How are European publishers experimenting with new social formats, redefining their revenue models, and engaging audiences for content ideation? Here’s what the experts are doing.
Publishers are still finding their feet amidst platform changes, new mediums, and shifting attention spans. Effective tactics vary from region to region, across the world.
NewsWhip’s Head of Sales, Kevin Lowe, recently attended Innovation in Europe’s Newsrooms, presented by CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, to learn how key European publishers are tackling these changes head-on.
There were a variety of media experts there, from some of Europe’s leading publications.
- Quartz – Kevin Delaney, Editor in Chief (Moderator)
- Bild – Daniel Boecking, Deputy Editor in Chief
- Financial Times – Renee Kaplan, Head of Audience Engagement
- De Correspondent – Ernst-Jan Pfauth, Co-Founder
- The Guardian – Mary Hamilton, Executive Editor for Audience
They chatted about organic reach, engaging their followers for feedback and content, Facebook Live, chat bots, and of course, revenue models.
Read on for what we learned.
Where to Reach Readers?
With readers coming to content from across devices, apps, and different places, publishers have to be savvy about how and where they’re reaching their audience.
The Guardian’s Mary Hamilton said there’s a need to tie types of content to people’s behaviors. She cited that US consumption is completely different than the UK’s. There aren’t the spikes in engagement at lunchtime that is seen the UK, for example.
BILD has seen 45 percent of readers coming in on mobile. A little below the average, said Daniel Boecking, deputy editor-in-chief. They’ve been breaking out the newsroom for different platforms and audiences, including bringing on a homepage editor and mobile homepage editor. Our recent interview with BILD’s audience development team goes into more detail on how the site manages its social media strategy.
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In terms of peak engagement times, they’ve also seen success around posting soccer results in the morning when readers are commuting and want that information.
For Financial Times’ engagement, Renee Kaplan says they focus on what to serve, and when and how to serve it. They don’t have any correlation around length for engagement. Instead it’s more about topics at certain times for certain devices for certain demographics.
This has changed completely from print to digital. Now they focus on the morning commute as opposed to the evening deadline.
How Audience Engagement Leads to Better Journalism
For De Correspondent, more sources lead to better journalism. Their newsroom model is based off of stories with deep reporting and interviewing, rather than what happened in the past 24 hours.
Their ‘slow journalism’ is in-depth reporting on the big issues faced everyday such as climate change, according to Pfauth. Their correspondents work with readers to extract knowledge and crowdsource content.
For them, the journalist is a conversation leader and the readers are the experts. Their reporters work with these ‘experts’ to create content, whether it’s an article, podcast, or video.
Mary Hamilton of The Guardian also agreed that engagement can lead to better journalism. The Guardian’s citizen journalism hub, GuardianWitness, calls out to readers for their opinions on issues. The content from this can become quite detailed when they find individual case studies.
All of that initial feedback is then fed into the Guardian’s verification process before it gets near a live environment. By becoming more active in the lives of the reader, they’re able to facilitate the conversation that matters to the audience.
Meanwhile, when it comes to user-generated content, Financial Times faces a challenge of culture. There’s still a perception of expertise and bias in the newsroom on what value there is to be be learned from readers. Renee Kaplan said they made a big commitment to their community editor this year.
Part of this changed the perception in the newsroom on the value that can be gained from the audience. Brexit provided a big opportunity for audience engagement and feedback. Financial Times received thousands of readers’ responses that will form a compelling piece of journalism this year.
Experimentation in the European Newsroom
With Facebook Live, Snapchat, and chat bots becoming more mainstream ways of reaching new readers, how are these newsrooms tackling the challenge?
Over on Facebook Live, the recent coup in Turkey was BILD’s second biggest live stream. Facebook Live has presented an opportunity BILD didn’t have before. This type of coverage used to be exclusive to TV channels, Boecking said.
Facebook Live allows BILD to disrupt the media scene more than ever. Reach and views are seeing tremendous growth. BILD’s war reporter went to Greece and covered live a story following the journey of a Syrian refugee.
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Thousands of users followed the video live. Boecking said their total interactions were more than some television stations would’ve seen. More than 100 journalists at BILD are now using live tools from Facebook.
