The best part of being an audience engagement strategist for me is sitting behind my personal computer to watch my numbers grow. It’s a different feeling to cross new milestones week-on-week, month-on-month or year-on-year.
The series of task that bring about these milestones may be daunting but crushing one’s goal within set timeframes is the ultimate solace.
For someone who has been a part of a number of newsrooms in Nigeria, and some others outside the shores of the country, I understand how herculean a task it is growing one’s audience can be —and how discouraging the results can be in the early days as audience engagement is a long-term commitment.
Reeling from my experience, in this post, I will share some “investment” ideas on how new newsrooms can grow their numbers through membership building strategies as they seek to not only generate additional revenue but also increase their audience engagement as well as fan base.
From experience, I have observed that any newsroom can grow its audience, but only few can sustain such growth. To record a significant success, here are a few hacks (dressed in the garment of investments) to explore:
Invest in developing a strong brand for audience engagement
How many people can easily recall your name when they sight just your logo? BBC is not CNN —anyone can always tell the difference. Same way, Ripples Nigeria is not Premium Times.
Your newsroom needs to have a clear and compelling brand that resonates with your audience. This includes everything from your logo and website design to your editorial tone and content.
You may want to run an audit to check how unique your newsroom is at this point. Are you not operating in the shadow of another media outfit? Have you been operating without a unique in-house writing style/guide? How coordinated are your content across social media platforms? The list can go on. The keyword/keyphrase here is you standing out —stand out.
If your newsroom already have this checked, keep reading. Otherwise, pause, take your time to fix. Trust me, I am not deleting this post anytime soon. 😀
It is important to settle this because building membership starts from the subconscious. Our first job is to have our brand registered in the minds of people as the mind is the most secured library in the world. If this is clear, let’s talk about another investment.
Invest in offering unique and valuable content for audience engagement
You should not be in the media business if this doesn’t define you. You cannot thrive in the definition of what it means to thrive as a media company by merely playing a scavenger.
Like the adage goes: Many are called but few are chosen. When all you do is regurgitate what is in the public domain, you’re playing a second fiddle. Your success as a media actor is in the unique contents you offer your readers.
Your newsroom needs to offer something that your audience can’t find elsewhere. This could be in-depth investigative reporting, exclusive interviews, special columns, or specialized coverage of a particular topic. There are many academic lecturers out there looking for platforms they can contribute on. With little tweaks, you can help them key into your unique content strategy.
It’s a win-win scenario, give them the platform to get the content. A business news website should pitch business or economics lecturers or any other lecturer of related fields. An engineering or technology lecturer can be engaged to discuss the tech-side of business. Such contents, when written for a digital audience will always make a good read. And, may be all that will continue to drive life-long traffic to the website. So, what more?
Invest in actively engaging with your audience: You cannot be doing the talking all the time. Even radios now support phone-in(s) to accommodate any member from the audience willing to contribute to ongoing conversations. So, this is it. It’s important to create a two-way dialogue with your audience.
Respond to comments and feedback, ask for input, and provide opportunities for readers to contribute their own content. Thankfully, technology has made these things possible. Webpages support comments and contributions. You can run a survey, poll, quiz or general inquiries on developments. You may even make requests.
It is natural to develop affinity towards a brand that gives you a voice. You cannot withdraw from a bank you haven’t deposited into. Giving them an opportunity to contribute is like paying into their balance sheet. When you do this consistently, you endear your brand to people, and in no-time, they will be your number one brand ambassador. You will, someday, sit back to watch the figures grow.
Invest in using social media effectively for audience engagement
Many news agencies suck here. All they do is automate excerpts from the contents on social media. No hashtags, no relevant mentions, just excerpts.
Social media can be a powerful tool for building membership. For starters, use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share your content. Prioritize how you intensify efforts to engage with your audience while promoting your brand.
When they are not talking or resisting the urge to, lead them into it. Some stories or headlines require additional snippets to invoke appeal. Have your staff writers curate special leads for contents going on social media. Something like a teaser, or a short note on how the report came to be.
For Example: “How do doctors and nurses treat patients in public hospitals close to you?
“Last week, our correspondent, Ridwan Adelaja, was at XYZ Hospital not as a patient or a relative visiting an admitted person. He was there to sample people’s opinions on medical doctors attitudes towards the sick people. Find out all the details in this report.”
Invest in providing incentives for audience engagement
It is one thing to engage your audience, it is another thing to convert them into members of your tribe who are invested and takes pride in your content offerings. In building membership, you have to offer exclusive content, early access to articles, or other incentives for people to become members.
Many newsroom do this with newsletter sign ups. You see prompts like: “Be the first to discover trending stories, subscribe to our newsletter.” While this is a welcome idea, offering just trending stories is not enough.
Many successful newsrooms have survived and thrived on (or at least augmented running cost) via donations from their members. Incentives such as advert discounts or early access to classified contents can help create a sense of exclusivity and reward for those who support your newsroom.
Recently, I developed a new incentive plan where I pitched newsrooms to offer their premium members an opportunity to nominate a child for excursion on a yearly basis. The team can then decide on a place to visit. Beyond the excursion exercise, there is massive exposure for the newsroom.
Giving incentives is not new. When you open a new pack of LUX men’s vest, and you find a free pen as free-gift-inside, that’s an incentive for buyers. Membership leads of newsrooms must stay innovative to recommend incentives that are within budgets.
Invest time and resources into hosting events for audience engagement
Events bring people together. It’s one of the best programs to identify people who are willing to associate with your brand —from guest speakers to volunteers and delegates. As a former Tedx-event manager, I cannot over emphasize the place of events in networking and social mobility.
Hosting events such as town hall meetings, webinars, or live interviews can help create a sense of community around your newsroom. This can also be a way to provide additional value for your members. Some may become sponsors or partners of your event for a win-win. Imagine hosting an annual essay writing contest for undergraduates or secondary school students. The hype will serve you good. Like offering columnists a space, you can use events to offer businesses opportunities to leverage your audience. This leads me to the final hack in this post.
Invest towards collaborating with other organizations for audience engagement
Taking off from the last point. Maybe events, maybe other demonstration exercises such as a walk, city cleanup, your newsroom can take part as media partner or even sponsor. Your brand identity can spread across within the shortest time possible.
Partnering with other organizations can help expand your reach and build credibility. Look for opportunities to collaborate with other newsrooms, advocacy groups, or nonprofits that share your values.
Budget for at least a collaboration per month and keep growing.
My choice of use of the word: INVEST while introducing the hacks was intentional as investments go with both financial and human resources. Newsrooms will have to decide the size of their budget as they grow through the years.
This budget will determine what cause to tag along with and what company or business to partner with. Some newsrooms go as low as funding undergraduate-focused events and initiatives in a big to save cost. If big newsrooms are doing millions in their budget, small newsrooms can do a few thousands as starters.
Good news, there are many ideas that can fly with low budgets and still record significant numbers in terms of ROI —Return Over Investment.
In a nutshell…
Building membership for a newsroom is a long-term effort that requires ongoing engagement with your audience. While some newsrooms may afford to employ new hands to handle some of these responsibilities, others may assign these roles to existing staffers as ad hoc responsibilities to cut cost.
What is certain, however, is that by following these strategies and adapting to changing circumstances, any newsroom can increase their chances of success with building membership and engaging audience.