Media Managers Club, describes how a local news website in Moldova has achieved an almost incredibly rapid increase in the number of unique users, which almost tripled within a month. “The success recipe? Changes in the news content of the site, with focus on (1) portraits; (2) series of advice on three topics: hobby, doctor, lawyer; (3) utilitarian news, implied by an analysis of audience personas; (4) tourist information, including the city history and photo reports; (5) interviews with interesting people, primarily from the city. Plus rewriting of articles or news from other sources all over Moldova that may be useful to audiences in the city.”

Content is King but distribution is King Kong

Quality content is a prerequisite but without its distribution and delivering it to the right audience at the right time, it's just content. There are many touchpoints and formats for using the same content to reach different audiences. Subscription Growth and Retention specialist at Denník SME, Dávid Tvrdoň, claims that three things have proven to work in building loyalty with their readers: newsletters, podcasts and the mobile app

“The whole Petit Press currently has 176k active subscribers to 60+ editorial newsletters, majority of which is actually written by editors, not just sharing links to articles automatically. We are also able to evaluate the value of subscribers thanks to newsletters: the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of subscribers with newsletters is 30% higher than the CLV of average subscribers.

We have been doing surveys among the listeners of our podcasts for 4 years and the results repeatedly show that a big amount of our subscribers are also podcast fans. Many of them declare that it's one of the reasons why they still have active subscriptions.

Our mobile app has proven to be an important touchpoint for subscribers, as it serves as the entry point for tens of thousands of our subscribers to the content published on SME.sk.”

If you are thinking of developing a mobile app, read how you can save costs and achieve a light, fast and engaging app-like experience without a native app.

Engagement is a relationship, connection and association

The connection to specific authors is very important for the readers of Czech independent magazine Reportér. Their Editor-in-chief, Robert Čásenský, expresses thatthe feeling of togetherness and belonging, whether social or political, is very important. The latter tends to be stronger at a time when readers feel that "the other side" is in power. This must be combined with the quality of the service, from the technical point of view and from the point of view of user comfort. If it were not sufficient, the other, let's say more emotional, bonds would not be enough either.”

Also, there is something they call the "sympathy factor" and Robert adds: “This can be related to the story of the given medium, the style of performance or the way of communication with readers.”

Charlie Beckett, Director of The Journalism AI Project at The London School of Economics and Political Science believes that the best engagement strategy should always start by asking 'why' you want more attention and loyalty from users.

“For some they will prioritise attention-grabbing headlines because they are looking for scale. But the most sustainable engagement doesn't come from one-off tricks such as quizes or clickbait sensationalism. The best practice I have seen treats engagement as a relationship that involves 'listening' to their users and adjusting the format and even content of the journalism to suit user needs. Sophisticated use of audience data and even AI technologies can allow the user experience to be personalised and automated but the human should always be in the loop.”

Know, understand and evaluate the potential of your audience 

"For readers' engagement, we found that knowing the characters of our audience and what kind of content they are looking for can improve the quality of our work. We also need to know the characteristics of the platform we use for engagement and optimize that to support our activities on that particular platform. So, a combination of audience data, the right content and a good strategy based on the platform characters, can really improve our readers' engagement," says Wahyu Dhyatmika, CEO PT at Tempo Digital, Indonesia. 

Madhav Chinnappa, Director of News Ecosystem Development at Google agrees that the first step for increased engagement is to understand your audience and adds: I would strongly recommend using/looking at our News Consumer Insights tool which applies a news oriented lens on top of Google Analytics data to allow publishers to better understand their audiences and identify performance gaps and then work on improving engagement, retention and loyalty, again NCI has many actionable recommendations to drive engagement and here are the top 3:

  1. Grow your Newsletter traffic by optimizing your newsletter sign-up flow (recommendation details)
  2. Implement Web Push Notifications (recommendation details)
  3. Maximize your internal recirculation (recommendation details).”

When you know what your audience likes and how they consume your content, it's much easier to make use of the data and create a more personalized experience for the reader. Whether it's a personalized newsletter, a push notification or content, show your reader it is a mutual relationship.

In case you want to go beyond NCI and want to know how to become data-driven and how to measure the success of your content, subscribe to our digital-DNA newsletter. Soon we'll be launching brand new products and services filled with data insights tailored for newsrooms. 

Commit to a product-thinking mindset

Dominic Young, founder at Axate, knows that content doesn't create habits by itself, as it changes every day. If you want to engage an audience and build a habit, you need to think about the product. The things that don’t change constantly even as the content does, the things which your reader knows you will consistently deliver, the things which they’ll miss if they skip them.

What those things are varies, of course, across different publications. We find, for example (and unsurprisingly) that for local news products local planning issues, local crime and local sport are big drivers of engagement and payment. You need to understand your readers and you need to learn to make your “missable” features stand out.

Even if your business model still requires you to drive as much volume as possible, which can swamp user experiences, you need to maintain this product thinking, especially if you want consumer revenue to become a growing share of your overall revenues.”

Get inspired by a Slovak independent daily Dennik N in how they used product-thinking mindset and created a free digital product for increased reader engagement and subscriptions.