According to BILD, they had one of the first integrations with Facebook Messenger. Boecking said they tested the medium with their soccer content in both Messenger and WhatsApp, seeing more success on WhatsApp. The popularity of WhatsApp in Germany was likely the reason for this according to Boecking.
Boecking recalled the conversion rate as extremely good. More than ten percent opened the article within the app and went to the website.
Meanwhile the Guardian has built two chat bots. One is a recipe bot called Guardian Sous-Chef. Users can feed it ingredients and the bot will send back recipes. Another bot lives on the main Guardian page. It asks users if they want an update and then sends them a list of the top five stories.
The Guardian is now brainstorming bots that will respond to more natural language. They’re just at the beginning of experimenting with this but Hamilton called it a very interesting environment.
The Guardian has also forayed into podcasts. Their Football Weekly show is hugely popular and there’s a big sense of community around the podcasts. Live events around the podcast, such as bar gatherings, have been a big success, said Hamilton. Another way they’re leveraging podcasts is through Amazon’s Alexa app. This app lets listeners tune in easily at home, part of the Internet of Things trend.
According to Renee Kaplan, Financial Times doesn’t have a native app, so they’ve been thinking about ways to engage their readers and direct them back to the mobile web app. The big issue, Kaplan said, was getting access to users’ lock screens. Other app notifications, such as using WhatsApp, may present a solution.
Even without a native app, they’re keenly aware of what and when their audiences are consuming. Certain demographics use certain devices, while C-suite employees are more on mobile 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and on desktop later in the day, Kaplan said.
Video is a complex question when you have a paying model, according to Kaplan. For Financial Times, they want to bring people back to the website. Kaplan said that as video shifts away from websites to social channels, there is a concern that viewers won’t come back to the site.
“It becomes a conundrum because what is it giving to my paying users?” Kaplan said. “What happens if we’re not there? What’s next?”
Kaplan said the big questions are around what they’re trying to accomplish with their video and what a good video online looks likes for the brand.
Where Does the Money Come From?
De Correspondent are ad free. After crowdfunding from nearly 20,000 people to launch, they now have a yearly subscription model. De Correspondent see journalism as a service, so no ads or sponsored content.
The only stakeholders are the readers. Everyday, De Correspondent point out what’s important and people pay for that. The model has 90 percent of revenue coming from subscriptions. The remaining ten percent other projects, such as publishing books building on stories and other projects. Pfauth called it very liberating to have their readers be happy to pay for the information.
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More involved readers will pay, said Pfauth. Citing transparency and an upfront model, he said, “We publish what we are doing with their money and people understand that it is valuable.”
BILD started their model three years ago, a freemium one. It was an editorial decision around what you ask the reader to pay for. BILD judges every piece of content they charge for as being something only BILD can deliver, whether it’s an exclusive story or licensed video.
Boecking said this works very well because their readers are led down the path to further articles they are interested in. According to Mary Hamilton, The Guardian’s model is being discussed very publicly and hasn’t been completely worked out yet.
Digital advertising for the whole industry is not rising at the level it needs to be to sustain the industry. Scale does not seem to be the best approach. The question is “how do we get users to pay for the journalism they find valuable?” At the moment, they’re asking people to pay to support the Guardian right now. Hamilton said, “It’s been interesting.”
Financial Times is still a news outlet that makes a lot of money from print. In regards to their digital model, they’ve been planning ahead for a long time due to declining ad revenue in the industry. Therefore their subscription model is already strong.
Their model has to do with a commercial metric based on engagement, the frequency and volume. How often do readers come back and how much content they consume when they come back?
Again, the question becomes, “How do I commission, package, distribute and promote content that people will pay a lot of money for?” In a world where people are getting content instead from search and Facebook, Financial Times is figuring out how to expose potential readers to enough to try a subscription.
Kaplan said the answer is being really clever about how they can expose readers enough to the brand so that they’ll give Financial Times a try. Once people get exposed the conversion rate is very good, said Kaplan. Getting them exposed is the bigger challenge.
The Vast Frontier of Social Publishing
With so much unknown still about the perfect formula for digital publishing, it’s more important than ever for publishers to know what their audience is interacting with, and how to quickly find the stories that will be the most successful with them.
Our publishing clients, European and beyond, use Spike, which tracks the stories, videos, and other content that people are sharing and engaging with in real time.