Loyalty after Facebook
What We’ve Learned about Earning a Dedicated Readership
Facebook has had a tough time recently. After losing the trust of its users and breaching data protection regulations, Mark Zuckerberg has had some serious grovelling to do.
However, while Facebook is sure to recover, publishers have been suffering from its algorithm changes for over a year now. This has meant the need for drastic changes to core goals and amendments to everyday workflows and KPIs. Publishers who have always focused on various channels and those with resourceful teams have pulled together and bounced back. But for many smaller publishers and those who relied entirely on the social network, it’s been tricky- some are managing to hold on and some have disappeared completely.
But not to worry, it’s not all bad news. And as head of content at Pink News Ellen Steward said, “It has been disappointing that Facebook is not the winner it used to be, but it means we have gone back to our core audience.” The changes should be seen as an opportunity to re-focus on creating quality content that readers want to come back for. Now publishers have one key metric in mind: loyalty. In a digital publishing world without Facebook, gaining a loyal, regular and engaged readership is key.
At the more extreme end of the scale is LittleThings, which launched in 2014 and focused on feel-good news and service content for women. After managing to claw back from previous algorithm changes, a report issued by the company in February said “the prioritization of friends/family content over publishers was the last straw.” The publisher’s organic and influencer traffic dropped by over 75% – levels which previous algorithm changes had never come close to and killed the company altogether.
It’s also been particularly difficult for sites that relied on video autoplay and Facebook shares. Social video news startup Attn is a good example of this. The company’s business model was created for and depended entirely on traffic from Facebook. A former staffer at Attn said “there was almost no effort to drive people to the main Attn website. We really had very little presence on Twitter or any other social network. It was Facebook or bust.” Attn co-founder Matthew Segal says: “We’ve always been conscious of the fact that we need to take a diversified approach, and although the company is shifting resources, they’re still leaning into Facebook as a place to win. “
“Facebook is not a significant source of traffic for us.”
Fred Santarpia, Condé Nast’s chief digital officer says that “Facebook is not a significant source of traffic for us.” Luckily, the publishing giant has always utilised diverse platforms on top of building their own brand, generating organic traffic and a community of readers. Condé Nast are ahead of the game, but strong branding and quality content has always been their thing, creating sites that users want to come back to and paywalls that encourage them to commit. And as Santarpia highlighted, “the thing about great brands is people also come to us directly.”
Pink News, a UK-based publisher that creates content for the LGBT+ community, say they have relished the changes. They’ve redirected resources to produce more in-depth, hard-hitting articles that do well on their own site, plus putting more energy into SEO efforts. While they were once producing three videos per day to be shared on social media, they have now stopped completely. CEO and co-founder Benjamen Cohen said “Facebook was about marketing one story and making that story do really well, but we ended up with random users not in our core demographic accessing us…we have realized they weren’t people we could rely on doing anything other than just read that one article. That’s led us back to re-evaluating what is our core mission.”
As we all know, the times of checking the Guardian website over coffee every morning are long gone. These days, it’s rare to get your news from one source and many fall into the passive scroll without really thinking about the content they’re consuming. Now that Facebook is limiting this option, it’s time to use the algorithm changes as an opportunity to re-engage readers and gain a loyal user-base. It’s time to focus on quality content that users are willing to return for. It’s time to promote drivers of the loyalty funnel-from app downloads, newsletter sign-ups and paywalls. But, while it’s all well and good focusing on loyalty as a core KPI, how can ambitious goals be met?
Whether you define audience engagement as an attentive and interested readership or a more interactive user experience, there is no doubt that it’s important. Journalism should be exciting, informative and provide a service to the reader. This is easy to lose sight of when focusing on page views and monthly traffic. Instead, we should concentrate on recurring users. That’s the only way we can really understand how successful and valuable our work is. One publisher paving the way is the New York Times: Ben Koski from their interactive news team says they’ve “started the shift toward better engaging readers. It’s around reader interaction, rather than one-offs,” And with the huge goal of 10 million subscribers, they continue the quest for better ways of communicating with their audience. As Julia B. Chan from US magazine Mother Jones says “How readers interact with our journalism is one major way audiences are telling us what they want. We shouldn’t expect loyalty — we should earn it.” We can’t expect loyal audiences without continuously working to make our content more interesting.
“How readers interact with our journalism is one major way audiences are telling us what they want. We shouldn’t expect loyalty — we should earn it.”
At Opinary we’ve discovered a lot about how direct interaction with users can lead to loyal relationships. By asking the right questions we can build a rapport and show them their voice is heard and cared about. We’ve found that by engaging users in the right way, a loyal community can evolve through the generation of newsletter sign-ups, podcast downloads and paywall subscriptions. So far we’ve driven 16,955 HuffPost UK users to sign-up pages and boosted engagement on the Times’ Red Box email. We’ve generated €127,790,797 for our publishers in Germany in the last six months and drive regular monthly subscriptions for Die Welt. By talking to readers we can understand them better, gain insights, and enable ourselves to create content users appreciate. Which topics do our readers engage the most with? What debates are they passionate about? What are their political sentiments? Which areas do they want to read more about? We are all looking for ways of making our work more meaningful, and here is one that makes sense.
Opinary works with the world’s leading publishers to engage, understand, convert and monetize their audiences. Reach out and we’ll share what we do with NBC News, The Independent, HuffPost and many others to build and monetize loyal audiences. Email us at email@example.com or drop us a message here.