This article was originally published by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.
How do we identify user engagement behaviors and patterns that help us strengthen our products and our businesses? How can we encourage engaged users to deepen their connection with our work by signing up for a subscription, purchasing a membership, or sharing our content? How do we make those asks in the right ways and at the right times?
These are some of the challenges facing any media operation, no matter its reach or business model. As journalism businesses diversify, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but our best clues are in the data and analytics we choose to track and to inform our strategies.
Understanding audience data and analytics and using those insights to optimize against business goals is challenging, especially for small teams of journalists with limited time and resources and without extensive data, tech, or marketing backgrounds. You might understand what a marketing funnel is and know you might “need” one, but how do you implement one? Metrics tools like Google Analytics, New Relic, and keen.io are incredibly powerful, but can have a high learning curve, too.
WhereBy.Us has been talking with a lot of journalism organizations like ours — particularly smaller publishers and organizations who serve them — and we know some of the challenges we’re working on are common among our peers. Thanks to our Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellowship, our team now has an opportunity to work on these problems collaboratively.
The WhereBy.Us tech and revenue teams will be working throughout the RJI Fellowship to design, prototype and test open-source tools with our partners that can help more publishers build actionable insights about users through data. These tools will ultimately strengthen our businesses.
Starting with subscriber growth
One example of how we’re doing this work within WhereBy.Us is our subscriber referral system. Our local newsletters are our core products, and subscriber growth is one of the most important metrics to our business. The journalists who make our newsletters had a hypothesis that users who subscribe through the recommendations of trusted friends are more valuable customers.
To test this idea, our tech team used a “No Stack development” strategy using inexpensive and easy-to-use services like Typeform and Zapier to prototype referral campaigns in our newsletters. Using our various analytics tools, we found users who signed up through referrals showed deeper engagement and increased business value. Referred subscribers tended to have higher open and click-thru rates and fewer unsubscribes, and they were more likely to make purchases or become paid members than other subscribers.
With our hypothesis confirmed, we’re currently building new software to better automate how we encourage our subscribers to refer friends. We’ll also test how we target referrers in the future so we can make our referral campaigns and tools more effective.
As a small publishing company, we know work like this takes a lot of time and resources to design, test and build. Many other small publishers don’t have resources or expertise on staff to help do this work, and some often lack the audience size to make more meaningful tests of their data. We hope that by teaming up with organizations with similar goals and data, we’ll be able to prototype, get feedback and find better solutions together, faster.
If you or your news organization might benefit from work like this, please take this survey below to share information about your organization, its revenue strategies and its metrics. We’ll use the survey to identify common revenue strategies and the metrics that inform them, as well as to recruit partners who can help us design, build and test prototypes for the project.
We’ll share what we learn and make throughout the fellowship. You can sign up for email updates at the end of the survey, and we’ll be posting on the RJI blog, too. If you have questions about the project or would like to learn more, you can set up a time to video chat during our RJI office hours on Mondays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Eastern.
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Rebekah Monson is co-founder and vice president of product for the media and technology startup WhereBy.Us. She is also the project leader for WhereBy.Us’ RJI Fellowship.