Why Publishers Need to Re-Think Audience Development

September 15, 2016

Written by NewsWhip

More people are getting news through social media and mobile than ever. To thrive, publishers have to think hard about their distribution approaches. 
Ahead of the Online News Association’s annual conference in Denver this week, Pew Research published a fascinating 10-point fact sheet on key factors in the evolving digital news landscape. 
The fact that people are watching less and less regular TV and buying fewer newspapers isn’t the surprising part; we’ve know all that for a few years now. Audience share may fluctuate here and there between markets, but the long-term trend is in one direction only.
What’s more interesting is how quickly people are replacing their old ways of finding the news.  
72% of Americans now get their news on their mobile phone, up from 54% in 2013. Overall, 62% of Americans get news on social media, with 44% of the general population doing so on Facebook.
In a few years, the entire media consumption framework has been retooled.
In the face of these new realities, publishers of all types, from the global to the hyperlocal, are wondering how they can best implement some kind of distribution model that serves them best.
This leads to an ongoing angst for publishers looking to make sure they’re taking the right approach to social publishing. It can be summed up something like this:
“How do we reach people, optimise our content for their habits, and then build that audience into a loyal readership to sustain our business?”
At NewsWhip, we see this all the time. Newsrooms constantly ask how they can be more visible in social streams. Editors want to make sure that they’re using their editorial resources to their maximum potential. Publishers want to know if the new format they’re devoting time to is going to pay dividends.
And it isn’t always easy to give positive answers. But Pew’s research shows there are some very encouraging signs.
First, although trust rates are still low, large numbers (82%) still have at least some trust in major news organisations, far greater than social media itself. So there’s space there for good publishers to grow their share of authority, valuable currency in a hugely fragmented market.
The report also shows that longform journalism does have a place in a mobile-centric market. People spend around twice as long on average engaging with articles over 1,000 words compared to short-form stories, and long-form tends to attract around the same number of visitors as short stories. That’s an indication that far from signalling the end of in-depth reporting, people actually see their mobiles as a way of reading more in a way that’s convenient to them. 
And from NewsWhip’s viewpoint, we’ve seen publishers get far smarter at nailing content formats, and fostering a culture of experimentation and fast adoption over the past year.
More than ever, the importance of adding value to your readers’ day every time they click one of your links, watch a video, or even check out one of your social posts cannot be overstated.
What publishers need to remember is that the audience’s consumption habits have changed irrevocably. And with it, so should attitudes to distribution on the side of the publisher.
It’s not the complete end of destination media; home pages still have a place, particularly for paywalled sites that have managed to tap into a niche readership. But just like print magazines and papers are becoming more of a niche outlet, designed to be consumed in specific, high value scenarios, that segment of readership is now just one part of the whole picture.
Social media editors and audience development teams need to be aware that the overwhelming majority of your total readership will now come in fits and starts from their phones, via a social network. With that comes a whole new reader experience, which can rarely be catered to by the ‘destination’ model. 
Confronting that fundamental reality means talking about how you can improve that journey, and that has to be one of the most important conversations taking place in newsrooms today.
We’re looking forward to seeing what comes next.
If you’re at ONA 2016 and would like to talk social distribution, come and visit our stand in the Centennial Ballroom from Thursday to Saturday.
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